PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — It was up to Red Sox manager John Farrell to make the call. But in the end, it was a unanimous decision to have Rick Porcello start on Opening Day.
The reigning American League Cy Young Award winner will face the Pittsburgh Pirates on April 3 at Fenway Park. Pittsburgh will start righthander Gerrit Cole.
For Porcello, it will be the first Opening Day assignment of his career. The 28-year-old righthander was 22-4 with a 3.15 earned run average last season and edged out former Detroit Tigers teammate Justin Verlander for the Cy Young.
Lefthanders David Price and Chris Sale said in January that they believed Porcello had earned the start, sentiments they also expressed to Farrell. That decision was made before the start of spring training and announced on Wednesday.
In Farrell’s mind, there was no question Porcello should be the choice.
“There really wasn’t,” he said. “We had three candidates who were certainly worthy and capable. But I think there’s a lot to be said for the year in which Rick has had previous, the leader that he’s become on our team, and the dependable pitcher that he is.
“There were some brief discussions with other guys in the wintertime . . . We needed to get deeper into camp. Felt like if everything played out with no issues, Rick was going to be the guy.”
The announcement was a bit disjointed. Farrell revealed his decision before the Sox played the Tampa Bay Rays at Charlotte Sports Park. In Fort Myers, Porcello was not made available to reporters there.
That Price and Sale endorsed the idea of Porcello getting the opener wasn’t a deciding factor for Farrell. But he took their sentiments into account.
“That wasn’t the reason the decision was made at the time,” the manager said. “But appreciate the fact the guys recognize there are pitchers in our league who pitch really well, you earn a Cy Young Award . . . that carries a lot of weight in the minds of other pitchers. They understood it and we set it up that way.”
Porcello’s leadership has had an impact on the pitching staff, even though Price and Sale are more accomplished in their careers.
“There’s a relationship that our rotation has with one another,” said Farrell. “Rick, as seen last year, was willing to share his information, share his expectations for all of us.”
“He was more readily willing to speak his mind among the group in a professional way. But yet when it comes right down to being competitive in certain spots — if there’s a game when things maybe aren’t going the way they should be — he wasn’t reluctant to talk to a guy about it.”
“You see a guy who leads by example, he way he works, the way he goes out and competes. Those are all credible moments when he takes on that leadership role.”
Porcello is 26-8 with a 3.15 ERA in 41 starts dating back to coming off the disabled list in 2015.
In three starts against the Pirates, the last in 2013, Porcello is 2-0. Over 23 innings, he allowed one run on 10 hits and struck out 16. Players on the Pirates’ roster are 6 of 46 (.130) against him.
Sale will pitch the second game, Farrell said. With Price set to start the season on the disabled list while recovering from an elbow injury, Eduardo Rodriguez is likely to start the third game, but Farrell wants to wait until closer to the end of spring training before deciding that.
Rodriguez has looked sharp in three Grapefruit League starts after recovering from a knee injury sustained in winter ball.
“In addition to showing good stuff and throwing strikes, the fact that his slider has become more of a defined pitch — the shape of it, the action of it — that’s become more of a true weapon,” Farrell said. “It’s been more of a putaway pitch for him.”
Venezuela recently requested that Rodriguez pitch in the second round of the World Baseball Classic in San Diego but the Red Sox refused, citing the knee injury.
Farrell initially said it was Rodriguez’s decision before clarifying his comments later in the day.
“We met as a group, and that included Eduardo. We felt that with the rehab he was going through, the program that he’s on; we felt it was best that he stay here,” Farrell said. “He was in agreement with that.”
Farrell acknowledged the team ultimately took the decision out of Rodriguez’s hands.
“I think Eduardo felt pride for his native country to go pitch for it,” Farrell said. “But given what he’s come through, the path that he’s on, we felt it was best that he remain here with us.”
Steven Wright and Drew Pomeranz would follow Rodriguez in the rotation. They, too, were dealing with injuries at the start of spring training and so far have made only one start.
“We’ve got some markers to achieve,” Farrell said. “But that’s where we are today.”