At times during his Boston Red Sox career, Rick Porcello has been very good. At other times, he hasn’t been very good at all.
Consistency has been elusive in Porcello’s three seasons with Boston, and he’s hoping to change that in 2018 and beyond.
The right-hander’s follow-up to a 2016 Cy Young Award was forgettable. Porcello lost a career-high 17 games, and while he was better at times than his record indicated, it largely was a season he would like to put behind him.
Porcello’s struggles to consistently locate often led to big mistakes. His 48 walks were the most he issued since his rookie season in 2009, and the 38 home runs he allowed led the league and were by far the most he’s allowed in his career.
“There was a lot of inconsistency on my part,” Porcello said in January at Red Sox Winter Weekend at Foxwoods Resort Casino. “I think if you wanted to talk about it from a statistical standpoint, the two biggest things for me were walks and home runs. I walked more guys than I normally do, and I gave up a lot more home runs than I normally do. Trying to figure out the adjustments I need to make coming into this year, I don’t think it’s rocket science: the biggest thing is looking at the walks and home runs and understanding I just have to locate the ball better.”
Porcello’s repertoire offers unique challenges in today’s game. He’s a pitcher who has had a lot of success pounding the bottom of the strike zone with his two-seam fastball. But with more and more hitters being taught to try and lift the ball more often, sinker-ballers like Porcello are liable to give up a lot of home runs if they’re not precise.
The Red Sox, as a team, have tried to combat this offensive revolution by working up in the zone more, primarily using a four-seam fastball, which is something Porcello didn’t do much of early in his career.
“It’s two extremes: it’s either over the middle of the plate or it’s out of the zone where guys aren’t swinging at it,” he explained in January while diagnosing his issues. “Looking back at what went on, I think there was games and stretches where I was throwing the ball like I did the year prior, but the consistency was a lot different, and that was the biggest factor.”
So, how does Porcello work on that? Part of his approach has been an ongoing effort to physically stay in the best shape he can. In addition to weightlifting, the pitcher does pilates to increase flexibility.
He’s getting in mental workouts, too. As the Boston Herald’s Michael Silverman noted Wednesday, Porcello currently is rereading the book “The Mental ABC’s of Pitching” in an attempt to sharpen his mental approach.
Porcello also has been able to lean on a former Red Sox sinkerballer, Derek Lowe. Porcello invited Lowe to camp, and the 2004 postseason hero obliged.
“We basically just talk about some simple stuff, as far as the sinker and (Lowe’s) mindset and things like that,” Porcello said Tuesday, per WEEI.com. “And then combine that with everything that I’ve been working on with (pitching coach Dana LeVangie) and so far I feel like we’re on a pretty good track.”
Whether Porcello can stay on that track for the entire season will be one of the keys to success for him and the Red Sox in 2018.