Rick Porcello has a place in Vermont that, while easily accessible from Boston, is in another universe from his existence as a member of the Red Sox.
There are fish to be caught, stars to see in the night sky and conversations to be had with family and friends. But Porcello also will have an iPad handy to review, once again, the mistakes he has made on the mound so far this season.
“I’m not in a position where I can just take these days off,” Porcello said Saturday night after a rocky outing against the Detroit Tigers. “I need to use the days off to get better. I need to do my job and I haven’t been doing it lately.”
In a game the Sox won, 10-6, Porcello allowed six runs and wasn’t able to finish the sixth inning after being handed a 7-0 lead. On a night when he could have given the team’s overworked bullpen a needed break, Porcello allowed four runs in the sixth inning and had to come out.
That led to five relievers pitching, the Red Sox repeating a cycle that will keep them out of the playoffs unless it’s reversed.
Porcello has an unsightly 5.33 earned run average. But what bothers him far more are the games when he can’t get those extra few outs. Saturday was the latest example.
“Everything was going fine through five innings. Then in the sixth inning I get hit around,” Porcello said. “I’m definitely looking to go deeper, at least seven. We had that game in complete control. It’s frustrating on my end. I’ve got to be better from start to finish.”
The difference between 17 outs and 21 is more than four batters. On Saturday it was Colten Brewer, Josh Taylor and Matt Barnes having to pitch before the Sox added to their lead.
Barnes has pitched 40 times already, 22 fewer than all of last season with 73 games remaining. It’s untenable for him, Ryan Brasier, Brandon Workman and the other relievers.
The best way the Sox can improve their bullpen will be for Porcello and the other starters to go deeper in games. That is particularly the case given the team’s plan to shift Nate Eovaldi into the bullpen once he returns from the injured list later this month.
“It’s all five starters. That we won’t have a fifth guy makes it all the more important,” Porcello said. “It’s more important now than ever. When you rack up innings on your bullpen arms it affects the team for a few days.”
It’s not a question of lost ability for Porcello. His fastball velocity is the same as last season. It’s executing pitches, particularly with runners in scoring position.
“It’s a matter of locating from start to finish. I need to be better the third time through, late in the game,” he said. “Whatever it is, I need to be more consistent.”
The Sox don’t plan to pitch him until the second series after the break, against the Toronto Blue Jays. The hope is an extended break will serve him well.
At 48-41, the Red Sox can reach a season-best eight games over .500 if they can finish off a sweep of the Tigers on Sunday. They’ll have David Price on the mound.
“We don’t feel like we’re out of anything,” Porcello said. “We haven’t played consistently well as a group but none of us feels like we can’t reach our goals as a team. I personally have to do my part because we have high expectations.
“We believe we’re a lot better than we are.”
Porcello also has his future to consider. The four-year, $82 million extension he signed after being acquired from the Tigers ends this season. He’ll be 31 in December and needs a strong final two and half months to increase his marketability.
Porcello has a World Series ring and a Cy Young Award on his resume. But he’ll be judged by these next 16 or 17 starts.
Porcello, who was 17-7 with a 4.28 ERA last season, wanted to discuss an extension in spring training and was rebuffed. He understands what’s at stake.
“I’m where my feet are. That’s how I’m approaching it,” he said. “I’m focused on what I have to do to have a good second half for our ball club. Thinking about my situation is a distraction.”
Come Sunday night, Porcello plans to take a deep breath and hopefully relax. He’ll watch some video at some point over the coming days because he’s wired that way.
But of all the Red Sox, he probably needs to unplug the most.
“He’ll find it. He’s done it before,” manager Alex Cora said. “He’s searching for it. We know we can count on him.”