Even before he received a proper introduction, David Price seemed to respect Jose Abreu. Consider how Price approached Abreu during their first encounter. Price pitched to him three times, and all but doffed his cap with his pitch selection. The intent was clear: Price wanted to keep Abreu's barrel off the fastball, hence why he threw him a changeup in a different situation each time. First it was in a 1-0 count, then as the 1-1 offering, and lastly to begin the day's final conflict, which led to this resolution:
Abreu went 1-for-3 against Price in that game, yet the damage he did was enough to earn the individual W. But that was in April, back when Price resided in St. Petersburg and Abreu was the most popular new guy in Chicago. A lot has changed since: Price is now in the same division, and Abreu is the runaway Rookie of the Year favorite. What's more is the interim period revealed to us that Abreu hectors southpaws as well as any batter, while Price continues to be as effective as many right-handed starters—including former teammates James Shields and Alex Cobb—at muzzling right-handed hitters.
It would be fair then to write that if—well, when—Price and Abreu tangle on a regular basis, the advantage will boil down to execution more than a talent gap or platoon edge. Luckily for us, Price and Abreu met again on Tuesday and put that notion on the stand. Let's examine the proceedings.
Plate Appearance no. 1
The great misconception about Price is he's an archetypical power pitcher. While his strong fastball increases his margin for error, there is more finesse in his game than many realize. His raw stuff does help him to work inside against opposite-handed hitters, but what makes him special is his ability to manipulate the ball in location and movement. Price can, in essence, present optical illusions to the hitter thanks to the command he has over his fastball and cutter. The resulting interplay allows him to tally strikeouts via induced paralysis on the hitter's bat.
That's what happened to Abreu in the first inning. After Price missed wide with a fastball for ball one, he came back with a changeup down and away that induced an empty swing. With the count even at one-all, Price went back outside with the fastball for strike two. Because Price hadn't shown an eagerness to work inside yet, Abreu might have been thinking he would go back to the change away. Imagine Abreu's reaction, then, when Price threw a fastball on the inside corner. Or just take a look:
With the inside corner now established, Price had plenty of choices. He could come inside with the hard stuff again; he could take the heat to the outside corner; or perhaps slow it down with another change away. But Price opted for something else. Rather than show Abreu a rerun, he threw him a cutter for the first time. The pitch ran near the location of the previous fastball, leading Abreu to react the same way. Fortunately for Price, the umpire didn't react the same way, and called it strike three:
Plate Appearance no. 2
Remember how Abreu burned Price on a first-pitch changeup in their initial game? He received the chance to do the same here, but this time swung through it. Unbeknownst to Abreu, Price and Alex Avila then agreed to come inside with the fastball. Because the pitch missed its spot by the plate width, Abreu just assumed they were testing him away. He swung anyway, however, the end result was a routine play for the shortstop:
Plate Appearance no. 3
Abreu didn't wait around to see what Price had in mind here. He swung on the first pitch, a fastball that lived down the hall from the previous pitch, but got underneath it. The resulting fly ball took six seconds before it landed in Torii Hunter's glove for another routine out, thus ending another anti-climatic encounter.
Plate Appearance no. 4
After consecutive uneventful plate appearances, Price and Abreu delivered in the night's finale. Let's set the stage: It was the top of the ninth inning in a three-run game, nobody out, two runners on. Those who had read Jeff Long's piece last week might have thought about situational pitching during the at-bat. Those who hadn't read it should, but shy of that just know the premise suggested James Shields feasts on batters' aggressiveness when runners are on base by using more changeups and cutters. Given the situation, that reference, and the knowledge of how Price used his camby against Abreu earlier in the year, you might expect the next paragraph to talk about its importance in procuring this out. Nope.
Price, unlike Shields, doesn't deviate from his fastball-heavy approach in pressure situations. Likewise, Abreu doesn't become more aggressive—either in his likelihood to swing or in expanding his zone. So how did Price approach Abreu? By working him away with back-to-back fastballs off the plate. Each time Abreu—who is strong enough to leave the ballpark to right field—fouled the offering away. Now Price, with two strikes on the board and a few pitches to waste, had choices once more. Would he revisit the inside cutter, or return to the outside fastball that notched two outs earlier? Or would Price once more try the far-outside fastball that Abreu had already offered at twice in the at-bat?
None of the above. Price presented Abreu with another new look, this time a cutter down and away. Coming out of Price's hand the pitch had to look similar to the previous fastballs Abreu had seen, yet the different velocity and movement meant the bat cleared the hitting zone before the pitch arrived. The result was an empty swing, leaving Abreu with his second strikeout of the game.
Part of the takeaway from Price's good night versus Abreu is that his varied arsenal allows him to offer so many looks—to think, he did this without employing his spike curve. But another part is what it says about Abreu that Price felt it necessary to dig so deep. There are myriad hitters who Price could've retired with one sequence multiple times, or a sequence and its inverse. That Price went to these extremes suggest he wanted to ensure Abreu had no idea what was coming. It worked. But it wasn't as easy as the final line suggested.
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