Red Sox

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.

As Red Sox manager, Cora must keep conviction, honesty that got him job

As Red Sox manager, Cora must keep conviction, honesty that got him job

BOSTON -- Just as a batter can subconsciously play to avoid losing, rather than to win, a manager can operate with a fear of failure. Such an unwitting approach may have contributed John Farrell’s downfall, and is an area where Alex Cora can set himself apart.

A lot has been written about the value of authenticity in leadership. It’s one thing to have the charisma and conviction needed to land a position of power. It’s another to take over a pressure-cooker job, like manager of the Red Sox, and carry the fortitude to stay true to yourself, continue to let those qualities shine.

Cora did not appear to pull any punches in his days with ESPN. The 42-year-old engaged in Twitter debates with media members and fans. And throughout his baseball life, he showed his colors.

Via Newsday’s Dave Lennon, here’s a scene from 2010 when Cora was with the Mets: 

Last year, Cora spoke out against the league office's rule requiring minorities always be interviewed.

Perhaps most interesting of all, when Chris Sale cut up White Sox jerseys, Cora was Dennis Eckersley-like in his assessment:

“What he did is not acceptable,” Cora said of Sale. “If I’m a veteran guy, I’m going to take exception. if I’m a young guy, I’m going to take exception. Because as a young guy on a team that is actually struggling right now, somebody has to show me the ropes of how to act as a big leaguer. And this is not the way you act as a big leaguer. Forget the trades, forget who you are.

“What you do in that clubhouse, you got to act like a professional. And that’s one thing my agent, Scott Boras, used to tell me when I got to the big leagues: act like a professional. Chris Sale didn’t do it. He’s not showing the veterans that you respect the game. He’s not showing the rookies how to be a big leaguer, and that’s what I take exception to.”

Take out Chris Sale’s name from the above quotation and insert David Price’s. Describes Price's incident with Eckersley perfectly, doesn't it? 

Now, no manager can say what they’re really thinking all the time. Cora’s not in the media anymore. His new job description is different. 

But when you consider the great success of Terry Francona -- and why he succeeded in this market beyond simply winning -- what stands out is how comfortable Francona appears in his own skin. How genuine he seems. 

There is a way to acknowledge, as a manager, when something is off. A way to do so gently but genuinely. A way to say what you feel -- and a way to say what you feel must be said -- while operating without fear of the players you manage. 

Ultimately, most every comment Francona makes is intended to shield his players. But Francona shows his personality as he goes (or if you want to be a bit cynical, he sells his personality marvelously). Those little self-deprecating jokes -- he charms the hell out of everyone. The media, the fans. The Cult of Tito has a real following, because he feels real. Because he is real. 

Farrell was not fake. But he did have a hard time letting his personality come across consistently, to his detriment. He was reserved, in part because that just appeared to be his nature. But the job must have, with time, forced him to withdraw even further. As everything Farrell said (and did) was picked apart in the market, it likely became easiest just to play it safe in every facet -- speaking to the media, speaking to players.

The Sox’ biggest undertaking in 2017 seemed to be a nothing-to-see-here campaign. It was all fine. No David Ortiz, no home runs, no problem. Manny Machado was loved. The media was the problem, not any attitude or attitudes inside the clubhouse. Base running was a net positive -- you name it, none of it was ever tabbed as a problem publicly by the manager, or anyone else.

A perpetually defensive stance was the public image. Issues were never addressed or poorly defused, so questions always lingered.

Maybe Cora cannot admonish Sale as he did a year ago now that he’s managing Sale. Not publicly, anyway. But even as a quote-unquote player's manager, the job still requires authority, which should be doled out just as it was earned: through authentic comments and actions.

"My job as the manager is to set the culture, the expectations, the standards, the baseball," Cora’s present boss, Astros manager A.J. Hinch, said the night the Astros clinched the pennant. "It's the players' job to develop the chemistry.

“And obviously good teams always say that, we want chemistry, and what comes first, the chemistry or the winning. But when you have it, you want to hold on to it as much as possible . . . We've got a good thing going because we have one common goal, we have one common standard, and that's to be your best every day."

Cora has to remain true to his best, too -- not what he thinks, and hears, and reads, people want his best to be.

