For the first time in one year and one day, Los Angeles Dodgers lefty David Price took the mound in a major-league game Monday. Price was among the 22 players who opted out of the 2020 season, but he is rejoining the team this year, and Monday afternoon he made his 2021 spring training debut.
Price's return was brief and efficient. He needed 11 pitches to strike out one in the 1-2-3 inning, and his fastball sat 91-93 mph and hit 94 mph twice according to the television broadcast. In 2019, his last MLB season, Price's fastball averaged 91.9 mph.
Price pitched out of the bullpen Monday -- Julio Urias started the game and threw three spotless innings -- and while it's not uncommon for starters to come out of the bullpen to get work in spring training, the role change could be permanent. He has communicated to the club he is willing to pitch in any role.
"If it happens, I'm willing to do whatever you guys need me to do," Price told reporters, including Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register, on Monday. "But I told them, whatever they need me to do, whatever makes the 2021 Dodgers better, I'm all for it."
Not many teams could afford to put a starter of Price's caliber in the bullpen, but the Dodgers are not most teams. Their rotation will include Urias, Trevor Bauer, Walker Buehler, and Clayton Kershaw in whatever order. Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May represent viable No. 5 starter options should Price pitch in relief.
"It's just being able to identify how much talent we have on this team from our starters. Young guys, especially Gonzo, D-May, and Julio, those guys are next level," Price said, according to True Blue LA's Eric Stephen. "Right before we signed Trevor, I reached out to [president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman] and said, 'Whatever happens, I'm willing to do whatever you guys need me to do. That's not a problem for me, so just keep me in the loop and let me know.'"
Price, now 35, has some big-league bullpen experience. He broke in as a reliever with the 2008 Rays and he pitched in relief late in 2017 with the Red Sox after suffering an injury. Price also has nine postseason relief appearances to his credit. Los Angeles is currently slated to lean on Victor Gonzalez, Brusdar Graterol, Kenley Jansen, and Blake Treinen in the late innings.
For now, Price will continue to stretch out his arm and build up his workload in spring training. It's much easier to go from starter to reliever than vice versa, and the Dodgers will want him available to start come Opening Day just in case.
The Dodgers acquired Price in the Mookie Betts trade last year and he's let to pitch in a non-spring training game with them.