Boston Red Sox

Rotation or relief for Price? 'I just want to pitch'

Rotation or relief for Price? 'I just want to pitch'

BOSTON — The pitcher sounds like he wants to go the distance, the manager sounds like he has a different idea. The age-old decision is about to play out in an unusual way: David Price’s potential role with the Red Sox for the start of the postseason. 

Does the skipper or the pitcher make the call? In this case, it won't be so black and white, because health is a hazy question.

Price and Red Sox manager John Farrell are to discuss the plan for Price on Thursday, a day after Price threw three innings with inning breaks at Fenway Park. Price faced Chris Young, Deven Marrero and Tzu-Wei Lin in his second sim game on the way back from an arm injury. 

The way Price sounded on Wednesday, he wants to start and he wants to move into major league action right away. That’s precisely what you’d expect to hear.

“I don’t know how many days we have left and how many games,” Price said when asked if he feels he can start. “Threw 40-some odd pitches today. Felt good. Felt strong at the end. So, it’s not the decision I’ll be making.

“I just want to pitch. Whatever it is, that’s fine.”

Time is indeed the biggest problem, although it is not the only consideration. 

The Red Sox have 18 games left. There is no intermediary step available to the Red Sox for Price to build up his pitch count outside of a major league game or another sim game. The minor league season is in its final days.

Price’s next outing, therefore, could be in the majors.

“I don’t know how many more times I have to do a live B.P., but if I come in tomorrow and feel fine, I don’t know what else I can do,” Price said when asked about his confidence he can be ready for the playoffs.

But here’s the thing: if Price wants to start, he’s going to need another sim game, at least as Farrell saw it Wednesday.

Farrell’s inclination, however, appears to have Price in relief.

“You’re looking at at least one more sim game,” Farrell said of starting. “That would be the need at a minimum. It is September. You’ve got guys that can build in innings behind him with a progression if you were to choose to do that. It would be aggressive to bring him back as a starter right now, in my mind.”

Price’s health, Farrell said, is the most important factor.

“Get him back to a certain level as far as game condition, game activity, is one,” Farrell said. “Then, what is he physically built up and the duration enable him to do?”

Determining what provides greater stress for Price, a relief or starting role, is not straightforward. There’s a familiarity factor to consider. 

The last time he pitched in relief was in the 2015 American League Division Series, with three runs allowed in three innings for the Blue Jays in Game 4 vs. the Rangers. He’s pitched in relief 11 times in his career between the regular season and postseason.

The pitch counts would be lesser in relief. Frequency of pitches would not be. Stress would be high either way. He’s comfortable pitching out of the stretch full-time.

“It’s always fatigue-related. So when does the fatigue show up? Is it late in the game after 100-plus pitches, or is it after frequent use?” Farrell said. “As it relates to David, I don’t have that exact answer. I do know this, what he’s showing us right now is all positive.”

That answer is an important one to figure out. But it’s not a sole factor.

The appeal of having Price — or simply, an effective starter — in the bullpen during the playoffs is easy to see. 

“I think what we’ve seen in past postseasons is that there’s a pitcher, whoever that pitcher has become, there’s been a multi-inning pitcher in there that has made major contributions,” Farrell said. “[In 2013] it was [Felix] Doubront. Prior to that I’m sure there were other guys who came out of the bullpen after they started or they had innings under their belt and contributed, whether it was Derek Lowe from years past, situations like that are not uncommon. But I don’t want to paint him as a reliever after today’s work.”

If rust is a concern for Price either way in a playoff setting, the idea he would be less risky in relief — in an impactful late-inning situation — is hard to buy. Pulling him out in the seventh inning may be easier on the relievers coming in behind him, as opposed to being yanked in the second inning. But that’s a contingency the Sox could plan for.

If Price’s arm can handle starting, it’s hard to look at the Sox’ rotation at present and see that there are four pitchers who deserve a spot while he does not. He was unsure of his velocity Wednesday, but he looked strong and the talk around him continues to be strong.

There doesn’t seem to be a great reason in the public arena right now preventing Price from making a trial start, so to speak.

"In September, it’s different just because we’re not taxing a bullpen [because of expanded rosters],” Farrell said when asked how many innings Price would need to be built up to for a start to be made. “We have the ability to cover the innings, so you could say that the progression would be to activate him and put him in a game at three innings and you continue to build that out. That’s one scenario. But again, these are things we have to sit down and discuss and determine what’s best for him."

