Pitching with a heavy heart on the anniversary of the death of his friend, Tyler Morrissey, David Price tossed a five-hit shutout against the Los Angeles Angels. It was his second career shutout and his third complete game. After averaging nearly 20 pitches-per-inning in his first three starts, Price averaged just 13 pitches a frame en route to the shutout. “He was a strike-thrower with all of his pitches which makes it difficult for the other side because it’s hard to really nail him down” said Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon. “I thought that really was one of his best performances in regards to using the entire repertoire.”
Unlike the typical fastball-heavy start from the left-hander, Price threw the kitchen sink at the Angels. He still used plenty of fastballs, and topped out around 95-MPH, however, his secondary pitches played a primary role in his success on Tuesday. Facing Price for the first time, Los Angeles slugger Albert Pujols said “he threw a lot of off-speed. I think everybody in the league knows that he throws a lot of fastballs, but he was mixing up his pitches pretty well and keeping the ball down.”
Price’s changeup has been a work in process ever since his arrival to the big leagues. Last year, he increased the pitch’s usage to more than 10% for the first time. In his first three starts of 2012, he used the pitch around 15% of the time.
Against the Angels, 29 of Price’s 119 pitches were changeups (24%). Not only did he throw the pitch more often, but did so with great effectiveness. A majority (22) of the off-speed pitches went for strikes including a pair of swinging strikes. Facing an all right-handed lineup, the lefty pounded the outside corner with the pitch. He showed great confidence in the off-speed stuff, throwing it seven times on two-strike counts which included two full-counts.
The changeup was not the only sign of Pitching 2.0 for Price. The 26-year-old also threw 14 curveballs. The overall amount of curves was not the story; meanwhile, it was how he used them. Of the 14 hooks thrown, 11 were thrown on the first pitch of a plate appearance. He threw nine strikes overall with the curveball which included seven first-pitch strikes. “It wasn’t just fastballs, he had four pitches he was throwing on any count” said Angels’ skipper Mike Scioscia.
As a byproduct of using his secondary pitches in traditional fastball counts, Price’s heater was extremely effective as an out-pitch. With nearly 16 MPH of separation from heater to curveball and a 10 MPH difference from the changeup, he generated 14 outs on the fastball. Several of those outs came on the inside corner.
Coming into Tuesday’s game, I notice Price was not getting as many swings outside of the strike zone. Part of that was spotty command in his first three starts and part of it was facing the patient lineups of the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. Price got the Red Sox to offer at just 17% of pitches outside of the strike zone while the Yankees went after just 18%.
With everything working tonight, Price got the Angels to chase on nearly 30% of the pitches located outside of the strike barrier. “I felt good in the bullpen and really took it out there to the mound” he said. “Jose [Molina] was calling a bunch of different stuff and I was right there on the same page with him.”
Price was certainly the story against the Angels, but he did have some help. In addition to four solo-home runs (Desmond Jennings, Carlos Pena, B.J. Upton, and Luke Scott), he also benefitted from some nifty defense. Matt Joyce made a diving catch in the third inning while Evan Longoria made an incredible barehanded play on a bunt attempt by Erick Aybar in the sixth inning. That said, not all the Rays’ defensive plays were made on the move as the team’s unique alignment was once again put on display.
The shiftiest team in baseball, Tampa Bay put an extreme shift on right-handed batters Albert Pujols and Torii Hunter. Pujols lined out to shortstop Sean Rodriguez in the third inning on a ball located deep in the hole on the third base side. A batter later, Hunter grounded out on a sharp ground ball to Rodriguez. Hunter did beat the shift for a single later in the game, but once again, the thought process behind the defensive shifts was proven in the form of in-game results.