Scott Miller's Starting 9: David Price Works to Pitch Past Familiar Faces

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Scott Miller's Starting 9: David Price Works to Pitch Past Familiar Faces
Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

FORT MYERS, Fla. — A little sugar on your Grapefruit?...

 

1. He's Got Friends in Low (and High) Places

He is the Rick Steves of the American League East, a man so well-traveled he could author a guide, rate beaches in St. Petersburg and tell you where to get the best Szechuan in Toronto's Chinatown.

So while other starting pitchers work on command and secondary pitches this spring, David Price has one other item on his to-do list.

How to send his friends back to the dugout, grumbling bitterly, after an at-bat.

The Boston left-hander with the impressive collection of baseball passport stamps and new $217 million deal now is working for this third team in the division. He started in Tampa Bay. He finished last season in Toronto after being traded there from Detroit in July.

Only advance scouts have worked their way through the AL East more than he has. And, oh, the friends this friendly guy has made along the way.

"Pitching against your friends, for me, is hands down one of toughest things to do," Price told B/R during spring training. "I want to see guys do well, especially my friends and ex-teammates. I'm cheering for them.

"When we're not playing them, I'm definitely hoping they do extremely well. When we're playing against them, I don't want to see them do bad."

Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

Come again, on that last part?

"I want us to win, but if there could be a scenario where we win a really good game and everybody has a good game, I'm OK with that," Price said. "I still want to see my friends and ex-teammates do well."

Now in his eighth year in the majors, and given that the Red Sox will play the Rays and Blue Jays 19 times each this season, Price will be seeing old friends more often than you see Friends reruns on TBS.

"So I need to get over that pretty quick," he said, flashing his trademark infectious smile.

The sooner, the better, is surely what the Red Sox are thinking.

And from Price's perspective, as this new relationship begins, this also is a completely different spring in another respect: For the first time in years, he knows exactly which uniform he will be wearing for the foreseeable future.

"Absolutely," Price said. "I've got comfort in knowing I'm going to be somewhere. I haven't had that in probably three years, maybe four.

"Going back to the offseason after 2012, there was some speculation I was going to be traded then [from Tampa Bay]. I didn't know if I was going to make it through the entire 2013 season. Then after that season I definitely thought I was going to be traded before 2014.

"To know I am going to be somewhere, I haven't had this feeling for a long time. And it feels good."

He has enjoyed these early days of camp, getting to know some of his new Red Sox teammates, reacquainting with others and getting past the big hurdle with Big Papi. Price and David Ortiz, two of the game's nicer men, had developed an ornery history together based on pitching inside in the heat of competition.

Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Now, with their very first meeting, Price has added one more friend to his ever-growing smartphone contact list.

So there's peace of mind as Price begins work to bring another title to Fenway Park from many different avenues.

It will be fascinating to watch, because even when he didn't have that peace, when trade rumors were swirling, Price was cool enough to remain one of the game's best pitchers.

"I feel like I did a pretty good job of not thinking about it," Price said. "I wasn't thinking about a contract extension last year [in Detroit] or free agency or being traded.

"I feel like I've done a good job of being in a lot of experiences in which I guess I needed to focus on [the] right now. Going back to my junior year at Vanderbilt—with the expectations of being the No. 1 player heading into the draft—through my sophomore and junior seasons, staying in the present and not looking ahead to the future.   

"I feel like it started a while ago for me, and I'm very thankful to have those experiences. I'm just focusing on the present."

2. Meanwhile, in Detroit…

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

There was very little that was memorable for Justin Verlander in 2015. He started the season on the disabled list for the first time in his career (strained triceps), didn't make his first start until June 13 and finished with some of the worst numbers of his career (5-8, 133.1 innings pitched).

Yet...while the Tigers fell so far that they became sellers, trading Price and Yoenis Cespedes, Verlander quietly picked up steam in the latter part of the season. In 15 second-half starts, he posted a 2.80 ERA and 1.000 WHIP.

This spring, he's healthy, working hard and the indicators all look good.

"I'm not going to put numbers on it," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "My gut tells me Ver will re-establish himself as one of the better pitchers in the American League."

