Price's demotion mostly about limiting innings

March, 26, 2009

In the course of just a few months, David Price has gone from a legendary playoff hero to a member of the Triple-A Durham Bulls. When the move in which the Tampa Bay Rays sent David Price down to the minors came across the transaction wire Wednesday, no doubt many fantasy owners had to read and reread the announcement so that it could sink in, since it seemingly came out of nowhere. After all, Price currently has an ADP of 166.1, making him a No. 4 starter on fantasy staffs in mixed leagues, and now he won't even be the No. 5 starter for the Rays in April.

So what happened? After Price's last scheduled start was rained out, the writing was clearly on the wall. Manager Joe Maddon told the New York Times that, simply put, Price needs a bit more work in order to make it in the big leagues as a starter. "Everybody saw him on the big stage last year pitching in brief spurts as a relief pitcher," Maddon said. "He's going to be a starter with us, and there's a difference with that. If you look at his track record in the minor leagues, he has done well, but a lot of high pitch counts after four or five innings, etc. We don't want that to be a part of his game."

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The added benefit of the demotion, from the Rays' perspective, is taking the "Joba Rules" approach with their young phenom-in-waiting. Maddon told the Tampa Tribune that starting Price in the minors will make it easier for the Rays to limit his innings, keeping him under wraps in the hope that he can join the Rays later in the season and be fresh enough to lead them into the postseason again. That means if you've got a solid staff and can avoid injuries, he's still worth snagging to keep on your bench until he's ready, a la Matt Wieters.

Of course, the problem is this means that the No. 5 starter will be either Jason Hammel or Jeff Niemann, both of whom have struggled to show much consistency this camp. Hammel has a 4.95 ERA this spring, while Niemann lowered his ERA to 6.32 with a decent outing against the Pirates on Wednesday. Neither pitcher has much fantasy value since it's clear they're just going to be keeping the spot in the rotation warm for Price, but it makes you wonder if this "protect Price" plan will be worth it if the Rays end up missing out on the playoffs because Niemann goes 0-for-April and May while Price counts his pitches in North Carolina and waits for the call.

Ryan Braun left Wednesday's game against the Dodgers after walking twice in two trips to the plate, and not swinging the bat at all. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that Braun had some "right-side stiffness" which may indicate that the Brewers' slugger might still be feeling the effects of the injury he exacerbated while playing in the World Baseball Classic. Braun, for his part, was optimistic: "I'm OK. They know it's not 100 percent, but I wanted to get some at-bats." However, the team will likely not take Braun's word for it, so don't be surprised if you hear that an MRI and further tests are being done.

John Smoltz threw off the mound in a bullpen session, marking his first "action" as a member of the Boston Red Sox. Smoltz's shoulder seemed no worse for the wear after his first 40-pitch session throwing to a crouching catcher, though he was taken by how surprisingly weird the experience was. "I can't explain the awkwardness. I didn't think it would be that awkward," Smoltz told the Boston Globe. "I've been doing this for a long time, but it was awkward. But, I've not gone that long without being on the mound." Awkward or not, Terry Francona viewed it as a huge positive step and says the target date of June 1 for Smoltz' first appearance hasn't changed.

Shawn Hill, who was signed by the Padres after being released by the Nationals (in what was likely a cost-cutting move, and not a reflection of his ability), will be on the mound Friday against the A's. While Hill may eventually be an asset to San Diego in the rotation, it's far more likely that Hill will start the season in a different capacity. As Bud Black put it on the team's Web site, "It might be a little unlikely he can help us as a starting pitcher [initially]. In the bullpen ... possibly." That's not exactly a ringing endorsement, so perhaps it's best for you to leave Hill to the waiver wire.

Jason MarquisAP Photo/Ed AndrieskiYou want no part of this. Period.

• Remember when Jason Marquis was a hot fantasy commodity after going 15-7 for the Cardinals in 2004? Anyone? Bueller? Over the past few seasons, pitchers like Aaron Cook and Ubaldo Jimenez have had enough success that the old adage of "avoid Rockies pitching" was becoming completely passé. Enter Marquis, who entered this spring penciled in as the Rockies' No. 3 starter. After an incredibly ugly outing in which he gave up 12 runs in 3 1/3 innings against the Angels, his ERA is now 14.14, and yet, he's still probably the best option in camp -- better than Jorge De La Rosa and Franklin Morales, at least, both of whom have been nearly as ineffective. Yet all three may well end up in the rotation come Opening Day. You know what? With all apologies to Cook and Jimenez ... avoid Rockies pitching!

• The Tigers are hoping they can get through this last week of spring games without any further incidents. First, Adam Everett sprained his ankle on the first play of the game Wednesday, sliding hard into second base. Everett limped off the field without assistance but will likely sit out several games, so the Tigers may actually break camp without having played a game in March with their complete Opening Day lineup intact. (Curtis Granderson, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen and Miguel Cabrera were gone all month due to the WBC.) Then, Nate Robertson got hit with a throw on his left thumb trying to convert a double play. While the Detroit Free Press reports that the injury was also just a sprain, it likely means that Robertson will not be able to make his next scheduled start. This could be the "break" that Tigers top prospect Rick Porcello needs to beat out both Robertson and Dontrelle Willis for the final spot in the Tigers' rotation.

• Meanwhile, the White Sox might be looking at a far more experienced rotation than they could have hoped for. Bartolo Colon pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings against the A's, walking no batters in the process. Ozzie Guillen & Co. were thrilled that Colon topped 90 mph on the radar gun for the first time all spring, but that wasn't the best news. As Guillen told the Chicago Tribune, "One thing about it is when he wanted to put something on the ball, he wasn't high. When he tried to reach, the ball was around the plate. That's more important." Colon is scheduled for one more start Monday, and if all goes well, he just might replace Clayton Richard in the rotation out of the gate. Between Colon and the return of Jose Contreras, the White Sox would have the experience of 465 career starts at the back of their rotation. That's a huge increase from the start of the spring, when Richard, Jeff Marquez and Lance Broadway (and their combined 10 big league starts) were the leading candidates for those spots.


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