Rick Porcello ready to move on from big 2016 season
FORT MYERS — An intimidating atmosphere for the young pitchers in camp must’ve felt 10 times worse yesterday.
A day earlier, dozens of Red Sox players, established and minor leaguers alike, began an early morning warmup by playing catch with a throwing partner down the right field line. Smack in the middle, teasing them with their easy talent, was Rick Porcello playing catch with David Price.
Yesterday, the pair of Cy Young Award winners took the mound for a bullpen session. And lining up right next to them was the team’s newest ace, Chris Sale.
“I think everybody says it’s going to be one of the best rotations,” said catcher Sandy Leon.
But Porcello prefers to see things differently. He left his Cy Young Award at home. And when asked how it felt to be back in camp after establishing himself as the best pitcher in the American League, Porcello shrugged his shoulders.
“My thoughts are already on to 2017,” he said. “Pretty much once I picked up that baseball again, I stopped thinking about it. I’m obviously grateful for the season I had last year and the award and whatnot, but I’m out here to help us win games and that’s where my focus has been re-centered.”
Porcello doesn’t have to compete for a job, but he is likely competing to earn the Opening Day start, an honor that may have carried with it a jinx for the last three Red Sox pitchers to begin a season.
In his first year with the Red Sox, David Price got the Opening Day nod and went on to put up a 3.99 ERA, his worst since his rookie year.
Clay Buchholz earned the start in 2015, and pitched well for three months, but his season ended after an elbow injury suffered on July 10 and the Sox finished in last place.
Jon Lester, the 2014 kick-starter, was brilliant for 21 starts (2.52 ERA), but was later traded to the Oakland A’s when the Red Sox fell out of the pennant race in late July and finished in the cellar.
Lester started each Opening Day from 2011 through 2014.
Porcello could be the Sox’ fourth Opening Day starter in four years.
“That’s not my decision to make,” he said yesterday. “I’m focused on my next bullpen and throwing strikes right now. We’ll see in a couple weeks.”
Told that Sale and Price already had said Porcello was the deserving choice, Porcello said, “That definitely means a lot to have the respect of your peers. Obviously two guys as talented and capable as them and guys who have started Opening Days throughout the course of their careers. Again, that’s not my decision and I’m just focused on working hard and preparing for the season.”
Porcello promised not to change a thing after his breakout year in 2016 led to a 3.15 ERA and a 22-4 record. The Sox were 25-8 when he took the mound.
“The key to last year is just the consistency and executing pitches,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anything I’m going to go out and reinvent that’s going to be a surprise. That’s hard to do. It’s really hard to go out and execute the pitches you have and do it on a consistent basis. So I’m going to focus on that, find where I was last year and maintain it.”
Price, who threw side-by-side with Porcello during a bullpen session yesterday, said Porcello’s fastball has been his biggest weapon.
“He’s one of the best in the game in elevating that fastball,” Price said. “That’s a tough pitch for a lot of hitters to lay off. Especially because the report on Porcello is get him up in the zone because they know he relies on that sinker. Whenever they can get that fastball up, they see it so big, and then it’s 94-95 mph and it’s by them. He does a good job of that. He commanded his fastball really well last year.”
Said Leon: “He was always ahead in the count. He can throw any pitch in any count. He was throwing seven, eight innings, a couple CGs, too. He was always ahead in the count and when had to throw a pitch behind in the count, he threw the pitch. And he was executing all the pitches.
“I think that’s why he won the Cy Young.”
And that’s the last Porcello wants to hear about it.
“We’re going out there to beat everyone and go chase down that crown,” he said.