ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Rick Porcello has one start remaining this season, on Wednesday at Texas. It should not be his last with the Red Sox.
Porcello pitched six scoreless innings against the Tampa Ray Rays on Friday night, coming out of the game with a 2-0 lead. He then watched three relievers give up three runs in the seventh inning.
That’s the kind of season it has been for Porcello and the Red Sox, who went on to lose, 5-4, in 11 innings.
The Sox were officially eliminated from playoff contention before their game was over. The remaining nine games have been rendered meaningless, except to get a better gauge on which players on the roster the team thinks can help next season.
Porcello should be on that list. He’s 13-12 with an ugly 5.56 earned run average but has given the Sox 168⅓ innings. That’s second on the team to Eduardo Rodriguez, who has a career-best 191⅓ with two starts left.
Since 2015, his first season with the Sox, Porcello’s 958 innings are fourth in majors. Only Max Scherzer (1,055⅔ ), Justin Verlander (993), and Zack Greinke (991⅔ ) have more.
Porcello is obviously not in the same class of pitcher as Scherzer, Verlander, and Greinke. But the righthander has been on the disabled list once in the last five seasons and missed only five starts. He’s 22nd in franchise history with 158 starts.
There’s value in taking the ball every five games and working deep into games. Prior to this season, Porcello had a 4.19 ERA with the Sox. This season has been a clear outlier.
Porcello is at the end of a four-year, $82.5 million deal and could be agreeable to a one-year deal at a modest salary with an option based on games started.
He turns 31 in December, young enough to believe he can recapture what allowed him to go 17-7 with a 4.28 ERA in 2018.
“I just want to pitch and I’d love to come back here,” Porcello said. “You want to finish strong and try to leave a good impression.”
Porcello has given up two runs on eight hits over 11 innings in his last two starts and struck out 12 with one walk. That doesn’t begin to erase what came before, but it offers proof he can make the needed adjustments.
Porcello had gone back to his two-seam sinking fastball, working that pitch down in the strike zone instead of using four-seam fastballs up.
The idea is that if he can establish the sinker, it makes working up and down or side to side easier. The velocity doesn’t necessarily matter as much.
“I’m focusing on trying to get the ball down and create a little more separation. Everything has been blending together in the middle of the plate,” he said. “These last two starts I’ve done a much better job with it.
“I’m going to keep building off it. We’ve had a little bit of success right now and keep going.”
He threw 35 two-seamers Friday night and only seven four-seamers. He also liberally mixed in a slider and changeup to shut down a Rays team fighting for its playoff life.
“He was outstanding again,” manager Alex Cora said. “I’ve been saying all along, regardless of the results Rick is always searching for something to get better. The last two, fastball command has been better and the changeup to lefties and righties has been outstanding. He’s been working hard at it.”
That’s part of the reason the Sox should take a long look at Porcello coming back. Established starting pitchers can be stubborn but he’s willing to adapt as the game changes around him.
The Sox also can’t overlook all those innings and starts. Chris Sale has pitched only 305⅓ innings the last two seasons and David Price 283⅓ innings. Sale was shut down this season because of an elbow issue and Price has had a variety of issues, the latest inflammation in his wrist.
Bringing Porcello back offers some security for what could be a hold-your-breath rotation.
“I take a lot of pride in taking the ball every five days and I believe people who understand the game appreciate that,” he said. “It’s the way I’ve always felt as a starter. Go out there and cover as much of the game as you can and get your team a win.”
The smart move for Porcello might be to join a National League team. He’s a good hitter for a pitcher and fields his position well. Put Porcello with a National League West team and the alarming 96 home runs he has allowed over the last three seasons should become less of an issue in those spacious parks.
But he’s also somebody who has proven he can succeed in Boston and that counts.
Wednesday could well be the last time we see Porcello in a Red Sox uniform. Whoever is named to run baseball operations can’t be blamed for wanting to clear the deck of players who underperformed.
Under Dave Dombrowski, the Sox always made the obvious move. Bringing Porcello back certainly isn’t that, which is why it could make sense.