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Porcello in tune with Leon for vintage 8 innings

Right-hander fans 8, allows just 5 hard-hit balls over 114 pitches
@IanMBrowne
April 30, 2019

BOSTON -- Rick Porcello didn't just pitch his best game of the season on Tuesday night at Fenway Park. He threw the best game by any Red Sox starter this season. The righty was vintage in this one, allowing two hits over eight scoreless innings and striking out eight while

BOSTON -- Rick Porcello didn't just pitch his best game of the season on Tuesday night at Fenway Park. He threw the best game by any Red Sox starter this season.

The righty was vintage in this one, allowing two hits over eight scoreless innings and striking out eight while leading the Sox to a 5-1 victory over the Athletics.

And eight was indeed the magic number. In Boston's 30th game of the season, Porcello became the team's first starter to pitch into the eighth inning, let alone go the full eight.

"He did an outstanding job pounding the strike zone, going in and out, keeping them off balance, great rhythm," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. "He and [catcher] Sandy [Leon] were in tune from pitch one and he gave us something we needed."

After struggling in his first three starts, Porcello has been strong in his last three. In this start alone, he lowered his ERA from 7.43 to 5.52 and won for the second straight time.

The key?

"Command," Porcello said. "Making better pitches. Attacking hitters. That's first and foremost, to set the tone that way."

And set it he did, thanks in part to Leon.

Here were some factors that stood out for Porcello in his sterling performance:

Sandy's presence
The following numbers can't be viewed as simply coincidence: Porcello was 0-3 with a 11.12 ERA in his first three starts, when Leon was at Triple-A. In Porcello's last three, with Leon catching him, he is 2-0 with a 2.29 ERA.

For all the talk about Chris Sale's comfort with Leon, that might be an even bigger factor for Porcello.

"Yeah, it's a great flow," Boston pitching coach Dana LeVangie said of the Porcello/Leon battery. "You guys see it. Game's moving. Defense is active. Gets him back in the dugout, gets the offense ready to roll."

"We were on the same page with one another, and we worked quick, which is good for our guys to get back in the dugout and get things going offensively and try and work as quick as possible," Porcello said. "It definitely went well tonight, as far as tempo is concerned."

Pitch mix
Porcello went to a heavy mix of two-seamers (39) and sliders (41), as those accounted for 70 percent of the pitches he threw on the night.

"The way his slider-cutter was working on both sides of the plate, in to the righties, backdoor to lefties, it just made his fastball so much better, his sinker and his four-seamer," LeVangie said. "He pitched really aggressively tonight."

That left the A's off-balance and making soft contact.

"It's a credit to his delivery, how the ball is coming out," LeVangie said. "Overall deception. How quick his arm is moving. Everything involved. It's great to see it. Even in missed locations. That's where you really judge how a pitcher's stuff is. You get bad swings, bad takes, his deception was really good tonight."

Of the 114 pitches Porcello threw, Oakland mustered just five hard-hit balls (exit velocity of 95 mph or greater). That ties Porcello's personal best for fewest hard-hit balls in a performance of 110 pitches or more since 2015.

Work ethic
Porcello is renowned for his work ethic, and that was once again a key as he climbed out of one of the worst skids of his career.

"It's not the first time I've been roughed up before, and it won't be the last," Porcello said. "You have to be professional about it and have that inner confidence you're going to find your stuff. We've been working hard at it.

"There was one week I threw a bullpen [session] every day in between starts. We're doing whatever we can to get it on track, and it's starting to come around. I think everybody is throwing the ball a lot better, and it's time to go for us."

Rotation rebound
Though Sale is still searching for the best version of himself, the rotation as a whole is starting to click after a dreadful beginning to the season. Red Sox starters have a 3.14 ERA in 15 games since April 14. They've allowed 0.81 homers over nine innings in the past 21 starts, the lowest mark in the Majors in that span.

"I've got confidence in all of them," Cora said. "It was just a bad start for everybody. People can point out [light workload in] Spring Training or whatever, I don't think that's the thing. Adjust over 162 games and see what happens. They struggled early, now they're finding their rhythm, and we'll see where it takes us."

Though Boston (13-17) isn't going to throw any parties over a two-game winning streak, particularly when it is seven games back in the American League East, things are looking a little better of late.

Mookie being Mookie
The glass always looks fuller when Mookie Betts is resembling his AL MVP Award-winning form of a year ago. The right fielder belted a solo homer to center in the bottom of the first to help set the tone. Betts has reached base in 27 of 50 plate appearances (.540 OBP) in his last 11 games while batting .452. On April 17, Betts was batting .200. He is now at .295.

"Hit the ball out of the ballpark to straight center, that's a perfect swing right there," Cora said. "He's always looking for that. He got into some bad habits after the Seattle series [to start the season], and he kept working and didn't stop working. He's a guy that regardless if he's hitting .380 or .180 he's going to put in work and you can see the results."

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.