Where will Price begin the season?

February, 19, 2009
The Rays have one small problem: three viable starting pitchers and one slot, Dugout Central's Chuck Johnson writes. Sure, everyone wants to see David Price every five days, but they've also got Jeff Niemann and Jason Hammel, both of whom are good enough to pitch and can't be returned to the minors once more. So what to do? Johnson suggests that everyone's No. 1 pitching prospect should spend a little more time back on the farm:

    The Price factor boils down to the fact that despite his performance last year, he has thrown 131 innings since June, 2007. Last season's elbow problem could possibly be tied to overthrowing, or he could just be one of those guys who needs fifty spring innings to get loose. If it's the former, then hopefully the Rays had him on a strenuous off season throwing program, if it's the latter, then a few starts in Durham would do him wonders.

    Make no mistake, Price is a power pitcher extraordinaire. But as he will eventually find out, Major League hitters can handle the hardest of stuff. The key to pitching successfully at the ML level is changing speeds and location, not velocity. Price's biggest and maybe only weakness as a pitcher is the lack of a changeup. He may make hitters look silly the first time or two through the lineup, but by the third time around, and with nothing to keep the hitters honest, he'll start getting hit, and hit hard. What does it hurt for him to spend a couple of weeks in Triple-A working on his changeup?


    No matter how things pan out, Niemann, Hammel and Price will not all head north to Boston; there just isn't enough room. With Price in Durham, the Rays could use Niemann in the fifth spot, Hammel in the long relief spot while all along trying to work out a trade for one of them, or even both. With Price in Tampa, the Rays will have two or three fewer weeks to work out the details of a trade and would face the likelihood of losing a member of their Major League staff for the $50,000 waiver price.

I concur with Johnson's central point: Price shouldn't necessarily open the season in the big club's rotation. But I don't believe it's got anything to do with his changeup, and I don't believe the rotation in Durham is the best place for him.

In military strategy, there's a great deal of emphasis on "weight of force." Early in World War II, the German army was badly outnumbered by the French and English. But the numbers were irrelevant because every time the Germans attacked, they had local superiority; most of the Allies' troops and tanks were too far from the battle to make any sort of difference.

In 2009, the American League East will be, as it usually is, a terrible and glorious battle. Hearts will be broken, rotator cuffs torn, fingernails bitten clear off. The winner is probably going to be the club that concentrates its forces most effectively, and so I don't see the Rays winning this battle if one of their most talented players is way off in North Carolina, marking time while humiliating minor league hitters.

I don't know if Price is ready to throw 200 innings. It's not the changeup. Lots of great pitchers have done quite nicely with just two great pitches (and not much else). It's the innings. But if Price can't throw 200 innings, he should spend some time in the bullpen and wind up with 160 (or whatever).

Last year the Rays, to save money, left Evan Longoria in Durham for a month. I supported the move, and of course they got away with it. But if I were them, I wouldn't go to that well again. Last year a lot of things went right for the Rays. This year some things will go wrong. This isn't the time to station one of your best units where nobody is trying to win a war.


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