David Price was so nervous about his first start in a Dodgers uniform and his first competitive game in six months that his “legs were shaking out there,” he said after pitching 1 1/3 innings in Monday’s 6-2 exhibition loss to the Cincinnati Reds.
The sensation Price felt in his left hand was like a soothing balm.
“I have feeling in my fingers, in my hand,” Price said after allowing two earned runs and three hits, striking out three and walking two. “It’s not freezing cold right now. It’s got blood flow. It’s warm. It’s a different feeling for me. It’s nice.”
Price, a 34-year-old left-hander acquired with Mookie Betts from the Boston Red Sox on Feb. 10, has dealt with circulatory problems in his wrist and carpal tunnel syndrome throughout his career.
He managed the condition, which caused numbness and tingling in his hand, through physical therapy and treatment. But the average velocity of his fastball slipped from 94.3 mph in 2017 to 92.7 mph in 2018 to 92.0 mph in 2019, when he went 7-5 with a 4.28 earned-run average in 22 starts, his worst ERA since his rookie year in 2009 with Tampa Bay.
“It makes it tougher than what pitching already is,” Price said, when asked whether it’s challenging to pitch without feeling in your fingers. “To me it was the norm, something I dealt with for a long time and learned to manage.”
When his condition worsened in 2019, limiting him to one start in each of the last two months, it was time for more drastic measures — Price had surgery to remove a cyst from the wrist in late September.
Though he wasn’t particularly sharp Monday — he needed 40 pitches to get four outs, and his fastball sat at 90-92 mph — Price was encouraged by his physical condition.
“Having feeling in my fingers, a warm hand, I think it will do a lot of good for me,” said Price, the 2012 American League Cy Young Award winner with the Rays. “I feel good for where I’m at after two live batting practice [sessions] and one outing.”
He’s also comfortable with pitching exclusively out of the stretch, a switch he made after his second batting practice session. Price has scrapped his windup periodically throughout his career, usually for a month or two at a time and once for a full season in Boston.
“I can disrupt timing better with the slide step or full leg lift,” Price said. “For me, it allows me to have more weapons. My windup is kind of like my stretch anyway. I’m going to make the biggest pitches of the game out of the stretch, with runners on base.”
Price has three years and $96 million left on the seven-year, $217-million deal he signed with Boston before the 2016 season. He was attached to Betts in the trade as salary relief for the Red Sox, who agreed to pay $48 million to the Dodgers. He has no plans to pitch like a throw-in to the deal.
If Price can regain something close to his 2018 form, when he went 16-7 with a 3.58 ERA in 30 regular-season starts for Boston and 2-0 with a 1.98 ERA in two World Series starts against the Dodgers, he would be a solid addition to the rotation behind Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw.
He can already sense a hunger in his new teammates, who also lost the 2017 World Series to Houston and haven’t won a championship since 1988.
“There’s a lot of drive in here, man,” Price said. “Everybody wants to reach that pinnacle, and I want to be a big part of that. I want to help these guys get to that point so they can experience the feelings and emotions that I was fortunate enough to feel in 2018.”
Cody Bellinger was scratched from Monday’s lineup after feeling discomfort in his side during an early workout, an injury manager Dave Roberts termed as “minor.”
With the Dodgers off Tuesday, Roberts preferred to give the reigning National League most valuable player two days off before returning to action Wednesday.
Asked whether Bellinger’s injury was related to his participation in Angels slugger Albert Pujols’ charity event at Topgolf in Scottsdale, Ariz., where several of Bellinger’s long drives from Sunday night were captured on social media, Roberts said, “No.”
How disappointed would Roberts be if he found out Bellinger hurt himself at a driving range? “I’m not going to answer that,” he said. “Fair question, though.”
Bellinger, who will bat cleanup and play center field, hit .302 with a 1.035 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 47 homers and 115 runs batted in and won a Gold Glove Award in right field last season. The level of concern with his injury seems low.
“We’re in a good place. It’s not a big deal,” Roberts said. “It just makes no sense to play him today. I really don’t think it’s Topgolf-related.”