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Price rebounds, looks sharp in Tigers' loss

The Detroit News

Jupiter, Fla. — You know the saying, it's better to be lucky than good?

David Price doesn't buy that.

"In his mind, he doesn't need to be lucky if he's good," manager Brad Ausmus said Monday after Price spun four efficient and scoreless innings in the Tigers 1-0 Grapefruit League loss to the Cardinals

"David is a perfectionist," Ausmus said. "He doesn't just want to get a hitter out; he wants to get him out the way he planned to get him out."

Price was coming off an uncharacteristic outing last Wednesday against the Nationals. He gave up four runs, four hits, but more distressing to him, he walked two and wasn't commanding the strike zone like he normally does.

It was just his second start of the spring, hardly any cause for concern. Except to Price.

"I am not good enough to just flip the switch whenever the first day of the regular season comes," he said.

So he didn't wait until his next start to make corrections.

"Me and Jonesy (pitching coach Jeff Jones) had a good bullpen session three days ago," Price said. "I threw 38 pitches, which is way more than I would ever throw in any bullpen. But we needed to work some stuff out. I felt like I found my delivery.

"It put me in a position to where I could repeat everything and be more consistent."

Comfortable, efficient, dominant. He threw 48 pitches in four innings, 35 for strikes. He threw first-pitch strikes to 9 of 12 hitters. He allowed a walk and a single, and struck out five. In his fourth and final inning, he retired the side on six pitches — all strikes.

"As much as we work out in the offseason and play catch, there is no simulating these game scenarios," Price said. "You can't really go at that speed ever unless you are in a game. You've got to get out there and get comfortable."

Price said the one mechanical change he and Jones made was to find his leverage point in his delivery.

"You have to get to one point over that rubber," he said. "If you can do that you can do anything. I just had to get to that point and we made the adjustment."

Ausmus said Price's body may have been rushing ahead of his arm through the delivery.

"Pitchers, when they get in trouble, they get out front, on the front side too early and their arm drags," he said. "They don't have the power behind it and their location gets thrown off. Most guys want to stay over the rubber and keep their weight on their backside and then drive."

That was happening for Price on Monday. His fastball was touching 95 and his breaking balls — the cutter, change-up and curve — were equally sharp.

"Everything was good," Price said. "I was pounding the zone with my change-up. Threw a couple of good back-door cutters and my curve was good. This was the most I've thrown the curve in a game at this point in spring training. It was definitely easier when I am 0-1 and in better pitchers' counts.

"Getting ahead allowed me to work on more stuff and I found my breaking pitches were a lot more consistent," he said.

He froze Mark Reynolds twice with back-door cutters. He struck out Jason Heyward, setting him up with a 78 mph curve and then gassing him with 95 mph heat.

Ausmus asked him if he wanted to go out for the fifth. His pitch ceiling was 60 to 65.

"Jones asked me if I wanted to go one more but I didn't want to get two quick outs and walk a guy or hit a guy or, worst-case scenario, give up a home run and then Brad is coming out to get me," Price said. "If I got taken out of an inning after the way the first four went, that wouldn't have sat well. It could've ruined my day and I wanted to end it on a high note."

More important than the pitch count, to Price, was that he got up and down for four innings.

"I got up and down four times and the last time I only got up and down twice," he said. "This was a big step."

Ausmus has remained adamantly undecided about who will start opening day — Price or Justin Verlander. As the rotation is set up now, Verlander is on pace for the opener. Price is indifferent.

"I haven't put any thought to it, I never have," he said. "If I get the ball, so be it. If not, it doesn't affect me."

As good as Price was Monday, Cardinals right-hander John Lackey was just as impressive. He retired all nine Tigers he faced, striking out four.

The Tigers mustered just three hits, though Yoenis Cespedes hit the ball hard twice. He fly out deep to right center and doubled to left center.

The Cardinals scored the only run of the game off Josh Zeid in the sixth — an RBI single by Pete Kozma.

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

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