Detroit — David Price must have said it 10 times in the course of a 20-minute interview.
“I just want to fit in.”
And Tigers manager Brad Ausmus just chuckled at that.
“He’ll be fine,” he said. “He’ll slide right in. I talked to some contacts that know David Price and I didn’t hear a bad thing said about him. I don’t think that will be an issue. This is a good clubhouse to come into. These are good guys and they will welcome him with open arms.”
Price, as The News reported Friday, will make his Tigers debut Tuesday night in New York. Ausmus and pitching coach Jeff Jones had a task every manager in baseball would relish. They had to choose between two Cy Young Award winners to pitch a Monday night game in Yankee Stadium — Price or Max Scherzer.
“What it came down to is, Max only threw 95 pitches in his last start and David threw almost 115,” Ausmus said. “After consulting with Jonesy, we decided, why not give the guy with the heaviest pitch load the extra rest.”
Thus, Scherzer goes Monday and Price will take the ball Tuesday.
“That’s the biggest stage in baseball,” Price said. “It’s a tough place to pitch, with the crowd they have. It’s always been a tough place to pitch. I’ve been part of a few milestones there.”
It was Price who served up Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit.
“These guys (Tigers rotation) have been throwing the ball well, so I want to come in and build on that,” Price said. “I don’t want to be the odd man out. If I can throw the ball the way I have over the past two months, I think I will fit in just fine.”
The Tigers are counting on that. Over his last 12 starts, Price is 7-4 with a 2.03 ERA. Opponents are hitting just .209 against him with an OPS of .564.
Price is well aware that he was brought in as the possible final piece on a team that has aspirations of winning the World Series. He seemed genuinely at peace with that.
“Being one of the final pieces of this puzzle, it’s a cool feeling,” he said. “What these guys had here is definitely something special. They have a one-track mind and that’s getting to the World Series — not only playing that last game but winning it.
“I’m looking forward to getting to be a part of that.”
Price said being a part of such a talented and decorated staff actually takes some of the stress off.
“Being the final piece does add a little bit of pressure, but in Tampa I was looked at as a difference-maker and the leader of the staff,” he said. “This staff, there are five leaders.”
There may not be anybody happier to see Price in the Old English D than Miguel Cabrera. He has just one hit in 17 at-bats against Price.
“I just try to throw strike one,” Price said, chuckling sheepishly. “If you are 1-0 or 2-1 against that guy, he’s going to hit the baseball hard. He’s definitely hit his fair share of balls hard against me. He hit a couple hard off me the last time I was here. I got him out on a generous call on my backdoor cutter. I told him at the All-Star Game that I thought it was a ball and he definitely agreed.
“I will always take whatever I can get, especially against guys like that.”
Price has said repeatedly that he’s never pitched better in his life than he has this season. And the reason for the success? He has adopted the Max Scherzer philosophy of attacking the strike zone early in the count.
“I’m commanding the strike zone at a rate I really never have,” he said. “I know I throw a lot of strikes — it’s 0-2 and I am not trying to go out of the strike zone to get a guy out. The hitters definitely know that, and I am getting swings 0-1.
“Guys are trying not to just put the ball in play but they are trying to force early action. That’s what I want. I want a guy on or out in three pitches or less. If I can do that, I can give up 3 or 4 runs and still pitch into that seventh, eighth, possibly ninth inning.”
Price has pitched seven or more innings in each of his last 13 starts. And with the inconsistency of the Tigers bullpen, that’s a pleasing statistic for Ausmus.
“I hope he goes out and gets 27 outs every time,” Ausmus said.
As dominant as Price has been in the regular season, his postseason numbers have been rather pedestrian (1-4, 5.06 ERA).
“I had a really bad start last year in Boston, but I haven’t had a whole lot of postseason starts (four),” he said. “I know I’ve faced Texas quite a few times and that is a team I can’t stand facing and they know that. That was a park I really struggled to pitch in. With the lineups they had in 2010 and 2011 that was an extremely tough team to pitch against.”
Price felt somewhat redeemed when he beat Texas, 5-2, in Game 163 last season to send the Rays into the wild-card game.
“I know Game 163 last year didn’t count (on his playoff stats), but that’s a Game 5 or Game 7 in the postseason because if you lose that game, you go home,” Price said. “I know I can pitch in the postseason. I did it when I was a rookie in 2008 when I had no idea about Major League baseball really.”
Price will be a Tiger at least until the end of the 2015 season and there has been plenty of media speculation that if and when Scherzer leaves in free agency next winter, the Tigers will be prepared to offer Price a rich, long-term offer similar to the one extended to and refused by Scherzer last offseason.
Price, for now, wants no part of that speculation.
“I try to focus on the now,” he said. “Whenever you focus on six months from now or 18 months from now, that means you’re not focusing on what you’re trying to do right now.
“I’m not worried about free agency or what all’s going on with that. I want to focus in on right now, on the Detroit Tigers, on my teammates, and give these guys a chance to win every fifth day.”