Rick Porcello knew change would be needed, now it is

Rick Porcello knew change would be needed, now it is

Rick Porcello was prepared for an ugly beginning, in one respect.

His entire approach, even last season, was based on constant change. Before each outing, he would make out a handwritten game plan then toss it away. He picked up that habit in 2013.

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His consistency lent itself to a different image. An idea that he found the right formula. All his time searching with the Tigers (and a little bit more with the Red Sox) paid off — right?

Well, yes. But he found no formula, even in his march to the 2016 Cy Young.

Alex Avila of the Tigers has caught Porcello more than anyone else in the Red Sox righty’s career, 99 regular-season games.

“He always struggled between, is he a sinker ball pitcher or can he be … a power pitcher,” Avila recalled. “He was constantly trying to find that right mix. And be able to use both. And that was something for a few years that it was just a back and forth, give and take, kind of like a trial and error. And his stuff, and his ability, his talent was so good… he was much farther along than most guys at his age.

“He was still producing. Even though he was trying to figure himself out. For a lot of guys at his age, when they were coming up, or doing that in the minor leagues, he was doing that in the big leagues.”

Porcello may have a greater sense of identity now. He must. But he knew opponents could in fact find a way to get to him, as the Rays did in Friday night’s 4 1/3-inning, eight-run performance.

Even after a year where everything clicked — and before he threw a pitch this season — Porcello was prepared for a continued search.

Or whatever you want to call it.

“I don’t like to call it searching,” Porcello said in spring training. “There have been times throughout the course of my career where you’re searching, but it’s more, I think with my repertoire and stuff. There was adjustments that needed to be made. I had some success when I first got into the league, and then I was getting hit around and I had to make some adjustments with different looks and things like that. 

“I think that that’s always going to go on. There’s a ton of information out about you. Hitters see you enough to be able to make an adjustment now to what you’re doing. And then you’re going to see that they’ve made that adjustment, and then try to combat it with something different on your own then.”

Perhaps Porcello found a style last year, but that style isn’t permanent. He was forward thinking enough to consider the purely hypothetical need to add a pitch someday.

“I don’t know what position physically I’ll be in or anything like that,” Porcello said of the future. “The bottom line is, you know, if I don’t feel like I have a good four-seamer or my change-up isn’t working, I got to come up with something that looks like that, or a changeup and I start throwing a little split.”

No, he doesn’t throw a split now. He was just throwing it out there (so to speak).

“If I had to come up with one because I didn’t have a changeup, and it got to the point where it was so bad,” Porcello said. “Those are the kinds of things that happen all the time. I don’t think that you’re ever a finished product in this game. You know, the guys that are, I mean, hats off to ‘em. They’re just at that level where they don’t have to continue to do that.”

Those guys don’t really exist, though, unless they throw incredibly hard. And even velocity has an expiration date.

The frustration in Porcello’s time in Detroit was obvious to Avila. 

Conceivably, he'll feel it again now.

“Absolutely (I saw it). He wanted to be a great pitcher,” Avila said before the season. “He wanted to get to a level where he’s at now. You know, and work for it, and the times that he didn’t succeed, of course he was frustrated. But he took it the right way. He took that frustration and tried to build on that. 

“I know a big help for him was Jeff Jones, our pitching coach at the time. They worked really hard together as far as trying to figure out what kind of pitcher he was going to be. Like I said, there was a lot of trial and error over his time here.”

It remains so for a Cy Young winner. 

What Porcello can fall back on is his longtime openness to change. Those notes Avila saw Porcello begin to take himself.

“Early on, he relied on a lot on Jeff and what I think as a staff we had for information,” Avila said. “As a pitcher, if you also not only take that information, but also take it upon yourself to learn it yourself... you’ll have that much more of an advantage going into the game. Because in the game for a pitcher, there’s nobody out there telling you. And you have to be able to have that awareness.”

Porcello might not have an award-winning season awaiting him again. But awareness, he definitely has that.

Dustin Pedroia forgets own words on leadership after Matt Barnes throws at Manny Machado

Dustin Pedroia forgets own words on leadership after Matt Barnes throws at Manny Machado

Dustin Pedroia has some explaining to do. 

Maybe he can clarify everything. Maybe he called Matt Barnes on Monday to explain what he meant when he told Manny Machado on the field for all the cameras to capture, “It’s not me, it’s them.” 

But the most prominent voice in the Red Sox clubhouse in a post-David Ortiz world definitely has some explaining to do.

