Price has high hopes for 2011
By FRED GOODALL
AP Baseball Writer
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. (AP) — David Price isn’t content with being one of the best pitchers in the American League.
Tampa Bay’s hard-throwing, young left-hander won 19 games while helping the Rays win the AL East for the second time in three years. Now, he’s eager to build on the success he had during his first full season in the major leagues.
The 25-year-old finished second in the 2010 AL Cy Young balloting behind Seattle’s Felix Hernandez, setting club records for wins, ERA, opponents batting average and winning percentage. He allowed three earned runs or less in 28 of 31 starts and also became the youngest pitcher to start an All-Star Game since Dwight Gooden in 1986.
And while Price enjoys hearing his name mentioned in discussions about the top pitchers in the AL, he wants more.
“Absolutely. It’s not just about the American League. I want to be the best pitcher in baseball, period,” the first overall pick in the 2007 draft out of Vanderbilt said.
“If you’re the best pitcher in baseball, you’re the best pitcher in the world. I feel like that’s something you can smile about. Whether it’s in the American League or the National League, I want to be the No. 1 guy in baseball. That’s what I play the game for.”
Price reported to spring training this week, embracing his role as the lead starter in a talented rotation that is being counted on to help the Rays remain competitive after losing several key players via free agency and trades.
He began last season as the No. 4 starter but quickly established himself as the ace of a staff that became the first since 1900 to feature five pitchers who finished with at least 12 wins and 100 strikeouts.
The 6-foot-6, 225-pounder was 8-1 in 13 starts following a Rays loss, and his ERA of 2.72 was the lowest among AL left-handers.
Manager Joe Maddon expects Price, 0-2 against Texas in the playoffs with both losses coming at home to Cliff Lee, to continue to get better.
And while Maddon’s still hesitant to label Price as a “No. 1” starter along the lines of a Lee, Roy Halladay or CC Sabathia, the manager said the young star is “close” to being in that kind of elite company.
“I think David likes that,” Maddon said of the pressure that goes along with being the leader of a pitching staff.
“I think expectations have been a part of his normal routine for the last several years. So any attempt at elevating expectations on this guy, I don’t think he’s going to react to it any differently. I think he likes it. I think he loves the role. He wants all this other stuff piled on him, and I think you’re going to see the same guy. I don’t think you’re going to see anything different.”
Price had 12 wins against teams that finished with a winning record a year ago, matching Boston’s Jon Lester for the most in the majors.
In addition, he improved to 4-0 with a 1.79 ERA in seven career regular-season starts against pitchers who have been Cy Young winners.
He’s not satisfied, though.
“I can get better. I want to go deeper into games. By doing that, it’s throwing less pitches every inning. By doing that, it’s walking less guys, forcing early contact. Just being more efficient with the way I pitch,” said Price, who’s also motivated by a sour taste left by Tampa Bay’s loss to the Rangers in the opening round of the playoffs.
“That’s like falling short in the World Series,” which the Rays did in 2008, when Price was promoted to the majors in September and wound up making a huge contribution out of the bullpen, picking up his first big league save in the Rays’ pennant-clinching win over Boston in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series.
“You’ve got that taste in your mouth. Now you want to get back,” Price added. “You learned what you had to do that year to get to that point. Now you need to push yourself a little bit harder to get that extra mile. I know what I need to do to get back to that point, and that’s good.”
Price spent part of the offseason with his old pitching coach from Vanderbilt, working on his slider. He also found some time for a trip to Oklahoma to pick up the Warren Spahn Award, presented to the top lefty in baseball based on a combination of wins, strikeouts and ERA.
“To be rewarded for the hard work that you put in, that feels good. To be able to take your family and friends along for that ride is even better,” Price said.
“Last year was a ton of fun. We had a great team. I threw the ball exceptionally well. I felt like, for the most part, I was very consistent. That’s what I wanted to do, go out there every five days and give us a chance to win. I felt like I did that.”
Updated February 18, 2011