Back in 2007, Rick Porcello, then a 17-year-old senior at Seton Hall Prep in West Orange, N.J., went 10-0 with a 1.20 ERA and 112 strikeouts in 70 innings. He carried his Pirates to the state championship and earned himself a Gatorade Player of the Year Award.It was at the
Back in 2007, Rick Porcello, then a 17-year-old senior at Seton Hall Prep in West Orange, N.J., went 10-0 with a 1.20 ERA and 112 strikeouts in 70 innings. He carried his Pirates to the state championship and earned himself a Gatorade Player of the Year Award.
It was at the beginning of that stellar season that Porcello began training with fellow Seton Hall graduate Mickey Brueckner and at the end of it that he was drafted in the first round, 27th overall, by the Detroit Tigers. Porcello had so much success, both in the gym and on the field, with Brueckner that the relationship is still going strong 11 years later.
On a rainy day in January, the big Red Sox right-hander meets Brueckner, now owner of Annex Sports Performance in Chatham, N.J., for his daily offseason workout. Last week was Porcello's heaviest and highest-volume training week of the offseason, so this week is focused on active recovery, with lower volumes of weight, reps and sets. I'm thankful for this, because on this morning, I'm working out alongside Porcello.
"I love everything about training with Mick," Porcello said. "His personality as a trainer, he leaves no stone unturned going into the offseason, whether it's the strength and explosiveness aspect of pitching or shoulder mobility and scapula work or hip mobility. We get stronger, flexibility increases. Every offseason I feel like I come in and get a little bit better physically and I haven't plateaued. And knock on wood, I'll continue to stay healthy, because that's the name of the game."
Case in point: Porcello, 29, has made at least 27 big league starts in each of the nine seasons since making his MLB debut in 2009. Only two other pitchers -- Max Scherzer and Jonathan Lester -- have matched those durability numbers. And in six of those seasons, Porcello has made over 30 starts, topping out at 33 in both 2016 and '17.
"It's a direct correlation," Porcello said. "This is where it starts. The work I put in here is what allows me to maintain and sustain that strength throughout a long season."
Like most young athletes, Porcello's goal for his offseason training earlier in his career was to get bigger, stronger and faster. But as his career has progressed, the focus has shifted more to mobility and corrective exercises to address the inevitable imbalances created by pitching; that is, repeating one rotational movement over and over again for the entire year. This offseason, Porcello of course wanted to rebuild his strength after the long baseball season, but he was also focused on his arm care and shoulder program to maintain both the mobility and stability of the joint, and on increasing his hip mobility and core awareness, which will translate to more sound mechanics on the mound.
"All of our power as pitchers comes from our core, our hips and our pelvis," Porcello said. "The tighter you are, the more restricted you're going to be and you're not going to be able to tap into everything you have. Mobility is huge to help you tap into that power and to have the flexibility and the alignment to get good direction to home plate and deliver the ball the way you need to deliver it."
Today is Tuesday, so in addition to being an active recovery day, it's also an upper-body day. Porcello begins with a flat-ground throwing session out to about 120 feet and then goes through his arm-care routine.
"We do a general warmup to get his body temperature up and to make sure his muscle pliability is where it needs to be," Brueckner said. "After throwing, we do his arm-care work. On upper-body days, it is scapular-oriented work, getting good movement in his scapula and his rib cage and making sure he's stabilizing and getting good shoulder movement overhead."
That good shoulder movement will be essential as the workout progresses. It begins with a couplet of lower-body pliometrics -- single-leg hurdle hops with changes in direction -- and a core exercise called a bear; think an all-fours position with a rounded back and the knees hovering off the floor. To spice it up, Porcello adds shoulder taps, lifting one hand, then the other, off the floor.
The second couplet combines an overhead medicine ball throw with a crow hop -- like a soccer throw-in -- with one-armed trap raises done with an exercise band. The med ball throw forces Porcello to generate full-body power, similar physiologically and biomechanically to what he'd experience throwing a baseball, while the trap raise reinforces good scapular function.
Then, Brueckner combines a half-kneeling, single-arm landmine press -- done by pressing one end of a barbell overhead while the other remains static on the floor, forming a long lever -- with a kneeling cable pulldown to work Porcello's lats in a horizontal plane rather than a straight, vertical one.
"As Rick gets more into his throwing process we take more of the vertical pulling out of the training program," Brueckner said. "We want to make sure his lats aren't overpowering everything because he's getting that when he's throwing."
The lone tri-set of the day -- a trio of exercises done in succession -- consists of yoga pushups, which incorporate a downward-facing dog stretch, a hip stretch and a thoracic twist into each rep, speed cable pulls to help Porcello get his fast-twitch muscles ready for Spring Training and a hamstring stability ball curl to train the muscles that will help to decelerate all of the force the 6-foot-5, 205-pound Porcello generates coming off the mound.
"A lot of athletes lose a lot of hamstring function," Brueckner said. "It's important that Rick can load his hamstring safely and repeat it."
The workout finishes with a half-kneeling lift and press, which is a rotational cable exercise, and a prone body saw, which is essentially a sliding forearm plank.
Porcello sticks with his workout routine all season long, combining Brueckner's workouts with programming from the Red Sox's training staff.
"Over the years, Rick has really started to understand what works for him," Brueckner said. "As he gets later into his career, it's not as important for him to get bigger, faster, stronger. We're working on the little things. He's willing to do those small things most athletes aren't typically willing to do. He's diligent with his work between starts and with his corrective work here. His willingness to do those things legitimately and do them well every time he trains, in season and offseason, has helped him maintain a good, solid base and each year, he keeps getting better and better."
That's good for Porcello and good for the Red Sox.
Lindsay Berra has covered a variety of sports, from baseball and hockey to tennis and the Olympics, since 1999. She joined MLB.com in 2013.