Veteran David Price ready to contribute to the Dodgers’ rotation after 2020 opt-out
When David Price makes his first regular-season start for the Dodgers in early April, the left-hander will be working on 19 months — or about 580 days — of rest, his last appearance a two-inning stint for the Boston Red Sox in Angel Stadium on Sept. 1, 2019.
Though the lengthy layoff should provide ample physical benefits for a 35-year-old who has thrown 2,029 2/3 innings and had season-ending wrist surgery in 2019, regaining the precision and command required to face big league hitters could be a challenge.
“To me, that’s what you use spring training for,” Price said by video call from Camelback Ranch in Phoenix on Friday. “You really can’t really simulate that game action until you get out there.
“Even when I’m playing year to year, those first couple of spring outings, they always feel brand new. You’re out there feeling for things that make you tick, so that’s what I’ll be doing. Everything feels really good right now.”
Dodgers pitchers and catchers held their first spring training workout Thursday, and Dave Roberts reminded his players to focus on what they can control.
Price was the financial component that made the early 2020 blockbuster trade of star outfielder Mookie Betts from Boston to Los Angeles work, the Dodgers assuming half of what remained on Price’s seven-year, $217-million contract as part of the agreement. He’s under contract through 2022, with the Dodgers paying $32 million of the $64 million due him.
Price spent a month in spring training with the Dodgers when baseball was shut down because of the coronavirus last March. When the sport resumed in July, Price, who is married with two young children, decided it was “in the best interest of my health and my family’s health” to opt out of the 2020 season.
“That was the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make,” said Price, who won the 2012 American League Cy Young Award with Tampa Bay. “When opening day rolled around, it was even tougher. Then the playoffs rolled around, and that took it a step further.”
Price spent most of pandemic-shortened 60-game season as well as the postseason — which culminated with the Dodgers winning their first World Series championship since 1988 — in front of his television.
“I didn’t miss any games,” Price said. “I was tuned into all of them, 60-plus however many we played in the playoffs.”
His baseball viewing wasn’t limited to the Dodgers.
“If it was any other outcome, I would have probably had a whole lot of regret and felt really bad about my decision.”
— David Price, on opting out of the 2020 season
“This was my first year on the West Coast, and baseball starts at 9 or 10 a.m.,” Price said. “I had baseball on all day long. I watched a lot of East Coast games, and later the West Coast games. … It’s the most baseball I’ve ever watched on TV.”
During breaks in the action, Price sent text messages to Dodgers players and former teammates, providing encouragement or praise for a great at-bat or nice defensive play.
“I was in constant contact with guys — I tried to keep things normal in that sense,” Price said. “I didn’t just separate myself from the game and my teammates. I wanted to be a part of it as much as I could.”
Price said he considered opting back in during the season but didn’t want to risk an injury that might affect 2021. Only when Julio Urías fired a strike past Willy Adames to close out a World Series-clinching Game 6 win over the Rays did Price feel at peace with his decision.
“If it was any other outcome, I would have probably had a whole lot of regret and felt really bad about my decision,” Price said. “When Julio threw that strike three, it kind of lifted a weight off my chest. Knowing that the guys went out there and won a World Series, it made me feel really good.”
Satisfied with the health and safety protocols that enabled baseball to complete the 2020 season, Price informed Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman shortly after the World Series that he would play in 2021.
The Dodgers are working with the governor’s office and health officials on proposals for Dodger Stadium to operate at limited capacity by opening day.
“Baseball is my first true love,” Price said. “Being away from it for all that time was tough.”
Price was one of baseball’s best pitchers for nearly a decade, with a 150-80 career record and 3.31 ERA in 12 seasons, but the circulation issues that caused him to lose feeling in his left hand at times in 2018 worsened in the second half of 2019.
He made one start that August, one in September and had surgery to remove a cyst in his wrist. Though he will have to shake off rust this spring, the extended rest should do his body good.
“Doing what we do, especially as a starting pitcher, having all the innings and pitches thrown, it can take a toll not just on your arm but the rest of your body,” Price said. “So for me to be able to take a step back and kind of rejuvenate everything … it’s been good.”
Price threw his first bullpen session of camp Thursday. He’ll face hitters in live batting-practice sessions and should have five or six exhibition starts to regain his competitive edge.
Barring a setback, the Dodgers expect him to be part of one of baseball’s best rotations, a group that includes Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, Trevor Bauer and Urías, and has Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin in reserve.
“There’s going to be some adrenaline, some nerves, which is to be expected,” Roberts said. “But David is a guy who has pitched for a long time. He knows his delivery, knows his pitch mix inside and out. There is a competition component that we won’t know until we know, but certainly, David is an easy guy to bet on.”
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