Rick Porcello showing no signs of being an ace
MINNEAPOLIS — Rick Porcello seems like a nice guy, hard-working and very well-intentioned. He takes losses and bad performances to heart. All fine traits.
Here comes the “but.”
He’s not an ace. Not now, anyway.
Sometime during the next five seasons, when he’s hauling in about $95 million (including this year’s $12.5 million), he might achieve that status. Right now, Clay Buchholz is more of an ace in this helter-skelter Red Sox rotation than Porcello.
With two Phillies scouts watching the Red Sox during the Twins series, one thing is very clear: Philadelphia has not abandoned the Red Sox as a trade partner for Cole Hamels. And the Red Sox probably should not eliminate the Phillies, either.
Not when it’s crystal clear the Red Sox don’t have an ace.
Porcello’s job is to stop skids and pitch well enough to keep his team in the game. The Red Sox were in Wednesday’s 6-4 loss until the end, but not because of Porcello — because of two two-run homers by Dustin Pedroia.
Porcello, who has allowed 13 earned runs in his last two starts over 11⅓ innings, can’t keep the opposition from hitting the ball out of the park. He has allowed five homers in the last three starts.
Aaron Hicks, the Jackie Bradley Jr. of the Twins, took him deep, as did Eddie Rosario after Porcello had given up a 2-0 lead in the third inning.
Aces don’t give up leads. They close out games with leads.
Nothing bothers manager John Farrell more than squandering leads, especially because they have been so hard to come by.
The best that can be said for Porcello’s outing is he managed to get through seven innings and the bullpen wasn’t taxed. Only Junichi Tazawa was used for an inning.
Porcello’s ERA has ballooned to 5.37. Since Sept. 1, he is 4-8 with a 5.60 ERA. He went 0-4 with a 6.02 ERA in September during Detroit’s pennant race.
The numbers indicate that he’s a long way from ace status.
Maybe the fans and the media think that signing Porcello to such an exorbitant contract wasn’t prudent before the Sox had even seen him throw one regular-season pitch for them. But the Sox believe what they believe, and that is that Porcello, 26, will make them look brilliant when all is said and done.
Porcello is man enough to face the pressure and the current reality. Nobody feels worse than he does about it. He’s the one not living up to his own expectations, and they are high expectations.
He cut his teeth in Detroit among pitching superstars like Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer and really good pitchers like Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister.
Last season, he had what was considered a breakout year for him. He went 15-13 and became far more economical and managed his first 200-inning season.
But if he is indeed Jon Lester’s replacement, it is not apparent as of May 27.
It’s not so much about trying to be an ace right now as it is about just pitching well.
“I got beat by two walks [in the third inning] and two home runs,” he said. “Both of those walks ended up scoring, and then two pitches in the middle of the plate on the home runs.”
Porcello was quite upset about giving back the lead.
“It’s extremely disappointing,” he said, “because it’s one of the key parts of keeping momentum in the game and getting our offense back in the dugout, and I haven’t done that well recently. I have to do a better job of it.”
The outing turned on a borderline 3-and-2 pitch in the third inning that umpire Dale Scott called a ball. Farrell said Porcello was squeezed.
“It was a good pitch but he called it a ball,” said Porcello. “It wasn’t that one particular thing. I battled Torii [Hunter], a tough at-bat. Made a good pitch on him and he gets a base hit.”
Porcello had retired the first seven batters. The walk to Hicks was followed by a Danny Santana single to left, and another walk to Brian Dozier to load the bases. Hunter, a former Tigers teammate of Porcello’s, squibbed one off the end of the bat for two runs.
Joe Mauer then singled in the go-ahead run. And if not for a double-play grounder that Porcello induced by Trevor Plouffe, this could have been a blowout.
“It wasn’t just one pitch, it was a combination of things that didn’t work out, and later in the game two pitches in the middle of the plate,” said Porcello. “Those tack-on runs were huge.
“Whatever happened in the third, my job is to put up zeros after that. To give up two home runs was not good.”
Anyone with eyes can identify the problem.
“Leaving the ball up too much,” Porcello said. “Fine line between pitching up effectively and not getting it up high enough. That’s what happened. The home runs were middle-of-the-plate, belt-high.”
Porcello pitched very well back-to-back on April 29 and May 5 against the Blue Jays and Rays, going seven innings each time and allowing one run and then no runs. Of his 10 starts, only half have been “quality” ones. That’s just not good enough.
But his uneven performance is not unique on the Red Sox. There are plenty of other culprits, other high-priced players not living up to their paychecks.
Porcello always will be associated with his contract.
Right now, he’s not living up to that.