If you said at this point last year that Rick Porcello would be pitching Game 1 of a Boston Red Sox playoff series in 2016, most people would have called you crazy.
Dave Dombrowski would have called you smart.
It was Dombrowski, after all, who was general manager of the Detroit Tigers when they drafted Porcello 27th overall in 2007. And it was Dombrowski who came to Boston last August, when Porcello was on the disabled list amid a disastrous 2015 campaign, and realized the right-hander’s struggles mostly were between the ears.
“He was probably doing things he normally wouldn’t do,” Dombrowski told Bleacher Report’s Bill Speros in the website’s recent feature on Porcello. “Rick is more of a two-seam, sinker-ball type of guy, with command of his pitches. It’s a better position than where he’s constantly using the four-seamer trying to overpower hitters. That’s what he was trying to do (last year). A lot of (times), people put those expectations on themselves because they think they need to do that in order to live up to big-dollar situations.”
Porcello indeed felt the heat in 2015 after signing a four-year, $82.5 million contract extension with Boston in April, then stumbling to a 9-15 record and 4.92 ERA. So, how did he respond? Only by recording one of the best seasons by a Red Sox pitcher in recent memory: an American League-best 22 wins and 5.91 strikeout-to-walk ratio to go along with a 3.15 ERA and a blistering 13-1 home record.
That incredible turnaround, of course, begs the question: How the heck did he get from there to here?
“A lot of (my offseason) was spent working on my delivery,” Porcello told B/R. “Something I’ve always battled in my career is trying to find the check points in my delivery, and being able to maintain that over the course of a season. That was my major focus.”
That work has paid off. The 27-year-old has been among the most consistent pitchers in baseball this season, with 26 quality starts in 33 outings. He also has found stability after that roller coaster first season.
“I went back and forth in my head trying to figure out why I was putting so much pressure on myself (in 2015),” he said. “It wasn’t the contract that was doing it. I was coming into a new environment. New coaching staff. New organization. New teammates. New city. I wanted to show them all what I could do. I ended up being my own worst enemy.”
Now, Porcello is a legitimate Cy Young Award candidate who will get the ball Thursday in Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Cleveland Indians. Most importantly, he has the complete support of his teammates as they embark on their postseason run.
“We are where we’re at because of his performance,” Red Sox slugger David Ortiz told B/R. “I’ll leave it up to the voters, but I’d vote for him (for Cy Young), 100 percent.”
Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images