Deciphering what is wrong with Rick Porcello

Rob Bradford
April 13, 2019 - 6:35 pm

One of the changes in the Red Sox' home clubhouse is where the manager's office resides. It used to be the room all visitors would immediately see upon entering the team's dressing room, with the skipper getting an immediate glance at any and all visitors. But this year Alex Cora's sanctuary isn't visible to the media. Taking over his old haunts -- where all those photos from all those 2018 photos were hung -- are banks of computer screens.

This is now the video room. This is where Rick Porcello sat long after his day was done.

Before and after meeting with the media, Porcello could be seen staring intently at one of the machines cued up to break down any and all of his actions from another disappointing start. Much like his first two outings of the season, the righty was trying to identify exactly where he was going wrong in delivering the baseball.

Because make no mistake about it, there was something amiss in what he is doing. This time there were five walks in just four-plus innings, marking just the second time in his 310 career starts where he has walked five or more batters. For Porcello's season, he surrendered 12 free passes in just 11 1/3 innings, succumbing to an 11.12 ERA and .415 batting average against.

"I’m battling right now. I’m definitely not where I want to be," Porcello said after the Red Sox' 9-5 loss to the Orioles. "I have to keep working and get there and get there quick. Can’t keep going out there and rolling these starts out like this, I’m only hurting our team. I have to do a better job. That’s the bottom line." (For a complete recap of the Red Sox' loss, click here.)

So, what is happening? A lot.

Take for instance the results of Porcello's four-seam fastball. Last year hitters only totaled a .195 batting average against the pitch, while this time around it sits at .500 (with Orioles hitters going 5-for-9 Saturday afternoon). But that's not all, as the pitcher's lack of command would suggest.

"Right now it’s a lot of them," said the pitcher when asked about the particular pitch. "Curveball, changeup, everything really. So ... Like I said, it’s not one particular pitch. It’s everything. It’s a combination of not being able to execute them and then the game-plan falls apart and your sequences, you’re just trying to survive out there. I’ve got to get better with everything."

Red Sox pitching coach Dana LeVangie offered some specifics.

"I think we had good practice, good lead-up to today. I thought he made some adjustments during the game," LeVangie said. "Things we’ve been talking about during the week is have some momentum, with the hands. Get the hands in the delivery so you can be on time more often. I thought he did a great job leading up to the week. At times he was holding to the ball a little bit longer. The front side leaked a little bit early, causing him to lose control a little bit, losing the strike zone a little bit. Again, he gave us a chance, he kept us in the game. But we’re going to fix this thing eventually. He’s always a guy who is willing to go out and practice and listen. We’re going to look at things tomorrow to see if some of these things are definitely standing out. But that’s one thing we’ve been talking about that could be leading to some command issues. Getting the hands moving with the leg going down the slope is really important."

He added, "Rick is one that is always willing to listen and learn, anyway he can get better. I don’t think that will change. He’s going to be on top of things tomorrow, how we can clean things up. Rick has been a pretty consistent pitcher throughout his entire career. We expect him to get back to that."

This is certainly not the pitcher witnessed while playing such a key role in last season's postseason run. And a quick comparison to some of the mechanics he delivered last October compared to this time around - both on 92 mph fastballs-  would suggest some noticeable differences.

The glove separation LeVangie references can be seen in the two sequences, the first one coming in the American League Championship Series against the Astros which resulted in a high-rising swing and miss, with the second serving as the fastball that resulted in Chris Davis snapping his 0-for-54 streak with a single.

While some might suggest the slight differences in the images are at what time of the motion Porcello is delivering the pitch, his front foot is resting at an identical distance from the ground in each picture. It also shows a more upright pitcher during the Astros at-bat.

Same at-bat, with the obvious difference coming in how much taller Porcello is when actually throwing the fastball with the ball having traveled almost exactly the same amount distance. Part of that might also be the direction the pitcher has been talking about with his body, with the misguided offering to Davis showing more of a lean to the left.

"I think the biggest thing is just the tempo and mechanics of the delivery and rushing out and it’s not giving me time to be in a consistent spot when I release the ball," he said

He added, "I think I know what I need to do. It’s just a matter of going out there and doing it. Sometimes your body gets caught in a pattern and you have to fight through that. The bottom line is our guys are playing hard and I can’t go out there and keep doing what I’m doing. I’ve got to be better and that’s it. Whatever that takes, it will take. The results are the most important thing. I have to do a better job. That’s the bottom line."

Back to the drawing board.

The offensive star for the Red Sox was Christian Vazquez' who drove in a career-high four RBI thanks in part to a game-tying two-runb homner in the third inning.