How Red Sox's David Price set about trying to turn around his season

BOSTON -- The way David Price saw it, he needed to pitch better. Simple as that. Nothing more, certainly nothing less.

Everything else -- from whispers that his decreased fastball velocity was indicative of a possible injury to the harsher suggestions that he might be the latest in a line of Boston Red Sox free-agent busts -- was merely white noise.

"I knew I needed to throw the ball well, but I didn't view this start any different than pitching against the Yankees at home or pitching against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium," Price said Thursday night at Fenway Park after bringing Red Sox fans in from the ledge with 6 2/3 solid innings in an 11-1 rout of the Houston Astros. "I don't read what you guys [in the media] write. I don't listen to talk radio. I don't watch MLB Network or ESPN. That stuff doesn't affect me. That's not part of what I do or what I'm about."

For the past five days, Price insists he has been about only figuring out what's wrong, specifically a glitch in his mechanics that leaves his hands out of their usual marionette-like sync with his knee as he comes through his delivery. The flaw was detected on video by Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia after Price got tagged for six runs on seven hits and three walks in only 4 2/3 innings last Saturday at Yankee Stadium, the fourth time in seven starts that he allowed at least five runs.

Although Price believes the problem dates back to last season, when he led the American League with a 2.45 ERA, he also thinks it helps explain why his average fastball velocity through his first seven starts was 92 mph, down from his career average of 94.1. So while the concerns of baseball fans from Portland to Providence reached DEFCON 1, the $217 million ace lefty went to work with pitching coach Carl Willis on trying to correct it in his between-starts bullpen session this week.

"It was better, for sure," Price said. "I allowed myself to get into my power position. That's something I've worked on the last four days leading up to this start. That was a big key for me, and it helped me out a lot."

Indeed, Price's heater touched 95 mph four times against the Astros and maintained a season-high 93.1 mph, according to ESPN Stats & Information. At times, he was overpowering, striking out six batters in the first two innings and 12 overall, including Astros sluggers George Springer and Carlos Correa twice apiece. Price retired the final eight batters he faced and 12 of the last 13, and the penultimate of his 114 pitches hummed at 94 mph.

But it wasn't only Price's fastball. He leaned heavily on his cutter and changed speeds with a curveball and changeup. And most importantly, everything was down in the strike zone. Based on data from ESPN Stats & Information, 70.5 percent of Price's pitches were in the lower half of the strike zone, his third-highest percentage in any start in the past eight seasons. All but two of his strikeouts came on lower-half pitches.

"He brought his good stuff tonight," Astros designated hitter Tyler White said. "He was working his cutter on both sides of the plate, keeping us off balance. He was just pitching."

Price said the mechanical adjustments contributed to improved location. But while both he and manager John Farrell have tried to downplay the importance of regaining his velocity, it shouldn't be underestimated, either.

Throughout his career, Price has been a power pitcher with a mid-90s heater. And before the game, Astros manager A.J. Hinch explained that a dip in velocity can affect off-speed pitches, too.

"Hand speed produces a tighter slider. It produces better separation on your fastball-changeup combo," Hinch said. "So for [Price], who relies on power, if that's not there, a lot of his pitches are impacted. It's not just a feel for a breaking ball or a feel for a secondary pitch. The hand speed has been down a little bit."

Price survived a pair of seeing-eye singles to open the game and gave up a run in the second inning on Luis Valbuena's bunt single and a double by Erik Kratz on a first-pitch changeup. But from that point through the moment he walked off the mound to a thundering ovation, twice tipping his cap, Price was dominant.

Just like the Red Sox expected in December when they made him the highest-paid pitcher in history.

"I'm never over the hump," Price said. "That's for people that are satisfied. I'm not a guy that's ever satisfied. Coming into a season, I want to stay healthy and I want to stay consistent. I haven't been consistent. Today was a good day, but in five days, I want to go out and build on it."

The way Price sees it, that's the only thing that really matters.