In what was billed as a prize fight between two of the premier starting pitchers in the American League, David Price and the Tampa Bay Rays outlasted Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers for nine innings en route to a much needed 4-2 victory. Going toe-to-toe with the reigning AL Cy Young award winner and Most Valuable Player in Verlander, Price was the better pitcher on Friday by a unanimous decision. While Verlander allowed four runs in six innings, Price allowed just two runs over seven masterful frames.
Facing a talented Tigers’ lineup that exploded for 15 hits on Thursday, the only thing that could stop Price this evening was a lower back injury that prematurely ended his night after seven innings. Price was seen in the dugout with a heating pad on his lower back and was lifted after a failed attempt to warm up prior to the eighth inning. The Rays announced the move as precautionary; however, most early exits start out as precautionary until they are deemed more serious. After the game, Price was adamant that he would be pitching in five days.
Tampa Bay’s rotation has been able to absorb the losses of Jeremy Hellickson and Jeff Niemann, but losing Price would have an Evan Longoria-like impact. Even if the Rays are able to plug in a quality starting pitcher like Chris Archer should they have to replace Price, the gap between those two pitchers is much wider than the one between Archer and Hellickson or Alex Cobb and Niemann. Although Price said he was fine after the game, we wait with bated breath until he actually takes the mound five days from now.
While his status for his next start is to be determined, there was no uncertainty surrounding his performance against the Tigers. The 26-year-old allowed just two runs on five hits and a walk in seven innings. He struck out seven batters and induced seven more groundball outs – including three inning-ending double plays. His 2012 groundball rate stands at career-high 54%, working in conjunction with 97 strikeouts in 104.2 innings. His 11 wins are tops in the AL and one short of his total from last season.
Taking advantage of one of the more aggressive offenses in the league – the Tigers entered the game tied for the lowest pitches per plate appearance (3.74) in the AL – Price relied heavily on his plus fastball and used his secondary pitches as such. Of his 78 pitches, 55 of them were fastballs. Helping maintain that above-average groundball rate, his two-seam fastball was the heater of choice. Price also threw 12 cut-fastballs, generating an out with six of them. Coincidently, the lefty said he felt his back tighten up after throwing a fastball to Prince Fielder in the seventh inning.
The Rays win, coupled with a New York Yankees’ loss, moves the team 5.5 games out of first place in the AL East with a chance to gain more ground as the teams go head to head for a three-game set starting on Monday.