Price-Rice Matchup Lives Up To Billing

The first game here in Houston was very entertaining. Since we’ve been anticipating the Price vs. Rice showdown for so long, I figured I’d break down Vanderbilt starter David Price’s outing in some detail. The Owls jumped on Price early, putting a couple runners aboard in the first inning before Pedro Alvarez ended the threat with a 5-3 double play. Two Vandy errors and two Rice singles led to a pair of runs in the second, but then Price settled into a bit of a groove. He recorded strikeouts with his breaking ball in the third and fourth innings, during which he allowed just a pair of infield singles. Then in the fifth, after the first two Rice batters reached, Alan Zornes popped up a bunt for the first out, and Price struck out Aaron Luna and Joe Savery, both looking on pitchers on the inside corner (Luna watched a fastball go by him, and Savery was fooled by a slider). Price kept it going to start the sixth, getting Jordan Dodson looking at a fastball over the inside corner. Then he walked J.P. Padron on four pitches, and I noticed for the first time that he worked very quickly through that at-bat. Price has said the big reason he struggled down the stretch last season was because he let the game speed up on him, leading to big innings. On this occasion, however, he rebounded to strike out Chad Lembeck on a fastball up and in–his last batter of the game. Padron would score on a pinch-hit RBI double by Jess Buenger, closing the book on Price after 5 2/3 innings and 95 pitches. He finished with three earned runs on six hits and three walks while striking out six. The gaggle of scouts assembled behind home plate were dutifully impressed by Price’s 92-95 mph fastball with good tailing action and his 82-84 slider, though his command was spotty at times, especially early in the game. That’s to be expected in early February.

Rice starter Chris Kelley also looked sharp, though with far less impressive raw stuff. Kelley spotted his fastball and breaking ball well, allowing just one run on four hits and one walk while striking out two. His bullpen let him down, as Vandy scored four times in a wild seventh inning and added back-to-back homers in the eighth en route to a 7-3 win.

Other observations: Luna looked very good at second base, after spending most of last season as a left fielder. He made a nice play to save a run ending the second inning, ranging up the middle on a chopper and making a strong throw to beat Jonathan White by a step. He ended the fourth inning on a nice bare-handed scoop of a Ryan Flaherty dribbler. In the all-important seventh inning, with two outs and the bases loaded, Luna’s defense nearly saved the game for the Owls. Alex Feinberg dug a pitch out of the dirt and flared the ball into shallow center field, directly behind second base. Luna and shortstop Brian Friday converged and tripped over each other, but Luna reached for the ball and had it for a second. It popped out as he hit the ground, allowing two runs to score. The next batter, Alvarez, stung a high fastball to right-center field, and Tyler Henley tracked it down near the wall but couldn’t haul it in. Alvarez motored to third base with surprising quickness, and two runs scored on the three-base error. Those two plays essentially decided the game, and either one could have been an inning-ending defensive highlight instead. That’s baseball; don’t read too much into Rice’s 1-2 start.