Drellich: After season, Red Sox should extend John Farrell long-term or fire him

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Drellich: After season, Red Sox should extend John Farrell long-term or fire him

 John Farrell’s contract runs through next season. Once this season is over, the Sox need to extend him for multiple years or fire him.

No in-between, Dave Dombrowski. Not if you want to avoid unnecessary drama for your club.

The last manager the Red Sox president of baseball operations personally installed, Brad Ausmus, is a free agent. Ausmus is finishing the last year of his deal in Detroit and the Tigers won’t bring him back.

This isn’t going where you think. 

Oh, speculation the Sox could pursue Ausmus will crop up, whether founded or not. That’s what happens when there’s a connection between a lead executive and an available skipper.

But Ausmus stands as a strong example of what happens when a manager is left in the wind. 

In 2015, when there were false reports Ausmus was fired with one year remaining on his deal, he was on the hot seat and the chatter never disappeared.

"Don't care at all,” Ausmus said two years ago, via ESPN. “Said it before, I'll say it right now. Players will respect you regardless of your contract status. They're gonna respect you because of who you are, not how much money you're making or how long your tenure is.”

In 2016, Ausmus played the year out with no certainty about his future. His 2017 option wasn't picked up until after the season.

“I understand I’m in the crosshairs,” Ausmus said last May, via the Detroit News. “That’s not gonna change the way I do anything . . . I’m not gonna make decisions based on whether I’m gonna get fired or not.”

And then, lo and behold, Ausmus was back in the same position again.

“I don’t worry about it,” Ausmus said in July, via the Free Press. “I don’t really ever worry about it. I guess I worry about it less now. My contract’s over at the end of the year anyway. I guess you think about it even less.”

The Sox don’t need this. 

The Tigers were losing and are now headed for a rebuild. Farrell’s closing in on his second straight American League East title. 

Let’s assume he gets it. That's an impressive feat. Enough to be rewarded. At the same time, if all the side dramas — the Baltimore incident, David Price’s lack of self-control, even the embarrassment of the sign-stealing saga — are enough that Dombrowski still feels unsure, he should act.

Dombrowski, great talent evaluator that he is, should have a fully formed opinion on Farrell by now. 

Remember how silly everything looked last October when it came to Farrell's status?

Farrell spoke to the media at a Fenway Park press conference after the Sox were eliminated. Farrell was under contract through 2017 at that point, but had no answers about his job security, about whether he was coming back. 

Farrell’s press conference wrapped, and in walked Dombrowski for his segment with the media. Dombrowski announced that he had just told Farrell he was coming back for 2017 — in a conversation with Farrell in between press conferences.

Uh, OK? The scene was bizarre, to say the least. 

Then, it wasn’t until December that the Sox announced they picked up Farrell’s option through 2018.

The players and Farrell deserve a fuller answer this offseason. If Farrell is the guy, treat him like it and let the players know he’s the guy. Let a clubhouse that didn’t seem to have one band, one sound the whole year know who’s actually in charge. 

And if Farrell is not the guy, move on.

What the Red Sox should not do is stand pat and leave Farrell’s contract, which runs through next season, as is. They shouldn’t leave him and the team (and the media that will ask questions of both) in a constant state of wonder, with a lurking sense that Farrell could be out the door. They shouldn't leave themselves open to speculation Farrell's moves could be influenced by his job security.

The Sox could add just one more year to Farrell's deal again, but that'd be far from a vote of confidence. Is it Dombrowski’s intention to have Farrell sit on the hot seat annually?

Maybe in Dombrowski’s mind, there’s a particular playoff round Farrell and the Sox need to advance to for Farrell to stick around. Maybe two straight divisiont titles is all he needed to see. We don't know. Whatever the criteria proves to be, it will be scrutinized. But the firmness of the decision is significant as well.

There’s so much the Sox have to deal with every year. Legitimacy of the manager is one area where the Sox have some control over the volume. Uncertainty is a dangerous theme song.

Red Sox rally for 5-4 win over Reds, extend AL East lead

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Red Sox rally for 5-4 win over Reds, extend AL East lead

CINCINNATI -- Staggered by Scooter Gennett's grand slam in the first inning, the Boston Red Sox regrouped and finally put some distance between themselves and the Yankees.

