BOSTON — You can start to see it. Late innings, American League Championship Series. David Price on the mound.
We're trending that way.
Once it became clear Price was in position to return closer to the start of October than September, a different sort of path to redemption materialized.
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Maybe Price will barely pitch in the regular season, if at all. Maybe he’ll be strictly a reliever in the postseason. Or maybe he’ll be able to build up his pitch count as the playoffs move along, and he can join the rotation after initially returning in relief.
Any amount of Price in the playoffs, be it for two innings or eight, is valuable. As long as Price is pitching like he’s capable of, or close to it. The debate over what role he’ll take is a little pointless — whatever you can get out of him, you take it. As long as the health of his arm has not led to diminished stuff and performance. (Rust is probably inevitable, but a rusty Price is better than a lot of others, and it's not like you have November to worry about.)
Turn to tandem starters if you want to, piggybacking Price off say, four innings of Doug Fister in Game 4 of the Division Series.
However it unfolds, the groundwork is here. It’s been there, clearly marked.
The narrative about Price could swing rather dramatically this October. The lefty could take on a knight-in-shining-armor persona, swooping in just in time to give the Red Sox pitching staff the extra boost it will need behind Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel and an offense that doesn’t instill a lot of confidence.
Price on Saturday faced hitters for the first time as he comes back from his significant elbow injury this year. He threw a two-inning sim game at Fenway Park and his next step is another sim game,
“Got through today fine: 32 pitches,” Sox manager John Farrell said. “As we intended to take care of the work today, which he was able to accomplish with no ill effects. A good step obviously in his progression to game activity. At a minimum, he’ll go through another sim game situation in the coming days, four or five days from now. That schedule has yet to be worked out given the day game on Thursday and time constraints with that. But today, a good day.”
Not all fans and media would immediately welcome back Price with open arms. Most probably would. But everyone should have an open mind and remember how capable a pitcher he is. A bad postseason record to date does not mean he cannot and will not, at some point, perform well in the playoffs. His track record gives you reason to doubt, but not reason to write him off completely.
If Price returns only as a reliever, people will still grumble and say, “Let’s see him do it as a starter.” That won’t be fair. He can only do what he’s asked, and what he’s physically capable of doing. If he's a reliever this postseason, accept it.
What will matter is that Price, if given the chance, seizes it. And it won’t be easy having missed so much time.
“As he’s gone through this type of return before, it’s been with this type of intensity every fifth day,” Farrell said. “I think after the next sim game setting like this, we’ll have a chance to sit down and talk with him, what’s the best path as far as what the role could be. We’re not at that point yet.”
If Price gets hurt again and suffers a setback and winds up on an operating table, a debate about whether he should have sooner gone for surgery will ensue. If his UCL can hold up, he can help the Red Sox this October just as much as he can help his own standing in Boston.