August 2, 2014 at 3:54 pm

Newest Tiger David Price shocked but thrilled to join team with a one-track mind: World Series or bust

Detroit – Justin Verlander, desperate for some new golfing buddies, wanted his new teammate to join his foursome Saturday morning.

But David Price just wanted to get to the ballpark, and start this new chapter of an already spectacular baseball career.

So the new Tigers ace pitcher arrived at Comerica Park around 1:30 p.m. Saturday, worked his way out to the field for a bullpen session around 2 p.m., and had a quick chat with general manager Dave Dombrowski around 2:30 p.m.

Dombrowski ended the brief conversation with a pat on the back.

Price is a Tiger, and he’s got the uniform to prove it.

“It’s cool. I feel like that’s how I used to write, in cursive, when I was a kid in elementary school,” Price said, looking down at the white Old English D on his navy-blue warmup jersey. “Being one of the final pieces of this puzzle, it’s a cool feeling. What these guys have here is definitely something special. They have a one-track mind, and that’s getting to the World Series, and not only playing that last game, but winning it.

“I’m looking forward to being a part of that.”

That Price was traded from the Rays on Thursday was not, at all, a surprise. He’s a free agent after next season, and the coupon-clipping Rays had no chance to keep him long-term.

But that he ended up in Detroit? Well, yeah, that was a shocker.

After all, mostly what everyone had heard in recent days – Price included – centered on the likes of the Dodgers, the Pirates, and the Cardinals.

That said, Tigers reliever Joba Chamberlain, a good friend of Price’s from their days together in the American League East, seemed to have an inkling early last month, when Price and Rick Porcello squared off in a Sunday night game at Comerica Park. Chamberlain joked to Price: Hey, why don't you just stay here?

“I was like, ‘No chance, man,’” Price said, laughing.

Then Price heard from Chamberlain again Thursday morning, when Price was in the middle of a round of golf.

“Joba texted that morning and said, ‘Make sure you bring your sticks,’” Price said. “I was like, we already came to Detroit.”

It was Thursday morning when the rumors started amping up, so Price cut off his golf game and headed to Tropicana Field for some light throwing – and, frankly, some peace and quiet. It's the park, after all, where he feels most comfortable, and feeling comfortable is key during times of such great upheaval.

A little while later, he heard from his agent, Bo McKinnis, that he was likely to be moved, and that it would likely be to Detroit. And just before 4 p.m., he learned what the rest of us learned: Incredibly, he was Tigers-bound, in a deal that cost Detroit its center fielder, Austin Jackson, and a starting pitcher, Drew Smyly.

Price took in the news on his couch, with his girlfriend and his dog. The TV was off. He just wanted a moment to reflect and just how his life had changed in an instant.

“It was a lot to go through. I’d never been in that situation before,” said Price, the No. 1 overall pick by the Rays out of Vanderbilt in the 2007 draft. “It was the longest tenure in baseball I’ve ever had, longer than high school, longer than college, longer than the summer ball team I played with for six years. But I’m confident in my people skills to get to know the guys on the team I don’t already know.”

In Detroit, he not only comes from a city that didn’t draw big crowds to one that sells out almost nightly during the summer – “My legs were shaking in the bullpen, it’s all new,” Price said – but he joins a star-studded rotation that also includes the likes of fellow Cy Young winners Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, not to overlook Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello.

Price seems to relish the fact he doesn’t have to be “the guy” here, like he was expected to be in Tampa Bay, but rather just one of the guys.

In short, he said, he fits in.

So, too, it seems will Price’s celebrity dog, Astro, a 5-year-old French bulldog who hasn’t made his way to Detroit yet — but should arrive sometime during the next home stand later this month. Tigers fans have been all over Twitter not only welcoming Price, but also Astro, which made Price smile. Heck, when Price arrived at his hotel Friday night, there even was a doggy bag and dog treats for him.

“It was 2009, I was living by myself in Tampa,” Price said, recalling how Astro came to be. “I needed a friend, you know. He’s pretty special to me.”

In turn, Price already is special to Tigers fans, many of whom think Price is the addition the Tigers needed to finally get them over the hump — and into a World Series parade down Woodward.

Price, the tall left-hander who turns 29 later this month, comes to Detroit with a suitcase of impressive credentials, including the 2012 Cy Young Award – a race in which he barely beat out his new teammate and soon-to-be golfing buddy, Verlander.

This year, he is 11-8 with a 3.11 ERA, and he leads the league in strikeouts and innings pitches. His last 13 starts, in fact, he’s gone at least seven innings — while over the last month, the Tigers entire staff has gone seven innings just 12 times.

The workload is a source of great pride for Price, whose philosophy is to get a better out on three pitches or less — none of this screwing around when you get ahead with two quick strikes.

It’s an approach the Tigers definitely will welcome.

“These guys have been throwing the ball well, so I want to come in and build on that,” said Price, whose Tigers debut is expected to be Tuesday at Yankee Stadium — which would put him in line to make his Comerica Park debut Aug. 15. (Get your tickets now.)

“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’ll fit in just fine.”

tpaul@detroitnews.com
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Tigers' pitcher David Price pitches in the bullpen before Saturday's game. / Elizabeth Conley / Detroit News