Rick Porcello appeared to have found something in his start against the Royals on Aug. 5, tossing six innings of one-run ball.
But he reverted to his struggles of most of 2019 in a 12-4 loss to the Angels last Saturday, allowing five runs on two homers.
“We have daily conversations,” manager Alex Cora said of Porcello after that game. “I know how hard he works. A few pitches that he didn’t execute today, they went out of the ballpark. There were some positive, but obviously in the end we need results as a team.”
But the same happened in Porcello’s start against the Orioles on July 20. The Red Sox won that one, but Porcello allowed six runs on 11 hits, including two homers, in five innings. His ERA heading into Friday’s start against the Orioles is 5.67.
When Cora said recently that possible tweaks to the rotation may be coming, one assumed Porcello might be one of the tweaks. Based on performance, it was either he or Andrew Cashner who could get demoted to the bullpen.
The Sox elected to go with Cashner, keeping Porcello in line to start. But moving forward, don’t be surprised if Cora takes Porcello out early even in a game against the Orioles. Cora managed very aggressively this week against the Indians, employing a quick hook and leaning on his bullpen.
The Red Sox bullpen covered 11⅔ innings in three games against the Indians. Six relievers were used Wednesday after Brian Johnson went just 2⅔ innings. It looked like a bullpen game, but Cora pushed back on that when asked earlier in the week if he’d consider it.
“It’s not that easy just to bullpen,” Cora said. “It’s a great concept, it’s a great word at the same time, if we’re very limited, it will be hard to bullpen.”
The Sox have a month and a half left in the season, and bullpen games aren’t a recipe that holds up in the long term. But if the starting pitching continues to struggle and Cora has to remain aggressive with his bullpen, the schedule actually works in his favor. The Sox have three more offdays through the end of August.
It would have been four if they didn’t have the suspended game against the Royals to finish next Thursday. That allows Cora to be creative and continue to go to his pen.
If the Red Sox get through August, expanded rosters might help weather some of the load, too. They also might have found something in Cashner, who’s worked two scoreless innings in relief.
However, this is just patchwork. “If we’re going to get on a roll, we’re going to need our starting pitching to pitch well,” said president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski.
Time running out
The Sox escaped Cleveland with a series win. Xander Bogaerts hit the 100th homer of his career, Rafael Devers went 8 for 10 over a two-game span, and yet they still have a big hill to climb.
“We put ourselves in a bad position,” Cora said Wednesday. “But we understand we’ve got a shot to make some ground and the season is not over.”
The Sox entered Thursday still 7½ games behind the Rays for the second wild-card spot, but have a favorable schedule to end the month. Aside from the Phillies — who like the Sox have been inconsistent this season — the Sox will face four teams under .500 starting with the Orioles. On paper, they should beat all these teams, but that hasn’t always been the case.
“We’ve got to win,” Bogaerts said. “Just like the Yankees do against them.” Bogaerts was referring to the Yankees’ 17-2 record against the Orioles this season, which is one of the reasons New York is running away with the division.
The Sox have one more series against the Orioles after this one, to end the season, but their record against them is 8-5. It includes a series loss at Camden Yards last month, which sort of catapulted a recent spiral.
A series sweep is almost imperative.
“We haven’t had that run the whole season,” Cora said.”We know what we have to do the rest of the season. We can do it. It starts with us.”