Pittsburgh Pirates

Nothing wrong with taking it slow with Price

PORT CHARLOTTE

David Price pitches this afternoon, returning to the mound in a game for the first time since his October heroics helped land the Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series.

Remember his debut last spring? He blew away the New York Yankees in Tampa. His teammates watched him pitch on the TVs in the visitor’s locker room and laughed at how the kid dominated the Yankees hitters for an inning.

“Glad he’s on our team,” Carlos Pena said that day.

Price lived up to the hype during the American League Championship Series when he earned a win in Game2 and a save in Game 7 against the Boston Red Sox. That was Price under that pile of Rays near the pitcher’s mound as they celebrated their first American League championship.

He’s still a rookie. Did you know that?

Sometimes we forget that. We saw him stare down the Red Sox during the ninth inning of the biggest win in team history and think, “Oh, yeah. This kid is ready.”

The powers that be who run the Rays look at his fastball command and think it could be better.

They look at his change-up and know it has to be better to survive at the major league level.

They look at his innings last season, 109 2/3 in the minor leagues and 19 2/3 with the Rays, and see red flags.

Hand this kid the fifth spot in the rotation and his innings aren’t just going to increase, they are going to double, and that’s the last thing they want to do with that million-dollar left arm.

Rays minor league pitching coordinator Dick Bosman says young pitchers need to put some miles on their arms before they reach the big leagues. That’s the plan for Wade Davis. And while none of the Rays brass will admit it on the record, that’s the plan for Price.

Rays manager Joe Maddon was asked Monday if Price is a long shot to make the team as the fifth starter. Maddon didn’t want to use the words long shot, though his explanation as to why he didn’t basically said Price is a long shot.

“We still consider him in the developmental process, whereas a lot of people, I think, see him as the finished product,” Maddon said. “That’s where the confusion lies from the outside looking in, and I understand that. I get it. I totally get it, because if you’re watching the playoffs last year, you see him as the finished product.”

But those 109 2/3 minor league innings last season are what jumps out the most to Maddon and executive vice president Andrew Friedman.

It is a crowded race for the fifth spot, and two of the candidates — Jeff Niemann and Jason Hammel — are out of options, meaning they would have to pass through waivers before they could be sent to Triple-A Durham, and it’s unlikely either of the two would clear waivers.

The Rays are not willing to risk losing a promising young pitcher just to create a spot on the major league roster for Price. Not now, anyway.

Besides, pitching is a strength for the defending American League champs. They actually have the luxury of letting Price ripen down at Durham.

“If he doesn’t make it out of camp as the fifth starter, we see that as OK, because we have these other things we think he needs to work on,” Maddon said.

It’s about the mileage.

“When a guy like that comes to the major leagues,” Maddon said, “you want him to stay there and be successful.”

The best way to ensure that is to not rush a player, no matter what he did to those Red Sox last October.

The Rays are thinking about future Octobers.

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