Sox Week: Tough to set expectations for Price but team needs him

  • Boston Red Sox pitcher David Price will begin a minor-league rehab stint Sunday in Pawtucket, R.I. Sox Manager John Farrell said his earliest possible return date is May 24. AP file

  • Boston Red Sox pitcher David Price smiles while talking with the media before baseball Game 1 of an American League Division Series against the Cleveland Indians, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016 in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Dermer) vn

Published: 5/13/2017 11:23:31 PM

If anyone knows how ready David Price is to get back on the mound, it might be Chris Young.

Young, the fourth outfielder in a Boston Red Sox unit blessed with defensive talent, had trouble getting at-bats in April, appearing in just 17 of the team’s 24 games. So how did he stay sharp enough to collect two home runs and six RBI over a three-game stretch in Minnesota last weekend? Young’s front-row seat to Price’s rehabilitation has certainly played a role.

“Talk about a Cy Young-caliber pitcher that I’m able to stand in against and watch every five days,” Young told ESPN’s Scott Lauber, referring to Price’s recent simulated games. “The last sim game he threw, I think I was able to get six, seven at-bats. … It helps us both out.”

When Young lined a pinch-hit, two-run single in the ninth inning of a game last Friday against the Twins, he was facing Brandon Kintzler, a 40th-round draft pick in 2004. Kintzler’s stuff probably looked slightly pedestrian to the 95 mph Price fastballs Young has been tracking the last few weeks. And according to Young, the injured Price, a former No. 1 pick, still brings it, even when the pitches don’t count for anything more than a notch in his recovery.

“He’s in game mode. If anybody has seen him throw a simulated game, he’s not just up there getting work in, he’s in game mode, and it makes me in game mode,” Young told ESPN.

Price continues the rehabilitation process Sunday in Triple-A with the Pawtucket Red Sox. The PawSox will play at 1:30 p.m., weather permitting, at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, R.I., and it’ll be the first time Price starts a minor league game since 2013. In the event of a rainout, Price will throw 70 pitches indoors, according to Red Sox Manager John Farrell.

It’s tough to know what to expect from the 31-year-old Price as he tries to make his way back to the big-league roster because there’s little precedent in this area. Since his debut in 2008, Price has missed minimal time with injuries. The most relevant case was in 2013 when Price was with the Tampa Bay Rays. He sat out 47 days that season to heal a left triceps injury and made 18 regular-season starts upon his return, collecting a 9-4 record with a 2.53 ERA and 102 strikeouts in 131 innings.

Price also missed one start in 2012 with left shoulder soreness, but that’s pretty much the extent of notable injury history and part of the reason why he’s led the league in innings pitched in two of the last three seasons. Price will likely finish the year with less than 200 innings pitched for just the second time since 2010.

Even if he continues to be a shell of the guy the Red Sox thought they were getting in 2015, he’s still a better option than anything Boston has stashed away in Pawtucket or Portland. And the Sox could use another option. Boston starting pitchers named Rick Porcello, Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez have combined for 143.1 innings pitched and a 2.95 ERA. Everyone else with a start? 68.1 innings pitched and a 7.38 ERA. Not ideal.

Even though the Red Sox would like Price back in the rotation, there won’t be an overload of pressure on him once he gets there. When (if?) he returns, Price will be the third-best option in the rotation for the first time in his career. He was an Opening Day starter five of the last six years, but he’s clearly behind Sale and Porcello in Boston. Price is coming off the worst statistical career of his year (17-9, 3.99 ERA), Porcello is the reigning AL Cy Young winner and Sale is the front runner for the next Cy Young Award.

Although the $217 million contract comes with its own set of expectations, Price will be without the ace tag, which means he’ll be without ace-like expectations. For a guy that gets bothered by mean tweets, it’s fair to assume he’ll welcome a lighter workload and less pressure with open arms.

Price may even slot right back in to the literal third spot in the rotation. Farrell said last week that Price’s earliest possible return date is May 24, which would likely drop him behind Porcello and Sale and ahead of Rodriguez and Drew Pomeranz.

Team Kevin

The big-league club has been showing plenty of support recently for one of its little brothers in need.

Kevin Steen, a 20-year-old pitcher, was at extended spring training late last month when he was critically injured in a car accident in Lehigh Acres, Fla. The other driver reportedly lost control of his vehicle and crashed head-on with Steen’s Cadillac Escalade. The other driver died at the scene.

Steen, a ninth-round pick in the 2014 draft and Tennessee native, is still in a Florida hospital and it sounds like injuries to his lower body are career-threatening.

Red Sox rookie Andrew Benintendi played Single-A ball with Steen in Lowell during the 2015 season. Although he’s the only one on the major-league roster to actually play with Steen, everyone in the organization has been supporting him.

Reliever Ben Taylor, who has bounced between Pawtucket and Boston this season, put it best when he said, “This is a brotherhood. He’s one of our brothers. He’s going through a tough time right now, and we just want to have him on our minds.”

Steen’s shot at a major-league roster spot was pretty far off, and could possibly be gone now, but it’s clear he has been in the hearts and minds of the guys in Boston. Chris Young was vocal with his support when he exposed a navy blue “I Support Team Kevin” undershirt to a NESN dugout camera after hitting a home run last weekend in Minnesota. According to Chad Jennings of the Boston Herald, the shirts were hanging in the locker of every player before that series in Minnesota and are now being sold online for $20 each. There’s also a crowdfunding site set up to help fund a portion of his recovery.

The t-shirts, also worn by team president Dave Dombrowski during Saturday’s game at Fenway Park, are a small gesture for a player with a big challenge ahead. But for Steen, it sounds like every little bit of support is going to count.

(Michelle Berthiaume can be reached at 369-3338, or on Twitter @MonitorMichelle.)

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