- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Can a guy win a Cy Young Award one year and get better the next? David Price is convinced that's possible. And if he's right, that could mean big trouble for the American League.
"I really figured out in my last four starts last year how I can become a lot better," Price says. "In my last four starts, I really feel like I did that. You have 27, 28 starts at that time, so you're just as tired as everybody else in the big leagues. Being able to push through that and being able to learn new stuff at that point, like I did last year, is a great feeling."
So what could a pitcher, on his way to a Cy Young, learn in mid-September? Well, this Cy Young winner says he learned something he considers to be a major breakthrough.
"I really figured out a lot of stuff with my off-speed pitches, what I'm trying to do with them, how I want to throw them," Price says. "I'd never thrown a changeup with fastball arm speed, with fastball intent, before. At the end of the year, I finally started doing that."
His light-bulb moment, he says, came in a Sept. 25 start in Boston. Early in that game, he remembers, he was executing pitches, throwing his fastball exactly where he wanted to throw it, and those Red Sox hitters were "sitting on certain pitches and just launching stuff, and it made me mad."
In a span of 10 hitters, Price allowed six hits, was called for a run-scoring balk and headed back to the dugout, fuming. He and catcher Jose Molina decided to switch everything around. Pitch selection. Patterns. The execution of his changeup. And he recalls standing on the mound, watching the reactions of a lineup full of hitters who thought they’d found something, thought they’d figured him out.
"The stuff that I felt in that game, it has really made me excited for 2013," he says, "because I know I'm nowhere near the finished product I'm going to be. It might not happen this year, which is fine. It's still a work in progress. And you're never going to be a finished product, really, in anything you do.
"This game is always evolving. I know that. That's why I've tried to pick up new pitches, work with different grips. I switched sides of the rubber last year. I'll do anything to try and gain an advantage. That's what we're trying to do here, gain every advantage that we can."
It's actually easy to forget what a short time Price has been around. But consider this:
He won a Cy Young only 125 appearances into his career. According to research by the Rays, only five AL pitchers had fewer at the time they won their first Cy Young: Vida Blue (57), Roger Clemens (69), Ron Guidry (83), Barry Zito (84) and Jim Lonborg (116).
"The most impressive thing about David," says Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman, "is he’s gotten better every single year. In 2010, he was better than '09. In '11, he was better than '10. In '12, he was better than '11. You can’t ask for much more than that. And the scary thing is, as good as he was last year, I still think there’s more upside there."
More from the 2012 AL Cy Young winner
• On his dog, Astro, getting his own bobblehead night: "He's handling it well. He's still the same dog he was before all this happened to him. He's a big fan of the bobblehead. I've put it in front of him a couple of times, and he runs up and licks it, and he takes his paw and plays with it. He did better with this than he did with the action figure that he had two years ago. I put one of those down in front of him, and he used it as a chew toy. So I had to take that away from him."
• On the void left by the trade of James Shields: "He's one of my best friends, outside of baseball. So it is a little bit different in here. He’s a guy with a very big personality. He can be very loud. So he was very good for this team. That's why his personality void is way bigger than the innings [they have to fill without him]. If every starter can add 10 innings to his total from last year, we can make up for the innings that James Shields provided for us. It's just his personality, his demeanor. His presence is always felt here. It still is today. We talk about him all the time, the things he taught us to do here and the way he went about showing us how to do them."
• On whether he feels a need to fill that leadership void: "That’s stuff I've been doing anyway. Whatever knowledge I have in the baseball world, I'll share that knowledge with these guys, and they all know that. I've been a leader ever since I've been a little kid. On every team I've been on, I was always the best player and a leader of the group. In everything. It's not something I'm just kind of rolling into. It’s something I did on my minor league teams. It’s nothing new."
• On the script he’d write for himself for this year: "Win the World Series. That’s our goal. Obviously, I'd rather not go 0-and-33, but if I did that and we won the World Series, I'd be fine. I mean, if I had a respectable ERA and did that, that would reek. But I want to get back there. That's our main goal."