There's something simple and comforting about watching David Price pitch. No trick pitches, no cutter or split-finger or sidearm slurve, nothing ornamental in his delivery, just rear back and sling that leather sphere with a high degree of velocity. He reminds me of how I imagine it was like watching Bob Gibson or Sandy Koufax or Don Drysdale, almost an old-school, 1960s approach: My stuff is good, you know what's coming, and you're not going to hit it.
No, nothing fancy with Mr. Price. In 2011, he threw his fastball 70 percent of the time. Among starting pitchers, only Justin Masterson and Bartolo Colon relied on old No.1 more often. Maybe we need a nickname for Price's heater. According to the "Dickson Baseball Dictionary," in the 1970s, an especially good fastball was referred to as a Linda Ronstadt Fastball -- for "Blue Bayou," her hit single of the time. That's what Price loves to do: Blow it by you.
Some fans thought Price had a disappointing 2011, maybe relying too much on his fastball, as his ERA rose from 2.72 in 2010 (when he finished second in the Cy Young voting) to 3.49. But that's focusing on the wrong number and ignoring other improvements he made: His strikeout rate increased, his walk rate decreased, he made more starts and pitched more innings.
It's that improvement, durability and moxie why I made Price my preseason Cy Young pick. Plus, there was the scary idea that he'd turn into more than just a power pitcher, that maybe like Gibson and Koufax learned, you can't rely just on your fastball, no matter how authoritative it is.
We saw this approach Tuesday, as Price delivered his second career shutout with a 5-0, five-hit blank job on the Angels. With the Angels stacking their lineup with nine right-handed hitters, Price expertly mixed his fastball with his changeup. He threw 29 changeups, and got a career-high 10 outs on at-bats ending with that pitch. He got ahead of 21 of 32 batters and the Angels were 0-for-13 when Price got to two strikes. That's the combination hitters will fear: Price using his 95-mph heater to get ahead of hitters and then putting them away with a changeup or other offspeed pitch. His first-strike percentage Tuesday was 65.6, an increase over the 55.1 percent rate in his first three starts and more in line with his 60 percent rate of 2011. (Thanks to Dan Braunstein of ESPN Stats & Information for the numbers.)
"Great command of all his pitches," Rays manager Joe Maddon said after the game. "He pretty much brought out the kitchen sink. Probably one of his best performances as far as using his entire repertoire."
When Price arrived in the big leagues as a rookie coming out of the bullpen in the 2008 playoffs, he was a two-pitch guy: fastball, slider. In 2009, he was still primarily a fastball/slider pitcher, but he's evolved since then, adding a curveball and slowly mastering his changeup, He threw it 5.5 percent of the time in 2010, about 11 percent last season and around 15 percent this season.
It's outings like this one that show us Price's ability to dominate. After getting knocked out early his previous two starts, he was happy to get the complete game, especially since he never went all nine last season. He was also happy because this game came on April 24, the date his close friend Tyler Morrissey died in a car accident four years ago.
Price had tweeted about his friend earlier the day. He talked to Morrissey's family before and after the game. “It is extra motivation to go out and throw well for these people, but I try to take that same intensity out there every time, and sometimes it just doesn’t happen,” Price told the Tampa Bay Tribune.
The intensity is there. The fastball is there. If he can maintain his focus on every pitch, remember that you don't have to "Blue Bayou" on every pitch, then I won't be surprised to see David Price winning that nice trophy in November.
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Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.