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Red Sox hire Alex Cora as their new manager

Red Sox hire Alex Cora as their new manager

BOSTON -- Alex Cora is the 47th manager in Red Sox history, charged with reinvigorating a young clubhouse and improving on consecutive 93-win seasons that fizzled in the first round of the playoffs.

The team made the hiring of the 42-year-old Astros bench coach official on Sunday, a day after Houston advanced to the World Series and two days before the start of the Fall Classic. Cora will remain with the Astros until the Series is finished and has a three-year deal, with a club option for 2021.

A 14-year big leaguer from Puerto Rico, Cora is the first Latin manager in club history. He hit .252 in 301 games for the Sox from 2005-08. He was the most sought-after managerial candidate this offseason and arrives with a great reputation based on his personality, his prior experience in Boston and his season with the Astros. 

ALEX CORA: NEW RED SOX MANAGER

He knows Sox second baseman and leader Dustin Pedroia well. The last time Cora was in the World Series prior to this year was 2007. On Saturday, exactly 10 years after the Red Sox came back from a 3-1 series deficit against the Indians in the American League Championship Series, the Astros finished off a rally after falling behind 3-2 in the series.

"You know, we've never been through this," Dustin Pedroia said after the Sox won Game 7 in 2007. "This is on the biggest stage. Everyone is watching these games. I remember the Angels series, I was nervous. Alex Cora told me, 'Hey, settle down, be yourself, have fun. This game is meant to be played, have fun. Play as hard as you can and leave it out there on the field. If we lose, we lose. Don't have any regrets.'

"Ever since then I kind of went out there, and I don't worry about anything but playing hard. I think everybody is doing that. Nobody cares about anything, just picking each other up and playing the game to win."

Early on, Cora will have to prove that his inexperience is not a stumbling block for a club in a win-now mindset. This season was Cora's only as a major-league coach. He's the first Sox manager to take the big job without prior major-league managing experience since Grady Little in 2002. 

Cora's ability to bond with players is his hallmark.

"Alex brings a lot to the table," Astros outfielder Carlos Beltran said. "He's a guy that always is looking for information that he could use against the opposite team. And he's also, he provides that information to the player, which is great. He has good communication with the guys, respects the guys. He's always in the clubhouse getting to know the players, getting to know which buttons he could push on each player to make them go out there and play the game hard, which is great.

"I think I always feel that sometimes managers, they draw a very defined line between players and manager. And sometimes they get caught up not going to the clubhouse because they don't want to feel like they're invading their space. But as a player, I love when managers come to the clubhouse, sit down, talk to us, get to know us, ask about our family, about everything. And that really, for me, means a lot. So Alex does that real well."

Cora's hiring comes five years and a day after the Red Sox hired John Farrell. The choice could have been announced prior to Sunday, but the Red Sox were being respectful of the Astros' playoff run. 

In a statement released by the Red Sox, Cora said: “I am extremely honored and humbled to be named manager of the Boston Red Sox and I want to thank Dave, John Henry, Tom Werner, and Sam Kennedy for giving me such a tremendous opportunity. Returning to the Red Sox and the city of Boston is a dream come true for me and my family and I look forward to working towards the ultimate goal of winning another championship for this city and its great fans. At the same time, I want to express my appreciation for Jim Crane, Jeff Luhnow, A.J. Hinch, and the entire Houston Astros organization for giving me the chance to start my coaching career. It has been a very special season and an incredible organization to be a part of and I am looking forward to the World Series and winning with this group.”

“We were very impressed when we interviewed Alex,” Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said in the statement. “He came to us as a highly-regarded candidate, and from speaking with him throughout this process, we found him to be very knowledgeable, driven, and deserving of this opportunity. He is a highly respected and hardworking individual who has experience playing in Boston. Alex also has a full appreciation for the use of analytical information in today's game and his ability to communicate and relate to both young players and veterans is a plus. Finally, the fact that he is bilingual is very significant for our club.”

“As someone who has played in Boston and knows what it takes to win here, Alex is uniquely positioned to instill a championship culture,” team chairman Werner added in the statement. “Baseball is in his blood and we could not be more pleased to have found someone so accomplished to lead our team. Welcome home, Alex.” 

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