Rick Porcello returning with lots to prove
CHICAGO — Maybe it’s Red Sox spin, with some truth to it.
It has been said that Rick Porcello, who struck out five and walked none over seven innings to earn his sixth win in Wednesday’s return from the disabled list, simply has had acclimation issues this season. New team. Big contract. Real pressure for the first time in his career.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has talked about the pressure situations in New York. Catcher Brian McCann (.232 average in 2014) had a rough go of it in his first season in New York, but he has performed better in his second season in the Bronx.
John Lackey didn’t work out early in his Red Sox career, but he turned it around.
Maybe that’s how it will be with Porcello.
There’s no way he could be this bad, because he never was. In Detroit, he was the third to fifth starter in the rotation. He was behind Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer and even Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister. Dave Dombrowski put together good rotations and Porcello slotted toward the back end.
Fast-forward to the end of last season, when Dombrowski had no intention of re-signing Porcello because he wasn’t going to give a No. 3-5 starter the money that the Red Sox wound up giving him: four years for $82.5 million
Dombrowski dealt him to the Red Sox for slugging outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. Dombrowski bested Ben Cherington, hands down. Dombrowski wound up trading Cespedes to the Mets, so he only got about a half-season out of Cespedes, but a good one.
It’s funny how things work out: Dombrowski is reunited with Porcello and saddled with the contract he wasn’t going to give him.
“I think Rick Porcello has the ability to be a very solid major league pitcher,” said Dombrowski at his introductory news conference last week. “He’s a young pitcher that’s been through a lot. He was always a tough competitor. I really don’t know what’s happened to him this year, because I haven’t seen him pitch very often. I’m surprised he hasn’t done better. I’m not really sure why. I’ll be very interested to find out what people’s observations are.”
“When we traded him, we didn’t think we were in a position to sign him long term. We liked him, thought he’d be a real solid guy, but we probably weren’t going to pay him the terms that would be necessary to have him stay. We always thought he’d be a good big league pitcher and still do. I’m very surprised that he hasn’t been better, and I’m not sure why. I’ll be anxious to find out.”
Everyone is eager to find out how he went from 15-13 with the Tigers last season to a pitcher who entered Wednesday’s start vs. the White Sox with a 5-11 record and a 5.81 ERA.
Porcello spent the last 24 days on the disabled list with a right triceps strain. He made two rehab starts at Lowell and Pawtucket, where he had a combined 2.89 ERA.
The last time he pitched in the bigs was July 29 against the White Sox, who tagged him for 10 hits and five earned runs in just two innings. He’d lost nine of his last 12 starts.
He’s tried virtually everything. He started the season the way he pitched most of last season, emphasizing the four-seamer, which led to his first 200-inning season last year. But that failed quickly and he went back to the two-seamer, which he had emphasized for the majority of his career.
Porcello has been the major culprit in this terribly pitched season. The Red Sox were enamored by his age (26) and decided he would continue to get better as he entered his prime seasons.
He still may, but this season didn’t help that theory.
The Red Sox brass really believed that a rising Porcello would ease the loss of Jon Lester. Not by a long shot. The Red Sox pegged him as a future ace, but Porcello could barely be a fifth starter the way he’s pitched.
Were the Red Sox completely wrong? Was Dombrowski completely right in not wanting to commit the money to him?
What we know about Porcello is that he’s a prideful guy. He hates the year he’s had. He hates that he hasn’t lived up to the Red Sox’ expectations, and his own. So when the Sox’ spin is he’ll rebound, you have to give Porcello that chance.
He can prove to Dombrowski that he was worth the money. He can show Red Sox Nation he can pitch in this very tough market and, if he’s not an ace, he’s better than the slotting he accepted in Detroit.
Porcello came out of the gate impressive Wednesday night. The White Sox did not get good swings off him because his two-seamer was moving nicely. Melky Cabrera’s two-out double to right in the fourth was his only blemish at that point.
“The big thing tonight was fastball command,” Porcello said. “We were able to keep the ball down and everything else played off of that. I made a couple of mechanical adjustments and stayed within myself.”
Porcello finished with seven shutout innings, leaving after 94 pitches.
This was precisely the guy the Red Sox thought they had traded for and signed to a lucrative deal.
The season is lost. But there’s time to see if Porcello can live up to his paycheck. Four more years, in fact.