Why Blue Jays used Price as reliever in big Game 4 win

ARLINGTON, Texas — Want to know what I think about the Blue Jays’ decision to use David Price in relief Monday with a 7-1 lead?

I think the Jays preferred to start righty Marcus Stroman in Game 5 all along.

That’s right, Stroman over Price in a deciding game, a choice that would have been unthinkable even a week ago. But that is where the Jays stand after their 8-4 victory over the Rangers in Game 4 of the Division Series — and if they truly wanted to avoid this position, they could have done so easily.

Specifically, they could have saved Price after they built their big lead Monday, then had him start Game 5 with Stroman in reserve — the exact plan that the Rangers will implement in Wednesday’s finale, with lefty Cole Hamels starting and righty Yovani Gallardo in reserve.

But no.

Manager John Gibbons lifted righty R.A. Dickey after 4 2/3 mostly splendid innings, lifted him in favor of Price, who went on to allow three runs and throw 50 pitches in three innings. Gibbons said afterward that Price would not even be available in relief for Game 5, though Price offered a differing view, vowing to be ready.

So, what the heck was this all about? Why the heck did the Jays burn Price with a 7-1 lead? Gibbons offered a variety of explanations in his postgame news conference, and believe it or not, none was entirely unreasonable.

First and foremost, the Jays not only were without lefty Brett Cecil, who will miss the rest of the postseason with a torn calf muscle, but also Aaron Loup, who left the park before the game to attend to a family issue.

Price, then, was the only left-hander in the bullpen. He had warmed up twice the previous night without entering the game. Gibbons did not want that to happen again; once Price warmed up this time, he was going in.

Well, Price warmed up in the fifth, with the Rangers’ lineup set to turn over and their big left-handed hitters coming up. Dickey already had allowed two singles to one of those hitters, Shin-Soo Choo — and Dickey is a flyball pitcher with a fairly high homer rate.

2015 POSTSEASON

Gibbons did not want Dickey facing Choo again, fearing the same type of comeback that the Royals had pulled off earlier Monday. He did not want to give the Rangers a chance to rally, especially in their home park. With two outs and a runner on first, he made his move.

Still, the score was 7-1 — seven-freaking-one. A two-run homer by Choo only would have reduced the Jays’ lead to 7-3. Yes, Price was ready. But Gibbons could have waited longer to warm him up, waited until Dickey was in greater trouble and the Jays’ lead was in greater jeopardy, assuming those things happened at all.

Which returns us to Stroman.

Using Price — and using him for 50 pitches — removed any drama from the selection of a Game 5 starter. The problem is, if Price indeed is unavailable in relief for the finale, the Jays’ bullpen again will be vulnerable. Loup will be the team’s only left-handed counter to Choo, Prince Fielder, Mitch Moreland and Josh Hamilton — and that’s assuming Loup returns.

Maybe none of it will matter. Maybe the Jays again will score a ton of runs, even against Hamels. Maybe Stroman will dominate in only his sixth start since returning from surgery to repair a torn ACL, and that will be that.

To be sure, Stroman over Price isn’t a crazy idea. Price struggled on Game 1, albeit on 11 days’ rest, and relies mostly on hard stuff. Stroman excelled in Game 2, showing resiliency after his defense failed him early, and possesses the breaking pitches to keep the Rangers off-balance.

Lest we forget, Price also is 0-6 with a 5.23 ERA in six career postseason starts, though any portrayal of him as some sort of weakling in the clutch is unfair. Price won Game 162 to clinch the AL Central for the Tigers last season, and the Game 163 tiebreaker for the Rays the year before that. He doesn’t stink, OK?

He doesn’t stink, and he’s eligible for free agency, and heaven knows where this all leads. Price is saying all the right things about pitching in relief, wanting to help his team. He jokingly told me Saturday that he wanted to close Game 3, start Game 4 and start Game 5 — “I need to redeem myself,” he said, turning serious. “I’m going to.”

There is no reason to doubt Price’s sincerity — he frequently is described as a great teammate. But wouldn’t you love to know his honest opinion of how the Jays have handled him?

The Jays, with Price’s blessing, skipped his final regular-season start after they clinched the AL East with four days left in the regular season. They then blew their chance to finish with the best record in the AL by losing four of their last five games — a slide that will cost them home-field advantage in the ALCS if they play the Royals.

Would Price have performed better in Game 1 if the Jays had kept him on normal rest? There is no way to know. But suffice it to say that Price’s postseason schedule has been rather disjointed. The start in Game 1 on 11 days’ rest. The two times warming up in Game 3. The 50-pitch relief outing in Game 4.

The Blue Jays, then, might be costing themselves any chance to re-sign Price, a chance that was slim to begin with. And yet, this all still could work out short-term. If the Jays advance to the ALCS, Marco Estrada could start Games 1 and 5, Price Games 2 and 6, Stroman Games 3 and 7.

That is, assuming the Jays don’t continue using Price as a long reliever. No way, right?