Rays vs. Reds, game one preview: David Price welcomes Cincinnati to the AL East

Andy Lyons

Matt Joyce wasn't too bad, either

With Cesar Ramos slated to move from the bullpen to the starting rotation on Sunday, David Price had an extra imperative: pitch deep into the game and save the bullpen for what might turn into a matchups game. He delivered in style. The Cincinnati lineup, which hasn't seen Price since 2011, clearly didn't know what to do with his fastball, which he commanded to all corners of the zone. And once they were keyed up for his fastball, Price calmly sat them down with his changeup instead. Of the 33 changeups Price threw, Reds batters whiffed at 12 of them (according to Brooks Baseball). His changeup was worth -2.39 runs alone this game by linear weights -- which you may notice is one less run than the Reds scored. Price's final line for the day comes to 114 pitches over 8.1 innings pitched. One run given up (a solo home run) on four hits, one walk, and ten strikeouts.

That's not to say that the entire game was smooth sailing for David Price. In the first inning, Brandon Phillips hit the ball long and hard to right-center, but Desmond Jennings tracked it down and made a leaping grab against the wall. In the third inning, Devin Mesoraco lead off with a double into the left-field alley, and then Zack Cozart lined the ball hard to the right of second base, but Ben Zobrist made a diving catch that almost surely saved a run. And in the fourth inning, Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto both got on base with no outs, but Price visibly upped his game and struck out the next two batters before getting a fly ball for the third out.

Let's talk about Joey Votto for a second. The handedness matchup projections I generated before the series claimed that facing Price would make Votto into a below average hitter, which is frankly difficult to believe. Let's look at how each of those at bats played out.

1. First inning, none on, two outs:

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via www.brooksbaseball.net

Price started Votto off with a fastball down and in. Votto began to swing, but then decided to hold up. It was a close pitch that could have gone either way, but it ended up hitting Votto's bat, so it counted as a strike. The next two pitches were low changeups that Votto took for balls. Price went back to his fastball and got a strike called on the outside edge. He replicated the pitch and drew a weak swing from Votto and a groundout to shortstop.

2. Fourth inning, man on second, no outs.

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via www.brooksbaseball.net

The first pitch was a fastball up and in for a ball, but close. The next was a fastball off the edge and clearly a ball. Price then pulled it in to get strike one on the outside edge. He put another fastball on the outside edge (but elevated) to even the count. Price's fifth pitch was a 95 mph fastball up in the zone that Joey Votto fought off, just trying to stay alive. Price countered by taking his next fastball higher up in the zone but Votto successfully checked his swing to bring the count full. The seventh pitch was the first changeup of the at bat, and it painted the upper inside corner. I'm not convinced it's a pitch Votto should take, but he did. There was a tight zone today, so rather than Votto being rung up, the result was a walk. Amazing discipline by Votto, but this at bat was very close to being a strikeout.

3. Sixth inning, man on first, one out.

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via www.brooksbaseball.net

David Price definitely won this at bat, but there was something funny about it. Again he started Votto off with a fastball up and in. Votto took a big swing, but was only able to foul the pitch off. Next, Jose Molina set up low and away, but the pitch missed up, and was fouled. Once more Molina set up low and the pitch was up. Votto swung but couldn't catch up to it, and was sat down on three pitches. It was a very nice sequence, and it's fair to say that David Price overpowered Joey Votto, but it wasn't what Price and Molina were trying to do at all. In fact, the next pitch Price threw to Ryan Ludwick was also a fastball that missed its spot high, which prompted Molina to saunter out the the mound to calm his pitcher down.

4. Ninth inning, none on, one out.

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via www.brooksbaseball.net

Eventually, Joey Votto got his. Price started him off the way he had all game, by busting him inside and collecting a foul ball. His next pitch was on the outside portion of the plate but elevated. It was a pitch Price had made without incident before in the game, but Joey Votto was ready for it this time. He extended his arms, gave an opposite field swing, and drove the ball out of the park. The conclusion from these sequences is very easy to draw.

  1. Joey Votto is good at baseball.
  2. David Price is good at baseball.
  3. It's fun to watch the two of them meet (I like inter-league play because of meetings like this that I'd never get to see otherwise -- I don't need to see the Price/Ortiz matchup any more than I already do, but this was fresh)

The Rays Offense

I should probably mention that the Rays did score two runs. I don't think Johnny Cueto was especially sharp (he gave up nine base-runners in his seven innings, although he also struck out six Rays), but he did manage to keep the game within reach. The damage began in the first inning when Desmond Jennings, batting in the second spot, worked a walk, and then was advanced to second by Matt Joyce's walk. Evan Longoria bounced a grounder just between the shortstop and the third baseman, and Jennings, running aggressively, was able to score. Longo's grounder wasn't hit very hard, but it found the hole.

The other run came off of a hanging cutter to Matt Joyce leading off the third inning. It was hit very hard. According to the broadcast, it left Joyce's bat at 106 mph and traveled 452 feet. It was impressive.

Some other notes:

  • Leading off the ninth inning against David Price, Brandon Phillips claimed to be hit in the foot by a curve in the dirt. The umpire didn't buy it, but Cincinnati placed a challenge. Turns out the pitch was about eight inches from Phillips's toe. It was pure gamesmanship, calculated to throw Price off his rhythm. It was also a waste of time. I can't decided if players and/or teams should be disciplined by the league for abusing the replay system in that way, or if it should be left alone. I do know that pretending to be hit by a pitch is probably a good way to actually get hit by a pitch.
  • After Votto's home run in the ninth, Price left the game and was replaced by Grant Balfour. Balfour recorded the second out of the inning easily, but then lost the strikezone and walked the bases loaded before rebounding to strike out pinch hitter Brayan Pena. It was not the most enjoyable relief outing I've ever watched.
  • Great American Ballpark is gorgeous.
  • Dewayne Staats seems to be interested in rivers.
  • I used to covet Devin Mesoraco just like the rest of us, but I rarely watched him. Was he always this scary? Bulging veins on his arms, giant aggressive swings, twitchy mannerisms, a grimace plastered on his face, and he seems to stare past the camera as if there's something on the horizon that only he can see. Absolutely terrifying.
  • In the bottom of the seventh, Brandon Phillips made a ridiculous play to take a hit away from Ben Zobrist. He ranged back and to his right, made the scoop, had his foot slip a bit while he came to a stop, turned, and made a strong throw to second while he was falling backward that was 100% arm strength. Really nicely done.
  • In the top of the eighth, Loney stood at first base when Wil Myers hit a groundball to shortstop in the hole. Myers beat the throw easily for an infield hit, but Loney decided to try to go first to third. He was thrown out by a good couple feet. Not a good decision, but it does show that the Rays are making it a point of being aggressive on the basepaths this year.
  • Billy Hamilton only really had one chance to show his speed. He bunted toward first base, forcing Loney to field his bunt. Normally on that play, the first baseman would underhand it to the pitcher, but Hamilton would certainly have beaten Price to first. Instead, Loney fielded and then sprinted for the baseline, meeting Hamilton six feet or so before the bag. Loney went completely horizontal as he lunged to tag Hamilton, who danced out of the baseline and was correctly called out. If only he could actually hit, this would get really fun. Good job by Loney, though.
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