Persistent 'stiffness' leaves David Price's potential return to Red Sox in limbo

BOSTON -- David Price hasn't thrown a ball since Tuesday, and it's fair to begin wondering if he will pitch again this season for the Boston Red Sox.

Price, whose balky elbow has landed him on the disabled list twice since early March, had been throwing off flat ground almost daily. But the Red Sox's $217 million left-hander was shut down this week with what manager John Farrell on Friday labeled as "stiffness." Farrell wouldn't divulge specifics about the location of the stiffness, saying he "can't say it's not either [the elbow or the shoulder]."

"Just dealing with some symptoms that he came out of the game in L.A. [against the Angels on July 22] with," Farrell said. "And they persist."

Although Farrell said "there's still hope" that Price will return before the end of the season, he also conceded that the schedule might make it more challenging. The division-leading Red Sox can take their time in bringing Price back, but they also have only 40 games remaining after Friday night's series-opener against the New York Yankees at Fenway Park.

"I think we're also realistic here, too, that he's got to build up to an aggressive long-toss situation, not in terms of overall distance, but number of throws with some aggression and build back to the mound," Farrell said. "That's still going to take some time."

Right-hander Doug Fister (2-6, 5.56 ERA) has taken Price's place in the rotation and will make his next start Monday night in Cleveland. At this point, Farrell said the Red Sox "haven't abandoned" hope that Price will return nor considered making a waiver trade before Sept. 1 or calling up a pitcher from Triple-A to replace Fister.

Price, who is in the second year of a seven-year, $217 million contract, strained his elbow -- he has referred to the injury as a "tear" -- during a simulated game in spring training. He didn't make his first regular-season start until Memorial Day and is 5-3 with a 3.82 ERA in 11 starts overall.

In his July 22 start against the Angels, Price allowed five earned runs in five innings. Before that, though, he had been pitching well, putting together a stretch of seven starts in which he went 4-1 with a 2.66 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 44 innings despite being a lightning rod for controversy, including a June 29 incident in which he berated and mocked Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley on the team plane.

"He needs additional time to let [the injury] quiet down in it's entirety," Farrell said. "When you look at the calendar, that's the one thing that kind of comes to mind. But we can't rush it. We have to do what's best and what's right for David Price."