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Astros 7, Red Sox 1: Porcello looking a whole lot like two years ago

Rob Bradford
June 18, 2017 - 1:12 am

HOUSTON -- He's gone back to a place most everybody thought would never be seen again.

Rick Porcello, 2017 sure looks a whole like Rick Porcello, 2015.

For yet another start, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner fell victim to too many pitches in the middle the plate, too many hits, and too many runs. This time the result was Porcello giving up seven runs on 10 hits over six innings in a 7-1 Red Sox loss to the Astros Saturday night at Minute Maid Park. (For a complete recap, click here.)

The starter is now sitting with a 5.05 ERA after 15 starts, with opponents hitting .316 against him. And when Porcello has pitched, the Red Sox are just 6-9. Sound familiar? It should.

In his first season with the Red Sox, viewed as the lowpoint in the pitcher's career, he totaled a 5.54 ERA over his first 15 starts, but in some ways wasn't being hit as hard as he is now. Back in 2015, the righty had given up three fewer home runs (13), while allowing a .286 batting against.

"I can't say it's dissimilar," said Red Sox manager John Farrell of how this stretch compares to what Porcello went through two years earlier. "One thing we've tried to do is not throw as many four-seamers up in the strike zone where it might be more difficult to get back down in the bottom of the strike zone. There's been a high number of two-seamers tonight, but still, finding their way to the mid-thigh region, the belt region, and that can be trouble as we saw here tonight."

"I know what it is to fix," Porcello said. "I'm just having a really hard time doing it."

As the Astros noted Saturday night.

"Porcello is a guy, he depends a lot on his sinker, the two-seamer, to be effective and there were some balls we were able to taken advantage of," said Houston designated hitter Carlos Beltran, who managed a two-run homer against Porcello in the third inning. "He's a guy who has a pretty good sinker. I faced him last year, the year he won the Cy Young. His sinker was amazing. It's just location is what makes a sinker a good sinker. Today we got good pitches in the middle of the plate and we were able to put those in play."

Porcello is right. It really isn't all that complicated.

The bread-and-butter weapon that led him to his Cy Young, the two-seam fastball, has left the building. It's basically acting like a four-seamer, except a bit slower with little movement. It's supposed to dart down, and it's simply just living in place it has no right residing in - the top of the strike zone. Here's some proof from Saturday night (courtesy BaseballSavant.com):

The good news for Porcello is that he has pulled himself out of this rut before, ultimately finishing the last two months of the 2015 season with a good measure of success. But the issue here is that, unlike two seasons ago, the Red Sox are in the middle of a pennant race and can't afford this kind of inconsistency. And there is also the uncomfortable reality that he already explained: Porcello knows what's wrong, and how he should be fixing it, but can't seem to actually do it.

"I don't think back to that, necessarily," he said of 2015. "You just try to make the adjustments you need to make to get back to executing pitches. It's a different year. I'm not going to go back and look at all that sort of stuff. It's a matter of executing pitches. That's what got me out the [expletive] I was in in 2015, and that's what's going to get me out of it now -- executing pitches."

"Honestly there aren't any alternatives," Farrell said. "Rick is a key member of this team and we've got to continue to work to get it right because we see inside of every start that he's made, there's been stretches where he's thrown the ball as he's capable, and yet we've got to get back to what makes him most consistent."

The Red Sox didn't manage to get a single runner into scoring position against the Astros, with their only run coming on Chris Young's solo homer in the sixth inning.

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