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This is the Rick Porcello the Red Sox need

Rob Bradford
September 04, 2018 - 10:38 pm

ATLANTA -- There is a very good chance Rick Porcello is going to pitch in a postseason game for the Red Sox this season.

If he does, this is the pitcher they will need to show up.

In a season of very goods, very bads and a bunch of starts somewhere in between, Porcello stepped up against a first-place team and offered a taste of what might be possible. The Red Sox' starter allowed just one run on two hits over his five innings before being pinch-hit for in the sixth inning. (For a complete recap of the Red Sox' 5-1 win, click here.)

It might not have been the most economical of outings -- with Porcello needing 100 pitches to get through his five frames -- but it was undoubtedly a step in the right direction for a starting rotation that may be on the verge of fixing itself.

"It was important, not just five innings, but five quality innings," Porcello said. "I think my pitch count running up was a result of trying to stay out of the middle of the plate, not trying to pitch to contact, we’re trying to get swings and misses and keep the ball in the ballpark. You know, it is what it is. Every starting pitcher wants to go seven, eight, and pitch deep in the game but first and foremost, trying to prevent runs from scoring and if it takes more pitches that night, then that’s what it takes."

We've seen this before from Porcello. It was the ninth time the righty has allowed one or fewer runs. The problem has been that of late those outings have been few and far between. In his last three starts coming into Tuesday night, he had allowed 12 runs over 17 innings (6.35 ERA), with opponents managing a .898 OPS.

This was more along the lines of that last really good one Porcello had, when he gave up just one run on two hits over seven innings to the team directly behind Atlanta in the National League East standings, Philadelphia.

(It should also be noted that after singling in his second at-bat of the game, Porcello has now hit safely in each of the three road interleague games he has pitched -- Washington, Philly and now at SunTrust Park. "It's definitely fun," he said. "I got lucky. You enjoy it up until the point when you're out there and running the bases and you realize you've still got a ballgame you've got to pitch and to keep your legs underneath you. Obviously, we're not used to that in the American League. It's fun. It's always nice to get a knock.")

Making Porcello's potential resurgence so appetizing for Alex Cora and his crew is the absence of such optimism in the starting rotation of late. In the 10 starts prior to this one Red Sox starters have an individual record of 1-5 with a collective ERA of 6.69. Opponents during the stretch have managed a .346 batting average and .946 OPS, with the starter going fewer than five innings seven times.

Judging by what Eduardo Rodriguez delivered in his first game back off the disabled list, he should significantly help. Then there is the return of David Price on Friday, and Chris Sale most likely not too long after that. (The Sox' ace is scheduled to throw a bullpen session Saturday before being eased into the rotation next week.)

And now this from Porcello.

According to Cora, the plan now is to start Porcello on Sunday before giving him a little bit of a rest head into the stretch drive. The point, of course, is to make sure this pitcher lands in the rotation when it counts the most.

"I mean, we're in September and energy levels are definitely dwindling or whatever you want to call it. Everybody is feeling a little something," he said. "Whenever you get a couple of days extra of rest, it's important to use those and kind of get your feet back underneath you. I think my stubborn starting pitcher side of me would say I don't want extra days, even in September, but I think it's smart and I'll do whatever Alex and the rest of the coaching staff wants me to do."

Steve Pearce paved the way for the Red Sox' offense, coming away with three hits and three RBI. Also of note, Xander Bogaerts came through again with the bases loaded, this time walking in a run. The Red Sox shortstop is now 8-for-12 with 28 RBI when hitting with the bases full.