From Glendale, Arizona, his former catcher agrees. Alex Avila, now with the Chicago White Sox, said, "He looked great at the end of the year last year, the way he was throwing the ball. The last two months, he was 98, 99 mph, consistently."

Though much of the conversation surrounding Verlander the past two seasons has been about his lost velocity, the fact that the Detroit ace was battling a core muscle injury two years ago and the triceps strain last year undoubtedly took its toll. So, too, the fact that he is now 33.

"I don't put much stock in velocity, anyway," Avila said. "When he won the Cy Young and MVP awards (in 2011), he pitched at 90, 91 and bumped it up to the mid- and upper-90s when he needed to."

3. Family Feud in the AL Central

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

No more spring training dinners for Tigers general manager Al Avila and his son, catcher Alex Avila.

With the emergence of James McCann behind the plate and financial resources that needed to be allocated elsewhere, the Tigers essentially cut the catcher loose over the winter. So you can imagine the family conversations now that Alex has signed with the White Sox, Detroit's AL Central rivals, while his father is in his first full season as the Tigers GM, having replaced Dave Dombrowski.

Alex is training in Arizona while the Tigers are in their 80th season in Lakeland, Florida. Dad and son formerly lived together during spring training, sharing dinners and cigars on the back patio following long days at the ballpark.

Mark Cunningham/Getty Images

Now, Al jokes about living alone in Florida while Alex learns a new pitching staff in Arizona, and how the Avila family works toward splitting its loyalties.

"I've got the kicker," Alex quips. "I've got the grandkids."

His mother started spring training with the Sox instead of the Tigers, and what grandmother wouldn't be enticed by a couple of granddaughters? Avery is now three years old and Zoey is one.

"We've had fun with it," Alex said. "I've given out some White Sox gear. Problem is, my cousin is a Tigers scout, one of my best friends is a Tigers scout and my brother works for them.

"I used to give my extra gear to them. But now when I have extra White Sox gear, I can't go there."

4. The Way Things Work

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

So the White Sox signed veteran Austin Jackson the other day, and they talked about how he will play center field much of the time, particularly against lefties, and Adam Eaton will play some corner outfield.

Eaton, the White Sox's primary center fielder for each of the past two seasons, is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and said manager Robin Ventura has yet to say anything to him.

"I haven't talked to Robin," Eaton told B/R on Tuesday. "I wish he would come and talk to me. Hopefully, I'll talk to him in the next couple of days about what my role will be."

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Not that Eaton was grumbling...too much. An upbeat, talkative personality, Eaton said he welcomes Jackson and whomever else can help turn the Sox into winners.

"The more the merrier," he said. "I think he's a great addition to our team. I want to win a championship.

"I'll play anywhere."

One other note about these 2016 White Sox: When general manager Rick Hahn held exit interviews with several veterans late last season, the overwhelming consensus was: Keep this team together; we can win as is.

But ultimately, Hahn made a decision that not only did the club need a talent upgrade, but also a change in the clubhouse vibe. The additions of Todd Frazier, Avila, Brett Lawrie and now even Jackson all were made with the goal of bringing more energy to the club (which, they hope, will turn into more victories).

5. Cactus League Names of the Week

Morry Gash/Associated Press

These are some easy folks to root for, because how awesome would it be if these names were playing in an MLB park near you: 

  • Socrates Brito, Diamondbacks outfielder: Lefty contact hitter who hit for average and stole 20 bases at Double-A last season.
  • Balbino Fuenmayor, Royals first baseman: Participating in his first major league camp this spring, "The Great Balbino" has recovered from last year's knee surgery and is hoping his big power translates to the Cactus League.
  • Jabari Blash, Padres outfielder: Trying to make the big club out of spring as a Rule 5 pick from Oakland, Blash, 6'5", could become a power source for a club in desperate need of it.
  • Jett Bandy, Angels catcher: The Los Angeles Angels' 31st-round draft pick in 2011, Bandy was a September call-up last year and got into two games. 

6. Red the Ageless Wonder

Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

One of the coolest sights of the spring is watching Red Schoendienst, 93, tool around St. Louis Cardinals camp in Jupiter, Florida, in his role as special coach/sage. Since signing with the Cardinals in 1945, Schoendienst has attended every spring training except one. He was felled by an intestinal illness last spring.

