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"That was a blast," he says of the 2008 postseason, "but I am a completely different pitcher now."
Price was a pure power pitcher back then—always was, even when he nearly quit Vanderbilt as a freshman. Price had been so frustrated by baseball (he was listed as the 11th pitcher on a 14-man staff) and the rigors of schoolwork that one night around midnight he placed two calls to Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin to tell him he was quitting. Corbin didn't answer. The coach did meet with Price the next day.
"I want to go home," Price told him, "go to Middle Tennessee State and get a job working at McDonald's or something like that."
"Look," Corbin said, "your future is in baseball. It's not flipping burgers. It's not working in a factory. It's not teaching. It's in baseball. You've got what it takes to make a difference in this game. One bad fall shouldn't take you away from that."
Says Price, "I kind of opened my eyes and asked myself, What else do I want to do? Nothing." Price went on to become one of the top college pitchers in the country, ending his NCAA career by going 11--1 with a 2.63 ERA as a junior and leading the nation in strikeouts with 194 (in 1331/3 innings).
To become an elite pitcher in the majors, however, Price would have to learn how to do more than just overpower hitters. The education began by accident. One day in spring training last year, Price was playing catch with Scott Kazmir, who was throwing him curveballs. "Hey, I'll throw you one," Price said. Hickey happened to be standing behind him when Price broke off a hook. "Hey, that's not bad," Hickey said.
Price threw the curveball in his last bullpen session of the spring. Hickey signed off on it. Now Price throws three times as many curveballs as he does sliders—his out pitch from 2008 having jilted him like an angry girlfriend. "In games I have dominated, the curveball has been a big reason," Price says. "I don't get a lot of swings on it. I get a lot of takes for called strikes. The slider was my best pitch. Then I lost it."
Three months after adding the curveball, Price added a trustworthy changeup. He had thrown a changeup previously, but never often and rarely well. On the first workout after the All-Star break, Todd Greene, the Rays quality assurance coach at the time and a former big league catcher, showed Price how Roger Clemens threw his changeup: just like a fastball, only with the index and middle fingers spread apart, not quite as far as a forkball.
"I was like, I'll try it," Price says. "The first time I ever threw it, we were at home against Kansas City. I threw it three straight times to [Miguel Olivo]. All three of them bounced. He swung at all three of them. I said, This is it."
Hickey finished off the package by giving Price a two-seam fastball and simplifying his delivery so he no longer raises his hands above his head. "Since mid-May of 2009," Hickey said, "he's probably done four or five significant changes. That's how much development he has had in a short period. It is unusual, but more than unusual is how difficult it is to do at this level. He has the aptitude for it.