Rick Porcello was never going to be as good in 2017 as he was in 2016. You knew that. I knew that. Hell, probably even he knew that. It’s not that he wasn’t outstanding last year, but that kind of performance that relies on weak contact is really hard to replicate. With that being said, there was every reason to expect the righty to be a solid force atop the Red Sox rotation right behind Chris Sale.
Instead, he’s taken a complete 180 from where he was a year ago. Part of the high batting average on balls in play he is allowing this year can be attributed to bad luck, just like part of the low BABIP from 2016 was good luck. On the flip side, just like last year had more to do with good command, this year has more to do with leaving too many balls right over the heart of the plate. For someone whose stuff is fine but not overpowering, Porcello needs to work the edges of the zone to be successful and he hasn’t been able to do that in 2017. That issue was on display in Houston on Saturday night.
This one was bad right from the start for the 2016 Cy Young award winner, although the first inning was a weird mix of both the bad command and the bad luck. It started with a well-struck double to left field (clearly bad command) and then continued with a bunt single. The latter is probably considered bad luck, although it was good execution by Marwin Gonzalez and also a shaky defensive play in which Porcello went for the ball rather than allowing the charging Josh Rutledge to give it a shot. The bad luck continued in the next at bat when Jose Altuve dropped a little blooper down the right field line for an RBI double. After walking Carlos Correa, Porcello was trailing 1-0 with the bases loaded before he had even recorded an out. He actually got out of the inning without too much extra damage, although the first twou outs he got were both on deep fly balls that scored runs, so the Red Sox were in a 3-0 hole after the first.
After a scoreless second inning that did include one double, Porcello got into some more trouble in the third. It started with a hanging breaking ball to Altuve that landed over the wall in center field. I’d love to describe it more, but the broadcast in Maine was spotty for the first few innings and it caused me to miss this one. For some reason, MLB is also not including that highlight on their page at the moment. I did see Carlos Beltran’s at bat later in the inning, though, and that went just as well. The veteran launched a two-run homer out to right field to give the Astros a commanding 6-0 lead.
From there, Porcello settled down for a few innings, which was nice in terms of saving the Red Sox bullpen but too little too late in terms of giving his team a chance to win. He’d end up going six innings in this game, which was totally shocking given how it started. The righty did give up another run in his final frame, though. In all, he allowed seven runs on ten hits (the fifth time this season he’s allowed double-digit hits) and one walk with only three strikeouts. I’m not sure how they fix his issues, but the Red Sox need a better Rick Porcello in their rotation, particularly with David Price struggling and the injuries on the back-end.
The offense, meanwhile, had another frustrating night against a pitcher it seemed they should have crushed. To be fair to them, this wasn’t the same as facing Mike Fiers. With him, they were facing a fine pitcher, but one who had a track record of being nothing special in this league. On Saturday, they were facing David Paulino. The young righty hasn’t been great in the majors, but he also hasn’t been here long. There’s legitimate talent for this Houston starter, and the Red Sox couldn’t do much against it in this one.
In the first four innings against Paulino, the Red Sox managed just two baserunners. One of those came on a walk and the other came on a single. Neither made it to second base. They finally got on the board in the fifth when Chris Young led things off with a blast to the back of the Crawfish Boxes to give the Red Sox their first run of the game. The outfielder has always had success in his hometown of Houston, so it was nice to see him recover from a lackluster night on Friday.
Besides that, the Red Sox offense had nothing. Like I said, Paulino is probably better than his numbers would suggest, but this was a disappointing night for the lineup. There’s no way around it.
The last thing to note here is that Austin Maddox made his major-league debut in this game and threw a scoreless inning. It’s unlikely he’ll be up for too long, but it was a solid performance, at least.
The story coming out of this one will surely be Porcello, and deservedly so. His performance this season continues to be an issue for this team. The reality is that this was a bad all-around loss, though. Despite it, the team remains one game out of first place in the division and has a chance to take the series Sunday night with Price on the mound.