Cook finds rhythm, consistency a winning recipe

805706.jpg

Cook finds rhythm, consistency a winning recipe

SEATTLE -- On Thursday night, Felix Hernandez manhandled the Red Sox, limiting them to five hits -- all singles -- while striking out 13, trying a career high.

Friday night, Aaron Cook recorded just two strikeouts and didn't have a single swing-and-miss all night. Yet, at the end of the night, he had the exact same result as Hernandez: a complete-game shutout.

Different strokes for different folks.

Cook wasn't overpowering, but he got the Seattle Mariners to continually hit balls into the ground, recording 15 of the 27 outs on the ground, thanks to a highly effective sinker.

He needed just 81 pitches to record his 27 outs, an average of exactly three pitches per out, a ratio that most pitchers would be highly envious of. And of the 81 pitches he threw, 73 were sinkers.

Why mess with success?

"I got in a really good rhythm early,'' said Cook, 2-1. "I was commanding the ball down in the zone and I knew they were being aggressive, so I was really just trying to command the ball in the bottom of the zone and guys were playing great defense behind me.''

Cook didn't throw more than six pitches in a single at-bat all night as he recorded his third career shutout. He continually got ahead early and claimed an advantage of a Seattle lineup that was shutout for the 10th time this season.

"When you're throwing strikes early and getting them early,'' said Cook, "it definitely makes a world of difference. They're not getting comfortable at-bats and I was able to really pound the zone early and keep them swinging at the pitches I wanted them to swing at.''

The 81 pitches represents the fewest number of pitches thrown by a Red Sox starter since at least 1988.

He retired the side in order in the first, second, third, fifth, seventh and ninth innings, while getting double plays in the fourth and eighth. Only in the sixth inning, when Mike Aviles bobbled the transfer on a grounder behind second to open the inning, did Cook face more than three Seattle hitters.

"I'm the type of pitcher where I know I'm not going to have a bunch of strikeouts,'' said Cook, "and I just really want to pound the zone early (in the count) and not let them get comfortable. Usually, that's a good recipe for a low-pitch game.''

The start was the 209th of his career, and Cook, upon reflection, judged it to be his best to date.

"I think so,'' said Cook. "Looking back (at two other shutouts), this was quickest I've worked and I was definitely more efficient, so, it's probably one of the top ones.''

"He had his sinker going from the first pitch of the game,'' said Bobby Valentine, "and he was throwing it over the heart of the plate and they were swinging at it and putting the ball in play and the defense was doing everything he needed behind him. It was a great performance.''

In the first two games of this West Coast trip, the Red Sox have gotten 16 scoreless innings from two starters who weren't part of their rotation only two weeks ago.

"We've got some competition going on around here,'' said Valentine. "You never have enough good pitching and I think we're building some competition and a staff where we can give the ball to any one of many guys and think we have a chance to win.''

McAdam: Despite all the talk, Ortiz is still the retiring type

ortiznotretire5051462489888478_3450k_1280x720_680352323748.jpg

McAdam: Despite all the talk, Ortiz is still the retiring type

CHICAGO -- Will or won't he?

It's the first week of May, and already the question is being asked. Sure, David Ortiz said he was retiring after this season. But will he stick to his word or change his mind? Inquiring minds want to know.

The questions get louder with every homer hit, every run knocked in, every milestone reached.

When Ortiz homered off Carlos Rodon Wednesday night, becoming the first lefty hitter to ever do so, the chatter began again.

It's unlikely to stop much in the coming months, especially if Ortiz continues to hit at this sort of pace. If Ortiz continues to produce like he has in the first five weeks, like he did a year ago, why would he walk away from a game he can still dominate?

But that's missing the point.

Ortiz isn't retiring because he can't perform any longer. Remember, he made the announcement last November, weeks after he finished 2015 with 37 homers, the most he's had in a single season since his club-record 54 in 2006.

Ortiz couldn't have had any sense that he was nearing the end after what he achieved last year. And he can't be motivated financially, either; the Red Sox hold a $15 million option for 2017, meaning he knew he was walking away from that when he decided to quit.

So maybe, just maybe, Ortiz is retiring because he doesn't want to play any more.

He may still love the game and enjoy the lifestyle, but he's played professional baseball for the last 23 years, or more than half of his life. That's a lot of plane rides, bus rides and time away home and family.

And even though he's essentially been a DH for virtually all of his Red Sox career, there's still a physical price to play. The Achilles injury he suffered several years ago still affects him.

It was telling that Ortiz was out of the lineup for both games in Atlanta, a National League city where the Red Sox can't use the DH. In the past, he would have started at least one game at first base. But this time he pinch-hit in the first and didn't appear at all in the second.

Then there's the matter of the hype surrounding The Long Goodbye. Three franchises -- including the White Sox Thursday night -- have held ceremonies to honor Ortiz's last visit to their ballpark. In the coming weeks there will be pregame tributes in Kansas City, San Francisco, and Minneapolis, with many more to follow.

It would be pretty awkward for Ortiz for shrug his shoulders, announce he's had a change of heart, and give back those gifts.

There are planned promotions at Fenway, with sponsors cued up to take part in various events.

Ortiz has also agreed to be the subject of a season-long documentary by a production company that followed him around on Opening Day, the home opener at Fenway and will be around periodically throughout the season. What happens to that project? Does it become an inside look at the next-to-last season for David Ortiz? Would anyone watch "A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Year David Ortiz Gave Careful Consideration To Retiring Before Changing His Mind?''

And while it's true Ortiz has developed a good relationship with president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski in a short period of time, and Dombrowski would undoubtedly welcome Ortiz back next season, it's highly unlikely Dombrowski's presence could bring about a change of heart.

After all, Ortiz has had a very good relationship with John Farrell and enjoys playing for him. So if Farrell, whose history with Ortiz dates back to 2007, can't sway Ortiz, it's highly doubtful Dombrowski could.

Mostly, this talk has surfaced because of the Sports Talk Industrial Complex, a business that traffics in conspiracy theories and is in dire need of debate and hot takes 24-7.

Noted player evalautor Sigmund Freud, however, once sagely noted: Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

And sometimes, a retirement is just a retirement.

Nothing more, nothing less.