FORT MYERS, Fla. — At first glance, it appeared as if nothing had changed with David Price’s first spring training appearance of the season on Tuesday.
Same huff and puff before pitches, same moving fastball, same sharp curve.
The beard was more trimmed than when he last pitched last Oct. 28 at Dodger Stadium, where Price’s seven innings led the Red Sox to a title in Game 5, but there was no mistaking the lanky lefty who stood on the mound.
No, the difference between this first appearance by Price in a spring training game, simulated or otherwise, than in the three years that preceded it with the Red Sox and the eight years before then with the Rays and Tigers, was invisible to the naked eye.
The separator was in the mind of Price.
Price has pocket aces, and he’s drawing two more, and on his next hand, he’ll manage a royal flush on the flop. Yes, Price holds all the cards now, just like he told everybody he did after he threw an invisibility cloak over his prior postseason reputation for futility with his sparkling, inspiring script-re-write effort from last October.
He proved every doubter wrong, making every naysayer a nattering know-nothing.
After a 134-day hiatus from when he last pitched in a Red Sox baseball game, the Price who stood on the mound at JetBlue Park was a satisfied man with a satisfied mind after a very satisfying offseason.
“It was good, just didn’t think about anything negative, just to be able to end on a good note the way that we did, that was different from every other offseason I’ve ever had,” Price said after his three innings in which he allowed two runs off two hits in the Red Sox’ 4-3 loss to the Tigers.
Price’s calm and pleasant countenance matched the overall climate of spring training itself, especially at this Red Sox camp, where the focus on results to date has been blurry.
If something bad happens, it’s spring training.
If something good happens, that’s encouraging.
Price had four strikeouts, but he also allowed two runs, two walks and two hits, one of them a homer.
The homer by Jordy Mercer was not the issue, said Price.
“To be honest the homer isn’t what bothers me the most about it, it was the two two-out walks that I had.” said Price. “Gave up that homer then went 2-0 on next hitter and then was able to bounce back, throw quality strikes and get that third out. To be first time back out there in however many months, I’m OK with it.”
Price threw all his pitches — four-seam fastball, cut fastball, curve, change-up — and was pleased with them overall.
But not with his command.
“Just got tired and a little lack of focus, something you go through,” he said.
Manager Alex Cora was higher on Price than Price was.
“Excellent — velocity, command, presence on the mound, he looked good for the first one,” said Cora. “He ran out of gas at the end, a hot day, whatever, first outing. But the stuff was sharp, both sides of the plate, the change-up was good. That was a good one.”
This is rollout week for the Red Sox’ rotation, with Nathan Eovaldi completing the quintet today. The Red Sox’ go-slow approach with their starters was all the rage as far as topics go last spring training, slightly less so this one.
Like he was last year, Price is on board. He never experienced issues after being used a lot last October: five starts, one relief appearance, 24 innings.
Duck boat parades and rewriting narratives probably help lessen fatigue as well.
“I felt good” last October, said Price. “I’ve never felt bad in October to be honest — physically, mentally, I’ve felt strong. Last year was a good ending for us and myself as well and just looking to build on that.”
And that leaves him in a good place here and now.
“I’ve felt good all of spring training this year and that’s new for me so I enjoy that,” he said.
Tuesday was a tuneup. At some point in Seattle later this month, he will make a debut that truly counts.
He will be ready.
“Better be,” said Price. “I’m on the same pace as everyone else. I think it’s part of our plan and I feel good.”