Veteran starter David Price offers to move to the bullpen if it helps the Dodgers
The Dodgers had an embarrassment of pitching riches before signing Trevor Bauer to a three-year, $102-million deal, their rotation already stocked with six quality starters in Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, Julio Urías, David Price, Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin.
So when the team’s pursuit of Bauer, the 2020 National League Cy Young Award winner, intensified in early February, Price extended an offer to Andrew Friedman, the team’s president of baseball operations, to ease the logjam.
“Right before we signed Trevor, I reached out to Andrew and said if it happens, I’m willing to do whatever you guys need me to do,” said Price, the veteran left-hander who opted out of the 2020 season because of coronavirus concerns. “It’s not a problem for me. Just keep me in the loop and let me know, and I’ll be ready for whatever.”
On Monday, “whatever” began to take shape, Price making his spring debut with a one-two-three inning of relief in an 8-0, seven-inning exhibition victory over the Chicago White Sox at Camelback Ranch.
Price, 35, has appeared in 321 games during an illustrious 12-year career in which he has gone 150-80 with a 3.31 ERA and won the 2012 American League Cy Young Award with the Tampa Bay Rays and the 2018 World Series with the Boston Red Sox. All but 10 of those appearances came as a starter.
Price will have four more spring outings to be stretched out as a starter, but he made it clear after an 11-pitch inning in which his fastball touched a robust 94 mph that he is willing to pitch in relief.
The Dodgers defeated the White Sox, 8-0, and Julio Urías set the tone, retiring the first nine batters in order. Corey Seager hit a three-run homer.
“I expect to be ready to start by the regular season,” Price said. “But I told them, whatever they need me to do, whatever makes the 2021 Dodgers better, I’m all for it.”
Price said he felt a little “antsy” when he took the mound. It had been a year since he last pitched in a game — he struck out seven of 10 Colorado batters in a March 7, 2020, exhibition — and 18 months since his last regular-season appearance, a two-inning stint for Boston in Anaheim on Sept. 1, 2019.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s in a B game or on the back fields,” Price said, “if I get out there on that mound, I’m gonna be excited about it.”
Price’s first two fastballs to Tim Anderson were balls. His next was a strike that Anderson grounded to third baseman Justin Turner for an out. Price struck out Luis Robert with an 86-mph changeup and got José Abreu to pop out to second.
“To throw a strike [to Anderson] and get an out really calmed the nerves,” Price said. “It settled me down and got me into the flow of the game.”
That was evident by the stadium radar-gun readings. Two of Price’s fastballs were clocked at 94 mph and three hit 93 mph. Price’s average fastball velocity dipped from 94.3 mph in 2017 to 92.7 mph in 2018 to 92.0 mph in 2019, a season that ended with surgery to remove a cyst in his left wrist.
“I was hoping for 92, but 94 is awesome,” Price said. “If I can go out there and be 91-93, I can be very effective. If I can get it up to 94-95 and maybe even more, that’s a good sign.”
Was Dodgers manager Dave Roberts surprised to see Price hit 94 mph?
“I was a little … I was more encouraged,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect as far as the gun readings, but to see a couple of those, I think it might have been a bit of a surprise to him, too. But the ball came out well. He located and commanded it. It was a really good day for David, and I’m excited for him.”
Manager Dave Roberts, whose mother is Japanese, wrote a letter to his Dodgers colleagues condemning the recent wave of violence against Asian Americans.
Barring injury, one or more of the team’s starters — Jimmy Nelson is an eighth option — will be sent to the bullpen, but with a season-opening four-game series in Colorado, Roberts could “piggyback” one starter after another in one or two games.
With teams ramping up to the 162 games after a pandemic-shortened 60-game season, the Dodgers will also look to spread the workload of their starters over the grueling six-month schedule.
Who fills what roles will be determined, but at least one veteran starter is willing to accept a Price reduction.
“That’s a credit to him, David being the pro and the teammate that he is,” Roberts said. “Our job is still to build him up for whatever potentially could happen and to continue to give us options.”
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