SAPAKOFF COLUMN: What’s the right Price? No. 2 starter or reliever
COLUMBIA — Gamecocks fans have to love this high standard, unprecedented at South Carolina — in any sport, in any season. The goal for a program defending back-to-back College World Series championships is nothing less than another one.
That’s why head baseball coach Ray Tanner and staff rushed former closer Matt Price out of the starting rotation and back into his familiar All-America role.
Price is likely to stay in the bullpen.
It’s a move that will stir debate from here to June, more glory or swoon.
Strategy that worked splendidly against No. 1-ranked Florida Thursday night was a flop Friday.
The Gators shook Forrest Koumas for five runs in the first inning and held on for an 8-2 victory before another sellout crowd of 8,242 at Carolina Stadium.
Originally, Price was the scheduled starter for Game 2 of the high-profile, three-game series. But the 6-2, 215-pound Sociology major from Sumter was unavailable.
What Price, more glory?
Too tired after reviving his shaken team Thursday night; Price picked up for ace starter Michael Roth, threw the last 21/3 innings and got the win in No. 8 South Carolina’s 9-3 victory. The mixed results will draw mixed reaction as Tanner ponders.
“I’ll give it a little more thought,” Tanner said Friday night, “but I don’t think it’s going to be a back-and-forth thing. We’re going to either leave him in the bullpen or we’re going to go the other way. We’ll talk about it a little bit more, but my thought is he’ll probably stay out in the bullpen at this point.”
Which, Tanner said, is fine with Price. “It was not like a promise or anything like that,” Tanner said. “If Matt doesn’t embrace being in the bullpen, he’s not going to be in the bullpen. He’s earned his stripes here. If he comes to me and says, ‘I really want to stay as a starter’ I’ll go that way.”
Start and stop
Price declined a chance to sign with the Arizona Diamondbacks as their sixth-round draft pick last summer, in big part because of a chance to start.
While embracing the team concept, Price and his family and draft advisor probably did some serious financial balancing — or should have — before the big right-hander committed for another college season.
Of course, Tanners knows all that, and how much Price meant to South Carolina’s two national titles.
Omaha, 2010: Price went 2-0 in the College World Series, eliminating Clemson to get to the championship series and UCLA to win it all.
Omaha, 2011: He saved both of the championship series victories over Florida.
Price as a starter is 2-1 with a 3.71 ERA this season.
Tanner said Price was itching to get into some of the close games the Gamecocks blew over the last few weeks.
In any role, Price will survive, prosper and say all the right things. But beyond emotion, there’s the baseball question: Are the Gamecocks better off with Price in the rotation or bullpen?
Price in Game 3?
No doubt, South Carolina was having bullpen issues and the revamped lineup continually failed to turn opportunities into big innings.
Yet one rugged series at Kentucky and a sloppy loss to Wofford over a six-day stretch seems like a small sample size for a quick trigger.
But the goal is beyond high.
“... I thought that if (Price) pitches in relief, we might get at least one on that road trip (to Kentucky), if not two,” Tanner said after relishing Price’s Thursday performance.
So far, pretty good. A split with mighty Florida with Price available for Game 3.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter at @sapakoff.