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.

Does uncertainty for Carson Smith mean Red Sox need bullpen help?

Does uncertainty for Carson Smith mean Red Sox need bullpen help?

BOSTON — Tyler Thornburg’s gone for the season and there’s really no telling when the other set-up man the Sox expected to help in 2017, Carson Smith, will be back.

The Sox have already made inroads, if minor ones, in bolstering their third-base situation and rotation. Smith’s situation leaves a question of whether the Sox will need to pursue help in the bullpen as well.

There's not an easy answer to settle on at this point.

For one, the timetable with the right-hander Smith — whose shoulder has bothered him on the way back from Tommy John surgery — isn’t clear.

“He's in a no-throw [time] through the weekend,” Sox manager John Farrell said Friday afternoon at Fenway Park. “He'll be reevaluated on Monday to hopefully initiate a throwing program. He's responding favorably to the treatment. He continues to rehab as he's been. We have not closed the book in a sense on anything Carson can contribute this year.”

What does this year mean, though? Will they be able to know by July, by the trade deadline?

“Still too early to tell,” Farrell said. “We thought he was days from starting his rehab assignment after his last live BP session in New York [on June 6]. Unfortunately, that was put on hold for the time being. To get into any kind of timeframes, timetables, I don't know that any of us can predict that right now.”

The Sox relievers have done extraordinarily well without either Thornburg or Smith. Can that continue without reinforcements? The bullpen’s ERA entering Friday was 2.94, the second best mark in the majors. Its innings total, 217, was the second. lowest in the majors. 

So it’s not like the entire group is about to collapse from fatigue. But a guy like Joe Kelly, for example, isn’t someone the Sox want to use back to back.

It’s a young group and ultimately an inexperienced group. But Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has already fallen into the trap of trading for premium set-up men twice, and that’s a dangerous road to pursue again. Perhaps a smaller trade makes more sense.

“Well, at this point, we’re open minded to help,” Dombrowski said when asked if he was targeting either third-base or relief help. “I’m not going to get into specifics at this time on what else we’re looking for. Keep an open mind on a lot of ways on which we can improve. We have guys coming back and both the spots, I think Carson Smith is very important to us and our bullpen has pitched great. The other day, we struggled but that was one of the few times we really struggled all year. 

“I think Carson still has a chance to come back and help us this year.”

Red Sox claim right-hander Doug Fister off waivers

Red Sox claim right-hander Doug Fister off waivers

Right-handed starter Doug Fister, who opted out of his contract with the Angels, has been claimed off waivers by the Red Sox, CSN Red Sox Insider Evan Drellich has confirmed.

The news was first reported by Chris Cotillo of SB Nation, who writes that Fister, 33, will join the Red Sox immediately.

Fister opted out of with the Angels after three Triple-A starts in Salt Lake City, where he allowed seven runs on 16 hits with five walks and 10 strikeouts in 15 2/3 innings. 

With Eduardo Rodriguez and Brian Johnson on the DL, the Red Sox need immediate starting pitching help. Triple-A Pawtucket call-up Hector Velazquez made a spot start earlier this week in the fifth spot behind Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, David Price and Drew Pomeranz. 

Fister will receive $1.75 million in the majors from the Red Sox, with $1.2 million available in additional incentives, according to Cotillo. 

Fister has pitched eight seasons in the majors, including 2016 with the Astros, going 12-13 with 4.64 ERA in 180 1/3 innings. His best season was 2014 with the Nationals (16-6, 2.41 ERA).