Daily Process: Price, Rays Beat Lester

Terry Francona approached tonight’s matchup against David Price consciously. Lineup stalwarts like Jacoby Ellsbury, David Ortiz, and J.D. Drew –all lefties—sat in favor of their right-handed counterparts. Yet Francona decided to leave Carl Crawford –who has a platoon split—leadoff. The retort might be, “Well, who else was going to lead off?”, and the answer is Jed Lowrie or Dustin Pedroia or really anyone who hits lefties better.

Naturally, Crawford fell behind 0-2 before reaching base because he was “hit” by a 3-2 pitch. It would’ve been a ball anyways, but Price’s offering leading up to the payoff pitch were clear of intent. A slider down and away, a changeup away, then a pair of fastballs inside. Breaking pitches have long been the vain of Crawford’s offensive existence, particularly down and away, but credit the Sox left fielder for resisting.

Once Crawford got on, Price paid attention to him by throwing over a few time. The lefty managed to strike out Dustin Pedroia on a swung-thru mid-90s fastball over the plate before picking Crawford off first base. This game later featured Price showing off an inside maneuver with a runner on second, although he did not successfully record an out on the attempt.

Crawford’s next time up, Price went to an off-speed pitch right away before unleashing a blizzard of fastballs as Crawford grounded out to the shortstop position.

In the fifth, Price struck Crawford out by tossing fastballs, including a called strike three on the inside corner.

There’s some Price things I want to write about that are not Crawford-inclusive. The first of which being a note that applies to almost all of his starts and that’s how he worked inside and outside to righties. Price’s fastball velocity and movement allow him the luxury and he makes the most of it. Against Jed Lowrie (who would double), he went outside-outside-then inside. Against Mike Cameron shortly thereafter, he went outside-inside. Sometimes he goes inside-inside or inside-outside and so on.

This leads me to my second thought, which I should probably expand on elsewhere, but I have the energy to flesh some of it out now. Lately, I’ve been thinking about whether Price or Jeremy Hellickson will be looked upon as the better starter in 10 years. A nice amount of inversion exists between the two on a few different levels. Lefty-righty, power-finesse, tall-short, college-high school, and so on.

I think –and I may turn out to be wrong—that Price has already had the best individual season we will see between the pair with his 2010. There is nothing to be ashamed about if a 2.72 ERA over 208 2/3 innings pitched is the absolute max of your abilities and you have reached the apex by the age of 25. Hellickson, for reference, has been just about perfect as a starting pitcher thus far in his big league career and he has 37 1/3 innings with a 2.65 ERA. I doubt that continues over the next, say, 170 innings, for a plethora of reasons.

The American League East isn’t getting worse and the majority of the parks in the division are of the hitters variety. I believe only Roy Halladay and Pedro Martinez have been able to produce back-to-back sub-3 ERA seasons while in the division, so that speaks to the amount of talent it takes. And yeah, it takes some luck. It takes some defense, some bullpen support, a manager with foresight, and sometimes a friendly home scorer without integrity to post a sub-3 ERA in the East.

My point, here, though, is that Price is so often looked at as a thrower. A guy with amazing natural ability who just goes out there and fires. I’m not entirely certain that’s the case. I don’t know that Price is as clever as Hellickson, but then again, not many are –Hellickson seems like a guy who never uses a headrest if you get what I mean— I just think Price is a bit more cognizant of situations and patterns than he receives credit for.

Then again, there is something beautifully imperfect about a brainless ace.

Price’s counterpart for the night was Jon Lester. It feels strange to describe a Boston player as underrated, but Lester does appear to fit the bill. He –not Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett, John Lackey, or Daisuke Matsuzaka—has the most talent on staff. He –not them– has the performance to match. He –not Beckett, whose postseason heroics are glorified, and not Matsuzaka, who finished fourth in Cy Young voting that season—put the fear of god in the collective fan base during the 2008 American League Championship Series. He is very good. Almost painfully so.

It’s not by accident that I’ve watched all of Lester’s outings this season –including a meltdown versus the Rangers and a pitcher’s duel with Fausto Carmona in Cleveland. In the second inning, Lester located a pitch within the zone to Ben Zobrist, the pitch was erroneously called a ball. Lester showed his displeasure with a glare-in to the umpire. He did the same on the subsequent pitch –clearly outside— as if expecting a makeup call.

Lester had a similar blowup with the home plate umpire in his Cleveland start where he saw David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis rung up on pitches off the plate, yet had various close calls go against him. I note this not to make light of Lester’s temper or sense of entitlement, but because so often it feels like every call goes against the Rays versus the Yankees and Red Sox. As if the umpires are doing Major League Baseball’s doing by fixing games. And here, in back-to-back starts against small market teams, Boston’s ace is getting squeezed as if he were a rudimentary fifth starter for Pittsburgh. Sometimes, coincidences are just that.