"Just having Red Schoendienst here in uniform every single morning, it's awesome having him around and hearing his stories," Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha said. "He doesn't miss a day, and he's got 70 years in baseball."

7. Weekly Power Rankings

Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

1. Domestic Violence Policy: Proving it isn't messing around, MLB comes out strong in its first ruling, suspending Yankees reliever Aroldis Chapman for 30 games. The NFL could learn a few things.

2. Pedro Alvarez and Austin Jackson: The trickle-down effect of free agency finally finds Alvarez (who signed with the Baltimore Orioles) and Jackson (White Sox). Maybe the Great Freeze-Out finds David Freese next.

3. Josh Collmenter: On Tuesday, which was National Pancake Day, Collmenter took a break from teaching in the Diamondbacks clubhouse to make flapjacks in an effort to raise money for Phoenix Children's Hospital. If the veteran right-hander's repertoire on the mound is as versatile as it is off the field this spring, here's predicting a Cy Young Award.

4. Try Not to Suck: Ahem, Cubs manager Joe Maddon's new slogan for his players could sell millions of T-shirts everywhere while fitting all walks of life.

5. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band: Thursday night's show in Phoenix is expected to draw a large Cactus League crowd. From Camelback Ranch (home of the White Sox and Dodgers) to Cadillac Ranch, seamlessly.

8. Singles Day in Houston

Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The job is his to win, it appears, but is this finally Jon Singleton's year at first base in Houston?

One reason the Astros did not offer a contract to Chris Carter over the winter is because Singleton, at 24, should be ready.

Of course, some folks thought he would be ready in 2014, but he hit only .168 in 95 games. Then he played in only 19 games in Houston last year, hit .191 with a homer and six RBI and was left off the postseason roster.

So here we are again, minus Carter, plus expectations. Still, manager A.J. Hinch stops short of saying this is a make-or-break year for Singleton.

"I think it's hard to say that about somebody in his early-to-mid 20s," Hinch said. "I don't think it's career-defining as much as I think this is the best opportunity he's had to be a contributor on a good team as a potential starting first baseman."

But given that the Astros finally stepped back into the winner's circle last year, this isn't charity. They are in no position to give jobs away, so Matt Duffy, Tyler White and hot prospect A.J. Reed, rated as Houston's second-best prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, are all in the mix this spring.

Singleton signed a five-year, $10 million deal in 2014 and still has options left, which gives the Astros options, too.

"Jon Singleton enters with the most experience and, certainly, the most eyes on him," Hinch said. "Other guys are going to factor in as the spring goes on, depending on [how] his goes."

But, the manager said, Singleton gets the first look.

Now we'll see what he does with it.

9. Chatter

Morry Gash/Associated Press

A couple of stats from guru Bill Chuck over at Billy-Ball.com:

  • When the Cubs' Kris Bryant (199) and the Dodgers' Joc Pederson (170) each fanned 170 or more times last season, it marked the second time ever that two rookies crossed the 170-strikeout threshold. The first? It was in 1986, when Pete Incaviglia (185) and Jose Canseco (175) did it.
  • Why Todd Frazier could turn around the White Sox: Over the past four seasons, he's hit .258 with 102 homers and a .787 OPS. During the same time period, Sox third basemen combined to hit .229 with 54 homers and a .635 OPS.

9a. Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Week

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

Mets pitcher Jenrry Mejia, banned for life for failing a third performance-enhancing drug test, said he was set up by MLB. I say here's a dedication to those who consistently perform misdeeds from the late, great Warren Zevon:

"I started as an altar boy, working at the church

"Learning all my holy moves, doing some research

"Which led me to a cash box, labeled "Children's Fund"

"I'd leave the change, and tuck the bills inside my cummerbund

"I got a part-time job at my father's carpet store

"Laying tackless stripping, and housewives by the score

"I loaded up their furniture, and took it to Spokane

"And auctioned off every last Naugahyde divan

"I'm very well-acquainted with the seven deadly sins

"I keep a busy schedule trying to fit them in

"I'm proud to be a glutton, and I don't have time for sloth

"I'm greedy, and I'm angry, and I don't care who I cross"

Warren Zevon, "Mr. Bad Example"

Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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