Turns out, Rick Porcello might be better than you think he is

Rick Porcello is among baseball’s best in curveball and four-seam spin rate, for what it’s worth.
Rick Porcello is among baseball’s best in curveball and four-seam spin rate. –AP Photo/Charles Krupa

COMMENTARY

Rick Porcello is 3-0.

Feel free to add that to the list of unexpected developments thus far for the Boston Red Sox. The much-maligned Porcello, coming off a 9-15 season one year ago, his first in Boston, has already compiled one-third of that win total not even nine percent of the way into the 2016 Major League Baseball season.

The right-hander is on pace for a 35-win season. That’s not going to happen.

But somewhere in between bloated strides and the morass of depreciation emerges a percolating argument to the common assumption that Porcello should be relegated to second-rate status in the Red Sox’ rotation.

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Granted, it may still be unrealistic to think the guy can live up to the $82.5 million contract extension he signed during former general manager Ben Cherington’s careless period overseeing owner John Henry’s funds. Yet, he is also not the lost cause some figured he might be after watching him get hammered during the spring training schedule in Florida, where he posted a 9.77 ERA over four starts.

Fact is, as rocky as a start as it might have been in 2015, Rick Porcello has actually been pretty damned good for the Red Sox.

No, really.

Following Boston’s 7-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays Wednesday night, Porcello (seven innings, six hits, three earned runs, one walk, and nine strikeouts) has a 3.52 ERA in 11 starts since being activated from the disabled list last August. He has 81 strikeouts and has issued only 14 walks in the 76 2/3 innings he’s pitched over that span.

This month, his strikeout-to-walk ratio of 8.0 is fourth-best in the American League. His 0.93 WHIP is 11th.

Those numbers are more in line with the guy who was a 15-game winner the season before the Detroit Tigers swapped him for slugger Yoenis Cespedes. They’re worlds better than what Porcello gave the Red Sox out of the gate in 2015, when he went just 5-11 over his first 20 starts, surrendering a whopping 20 home runs to go along with a 5.81 ERA.

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Since then, Porcello has managed to get his pitches working, back heavy on the sinker which attracted the Red Sox enough to award the guy $20 million a year. That annual salary puts him in the same company this year as Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer ($22.1 million), but also Los Angeles Angels starter C.J. Wilson ($20.5 million), eight years Porcello’s elder at 35, and yet to take the mound this season after suffering a shoulder injury.

But his recent stretch dating back to last summer just might make him, um…worth it?

“He’s been very consistent with staying out of the middle of the plate,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said after Porcello handled the weak-hitting Rays lineup. “I think he figured some things out late in spring training from just an arm slot standpoint. He’s been much more consistent down in the strike zone. You look at the strikeout totals and it’s not the high four-seam fastballs that early last year that he was going to.”

Then again, the opposition’s ability to go yard against him is still giving Porcello fits. He’s surrendered five home runs this season, including one Wednesday night, tied for second in the AL with Texas’ Colby Lewis. That’s one fewer than the Chicago White Sox have allowed as a staff.

Thus far though that’s been a small concern for the start the Red Sox have seen from their No. 3 starter on a staff that came into 2016 thirsting for some semblance of consistency behind ace David Price. With Joe Kelly now on the disabled list with a shoulder impingement, Eduardo Rodriguez not quite ready to return, and Clay Buchholz remaining forever an unpredictable enigma, Porcello’s seven-inning stint on Wednesday goes a bit of distance in quelling fear that what the Red Sox had managed to stitch together was already coming unraveled.

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“I just feel like my body is in a much more comfortable spot. I’m seeing the glove a lot more clearly,” Porcello said. “I feel my release point is a lot more consistent than it was in spring training and really what I had been working on the whole spring. It’s starting to come, I feel a lot more comfortable.”

Cespedes is already off to a monster start with the New York Mets, slamming five home runs to go along with a 1.007 OPS. As a team, the 7-7 Red Sox have hit only 11 home runs, a stat that isn’t overly concerning until the realization hits that David Ortiz is planning on playing only five-plus more months.

But Porcello is at least giving the Red Sox a glimmer of his worth.

He may not be good enough to justify his salary, but he’s starting to look better than we’ve given him credit for being.

Photos: A historical look at Fenway Park

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