A random note, but Felipe Lopez has a strong arm. I actually do remember when the Reds acquired Lopez from the Blue Jays (as part of a four-team deal that is only notable because Erubiel Durazo went to the Athletics) and all the talk about him being the Reds shortstop of the future. That didn’t work out, but it wasn’t because of his throwing arm. He still has that of a shortstop.

For the most part, I’ve been fine with Brian Anderson in place of Kevin Kennedy. I would be fine with just about anyone in place of Kevin Kennedy, actually, but Anderson’s chemistry with Dewayne Staats is top-notch and enjoyable. I’ve always said, I don’t need a good analyst, per se, just someone who doesn’t spit clichés and grate on the broadcast. Still, I have to disagree with Anderson when he attempts to paint the Manny Ramirez retirement as a good thing in light of Sam Fuld’s recent hot streak. It’s just not true, this team would be improved with Ramirez getting the plate appearances heading forward, not Fuld.

I like Fuld. I’ve liked Fuld –as a fourth outfielder, mind you—since the Rays acquired him. I do not, however, see him as a legitimate starting option. Not on this team, not if it has title hopes. Not for the long-run. If the Rays would have used Fuld in left field to game Desmond Jennings’ service time –which, I suppose they are now doing—I would have had no issues with it. But let’s not fool ourselves, I would trade an active (and not suspended) Ramirez for the Fuld experience right now.

Fuld is the closest someone like me will ever come to playing in the majors. He seem smart, he’s gritty, he looks like he is trying extremely hard at everything, and he seems like a normal person. All of those attributes and his height means he will be classified as a gamer, a gritty gamer, and whatever godforsaken superlatives people feel the need to apply to a supposedly unathletic player who somehow flies around the bases and makes contact with fantastic hand-eye coordination.

I write all of this because my next point is crucial: I think the Fuld hype might end up hurting him more than helping him. He is a cult hero now and ostensibly for as long his hot streak lasts, but once the music stops playing, then what? Dan Johnson had a similar entrance to his Rays career and nowadays people seem fed up despite the incredible good fortune of clutch home run after clutch home run.

I like Fuld, a lot. I don’t want to experience a day when he is dumped on as a Quad-A player or a flash in the pan. I don’t want to stand in the way of folks having good fun or Fuld living it up, but I really do hope folks remember a factoid passed along by Christina Kahrl on Twitter earlier today: Fuld is four years younger than Jason Tyner.

Fuld is a fun player to watch and his run might be the highlight of the young season. Keep the good things in mind when he comes back down to Earth.

Middle Earth, that is.

Kelly Shoppach resembles Jason Varitek –at least in the face—when he has the bearded look.

I disagree with Joe Maddon not pinch hitting Matt Joyce for Lopez in the eighth. Runner on third, Daniel Bard in, and two outs. Compounding the decision is how Lopez exited immediately and the Rays reset the defense by inserting Reid Brignac and moving the other parts around. The team just as easily could have slid Ben Zobrist to second or third from right field and kept Joyce in right.

No one-run lead is all too safe versus this Boston lineup in Fenway Park. A two-run lead (if the Rays would have scored) isn’t either, but it is safer.

Speaking of the ninth. Kyle Farnsworth appears to be the Rays closer whether they want to officially anoint him or not. With the switch-hitting Jed Lowrie up and a high leverage situation in place, the Rays elected for Joel Peralta in the eighth. Peralta, he of the splitter, got the out, but Farnsworth and his cutter has a better track record against opposite-handed batters.

Farnsworth got his men –three lefties—in the ninth, with Francona throwing every worthwhile batter on his bench out there: Ellsbury, Drew, and Ortiz. Farnsworth shut ‘em down, albeit not without one last gasping opportunity from Fenway’s crowd, and the Rays officially moved ahead of the Red Sox in the standings.

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3 Responses to Daily Process: Price, Rays Beat Lester

  1. ramedy says:

    Fuld will be fine. His heroism is a bit more sustainable than Johnson’s. Not that Fuld will hit for the super-cycle every game; but as long as he makes the occasional nice catch or baserunning feat, people will be happy. It’s much harder for Johnson to continue hitting leverage-busting home runs against division rivals.

    The problem may not be Fuld’s, but Maddon’s. Any time Maddon sits Fuld, there will be griping. When Fuld regresses, people will gripe about Maddon not giving him regular playing time, or about him being moved around in the order. Nothing new for him, I guess.

    • R.J. Anderson says:

      Good point. You could also say Fuld will be leveraged to do important things like, say, pinch-running in a big spot, better given his talents. So, he may not get a ton of playing time, but he will be the image of joy.

  2. toosoxy says:

    I’m sure Fuld will be fine tonight. John Lackey is pitching.

    It’s early. I’m really getting tired of saying that- but it’s early. The Red Sox will turn things around (Toronto, anyone?).

    But I do think Fuld is one to watch. I don’t think he’s worth ALL of the hype yet… key word=yet. The Dice-K game? Doesn’t count. Terrible pitching can make you think someone’s the best hitter on the planet…