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Porcello vows to eliminate first-inning issues

Special to MLB.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Last season was difficult for Rick Porcello, going 11-17 with a 4.65 ERA in 33 starts, but the first inning was egregiously so for the right-hander. In those 33 first innings, he posted a 6.55 ERA and a .311 opponents' average (better than only his seventh-inning mark of 10.12 and .396, respectively, in 17 games).

Porcello's first-inning struggles continued in Sunday's 7-3 loss to the split-squad Orioles at JetBlue Park. In his second Grapefruit League start, he went four innings, giving up four runs on seven hits with no walks, a hit batter and three strikeouts. He threw 68 pitches (46 strikes).

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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Last season was difficult for Rick Porcello, going 11-17 with a 4.65 ERA in 33 starts, but the first inning was egregiously so for the right-hander. In those 33 first innings, he posted a 6.55 ERA and a .311 opponents' average (better than only his seventh-inning mark of 10.12 and .396, respectively, in 17 games).

Porcello's first-inning struggles continued in Sunday's 7-3 loss to the split-squad Orioles at JetBlue Park. In his second Grapefruit League start, he went four innings, giving up four runs on seven hits with no walks, a hit batter and three strikeouts. He threw 68 pitches (46 strikes).

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Porcello faced seven batters in the first inning, allowing two runs. He gave up consecutive singles to the first three batters -- Alex Presley, Joey Rickard and Colby Rasmus -- for the first run before getting a fielder's choice from Danny Valencia and striking out Pedro Alvarez. Chance Sisco's single scored Rickard, and Ruben Tejada grounded out to end the first.

Manager Alex Cora saw an unturned double play -- Valencia's grounder to third baseman Rafael Devers -- as the turning point in the inning.

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"We didn't turn a double play, and we have to do that," Cora said. "If they're going to put the ball in play, we have to make those plays for him. Raffi, he hesitated, and we don't turn a double play. And then after that, no solid contact, no solid contact, and then that happens.

"So that's something we need to do a better job defensively. We have to turn ground balls into outs. It's very important, regardless of who's on the mound. At this level, you have to turn double plays."

After retiring the side in order in the second and third, Porcello again gave up two runs after facing seven batters in the fourth. Alvarez led off with a single before Porcello hit Sisco with a pitch. Tejada bunted into a fielder's choice, eliminating Alvarez. DJ Stewart singled and Luis Sardinas struck out looking. But Presley's single to right scored two runs before Rickard grounded out, giving the Orioles a 4-2 lead.

On a positive note, all the hits Porcello permitted were singles.

"Well, you saw it. ... I didn't love it," Porcello said of the first. "Command was a little off. Got to get better in the first inning, for sure. But other than that, the rest of the game felt pretty good. I think the hardest-hit ball was the ball that Rasmus hit that was caught [for a flyout to right in the third]. Other than that, induced weak contact, which is what we're trying to do. Fastball was down. So just got to figure out what's going on in the first inning and get better with that."

Video: BAL@BOS: Porcello discusses his rough outing vs. O's

It's an issue Porcello has been trying to figure out. He had some difficulties in the first even in his 2016 American League Cy Young Award-winning season.

"I attribute a lot of what happened a year ago to failure to command the ball," Porcello said. "And even at this point in spring and even with the line that I gave up today, I'm commanding the ball much better than I did at a lot of different points last year. So it's hard to compare the two, and even the year prior, the first inning for whatever reason, it's been one of those innings. It's been tough for me.

"It seems like right out of the gate, back's against the wall trying to limit the damage. We definitely need to look at it and see if there's any patterns or trends that I'm going through, if they're combating with a good game plan and if there's different change of speeds, different angles that I need to give them early on just to get through that first inning without digging us a hole. But, overall, I feel good, and I feel like I'm throwing the ball well. We'll look at it and go from there."

In addition to figuring out the first inning, Porcello has some specific things he's working on right now.

"Commanding the fastball, commanding the sinker, that's the biggest thing," Porcello said. "There were two hits on sinkers today, and they were both to lefties that basically slapped the ball the other way, which is a good sign. Gave up a lot of big hits on that pitch last year, and it wasn't doing the right thing. But those are more the results I'm looking for. If they are going to hit the ball, limit them to singles and making them hit the ball the other way is important. So that's our priority right now, is being aggressive and relentless at the knees, and everything kind of works off that."

Maureen Mullen is a contributor to MLB.com.

Boston Red Sox, Rick Porcello