'Fastball location' lacking, though Ks are coming for Price

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
David Price throws during the third inning Saturday.

Lakeland, Fla. -- In his first start since -- surprising to him -- he was named the Tigers' Opening Day starter, David Price was just OK.

He fell behind in the counts early Saturday, so he couldn't throw the pitches he wanted to later in the count. He was leaving pitches up later, to the Mets' delight.

Still, Price had enough to strike out seven in his 4.1 innings -- a number, by the way, that even caught him off guard.

"Ummm, I didn't think it was that many," he said, laughing. (Manager Brad Ausmus later was surprised it was that high, as well.) "That's good to see."

Price mixed up his pitches in the 6-4 win over the Mets, who scored two runs off him, thanks to eight hits -- a couple softies but mostly legit doubles and singles.

He threw fastballs, curveballs and changeups, some good and some bad. He got swings and misses on all of them, strikeouts on all of them, but there were hits on all of them.

"I didn't have total control of anything today. That's gotta improve. I've always gotta have command of that fastball," Price said. "It opens up so many doors, then my breaking stuff, my offspeed pitches, secondary stuff, doesn't have to be as good. That's when pitching is fun, when you can go out there and put your fastball wherever you want to.

"Fastball location is always key."

That's not to say Price's fastball wasn't, well, fast.

The lefty was humming it in there, particularly early. The Joker Marchant Stadium radar gun clocked him multiple times in the first inning at 98 mph -- which, when factoring in Grapefruit League inflation, put him right around 95 or 96 mph.

He was just missing with the location.

Same with the curveball, revamped this offseason with the counsel of A's pitcher and fellow Vanderbilt alum Sonny Gray, and the changeup.

One pitch he left up was in the first inning, when Mets outfielder John Mayberry Jr. was at the plate. Price delivered, and Mayberry ripped it -- right back at Price's head. Fortunately, he had a quick reaction, and got his glove on it, deflecting it to second baseman Hernan Perez, who caught it for the final out of the first inning.

Price then met catcher Bryan Holaday along the base line, a smile on both faces.

"He asked me if I needed new sliders," Price said, with a chuckle.

"I saw that (Clayton) Kershaw got hit somewhere in the face yesterday. Right before I was throwing that pitch, I was like, 'I gotta locate this pitch; if not it could come back at me.' If you have those thoughts on the mound, you need to step off because nothing good happens whenever you're thinking that. Thankfully it was hit a little higher."

And, thankfully, he got a glove on it.

"I did?" Price said, legitimately surprised. "I didn't know."

In four starts this spring, Price has a 4.38 ERA, mostly due to his control. The K's are still there.

It's unusual for him. Prior to 2015, Price, 29, only had one subpar spring training. But Price is with a new team now, taking in the TigerTown culture for the first time after coming over in last July's trade with the Rays.

The Tigers couldn't be less concerned. They named him their Opening Day starter this week, snapping Justin Verlander's streak of seven in a row. (Does that mean Price has to give Verlander one less stroke on the golf course? "Nah, we might add another one.")

Price acknowledged he wants to prove the decision right, and that included a better outing Saturday. In fact, like it was the regular season, he said he wanted to go seven or eight innings Saturday, not that Ausmus ever would've let that happen -- not for any pitcher in spring training, let alone one the Tigers hope to keep beyond 2015. Though, as Price reiterated Saturday, there still have been no talks on an extension.

"I try not to apply extra pressure on myself," said Price, who walked one. "I know there's a lot of pressure I put on myself to go out there and be perfect every fifth day.

"That, in itself, is enough."