Price's latest start makes big statement
Left-hander allows one run in complete-game gem against Royals
KANSAS CITY -- Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski walked into manager Brad Ausmus' office in the visiting clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium on Saturday night, sat down on the couch and smiled.
"That was impressive," Dombrowski said.
That was a 2-1 Tigers victory against the Royals, featuring David Price carrying a shutout until Lorenzo Cain's two-out home run in the bottom of the ninth before the lefty finished up with only the sixth complete game in the big leagues this season.
That was what Detroit had in mind on July 31 last season when it shipped center fielder Austin Jackson to Seattle and left-hander Drew Smyly and top shortstop prospect Willy Adames to Tampa Bay to add Price for last year's pennant drive.
And that was why the Tigers were willing to shell out an arbitration-eligible record $19.75 million contract to Price in the winter, wanting to keep him for at least one more year before he becomes a free agent with the idea that he could provide the type of leadership on the mound that could take Detroit to a World Series championship.
As Ausmus put it, "That is why we acquired him. He is one of the best pitchers in baseball."
How good is Price? Good enough that at the age of 29, he could easily earn his fifth All-Star invite in six years this summer. Good enough that Price won the AL Cy Young Award in 2012. Good enough that he has had double-digit win totals each of the past six seasons, including leading the Majors with 20 wins in that Cy Young Award-winning summer of '12.
Good enough that Saturday night Price slowed down a Kansas City team on a roll. The Tigers are the four-time defending AL Central champions, but the Royals made their presence felt a year ago, taking the Wild Card route into the postseason, claiming the AL pennant and then forcing the champion Giants to seven games in the World Series.
And this year, Kansas City is still moving forward. With wins on Thursday and Friday night against Detroit, the Royals moved into first place in the AL Central and are still a half-game in front of the Tigers after the Saturday matchup with Price.
"They are an extremely confident group right now," said Price. "They have had an edge all year."
It may have been dulled a bit on Saturday, though.
"We'll see [Sunday]," said Price. "They played better than us the first two games. We played better baseball [Saturday night]."
And that was because Price was right, more than anything else. He was coming off two disappointing starts, allowing eight runs and retiring only seven batters against the Yankees on April 22, and then giving up three runs in 6 1/3 innings at Minnesota last Monday, needing 109 pitches to get those 19 outs.
Price found redemption against Kansas City, pitching such a strong game that Ausmus didn't even step toward the field after the Cain home run, intent on allowing him to stay in the game "until he was in a position to get a loss."
It never happened. That was the way Price wanted it.
Price followed up the home run by Cain with a strikeout of Eric Hosmer that put the wrap on his five-hit, walk-free 106-pitch effort.
Price threw three or fewer pitches to 22 of the 31 batters he faced. He allowed only one runner past first base, other than Cain on his home run trot in the ninth. And that runner was his own fault. Price misplayed a slow grounder back to the mound from Alex Gordon with one out in the sixth, which allowed Christian Colon, who had singled, to advance to second.
"He is deceptive," Colon said. "It is really hard to pick up the ball. That's why he is one of the best pitchers in the game."
How good? Good enough that Ausmus, who has seen some of the better pitchers to ever play the game during his 18 big league seasons, doesn't hesitate to put Price in a class with Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw.
Oh, Ausmus could draw parallels to the likes of Randy Johnson and Kevin Brown, as well, in terms of competitiveness, but there's a calmness about Price and Kershaw.
"Their makeup is similar," Ausmus said. "Both of them also have that mindset that nobody that can come in from the bullpen has a better chance to get the hitter out than they do. It's a great asset for a pitcher, believing he can get a hitter out. Kershaw and Price are of that mindset even if they've thrown 125 pitches."
That is not an attitude Price worked to develop. It just comes naturally.
"I want to finish everything I start," he said. "I'm never going to take myself out of the game. I want to get all 27 outs. I tell the trainers before every game, 'See you after nine.'"
Price made the trainers wait for all 27 outs on Saturday, which was the way the Tigers liked it.