KANSAS CITY, Mo. — On the same day one of his best friends, Max Scherzer, pitched a no-hitter against Pittsburgh and came within one out of a perfect game, Rick Porcello continued to show his imperfections.
Porcello, who was acquired from the Detroit Tigers for Yoenis Cespedes in the offseason, has had a nightmarish start to his Red Sox career. Although he won the lottery one day before making his first pitch for the Red Sox, awarded a four-year, $82.5 million contract extension that starts in 2016, the 26-year-old righthander, who is drawing a $12.5 million paycheck this season, has been one of the worst starting pitchers in the league.
Over his last six starts, all losses, Porcello has allowed 30 runs in 36 innings. His ERA following Saturday’s 7-4 loss to the Royals, in which he allowed two home runs, hit two batters, and balked, has risen to 5.61.
The Red Sox pay him like an ace, but he’s proven to be far from that in the first 14 starts of his Red Sox career and the final weeks of his Detroit career, when he was 0-5 in his last six starts and pitched so poorly he didn’t make the Tigers postseason rotation.
So it’s been a while since Porcello pitched like an ace.
Porcello allowed eight hits and six runs over five innings on Saturday. You knew it was going to be a long day when he hit Alcides Escobar, the first batter he faced.
The Red Sox staked him to a 1-0 lead, but Salvador Perez took him deep in the second inning to tie the game. The Sox went ahead, 4-1, but the Royals got to him for five runs in the fifth, capped by a two-run homer by Kendrys Morales.
Porcello has had some bad innings during this stretch of six straight losses which ties him for the major league high.
And the fifth inning was just that.
“I hit the leadoff guy [Alex Rios] — something I don’t want to do. Couple of ground ball basehits, a balk called, which took away a double-play opportunity there. I thought I threw a fastball up and in [to Morales] and he turned on it. That summed it up,” Porcello said.
As for the balk, which advanced runners to second and third, “I didn’t feel I did anything different than what I’ve done, but he (umpire Bruce Dreckman) saw something there and he called me on it. He said I moved my glove. I looked back on it and there’s a little movement. It’s not something I’ve done the entire game or my entire career to be honest with you. It’s the first time I’ve been called on it so I have to do a better job not moving my glove.”
We all know Porcello is better than this. He had a breakthrough 2014 season with the Tigers when he eclipsed 200 innings for the first time. He can’t seem to put a finger on it. John Farrell can’t. Carl Willis can’t.
Farrell said there’s nothing wrong with Porcello physically.
Porcello has studied everything.
“It’s been everything,” Porcello said. “Right now there’s nothing mechanically that’s glaring. I did a good job of keeping the ball down. These innings are taking me out of games and taking our team out of games. I have to keep grinding through it and fight and make sure they don’t put up the big runs. That’s all there is to it. Just grit your teeth and keep going after it.”
The weird part for Porcello is, “I don’t feel like I’m making terrible pitches. There are pitches here and there that I need to be a little more careful with, but whatever this funk is that I’m going through, I have to keep grinding through and not lose confidence from it. I have good innings and then just once a game, I’m giving up these big innings. I have to do a better job preventing them.”
This whole question of whether he’s an ace or not is moot. He needs to pitch better, period.
Farrell said the team is not looking to replace him in the rotation, but it’s clear that he needs to clean up his outings or it could come to a demotion.
The Red Sox pitching staff is ranked 29th with a 4.49 ERA. Only the Rockies are worse. The Sox rotation is 27th with a 4.76 ERA. Only the Phillies, Brewers and Rockies are worse.
This is not the way it was supposed to be.
The Red Sox thought Porcello would likely take the next step in his career — to go from a middle-of-the-rotation starter to a frontline guy. But it has gone the other way, to the point where he’s not even a back-end guy.
The scouts who watch him on a daily basis are equally baffled. He will get balls up in the zone occasionally, and when he does, it seems like the batters never miss a mistake.
Is he pressing being on a new team? In Detroit he had Justin Verlander, Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, and Doug Fister, to take the pressure off. He just had to blend in there.
With the huge contract comes bigger expectations and right now he looks like he’s not living up to it. The Red Sox look bad for dishing out a contract they didn’t have to issue so soon.
In his superb performance Saturday, Scherzer provided a good measure of how far Porcello is from being an elite guy.
On the same day, one was near-perfect and the other so imperfect.