If you had any doubt that David Price is the ace, it was cleared up with an Opening Day gem.
Price, who was selected over Justin Verlander to pitch the Detroit Tigers’ first game of the 2015 season, pitched 8 2/3 innings in the Tigers’ 4-0 victory over the Minnesota Twins before a sellout crowd of 45,030 at Comerica Park on Monday afternoon.
It was just what the doctored ordered.
Despite winning the last four American League Central Division titles, the Tigers entered the season with a lot of question marks, especially in regards to the pitching staff.
At one time, it was considered the best staff in MLB. But with the losses of Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello this past off-season, coupled with Verlander’s struggles and a trip to the disabled list to start the season, many started to question if the Tigers had enough to truly compete in a division that had gotten better this past off-season.
But for at least one day, it wasn’t an issue at all. Price allowed no runs on six hits in his first ever Opening Day outing for Detroit. He walked none and struck out five on 101 pitches.
“It’s huge,” Price said about the honor of being the Opening Day pitcher. “It’s always big to put up zeroes and pitch late into a game.
“To be able to do it on Opening Day makes it a little more special.”
For a minute, it looked as if Price was going to get a complete-game victory after getting the first two outs in the ninth inning easily.
But then he gave up a hit. Manager Brad Ausmus came out of the dugout and the boo-birds followed.
At this point, the fans have no faith in the bullpen that failed in the playoffs a year ago and didn’t change much in the offseason.
They feared the bullpen would blow Price’s stellar outing. Price wasn’t worried when he saw his manager heading his way.
“He was just checking on me,” Price said about Ausmus’ visit. “I didn’t think he was coming to get me, especially with the left-handed hitter coming up.
“I always appreciate whenever they come out and check on me. I wanted to finish that game, but I’ll take 8 2/3.”
After Joe Mauer, the next batter, got a hit, Ausmus came to get Price with two on and two out. Tigers’ closer Joe Nathan finished the game with a strikeout of Torii Hunter.
But Price had help even before Nathan. The Tigers flashed some real leather defensively, including a home run-saving catch by Yoenis Cespedes, who jumped over the left-field fence and pulled back a drive off the bat of Twins’ catcher Kurt Suzuki.
“Defense,” Price said. “That sets the tone.”
“Obviously, Cespedes, robbing that homer was huge.”
So were home runs by J.D. Martinez and Alex Avila in the second inning. Avila’s two-run bomb the opposite way gave the Tigers a 3-0 lead.
“The best thing about David is when he doesn’t have his best command, he’ll figure out ways to get outs,” said Avila about Price, who helped pitch the Tigers to their first Opening Day shutout since 2004. “Knowing how many innings David is going to be throwing this year, you have to save him any way you can.”
The ironic thing about Price’s success this season is that it will probably increase the Tigers’ chances of losing the lefty in free agency this winter.
Price, who becomes a free agent after the season, seems destined not to sign a deal with the Tigers during the season. He wants to test the free agency market.
And Price will be able to set the market price. The starting point is at least what ex-Tiger Max Scherzer got when he signed with the Washington Nationals for a whopping $210 million.
Nonetheless, the Tigers are just happy they have Price on their squad now. Nobody was surprised with his first effort of the season.
“That’s vintage David Price,” Tigers’ second baseman Ian Kinsler said. “He commanded his fastball on both sides of the plate. He didn’t throw that many offseason pitches today. He worked off his fastball and he did a heck of a job.”
Just ask the Twins.