Let’s remember Pedroia’s words in 2012 during a radio interview with WEEI

The second baseman revisited famous comments he made about Bobby Valentine that season, when Pedroia spoke up in defense of Kevin Youkilis after Valentine was critical of Youk.

“I’m proud to a point where, you know, to be a team leader, you need to have your teammates’ backs under any circumstances,” Pedroia said. “I felt like Youkilis was kind of thrown in a corner by himself. When the top dog comes down on you that hard, you know, I felt like Youk needed someone to be there for him to have his back.

“I would rather have people calling [into radio stations] saying however they feel [about me] than for me to walk into work and have to look at Kevin Youkilis and have him say, ‘Hey, man. He didn’t have my back when I needed him the most.’ To an extent, I’m proud that I said that because Youk knows now that under any circumstances I’ll have his back. That goes for all my teammates. I love them.”

Under any circumstances, Dustin? All of your teammates?

Zach Britton questioned Pedroia’s leadership for the stupidest of reasons. Apparently, per Britton, Pedroia was supposed to prevent Barnes from throwing a pitch too close to Manny Machado’s head.

That was a silly shot for Britton to take.

But there is an actual, legitimate leadership question facing Pedroia — which is bizarre, considering he tried to defuse a bad situation, and that he’s the only player injured through all this.

Moments after Barnes nearly hit Machado in the head, Pedroia told Machado, “It’s not me, it’s them.”

Machado spiked Pedroia on Friday. The Red Sox tried to throw at Machado on Sunday in a failed attempt at a tit-for-tat exchange. 

But Pedroia distanced himself from teammates at that point. Importantly, per Pedroia's own words, he did not do so only because the pitch to Machado was dangerous.

Pedroia said if it were him, he would have thrown at Machado sooner after the initial incident, which was Friday.

The idea that retaliation has to come immediately is strange. Maybe some prefer it that way, but that’s not some sort of widely known baseball-ism.

It’s one thing to admonish Barnes for throwing high and tight. It’s another to suggest Barnes never should have committed the act in the first place because of timing.

Barnes was trying to do one thing: protect Pedroia. He failed. Did Pedroia fail at protecting Barnes?

No one in their right mind would suggest Barnes acted properly by throwing near Machado’s head. Likely, what Barnes meant to do was what most of the baseball world expected: continue a tradition of retaliation via plunking, not a beaning.

Should baseball outlaw retaliatory pitches? Without question, player safety would be improved if punishments were harsher — incredibly harsh — for throwing at hitters.

But it’s a separate debate. 

Baseball operates this way right now. Do not pretend Pedroia was attempting to be some sort of catalyst of change for the betterment of the game and player safety.

He said after Sunday’s game that if he had spiked Machado, he would expect the Orioles to plunk him.

“If I slid into third base and got Manny's knee, I know I'm going to get drilled,” Pedroia said Sunday. “That's baseball. I get drilled, and I go to first base. That's it.”

Barnes attempted that and failed. Pedroia embarrassed Barnes for that for reasons beyond the obvious sin: the pitch’s location.

“It’s not me, it’s them,” Pedroia said.

At the very best, Pedroia may have calmed the beef.

If he doesn’t apologize — if he doesn’t speak up during the game and say afterward that he loves Manny Machado — you could guarantee this fiasco carries over to these teams' next meeting.

It’d be automatic that someone else on the Red Sox gets hit.

Now, it’s harder for the Orioles to justify another volley, another retaliatory measure. 

Machado was not hit with a pitch. Pedroia was the only one hurt. He and Barnes apologized. The Sox screwed up, and very publicly tried to own it.

The one thing Britton got right in an interview with BaltimoreBaseball.com was his attitude toward what happens now.

“I think we’ve talked about it already, as a team, and we’ll see how (the Red Sox) choose to act,” Britton said of what comes next. “Whether or not they choose to act professionally or unprofessionally when we get to Boston.”

The Sox would be insane to further this thing. The Orioles would be smart not to.

Pedroia might have saved a ball from finding one of his teammates’ ribs. That may be worth a teammate’s temporary unhappiness. 

But Pedroia might regret his choice of words, and how he went about it in the heat of the moment.

“I love Manny Machado,” Pedroia told reporters Sunday. “I love playing against him. I love watching him.”

Does Matt Barnes know right now that he’s loved too?

Did Matt Barnes deserve 4 games for throwing at Manny Machado?

Did Matt Barnes deserve 4 games for throwing at Manny Machado?

Bob Ryan and Lou Merloni react to Matt Barnes being handed a 4-game suspension for throwing at Manny Machado, and whether he deserved it.