Rafael Devers hit a three-run homer Friday night, and the Red Sox extended their A.L. East lead to four games with a 5-4 victory over the Cincinnati Reds. Boston added to its lead with the help of the Yankees' 8-1 loss at Toronto.

The Red Sox have won 12 of 15, keeping the Yankees at bay while moving a season-high 25 games over .500 at 89-64. The Red Sox already have clinched a playoff berth and home-field advantage for the wild-card game, if it would come to that. Boston has never played a wild-card game, and doesn't want to settle for one now.

"The ball's in our court," David Price (6-3) said. "We win, we're fine. We don't care what the Yankees do. We just go play our game."

Their A.L. Cy Young Award winner is still struggling heading into playoff time, though.

Rick Porcello gave up Gennett's fourth grand slam -- a Reds' season record -- in the first inning. He lasted a season-low four innings, turning a 5-4 lead over to the bullpen. Porcello has lost 17 games - most in the majors - after winning 22 last year along with the Cy Young.

With the left-handed Price fresh, manager John Farrell decided Porcello was finished after 57 pitches.

"I just felt with the left-hander in David going against the heat of the order was the move to make," Farrell said. "I know Rick did not want to come out of that game, and I fully respect that."

Part of Porcello's problem has been a lack of run support. Boston has been blanked while he's on the mound in 10 of his losses. This time, the Red Sox got him off the hook, overcoming Gennett's career-high 27th homer with the help of Devers' three-run shot off Sal Romano (5-7).

The Red Sox are last in the AL with 159 homers.

Price pitched 2 2/3 innings and contributed a single, bringing the Red Sox to the front of the dugout for a celebration. Craig Kimbrel pitched the ninth for his 34th save in 38 chances. He hasn't allowed a run in his last 10 appearances.

SCOOOTER'S LORE

Gennett was claimed off waivers from Milwaukee late in spring training. He has provided some of the Reds' best moments in an 88-loss season, including a four-homer game on June 6. His homer off Porcello ended the Red Sox' streak of 26 straight scoreless innings. He and Lou Gehrig are the only players with a four-homer game and four grand slams in any season.

"That sounds crazy," Gennett said of his connection with Gehrig.

INTERLEAGUE

The Red Sox are 10-1 against the Reds all-time in their interleague series. The Reds beat the Red Sox in seven games for the 1975 World Series championship. Overall, Boston is 14-4 in interleague play this season. The Reds are 5-13.

FATHER-SON

Farrell had lunch with his son Luke, a Reds reliever. Luke wears the same No. 52 as his father. The last time a manager faced his son as an opposing player was 2004, when the Giants' Felipe Alou went against his son Moises of the Cubs. Luke Farrell didn't get into the game Friday.

"It's definitely unique," John Farrell said. "Hopefully it's just a side story to a successful series for us."

HOMECOMING

Boston left fielder Andrew Benintendi had several hundred relatives and friends cheering him from the upper deck in left. Benintendi attended Madeira High School in suburban Cincinnati and regularly attended games at Great American Ball Park. His favorite player was Ken Griffey Jr.

"I just remember watching the guys play and picturing myself out there," Benintendi said . "It's crazy that I'm here now."

BARNHART'S DEAL

Reds C Tucker Barnhart agreed to a $16 million, four-year contract that covers his salary arbitration years and the first season after he would have been eligible for free agency. He receives a $1.75 million signing bonus and salaries of $4 million next year, $2.5 million in 2019, $3.5 million in 2020 and $3.75 million in 2021. As part of the deal announced Friday, Cincinnati has a $7.5 million option for 2022 with a $500,000 buyout.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Red Sox: INF Eduardo Nunez is increasing his daily workouts as he recovers from a sprained knee, but isn't close to a full return. "We have to see some marked improvement," Farrell said. "First thing would be a potential pinch-hit situation. We're not going to risk anything until we get him on the base paths and get a better feel for what he's capable of doing."

Reds: CF Billy Hamilton was back in the lineup for the first time since he broke his left thumb on Sept. 6 while bunting. He had two singles and was caught stealing when he over-slid second base.

UP NEXT

Red Sox: LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (5-6) is 1-1 with a 2.55 ERA in his last three starts. He's 2-2 in eight career interleague starts.

Reds: Rookie Robert Stephenson (5-5) is 5-1 with a 2.84 ERA in his last six starts.