Bradford: Inside the pitching mind of David Price


FORT MYERS, Fla. -- David Price didn't start doing these crossword puzzles until about three years ago. Back then it was simply a piece of paper and whatever pen was handy.

The process has evolved. First came a dedicated clipboard for the sessions in front of his locker, then a string attached to the writing utensil of choice. And this spring training another level has been found: Red Sox clubhouse manager Tommy McLaughlin has drilled a coat hook into the wall directly in line with the top of Price's chair. This is where the pitcher can now turn to his right upon completion of the crossword and hang up the test until next time.

This is a peek into how Price's mind works. Evolution is always the priority.

"He's the best I've ever seen in terms of making adjustments within a game, within an at-bat," said Red Sox assistant pitching coach Brian Bannister.

"He's just so unbelievably smart," added Dana LeVangie, the Sox' pitching coach.

Price is most likely going to be here for the next four years. That he made sure of by not opting-out of his current deal over the offseason. So it seems like a worthwhile exercise to understand why there might be a good chance the Red Sox get a top-of-the-rotation pitcher going forward, and how the lefty has actually kept up pitching appearances almost exactly two years from learning about a left elbow that was threatening his lot in life.

"If I want to play this game for a very long time I knew evolving was going to have to happen at some point," Price told "I bought into it early so I tried to understand how to do that on my own. You’re not always going to have your pitching coach out there, or you might not have any meetings or mound visits. You have to be able to make the adjustments. It’s something I take a lot of pride in and I hope it allows me to stay around for a long time."

Through it all -- the previous postseason conversations, the injuries in both 2017 and '18, the rocky relationship with the media, and the 143 wins, 3.25 career ERA, 1,922 1/3 innings and 1,853 strikeouts -- understanding Price's approach to the next batter, the next start and then the one after that might be the most important element of his existence. 

While some might suggest this whole evolution was a product of entering his mid-30's, perhaps weaving his way in and around outings without depending so heavily on velocity, Price is quick to point out that isn't the case. When it comes to evolution, this isn't a new phenomenon. Change, above all, has always been calling card, for better or worse.

"I think it can be both a blessing and a curse," he pointed out. "A lot of times I’m trying to tinker with things and make adjustments when I don’t need to. I guess the way I view it is I want to continuously make adjustments and continue to evolve and change the way I pitch just not to give hitters the same look.

"I’ve been in the East for nine years of my career. I’ve faced all of these teams probably more than anybody in baseball over the past 10 years with the exception of probably CC (Sabathia). Whenever you face guys over and over and over and it’s the same teams it’s tough, especially when you’re facing offenses that we face. I always want to keep changing it up because I feel if I do that I won’t fall behind the curve. Then again I might not need to change stuff up and I fall behind the curve because I switched stuff that I didn’t need to yet and opposing lineups hadn’t caught up to what I was doing differently. I just felt like it was something in Tampa that I recognized early on. If you don’t evolve in this game it’s going to catch up."

It isn't difficult for Price to surface powerful examples of the good and bad of this approach.

The instance still fresh in his mind was that moment in Houston which helped him completely flip his postseason narrative, pitching six shutout innings in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series in Houston.

"Last year in Game 4 in Houston I was playing catch I made an adjustment with my hands, went back to the windup and went into the bullpen later that night and started warming up a couple of times, felt really good and I carried that into Game 5 and the rest of the playoffs. It was an adjustment I made," he said, citing the help of both Jason Varitek and LeVangie in helping spot the alteration.

"It happens a lot. Switching from side to side on the rubber in an at-bat depending on what I’m trying to do. If I’m in the middle of the rubber and I want to throw a backdoor cutter I slide over to that first-base side of the rubber. If I want to make sure I get a pitch in with the four-seam, I slide back to the middle. Stuff like that."

But, as Price noted, there is the blessing and then there is the curse.

Take, for instance, that first time he threw in Kansas City back on May 2, 2015.

"I threw a complete game and then I faced them back to back starts," Price remembered. "I was on the first-base side of the rubber for the complete game and I faced them five days later and I switched it up and moved to the third base side of the rubber and I got whacked.  I wanted to give them a different look. I had good results five days before but in my mind, it was too fresh in their mind. So I was moving and giving them a different look. The ball would be coming out of a different spot. I over-thought a little bit so five days later I was back on that first-base side of the rubber."

He added, "Different guys evolve differently. It takes guys different amounts of times to either see that or buy into it. I did it at a young age. I think it’s something I did at the big league level and that’s tough because whenever you’re in the big leagues it’s a results-driven league. It took a lot of trust in myself and I was surrounded by a lot guys who had belief in me as well."

It might have started with Tampa Bay, but the attention to this sort of process has never been more important -- or challenging -- than it is for Price heading into his 12th big league season. For that, he can thank baseball's evolution.

If you pitch the same way all the time these days, no matter the stuff and what's on your resume, it's probably not going to work at the level you're used to.

"I might be inclined to do it a little bit more," said Price of a willingness to change. "I feel like because the hitters have so much information they’re not doing the same thing over and over and over … There is so much information out there. I’ll sit in on hitters meetings sometimes just to hear what they’re talking about and it’s pretty incredible the info that they have. This guy has done this 99 times out of 100 so when we’re in this situation this is what is going to happen, and it happens. They have the numbers to back it up. It’s pretty crazy.

"My first year here talking to (former Red Sox hitting coach) Chili (Davis) I said, ‘Give me your scouting report. You’re facing me today what are you saying to your hitters.’ I want to know what opposing teams are thinking. What would be your approach? Just to hear that from somebody that watches me pitch every fifth day and knows how I like to attack hitters and has 2,800 hits in his career I want to know what you’re doing. Just to get that feedback and to try and understand what hitters are thinking in the box and the type of approach. Just the game within the game."

Like those puzzles Price is routinely diving into in front of his locker, the next test is always one turn of the page away.

It's something the pitcher will continue to be banking on.

"Those who don't evolve," Price explained, "aren't going to last."