MLB.com Columnist

Hal Bodley

Price can perform better for slumping Sox

Boston's big free-agent signing needs to up his game in second half

Price can perform better for slumping Sox

ST. PETERSBURG -- On the morning of June 1, the Red Sox were flying high in the American League East. They were 32-20, and they were in first place, ahead of the Orioles by three games. As they begin a weekend set at Fenway Park against the Angels, Boston is mired in second place, 5 1/2 games behind Baltimore.

The Red Sox limped out of Tropicana Field on Wednesday, losing 4-0 to the last-place Rays, their second setback in the three-game series. It was just the third time this season Boston was shut out.

Once again, lefty David Price -- who signed a seven-year, $217 million contact with expectations to lead his teammates to October's promised land -- failed. And Price will be the first to tell you he isn't performing up to anyone's expectations. Candidly, honestly.

Against his former teammates -- Price played for the Rays from 2008-14 -- he was down 4-0 after three innings, and he got just one out in the seventh before manager John Farrell called in the bullpen.

Price induces home-to-first DP

In Price's previous start against the Rangers last Friday, he only lasted 2 1/3 innings, allowed 12 hits, six earned runs and another homer. The only salvation that day was the fact the Red Sox wiped out a 6-0 deficit and won 8-7.

In his last two starts, which covered 8 2/3 innings, Price has allowed 10 runs and 21 hits. Overall, he's 8-5, with a 4.74 ERA. Price leads the AL with 120 strikeouts, but the 15 homers he's given up are two fewer than he allowed in all of 2015. He struck out 10 during Wednesday's matinee, but he gave up five extra-base hits.

Price has lost four of his past five decisions, and he has just one win since May 24.

This is not exactly what the Red Sox were paying for when they landed the free agent who helped the Blue Jays to the 2015 postseason, the first time since 1993, after being dealt to them by the Tigers at July's Trade Deadline.

But give Price credit. Too often I've seen Major Leaguers attempt to sugarcoat their shortcomings -- make excuses, insist their performances aren't as bad as they appear.

Price was obviously despondent, but he stood by his locker after Wednesday's jarring setback and said he has never pitched worse.

"Yes, this is absolutely frustrating, my worst year," he said. "It's unacceptable. I don't care if I'm a rookie, it's not acceptable. I have to get better, and I will.

"I'll take the blame. … I haven't set the tone. … I haven't pitched deep enough in baseball games. I've given up too many runners, too many homers. ... It's tough. ... I've got to pitch better, and that's what it is right now. It's nothing else, not bad luck. It's just me. I've got to get better."

Price strikes out the side

Home runs have been a problem on both sides. The Rays' Brandon Guyer, who was returning from a stint on the disabled list, led off the second inning by blasting a homer off a Price fastball to left-center. Price then struck out the next five batters. But in the third, he allowed three hits, the Rays scored three times, and it was suddenly 4-0. The Red Sox loaded the bases against lefty Matt Moore with one out in the sixth, but sluggers David Ortiz and Hanley Ramirez popped out.

There have been far too many bases-loaded opportunities that have fizzled.

"We've not cashed in, we haven't gotten the big hit," said Farrell. "While we continue to create opportunities, the difference during a stretch when we're not scoring a lot of runs comes down to the two-base hit, the key hit.

"We have confidence as a team we can go out and put a good game together. We're in a spot now where on one day we get decent starting pitching and the offense comes up a little short and vice versa. We have to keep plugging."

Price's attempt to strike out batters can be tied to the large number of homers he has allowed.

"He throws a lot of strikes. He's around the plate," Farrell said. "You can look at the home run totals and say they're high, but it's not uncommon for a guy who's going to throw as many strikes as he does.

"Could he be a little bit more sparing to throw some balls off the plate and keep some guys honest? That's an adjustment that's a definite possibility. He's got swing-and-miss stuff, and yet, there are times where guys will run into a pitch on the plate."

The inference is Price's pitches are too often over or around the plate, thus the strikeouts -- and homers.

"In some cases, probably so," Price said. "That's me, just wanting to get guys out early, quickly. I want to go out there and get 27 outs. That's what I've done for a long time. The last two years of my career, I was pitching extremely deep into baseball games and putting up a lot of zeroes. That's not the way it's going right now. I've got to make adjustments.

"I'm putting us behind the eight-ball early in games, and not setting the tone the way that I need to. It's tough. I'll get better."

That said, both Farrell and Price believe the Red Sox have played below their potential.

"I like this team, I like our guys," Farrell said. "I like the effort we continue to put forth. That's there. We have some adjustments and some work to do in certain areas. This is [a] group that doesn't roll over, and I'm firmly confident in them."

"Honestly, I'm not concerned [about the team]," Price added. "I don't think we've played our best baseball. We haven't won seven, eight or nine in a row, or 16 out of 20 or something like that. This team is capable of doing that. The guys in this locker room are extremely confident we can play that type of baseball."

Bottom line -- David Price must lead the turnaround, and he's the first to say that.

Hal Bodley, dean of American baseball writers, is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. Follow him @halbodley on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.