Berthiaume: Price deserves benefit of the doubt after long-awaited debut

  • Boston Red Sox starting pitcher David Price wipes his face in the dugout during the second inning of a game against the Chicago White Sox on Monday in Chicago. AP

  • Boston Red Sox pitcher David Price throws during the first inning of a game against the Chicago White Sox on Monday in Chicago. Making his first start since October 7, Price allowed three runs on two hits over five innings of work in a 5-4 loss to Chicago. BELOW: Price wipes his face in the dugout during the second inning. The Red Sox continue their series with Chicago tonight at 8:10 p.m. AP

  • Boston Red Sox starting pitcher David Price during batting practice before a game against the Texas Rangers at Fenway Park in Boston on May 23. Price made his season debut for Boston on Monday afternoon. AP

Monitor staff
Tuesday, May 30, 2017

If only the third inning of David Price’s 2017 debut could’ve been as productive as the other four he pitched Monday afternoon on the road against the Chicago White Sox.

The Boston Red Sox left-hander was cruising through the first two innings. Given his tenure in Boston so far, anyone watching should’ve known that things were going too well, that trouble was on the horizon.

Price was locating his pitches and even struck out two of the first seven batters he faced through two innings. His fastball topped out at 96.3 miles per hour with his 31st pitch.

But then he lost the strike zone for a second. He walked back-to-back batters. (One of those walks was issued to a guy who has struck out in about 25 percent of his at-bats this season.) Then Price found the strike zone again, delivered a pitch pretty much right down the middle of it, and watched it sail off Melky Cabrera’s bat over the left-field fence for a three-run home run.

“I was trying to throw a two-seam down and away and I just, you know, yanked it middle-in,” Price told reporters after striking out four with two walks on 88 pitches over five innings. “Everything today was kind of self-induced and as much as that stinks, it’s better than going out there and getting hit all over the place and giving up hard-hit balls left and right. That wasn’t the case.”

It’s unfortunate that he had to give up any runs at all. I’m really not sure how much more Price-bashing I can take, and he’s only been here for a little more than a year. But here we are, knowing the hot takes are on their way, if they haven’t arrived already.

Truth be told, I’m not sure it really would’ve mattered if Price was completely flawless Monday. Those who dislike him, the crowd that thinks he’s a colossal waste of money with the skin thickness of President Trump, have already made up their minds. There would’ve been something he did wrong, some way he underperformed on the unreasonable expectations bestowed upon him when he signed a $217 million contract last year.

The numbers from his debut would tell you otherwise. And even though those stubborn fans who constantly harp on Price will never actually do it, maybe it’s time to give the guy a little credit. Or at least admit that he’s a better option for a competing team than Kyle Kendrick or Hector Velazquez.

He’s pitched in the postseason, tossed strikes for division champions and even won the Cy Young once upon a time. Yet Monday still felt like one of the most important starts of Price’s pretty illustrious career (before he got to Boston anyway).

The expectations debilitated Price last season to some extent. He talked in the offseason about how much this year meant to him, how badly he wanted to prove himself to Red Sox Nation and win the affection of the sport’s toughest and most critical fans. Then he gets hurt in Spring Training, visits the grim reaper of baseball and somehow manages to miss only the first two months of the season.

Then comes a rocky rehab stint that featured everything from passive aggressive tweets directed at the media to a dine-and-dash departure from a bad rehab outing with Triple-A Pawtucket.

He has the weight of the world on his shoulders and might be one of the few professional athletes that’s visibly fazed by what’s said to him on Twitter. Yet he still managed to pitch pretty damn well in his first start since Oct. 7, with the exception of a few walks and one bad pitch to a guy who is 10-for-30 lifetime off him. His velocity was consistent with what it’s been over the last few seasons and he said all the right things afterward.

“It felt good just to be out there with my teammates, my brothers. That’s why you play the game, to have that feeling. There’s nothing else that gives you that,” Price told reporters after narrowly missing out on his first victory since last September thanks to a blown save from Matt Barnes.

For all the crap Price gets, those who certainly know him better than me or you – like his teammates and coaches for example – don’t have many bad things to say.

There’s plenty of evidence out there that speaks to the type of teammate he’s been throughout his 10-year career. Most recently, it’s come in the form of mentoring Eduardo Rodriguez, a 24-year-old lefty in the midst of a breakout season.

And it’s not the first time Price has taken a young pitcher under his wing, either. He did it with Marcus Stroman in Toronto and Chris Archer during his time in Tampa Bay. Sure, being a solid mentor and hardy veteran to lean on is not worthy of the $217 million price tag, but it’s certainly a testament to his character and proof that maybe he’s not as miserable here as everyone seems to think he is.

Imagine if he were an underperforming pitcher AND a bad teammate ... Good grief, I’d rather not.

Price’s teammates showed their support on Monday, too, many of them fully understanding that debilitating pressure that can accompany playing for the Red Sox.

Most of Boston’s starters wore high socks in Monday’s game, which NESN’s Guerin Austin said was done as a tribute to Price, who has gone with that look almost exclusively throughout his time in Boston. It’s hard to imagine players making that same gesture for a guy they can’t stand.

You may have lost faith in him (if you even had any to begin with), but it’s clear no one in that clubhouse has and that’s worth something.

So those hiding behind computer screens, tweeting obscenities at him, or calling into radio shows blind with rage saying Price is a waste of money and not worthy of the benefit of the doubt, it’s time to do the right thing. It’s going to be tough, but you can do it quietly and in the privacy of your own home with no one listening if you’d like.

But it’s time to at least give the guy a little credit, even if it’s just for one night. It’s well past due.

(Michelle Berthiaume can be reached at 369-3338, mberthiaume@cmonitor.com or on Twitter