As has been the case in five of Price's six starts this year, the Rays came up empty, losing to the Rockies by the score of 9-3. This game was a tough loss to swallow, and it is certainly difficult for me to write this recap without expressing too much frustration. It was another game the Rays were expected to win, and they once again came up short. The matchup was last year's Cy Young winner versus this guy:
If you're glancing over Jon Garland's stats now and thinking that you see a pattern in Colorado's approach to starting pitchers, you would be correct. Garland also doesn't strike out a lot of batters, but he doesn't walk them a whole lot either. What he does do is--you guessed it--get ground balls. His stuff is a lot like Chatwood's but with less velocity and more interesting movement. Watch out especially for a mid-80s hard slider (or extreme cutter, not sure what it is) that he leans on, especially against righties. Against lefties, he's all sinkers and curves. He doesn't have the biggest of career splits, although looking at his stuff, I would expect him to struggle against lefties (he's completely abandoned his changeup).
There are always going to be games in which the team with the favorable match-up comes up empty; however, the Rays need to start taking advantage of games in which they send their "ace" to the mound soon. Today's start was a very accurate reflection of Price's year thus far: diminished velocity, lack of a sharpness to his pitches, lots of hits, and too many runs.
From the onset, it looked like it would be a long night for David Price. After the Rays threatened but failed to score in the first inning, Price came out hurling 90-91 mph fastballs. After back to back singles to lead off the inning, Price buckled down and got Carlos Gonzalez swinging on a 3-2 fastball. However, the next batter, Troy Tulowitski, rocketed a hard groundball past James Loney into right field, plating Eric Young. A strikeout of Michael Cuddyer and then a fly ball by Wilin Rosario ended the Rockies threat.
In the top of the second inning, Yunel Escobar was hit by a hit on his hand. He left the game and went to the hospital to get x-rays, which turned up negative. He is listed as day to day. In other words, don't expect to see him for a week.
The Rays took the lead in the top of the third inning. After Jennings grounded out, Matt Joyce patiently drew a walk. Ben Zobrist grounded into a force out, and Longoria dropped a single into center field. This set the stage for James Loney, who did what he has done all season: collected hits. His double scored Zobrist and moved Longoria to third. Two more runs came in to score when Kelly Johnson laced a single into right field on a 3-2 pitch. A Ryan Roberts strikeout ended the rally.
The Rockies quickly responded the next inning. Eric Young and Carlos Gonzalez reached base, with a Josh Rutledge strike out sandwiched between them. Then Troy Tulowitski hit a flyball just over Joyce's head in right field, sending home both runners and tying the game up a three runs apiece.
In the fifth inning, when it finally looked like David Price might settle down, Carlos Gonzalez absolutely hammered a leadoff home run to dead center field. An annoyed Price hit the next batter before retiring the side.
Neither team threatened to score again until the bottom of the seventh inning. The inning started off harmlessly as Eric Young grounded out and Price struck out Rutledge. But after Carlos Gonzalez singled up the middle, Tulowitski singled on a groundball that Longoria fumbled with and threw past the outstretched Loney. The runners advanced to second and third on the throw. When Price coaxed a soft ground ball out of Cuddyer, it looked like the Rays would escape unscathed. However, Zobrist struggled to get the ball out of hit glove and his throw came in too late. Zobrist looked very shaky defensively all night, and if it were not for Loney's superb scooping, he probably would have committed another error or two. Price jumped ahead of Wilin Rosario 0-1, but then missed with four straight pitches to load up the bases. Even though Price was struggling and his pitch count was reaching its limit, Maddon elected to keep Price in the game. It is good to see Maddon have confidence in his players. Unfortunately, the move did not pay off tonight. Nolan Arenado was locked in on Price the entire game, working a couple of good at bats previously. This time, he got the best of Price, sending a 1-1 hanging curveball into the seats in left center field for a grand slam that blew the game open. Price exited the game after that, his final line reading 6.2 innings, ten hits, nine runs (four earned), three walks, five punch-outs, and two home runs.
The Rays failed to put together a rally while Brandon Gomes and Cesar Ramos recorded the final four outs.
Here are a few of my observations and thoughts...
- During the middle innings, the telecast displayed a graphic that showed the MLB bWAR leaders since 2009. Zobrist led all players, followed closely by Ryan Braun. Brian Anderson took to the opportunity to go on a mini-rant about WAR. It was so incoherent and just straight up baffling that I cannot provide an accurate summary. Regardless, I will say that I felt dumber for listening to it. This is just a personal peeve of mine, but I would appreciate if the announcers took the time to learn about advanced statistics, which is an important facet of the game. Sabermetrics are becoming more and more prevalent in today's game, and I think that anyone whose livelihood depends on explaining and understanding baseball should gain at least a general understanding of advanced statistics. I have found Brian Anderson's knowledge on the subject to be disappointingly lacking; Dewayne Staats actually comes off as more informed than Anderson.
- During the offseason, I noted that David Price has evolved in his entire career in order to find success. I speculated that this year he would work on his pitch usages, learning when and how often to throw certain pitches. As his early struggles have shown us, the transformation may need to be even more drastic. There is no reason that Price cannot succeed while throwing 91-94 (although his standing as an ace may be put into question). For Price, it will come down to learning how to pitch with reduced velocity. A great example of a former flamethrower who successfully learned how to pitch with diminished fastball velocity is CC Sabathia. Hopefully Price can make the adjustment relatively quickly, because his starts are painful to watch right now.
- After watching the first two games of this series, I question how any pitcher can successfully pitch in Coors Field. The ball carries like crazy, and the outfield is huge. It would not surprise me if the extreme offensive slant of the park also has psychological consequences on a pitcher. How tough is it for a pitcher to watch balls normal fly balls fly out of the park?
- In the fifth inning, Carlos Gonzalez launched a home run off of David Price. From Price's facial expressions, it was clear he was frustrated with himself. Troy Tulowitski stepped up to the plate next and took a massive cut at Price's first pitch. Price drilled Tulowitski with the next pitch. I don't claim to be able to read a player's mind, but it appeared that Tulo felt the HBP was intentional. In my opinion, it certainly looked intentional.