Price

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For Tampa Bay, the price is truly right. That is David Price, the leading contender for the American League Cy Young award, who at 26 years old, has already established himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball.

The Rays were in Anaheim this past weekend and left with a four-game sweep over the slumping Angels, who hit the road hoping to get back into the wild-card race.

Price faced struggling Dan Haren, and came away with a three-hit shutout, eight strikeouts with two walks over seven innings of Thursday’s 7-0 win.

No victory is ever easy, but it seemed Price had the Angels eating out of his hand, which wasn’t surprising.

Price has now won eight games in his last 10 starts, has a 1.72 earned-run average, is 16-4 with an AL-leading ERA of 2.39, and his win total paces the majors.

Tampa Bay is 67-54, five games behind the New York Yankees in the AL East, but tied with the Baltimore Orioles in the wild card.

Price has mastered four pitches, and his fastball hurries to the plate approaching triple digits. What’s more, Price, at 6-feet-6 and 220 pounds and left-handed, can be a scary sight on the mound.

In 2010, just his second season as a starting pitcher, Price went 19-6 with a 2.72 ERA and 188 strikeouts, placing second in the Cy Young voting.

Like most high-end hurlers, Price, a three-time All-Star and the AL’s starting pitcher in the mid-summer classic two seasons ago, relies on the heater, but can get hitters out with a slider, changeup or curve.

Most of the time, Price, who is sixth in the AL with 159 strikeouts, will opt for his fastball, which comes in the two-seam or four-seam variety.

In any case, the batter is in a big mess, hitting just .221 against him this year.

Originally drafted by the Dodgers out of high school, Price decided to attend Vanderbilt on an academic scholarship.

As a freshman with the Commadores, Price went 2-4 with a 2.86 ERA, then rebounded with a 9-5 record and a 4.16 ERA.

As a junior, Price really excited the scouts when he finished 11-1 with a 2.63 ERA, and a school-best 194 strikeouts, and was made the No. 1 overall selection by the Rays in 2007.

Price’s early highlight was a save in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series against Boston in 2008 that sent the Rays into the World Series, which they lost to Philadelphia.

Early in Price’s minor league career, he faced Pedro Martinez, who pitched for the Dodgers, Montreal Expos, Red Sox, New York Mets and Phillies.

“He’s amazing, that kid,” said Martinez, a three-time Cy Young winner, one of the most dominant pitchers in the modern era, and a key component in Boston’s 2004 World Series title, the first in 86 years. “He’s amazing…that kid is very mature for his first time in the pros and very talented. Oh my God. God bless him and keep him healthy.”

Martinez added: “That kid did a heck of a job throwing first-pitch strikes and pounding the strike zone and jamming hitters. I was watching that. He had such command.”

In time, Martinez has been proven correct, and of course anything can happen in a career, but it seems Price is well on his way.

Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at richsports5@sbcglobal.net.

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