07/12/10 5:40 PM ET
AL goes to Price to make the start
Rays ace will be youngest All-Star starting pitcher since Gooden
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
From the time he was selected No. 1 overall in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft out of Vanderbilt, it was a matter of when, not if David Price would announce his arrival as a dominant force for the Tampa Bay Rays.
That time has come -- with an exclamation mark.
There has not been a more consistently effective starter in the AL this season than the 6-foot-6 southpaw who leads the league in victories (12, tied with CC Sabathia) and ERA (2.42) through 17 first-half starts.
Those numbers, combined with his high-octane stuff and maturity, made him the logical candidate to start for the AL as it tries to maintain its firm grip on the National League in Tuesday night's All-Star Game at Angel Stadium.
"He's learned a lot in the big leagues," said Rays teammate Carl Crawford, who will play left field behind Price in the AL's starting lineup. "He's learned how to get guys out. His confidence is building every day. He just knows he has the stuff to dominate now."
Price was named by AL manager Joe Girardi of the Yankees in a press conference on Monday morning.
"It's awesome," Price said. "It's a great honor that I'm here representing the Rays. It hasn't set in yet. Looking at this lineup, when you've got Joe Mauer hitting seventh and Carl Crawford ninth, it's a good lineup. It's a big honor."
Full maturity clearly arrived in his third season with manager Joe Maddon's Rays.
"It takes a while to get your feet wet at the big league level," Price said. "You have to have some success and you have to have some failure, and you have to be able to learn from both of them. And that's what I feel like I did last year, and that's how I feel like this year.
"No matter who I take the mound [against] or who is in the [batter's] box, it's me against them. That's the attitude I've taken this year, and I feel like I've been consistent for the most part. I feel like that's the definition of a good pitcher -- being able to be consistent."
Girardi had a handful of worthy candidates to draw from, but Price's consistent excellence and the fact he hasn't pitched in six days made him the most viable choice.
"David's numbers speak for themselves," Girardi said. "He's the league leader in wins, tied with CC, and I believe he's first or second in ERA. He was the top [pick] among the players voting for starting pitchers. I think he deserved to pitch. He's right on schedule. He threw last Wednesday.
"It seems it's the time of the pitchers now. These aren't just guys with stuff. These are guys who know how to pitch at a young age."
There were no doubts about Price's credentials among those who have had the task of facing him.
"I tell the guys every year I'd much rather catch them than hit against them," said starting AL catcher Mauer, the Twins' reigning league MVP. "I am definitely excited to get to catch David.
"As a hitter, you're always trying to evaluate pitchers. When he first came up, I was looking for that fastball. Now he's got some other pitches to keep you off-balance. He has great stuff."
Mauer is 2-for-6 with a double and two RBIs in his career against Price, but he's 0-for-3 with a walk and strikeout this season.
"You'd have to say, looking at his numbers, he's been the best starter in our league, right there with our own Jered Weaver," Angels All-Star center fielder Torii Hunter said.
At 24, Price is the youngest pitcher to start in the Midsummer Classic since 23-year-old Dwight Gooden of the Mets earned the nod for the NL in 1988. Price is the youngest in the AL since the Royals' Bret Saberhagen, also 23, in 1987.
"He's definitely coming into his own," said Sabathia, an All-Star for the fourth time who is unable to pitch because he started on Sunday in Seattle. "I don't know if I was that good at that age. He commands the strike zone. His fastball command is unbelievable, and he knows how to bring that little cutter and slider into it. But it all comes back to that fastball."
Price is among a select group of six pitchers under 25 to combine at least 12 wins with an ERA below 2.50 and 100 strikeouts heading into the All-Star break. Roger Clemens (15-2, 2.48 ERA, 146 strikeouts in 1986) is the most recent to hold that distinction. Price is the youngest to be leading either the AL or NL in wins and ERA at the All-Star break since 23-year-old Scott Erickson with Minnesota in 1991, when the right-hander had 12 wins and a 1.83 ERA.
In 142 1/3 innings in his first two seasons with the Rays, Price was 10-7 in 28 appearances, 24 as a starter, with a 4.36 ERA. He gave a preview of coming attractions in the 2008 postseason, helping drive the Rays to the World Series with a 1.59 ERA in five appearances, all in relief.
Price's most recent effort, a decision over Boston at home on Wednesday, left a distinct impression on Red Sox hitters.
"He was overpowering," center fielder Mike Cameron said. "He was just overpowering everybody and he made pitches when he had to."
Price allowed two runs on eight hits and a walk while striking out 10 in 7 2/3 innings. He did it relying almost exclusively on an explosive fastball, around which the rest of his quality repertoire -- slider, changeup, curveball -- revolves.
"I felt good with it," Price said. "For the most part, I was locating it well. Until they hit it, I wasn't going away from it."
Price will be rested and revved for the first pitch in the Tuesday twilight, never prime time for hitters but especially so when a man with Price's size can bring his fastball in at 97 mph.
"It's tough to see here in the twilight," said Hunter, who calls Angel Stadium home. "I'd hate to be facing David Price at 5 o'clock [PT]."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.