Price evokes a young CC on the mound

Price evokes a young CC on the mound

ST. PETERSBURG -- CC Sabathia has been carving up Major League hitters for a decade. Few pitchers in either league have achieved his body of work and few can match up with him on any given fifth day.

When the Yankees southpaw goes to the mound, manager Joe Girardi can reasonably expect that Sabathia will get the win and that he'll go deep into the game. The combination of his physical tools and his pitching knowledge qualify him as a true No. 1 starter.

"He's good, he's really good," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "... He gets better as the season's in progress. You're always waiting for him to run out of gas and he never does. He's just that good."

Meanwhile, Rays left-hander David Price is the up-and-comer who has managed to push through to the level where he can breathe Sabathia's exalted air.

In Monday night's 1-0 Rays win in 11 innings, each of the highly touted left-handers piled up eight zeros before leaving the game, neither appearing to be particularly challenged, further enhancing each of their resumes for American League Cy Young Award consideration.

Naturally, Price's ascent to the top has brought the inevitable comparisons between the two.

"I think they're different now, but I think once upon a time -- and I hate to do it -- but Price reminds me a lot of CC six or seven years ago," said catcher Kelly Shoppach, who was Sabathia's teammate with the Indians. "CC had a great fastball; over the course of time, he's turned into a command guy.

"Just looking at some of [Sabathia's] charts, to watch him repeatedly throw his two-seam fastball in the same spot over and over is definitely a long way for him compared to where he used to be. ... CC is definitely a different guy than he was. But he's still got it in the tank, as we saw tonight, when he got up to 95 and 96 [mph]."

Sabathia, 30, first pitched in the Major Leagues at age 20 and has 155 career wins; Price, 25, first toed a Major League slab at age 23 and has 27 career wins.

One difference at this point in their careers is the fact Sabathia's tool belt is more evolved, with two kinds of fastballs -- a two-seamer and a four-seamer -- a curve and a changeup. And he has command of all of his pitches.

"He's become more of a pitcher now instead of a thrower," Carl Crawford said. "Whenever you've got his stuff and he learns how to pitch -- you know, set guys up and all that stuff. He becomes even more dangerous."

Price could not help admiring the refined Sabathia's polish Monday night. When asked about what he struck him most, Price replied: "Strike 1."

"That's huge," Price said. "... I feel like CC throws strike one relatively well. He speeds up hitters, he slows them down. He throws his breaking balls for strikes. And he just commands the zone."

Maddon described Price as a work-in-progress who has just scratched the surface of the level he could reach in the future.

"He's going to get better with command of his fastball," Maddon said. "When he is really able to throw that where he wants to when he wants to -- wow, heads up. The changeup has a chance to get better. The curveball's a pretty good pitch right now. I've got to give him that."

Price's curveball is a testament to his competitiveness and his pitching acumen, since the pitch is one he developed at the Major League level.

"The curveball, he developed on his own," Maddon said. "... He developed it overnight. It's a pretty incredible pitch to be able to develop that one on the run like he did."

Maddon's point is clear: Price isn't where he needs to be with his fastball command, the changeup is evolving and his slider "needs to get back to where it was a little bit ago." And yet he's already one of the best pitchers in baseball.

"I think there's another grade level for each of those pitches," Maddon said. "... They have a chance to be all above-average pitches."

Ever the perfectionist, Price agreed with his manager's assessment.

"I feel like I can get better in every facet of pitching right now, I have lots of room for improvement," Price said.

Sabathia admired Price's work from the Yankees' dugout and observed that Price's evolution from thrower to pitcher is happening quicker than it did for him.

"I was probably a couple of years younger than he is at this time, but for him to be able to come out and throw a two-seamer, a changeup and all of those things, I didn't have any of that at that stage in my career," Sabathia said. "Maybe I was a little younger than him."

When Sabathia was asked about his assessment of Price, the Yankees left-hander replied: "He can probably grasp things easily, he's coachable and listens to what's going on, and then he goes out and executes."

Observed Evan Longoria: "If you have to name an ace, or a No. 1 on the team, [Price has] been the most consistent performer on our team. And CC, with both of them in the running for the Cy Young, they were both unbelievable [Monday night]. It's good to see a guy like Dave, he doesn't have all the pedigree that CC has to this point, but he's building it fast."

In short, Sabathia and Price seem to be much the same pitcher, they just find themselves at different points on their career timelines. But make no mistake, each has found a measure of excellence.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.