There was hardly anything separating David Price and Dallas Keuchel last season, but in the end it was the Houston Astros left-hander who wound up beating out Price for the AL Cy Young Award.
It already seems unlikely either will find his name on any 2016 ballots.
What looked like a marquee matchup a month ago now features a pair of pitchers hoping to figure out what's gone wrong Thursday night at Fenway Park, where Price will test out a mechanical adjustment as he tries to lead the Boston Red Sox to a fifth straight win.
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Keuchel went 20-8 with a 2.48 ERA last season with Houston (14-21) and Price was 18-5 with a 2.45 ERA between Detroit and Toronto before signing a seven-year, $217 million deal with Boston (21-13). Keuchel wound up taking home the hardware as the AL's top pitcher, getting 22 first-place votes while Price got the other eight.
Now the argument is which one has been more disappointing. Given the contract and the expectations the answer so far is probably Price, whose 6.75 ERA is tied for baseball's worst despite Boston's relentless offense gifting him a 4-1 record.
“I'm mentally strong,” Price told MLB's official website after allowing six runs over 4 2/3 innings Saturday in an 8-2 loss to the Yankees. “I'm not going to harp on these seven starts or my last start. I'm going to go out there on Thursday and be ready to get after the Astros.”
It might wind up being one of the Red Sox's most prolific hitters who gets the lefty pointed in the right direction. After Price's last start, Dustin Pedroia told Price that his leg lift and hand positioning are different than they've been in the past.
Pitching coach Carl Willis didn't seem to mind Pedroia doing his job for him.
“We hadn't connected it to the hands,” Willis said. “We felt the foot was getting out from underneath him, and he was not really getting a good load. That's still part of the equation, but in connecting the hands with it, it allows it to all stay in a better loaded position.”
Mechanics aside, Price's ERA is due an adjustment. His fielding-independent pitching of 2.85 is sixth in the AL and he's striking out 11.54 batters per nine innings. His .383 batting average on balls in play against is 102nd out of 103 qualified starters.
Price is 2-2 with a 2.09 ERA in five starts against Houston since 2013, and he'll head into this outing with the AL's highest run-support average (8.49).
He shouldn't expect that to change. The Red Sox pounded out 48 hits and scored 40 runs in a three-game sweep of the A's at Fenway, capped with Wednesday's 13-3 win that featured two homers from Jackie Bradley Jr.
''The lineup, up and down, it's a relentless group and they're not giving at-bats away,'' manager John Farrell said. ''We're in a stretch right now where we're driving the baseball.''
Bradley drove in six for the second time in the series and extended his hitting streak to 17 games, one off Eric Hosmer's for the longest in baseball this season.
He's 0 for 3 against Keuchel (2-4, 4.70 ERA), who gave up three runs over seven innings at Fenway on Aug. 15, 2014, in his only start against the Red Sox.
Keuchel's BABIP is .346 after his .269 mark was ninth in the majors last season, so perhaps he's also due some better luck. He's looking forward to a matchup against the pitcher he befriended at the 2015 All-Star game.
“It will be fun,” Keuchel said. “Going into his park and facing him is going to be pretty fun and they're hitting the ball well, so I've got my hands full.”
The Astros would love a lengthy outing from their ace. They used eight pitchers in Wednesday's 5-3, 16-inning win over Cleveland to wrap up a 6-4 homestand.