BALTIMORE -- Rick Porcello had barely even finished his warmup pitches on Friday night, and the Orioles went boom-pow on him in the first inning.
Leadoff man Seth Smith smashed a 106.3-mph rocket over the fence in right. Two batters later, Manny Machado obliterated a homer that left the bat at 114.3 mph and traveled a projected distance of 465 feet, according to Statcast™.
Considering that opening, you might have thought Porcello was going to get shelled. Instead, he settled down nicely and took a 3-2 loss that could well have been a win if the Red Sox had been able to get the bats going.
But Porcello demands more of himself than to bounce back from a rocky beginning.
The defending American League Cy Young Award winner thinks he should be sharp throughout his outings, and he challenged himself after Friday's game to start providing the type of performance his team needs.
"I've got to be better early on, got to be sharper, that's the bottom line," said Porcello. "I've given up too many hits, too many baserunners, that's leading to the tempo of the game, higher pitch counts and really just grinding to get through innings. I've got to get better."
Twelve starts into his season, Porcello is 3-7 with a 4.24 ERA. It is a tough turn of events for a pitcher who was 22-4 with a 3.15 ERA in last year's breakthrough.
As a sinkerballer, Porcello can be expected to pitch to contact to some degree, though he did have 189 strikeouts last year. But the problem this season is hard contact.
In Friday's game, he gave up four hits that had an exit velocity of 106 mph or higher, and he has surrendered 19 such hits so far this year, according to Statcast™. Last year, he gave up 40 hits of that speed for the entire season.
"If they get a couple of dink hits, that's nothing to worry about, but stringing together seven, eight, nine hits, grinding through at-bats, that's not my strength. I've got to get back to getting quick outs and induce some weak contact," said Porcello.
David Price is just easing back into action and will make his second start of the season on Saturday. Eduardo Rodriguez was placed on the disabled list before Friday's game. For the Red Sox to close the gap on the Yankees in the American League East, they need better performances from Porcello.
What has to happen for him to get better?
"It always goes back to location," Porcello said. "If you look at the majority of hits that I've given up or anybody's given up, it's really a result of location. Very seldom do you execute a pitch that you want to execute and it gets hit.
"Right now, it's a mix of I'll locate well on one batter and the next batter I'm leaving stuff over the middle of the plate. I've got to be more consistent with that for sure."
Is it mechanical?
"Maybe a little bit mechanical but more just the mindset of staying on top and executing pitches and that's it," said Porcello.
As usual with Porcello, there have been no shortcuts with the process.
"He put a lot of work in this week after his start against the Mariners on Sunday," said pitching coach Carl Willis. "I thought tonight exemplifies the kind of competitor he is and the pitcher he is to make an adjustment mid-game and to right the ship and go after them and get us through six innings. He had to work hard to do it, but that's what good pitchers have to do sometimes."
Porcello's next test will be a big one -- at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday.
"I'm not far off," Porcello said. "I definitely feel good about some of the stuff I'm doing. It's not at the level I expect myself to pitch at and I need to be pitching at for our ballclub. It's not bad, it's not good, it's just kind of grinding and fighting through each start. Need to be sharper and need to turn it around quick."