Monday August 3rd, 2015

In his Blue Jays debut, David Price did exactly what he was acquired to do: pitch his new team into position to make the postseason. In front of 45,766 boisterous fans at the Rogers Centre for an afternoon holiday start, Price struck out 11 Twins—a record for a pitcher in his Blue Jays debut—over the course of eight strong innings in Toronto's 5–1 win. The victory moved the Jays (55–52) into a virtual tie with Minnesota (54–51) for the AL's second Wild Card spot and cut their AL East deficit to 5 1/2 games behind the Yankees.

Acquired from the Tigers on Thursday in exchange for a trio of lefthanded pitching prospects, Price began his stint with the new-look Blue Jays in auspicious fashion, striking out the first two batters he faced—Brian Dozier via a foul tip on a 91-mph cutter and then Eduardo Nunez swinging at a 95-mph fastball. After retiring the first four hitters of the game, he made his biggest mistake of the afternoon in the second inning, leaving a 95-mph fastball too far over the plate against former teammate Torii Hunter, who clubbed a solo homer to left-centerfield, his 17th of the season. Price responded by striking out Eddie Rosario and Aaron Hicks to end the frame, and the Blue Jays evened the score against Twins starter Ervin Santana in the bottom of the inning via Ryan Goins' solo homer, his third of the year.

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Price needed 30 pitches to get into and out of trouble in the fourth inning. After allowing a leadoff double to Trevor Plouffe and then walks to both Miguel Sano and Hunter to load the bases with nobody out, he received help from another newcomer, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who made an over-the-shoulder catch of Eddie Rosiaro's pop-up in shallow centerfield and held Plouffe at third. Price then struck out Hicks looking at a cutter and Kurt Suzuki—who had led off the third with a double—swinging weakly at a 97-mph fastball. That was the start of a stretch of 15 straight batters retired; Price wouldn't allow another base runner all afternoon. The labor-intensive inning ran his pitch count for the day to 75, but he needed just 30 pitches to get through the next three innings and finished having thrown 119 pitches, two shy of his season high, which was set on May 31 against the Angels.

Meanwhile, Price received considerable support from the AL's top offense, with Josh Donaldson bopping a two-run homer (his 27th) off Santana in the fifth and then Tulowitzki (who had singled prior to that homer) starting a two-run rally in the seventh against Blaine Boyer via a leadoff walk; Edwin Encarnacion and Justin Smoak each hit RBI singles.

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Price's 11 strikeouts set a franchise record for a Blue Jays debut, surpassing Roger Clemens's nine in his April 2, 1997 debut against the White Sox. The 11 whiffs were one short of his season high, set on May 21 against the Astros and matched on July 18 against the Orioles. Of his 119 pitches, Price netted 80 strikes, including 20 swings-and-misses. Nine of the swings and misses, including four for strike three, came on his four-seamer, which averaged 95.1 mph, according to Brooks Baseball. All four swings and misses against his cutter were for strike three (two of them via foul tips), and while he finished off only one batter from among his six swings and misses via his changeup, the Twins' broadcasters remarked upon the increase frequency with which he's thrown the pitch and generated swings and misses. Indeed, the more that the 29-year-old southpaw has used his change (which this year has averaged 85.9 mph, 8.9 below his four-seamer), the more effective it has become, according to the PITCHf/x data at Brooks:

year ch thrown (%) ch whiff/swing (%)
2009 5.3 21.3
2010 4.7 16.1
2011 10.9 22.2
2012 12.1 26.5
2013 16.7 29.2
2014 19.8 30.2
2015 21.9 34.6

Via the outing, Price lowered his career-best ERA to 2.45, 0.11 lower than in his 2012 AL Cy Young-winning season against the Rays, and 0.35 behind Scott Kazmir for the AL’s best mark this season. Meanwhile, he moved into third in the league in innings (154), fourth in strikeouts (149), sixth in FIP (2.71) and ninth in strikeout rate (8.7 per nine); he no doubt moved up the table in WAR (where his 3.4 ranked sixth coming into Monday) as well.

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As for the Blue Jays, they've now won five out of six, including three of four from the Royals during a contentious weekend series that culminated with a beanball war that included three hit batsmen (Donaldson, Tulowitzki and Kansas City's Alcides Escobar), three ejections (Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, bench coach Demarlo Hale and pitcher Aaron Sanchez), cleared benches and a war of words between six-time All-Star Jose Bautista and the briefly-demoted Yordano Venura, who called Bautista "a nobody" multiple times amid a trio of deleted tweets and accused the Blue Jays of stealing signs (Ventura has since apologized).

As for the Twins, they've now lost 11 of 15 since opening the second half of the season with a victory and are now tied with the Mariners for the league's worst record (24–32) since the start of June. At the rate things are going, by the end of this four-game series with the Jays, they could be nudged out of the playoff picture.

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