Price struggles; Ausmus 'not slightest bit worried'

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
David Price starts for the Tigers Tuesday against the Pirates.

Lakeland, Fla. – Manager Brad Ausmus watched Opening Day starter David Price, on his final spring start, give up seven runs on eight innings – all of the damage coming in two innings in the Tigers' 7-3 loss to the Pirates Tuesday.

"It's funny, it never really bothered me when a good pitcher on his last spring start doesn't have his best outing," Ausmus said. "It kind of reminds you that this game is not easy. But I am not even the slightest bit worried about it."

Nor is Price, who but for three innings over the last two starts where he was tagged for three, four and three runs, has looked strong and sharp.

"I wanted to go out and put together a strong outing, but my body feels good," Price said. "I'd rather my body feel the way it does right now and have a 10 ERA, as opposed to having kinks and soreness and have a zero right now.

"My body feels good and that's what you want."

There is one mechanical glitch he will have to work out in his bullpen session before starting Opening Day Monday against the Twins.

"It's not a worry; his stuff looked good," catcher Alex Avila said. "I would say when he was in the stretch, every once in a while the ball will leak over the plate. But he's ready to go."

Having location issues from the stretch would explain why, after retiring nine straight batters through three innings without a single hard-hit fair ball, he gave up two mammoth doubles to Andrew McCutchen and Jung Ho Kang (420 feet) and then a shot over the 420-foot wall in center by Francisco Cervelli in the fourth – all on pitches thrown from the stretch.

It may also explain why he gave up three straight singles after he went to the stretch position in the sixth.

"He looked a little out of sync once he got into the stretch," Ausmus said.

Price sets up in the stretch position on every pitch, but his delivery with nobody on base and with men on base are obviously different.

"It's about the leg kick," Ausmus said. "He starts the same but it's not the same. The movement (from the stretch) is different."

It's not a difficult fix; but for Price, the best tonic will be regular-season adrenalin.

"It's been a good spring training," he said. "But I am just kind of hitting the wall. I think everybody is ready to go."

Rondon, Krol sharp

Every outing is of vital importance for the four or five relievers fighting for one of the final roster spots – including right-hander Bruce Rondon and lefty Ian Krol.

Both were impressive Tuesday.

"Rondon looked good," Ausmus said. "He threw all his pitches for strikes; it was the best we've seen him."

Rondon struck out the side, getting all three hitters out swinging uncomfortably at his slider. His fastball touched 100 mph once, but was steady at 96. He also mixed in a change-up.

"We are trying to determine if he's ready to pitch at the Major League level," Ausmus said. "Today he looked much closer to being ready than a week ago, maybe even five days ago."

The next hurdle will be pitching effectively on back-to-back days.

"He has to be able to pitch back-to-back days," Ausmus said. "It would be tough to go into a season with someone in the bullpen who couldn't pitch back-to-back. It kind of ties your hands."

Ausmus and pitching coach Jeff Jones were trying to decide whether to pitch Rondon again Wednesday. If not, he could work Friday and Saturday.

As for Krol, he struck out two in a clean scoreless inning. His newly-learned cutter is becoming a more useful weapon for him.

"He has slowly pitched better and better as the spring has gone on," Ausmus said.

Joakim Soria, the only Tigers pitcher with a perfect 0.00 ERA this spring, tossed another scoreless inning, as well.

Martinez sore?

Victor Martinez, coming off meniscus surgery Feb. 10, continues to slowly work himself into game shape. He went 0-for-4 Tuesday and now has two hits in 22 spring at-bats.

More potentially worrisome, he seemed to moving gingerly, almost with a limp, while running out his third ground ball of the day in the sixth.

"I think he's being ginger," Ausmus said. "When we talk to him he says he's OK to play. There's not much else to it. He'll probably have a little tenderness at times. When he does have it, it's in the same area and it's not sharp.

"He maintains that it does not bother him to hit. But it is certainly something we have to watch."

Ausmus said if he thought it was a concern he wouldn't be playing Martinez. That has not been the case.

Price negotiations

Price, a free agent after this season, was asked the obligatory question about the status of contract negotiations with the Tigers.

"Nothing new," he said. "It's not like there's a whole lot to talk about. I left it open to talk throughout the year so it's no rush. There is no rush for it."

As for it being a distraction with the season commencing next week, Price said, "It wouldn't be something that would linger. They know what they want to do and so do I. So if we get to that point it would go quickly.

"It's not something we'll revisit every two weeks. I am sure the Tigers would rather it be we can get it done or we can't and then leave is alone."