ST. PETERSBURG - It's getting weird. The potty-mouthed, Price-baiting umpire was one thing. The allergies (allergies?), rash and blurred vision are another. But David Price's nightmare Cy Young follow-up has a new twist: a pitch, a grimace, then Price strolling from the mound Wednesday in the third inning of a game he was already losing to the Red Sox, 2-0, and the Rays would drop, like a rock, 9-2. Just when you thought it couldn't get worse … This time, it was left triceps tightness. That's in the arm. The left-hander didn't bother trying to throw a practice pitch. He knew.
How can this be good? What will it be next time? And how — how? — can it get better for the Rays if their best starting pitcher remains in his current state? Forget another 20-win season. Forget maybe even Price getting 13 wins, which is roughly what Cy Young winners since 2000 have averaged the following season. That's a reach for Price right now. There's simply no way his team can do what it wants to do with this ace stuck in neutral, or, by the looks of Wednesday, reverse. A year ago today, Price was 6-2 with a 3.10 ERA, on his way to hardware. Now everything seems to be getting in his way, like decreased velocity, bad pitching, bad tweeting and now bad luck. Your vision isn't blurred: Price is 1-4 this season with a 5.24 ERA. The Rays have lost seven of his nine starts. Before Wednesday, he had blown eight leads over his previous six starts. He hasn't won a game at the Trop since last July. Wednesday initially offered hope. Price's only win this season was in Chicago, and it was overshadowed by his jaw fest and tweeting at big-mouthed clown umpire Tom Hallion, but Price went eight reasonably good innings in his last start before Wednesday. And the man has always risen to greet the AL East, with a 33-12 record, including 8-4 with a 2.99 ERA against the Red Sox. He was gone inside of three, after an RBI single to left by David Ortiz. Price began grimacing as he went to back up home plate. That was it. The two men he left on base came around to score after he left the mound, to be replaced by Jamey Wright, who promptly threw BP until Boston totaled eight runs in the inning, four on a grand slam by Stephen Drew. You can't help but keep coming back to Price. Matt Moore has been a 7-0 wonder this season. Alex Cobb has stepped up. Still … “No, we have to have David pitch like he can, there's no question,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said last week. “He's the guy on the staff. He's the leader on the staff. He'll be back. There's no question in my mind. He's the rudder of that starting pitching staff. As he gets going, and he will, you're going to see them all pitch a little better.” “He's going to be a beast,” said Cobb, who before Wednesday's game dismissed Price's early struggles. “I know he'll be all right. He doesn't change. He's the same way, even with his struggles. He's the first guy cheering for us from the dugout. He's the essence of what a great teammate is.” The decreased velocity is a worrisome point. Price had said April is always his slowest month, only it isn't April anymore. He isn't quite tipping the radar gun like he did last year, down a mile or two on his fastball, and his off-speed stuff, which feeds off that heat, has suffered because of it. Maybe it all speaks to that hectic Cy offseason, travel, interviews, demands, and maybe at not quite all the offseason work that was needed. It's a reasonable thought. Then throw in all those expectations, and the fact that the Rays can't possibly afford Price much longer, and that 2013 ends in 13 … what isn't working against Price right now? “You just wait for everything to click in him for him,” Maddon said before the game. “Things have just been a little bit off, not horribly, but I truly believe you're going to see him rebound. It's a great learning experience that he's going through right now, and I think David has always learned his lessons well ...” Wednesday, there was no lesson, just a grimace and a walk to the dugout tunnel. Will it ever click in 2013?