Price Check: Rainout May Put Rays Stud In Line to Face Red Sox

Dimitri ZagoroffContributor ISeptember 13, 2008

Earlier this week the Tampa Bay Rays adjusted their rotation, moving Matt Garza’s start up to Friday in order to give James Shields an extra day of rest. For a team all but assured of a playoff berth, it’s a sign that the Rays are keeping the big picture in mind, and preparing their rotation for the postseason.

Not that Mother Nature cares.

Last night’s rain-out in New York means that Garza and Shields will both start in today’s doubleheader against the Yankees, and leaves Tampa’s starter for the series finale against Boston on Wednesday “TBA”.

While there’s no guarantee that the Rays will turn to stud pitching prospect David Price, it’s certainly an intriguing possibility.

He’s available out of the bullpen today, and the Rays have already indicated that they are ready to give Price his first start this year. Whoever takes the ball on Wednesday would then be available (on extra rest) to make a start September 23rd. With Price’s last start in the Triple-A playoffs on Tuesday, the Rays can treat a bullpen outing Saturday as a throwing day—and an audition.

Price has plenty of potential, much of it tied to his impressive K-rate. He racked up 125 strikeouts in just over 120 minor league innings this year, including stops in Vero Beach and Montgomery before joining the Durham Bulls in August.

However Price has not exactly dazzled Triple-A hitting, giving up 13 runs in 29 Triple-A innings. Despite maintaining a K/9 of over nine, Price’s BB/9 jumped from 2.53 in Double-A to over four with Durham.

While a little adversity can be a good thing for a developing player, it still raises questions about whether Price is ready for the big leagues. His last start, against the Scranton/Wilkes Barre Yankees on Tuesday, was a no-decision that didn’t provide any definite answers.

On one hand, Price gave up four runs in six innings, suggesting that the Rays should remain cautious about promoting their young pitcher too fast. On the other hand, he allowed just one walk while striking out nine—clear evidence that he’s overcome his recent control struggles, and another reminder of what a beast he could be at any level.

With Jeff Niemann (5.79 in two ML starts this year, 3.59 in 24 minor league starts) and Mitch Talbot (3.86 in 28 Triple-A starts) called up alongside Price, the Rays have plenty of options for Wednesday’s game. And facing three games in two days this weekend, their decision may have more to do with rest and health than ability.

It’s also possible that Tampa won’t want Price’s first start to come against the Red Sox, an offense patient enough to frustrate young pitchers, and talented enough to take advantage of their mistakes.

But with first place still up for grabs, it’s likely that Joe Maddon will put his team in the best position to beat Boston. If he looks good in his audition, that means starting David Price.

It’s rare (and a bit quirky) for a pitcher to make his major league debut against the same team whose affiliate he just faced at Triple-A. If Price can come out of the bullpen and handle the New York team a little better than he did Scranton/Wilkes Barre, don’t be surprised to see him toeing the rubber on Wednesday against the Red Sox.