BOSTON -- Rick Porcello has made his living throwing strikes. One year, he even got a Cy Young Award trophy out of it.
For more than a decade, through good times and bad, Porcello has been one of the game’s ultimate strike-throwers.
Yet here he is, in the midst of a massive early-season funk during which he can’t find the strike zone nearly often enough. So it goes for the Red Sox, as unexpected storylines continue to crop up amid a slow start.
The rough times were back on Saturday for Porcello (4 innings, 90 pitches, 5 walks, 6 hits, 3 runs), and the Red Sox lost, 9-5, to the Orioles.
“Too many walks, a lot of traffic,” Boston manager Alex Cora said. “That’s not him. He’s a guy who pounds the strike zone, is always ahead and it hasn’t been that way. A lot of traffic out there. Some of the walks are obviously controlling the game, you don’t see that often from him. We’ve got to fix that.”
A resurgent effort from Porcello would have been particularly beneficial on Saturday, given that Eduardo Rodriguez had given Boston’s beleaguered rotation a gem on Friday night.
But it was not to be.
“I have to keep working and get there, and get there quick. Can’t keep going out there and rolling these starts out like this,” Porcello said. “I’m only hurting our team. I have to do a better job. That’s the bottom line.”
Porcello’s bottom line is anything but pretty at the moment. Same goes for a Boston rotation that is a combined 1-9 with an 8.09 ERA.
“It’s frustrating for him and for me,” said catcher Christian Vazquez, who belted a two-run homer and had a career-high of four RBIs Saturday. “I’ve been with him in the same boat trying to figure it out. Like I said, he likes to work. He’s working with that and I know he’s going to be good."
Porcello is 0-3 with an 11.12 ERA through three starts, and has issued 12 walks in those 11 1/3 innings. This from a pitcher who had 48 walks in 191 1/3 innings last season, and 48 in 203 1/3 the season before.
Why has Porcello lost his control?
“I think the biggest thing is just the tempo and mechanics of the delivery, and rushing out, and it’s not giving me time to be in a consistent spot when I release the ball,” Porcello said.
Porcello’s struggles have nothing to do with effort during starts or work between them.
“I think we had good practice, a good lead-up to today,” pitching coach Dana LeVangie said. “I thought he made some adjustments during the game. Things we’ve been talking about during the week is [to] have some momentum, have some movement with the hands. Get the hands in the delivery so you can be on time more often. I thought he did a great job leading up to the week.”
Of course, things can speed up once the game starts.
“At times he was holding onto the ball a little bit longer,” LeVangie said. “The front side leaked a little bit early, causing him to lose control a little bit, losing the strike zone a little bit.”
When Porcello did find the zone, the Orioles smashed his fastball around. And that his been another troubling trend for him this season, perhaps directly related to the control issues.
Porcello’s four-seam fastball is getting pounded. After holding opponents to a .195 average with that pitch last season, teams are hitting .500 against it this year. That included a 4-for-9 performance by the Orioles against Porcello’s heater on Saturday.
The O's swung and missed at just two of the 33 four-seamers Porcello threw.
“Like I said, it’s not one particular pitch. It’s everything,” Porcello said. “It’s a combination of not being able to execute them and then the game plan falls apart and your sequences, you’re just trying to survive out there. I’ve got to get better with everything.”
Porcello’s day got stressful in a hurry, as he allowed a double to Trey Mancini and a walk to Dwight Smith. Up stepped Chris Davis, who came to the plate the owner of 62 consecutive hitless plate appearances. That changed when Davis ripped Porcello's 92.9-mph fastball into right-center for a two-run single.
“I was trying to throw a four-seamer up, and it was just a little too low, it was around the belt line and he took a pretty good swing on it,” Porcello said. “I mean, I definitely don’t want to give up a hit to him, but I respect how he’s going about his business, and it’s never easy. Baseball is a tough game when you’re struggling, and he’s still showing up and playing and working hard every day, so I tip my hat to him for battling through what he’s battling through.”
Now, Porcello will use all his resources to battle out of his own slump.