Sometimes it’s hard, without the benefit of years in the highest level of baseball, to see the slight adjustment a player makes when trying to account for a change in his performance — good or bad.
With Boston Red Sox pitcher Drew Pomeranz, the adjustment he’s made is pretty simple and fairly obvious to see.
Pomeranz turned in arguably the best start of his Red Sox tenure Wednesday night in Chicago, shutting down the White Sox by allowing only one run over seven innings while striking out eight.
The left-hander has been very good for Boston since his spat with manager John Farrell in the Red Sox’s dugout on May 20. Pomeranz has allowed just three runs on 11 hits over 13 innings while striking out 19 in his last two starts, earning wins over the Texas Rangers and the White Sox. He’s allowed only one home run over his last four starts after serving up seven long balls in his first seven starts.
If this is the Pomeranz the Red Sox get moving forward, they’ll have one of the best starting rotations in baseball.
So, what’s been the reason for the turnaround and how does Pomeranz keep this up? Well, the simple answer, it seems, is to stick with the cutter. According to MLB Gameday data, 13 of Pomeranz’s 108 pitches Wednesday night were cutters, after he threw the pitch 12 times in his previous start against Texas. Compare that to just 20 cutters thrown in his first eight starts of the season combined.
The cutter was the pitch that helped Pomeranz break out last season, too. According to Brooks Baseball’s game logs for Pomeranz, the lefty really started leaning hard on the pitch during his May 18 start, which began a 10-start stretch in which he averaged a shade under 17 cutters per start. That includes a May 29 start against the Arizona Diamondbacks in which he threw no cutters but curiously threw 15 “sliders,” per Brooks — the first and only time he’s ever featured a slider in his entire career, which is to say those probably were cutters.
Something started to click in that 10-start stretch. Pomeranz went just 4-4 in those starts, but he held opposing hitters to a .191 batting average with a 2.90 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 62 innings. The San Diego Padres parlayed that into Red Sox pitching prospect Anderson Espinoza in a trade with Boston at the deadline.
Pomeranz has been a work in progress since joining the Red Sox, but he’s flashed his potential. Consistency is key, of course, and a return to a cutter-heavy attack should help him settle in, as it gives him a true three-pitch arsenal.
As for why it took so long for Pomeranz to get back to the cutter this season, it’s possible his early-season injury issues played a role. A nagging arm injury limited Pomeranz’s spring workload, and he left his May 14 start with a triceps issue. When you rely heavily on the curveball and cutter — two pitches that can cause a lot of stress on the arm — you’re going to struggle if you’re not healthy. Pomeranz now looks healthy, though, and it’s showing.
It’s borderline impossible to have success as a starter in the major leagues with just two pitches. Pomeranz can get it up there in the mid-90s from the left side, which is nice, and his curveball is widely considered one of the best in Major League Baseball. But for him to really have success, he needs the three-pitch mix he featured last season on his way to the All-Star Game.
And over the last two starts, at least, it appears that version of Pomeranz has returned.
Thumbnail photo via Mike DiNovo/USA TODAY Sports Images