Red Sox

Porcello's bounce-back season earns him Game 1 start for Red Sox

Porcello's bounce-back season earns him Game 1 start for Red Sox

CLEVELAND -- Rick Porcello will be the first to tell you that he doesn't possess a 96 mph fastball, or a curveball that can make even the best hitters buckle their knees.

His changeup doesn't make hitters look foolish, the way Pedro Martinez's did, and his slider is no match for, say, Andrew Miller's. But somehow, Porcello stands as the embodiment of the old axiom about the sum being greater than the parts.

Somehow, the guy with the slightly-above-average stuff is performing way above average. Good enough to be considered the front-runner for the American League Cy Young Award, and good enough to be given the ball for Game 1 of the Division Series against the Cleveland Indians.

He may not profile as the prototypical No. 1 starter. But in 2016, he's sure pitched like one.

That appellation seems stranger still when you consider Porcello's first season in Boston, when he underachieved and became the object of ridicule after signing a four-year, $82.5 million extension.

He finished 2015 with an ERA barely under 5.00 and the deal looked like an albatross. Some 18 months later, it seems -- at the very least -- entirely appropriate.

So, on the eve of Porcello taking the ball in Game 1, how did he get from there to here?

"There wasn't anything in particular that clicked for me,'' he maintained. "I think I was able to build some momentum this year, really. And that's gaining confidence and starting to see some of my game plans that I've been putting together and seeing some of the different things that I've been doing, work. And I kind of got to a point where it's just continuing to do that.''

Porcello is a stickler for preparation. He carefully studies hitters' tendencies and then plots to exploit weaknesses. He's been a devout student of the data offered by director of pitching analysis and development, Brian Bannister, searching for every edge.

"Maintaining that level of consistency has been the most important thing for me,'' said Porcello.

That, along with a game plan and a strong work ethic, have given Porcello more than enough tools. He led the majors in wins (22) and through impeccable control, the best strikeout-to-walk ratio.

He was fourth in innings pitched, fifth in ERA and second in WHIP.

He will not make it easy for you. He won't issue many walks and he's not prone to giving up a lot of extra-base hits.

At times during the season, Porcello has flashed his competitive streak. When he suspected that Chase Headley was peaking back at the catcher to see where the Red Sox were setting up to pitch him, Porcello gave Headley an earful after they crossed paths near the third base bag.

Just last month, he grew agitated when Manny Machado suggested Porcello had hit him on purpose -- a silly charge, since Porcello was pitching a perfect game at the time, and A.L. home run leader Mark Trumbo was waiting on deck.

In the clubhouse, he has asserted himself more fully, with the benefit of a successful season under his belt.

Now that he's stepping onto the mound for his first ever Game 1 start in the post-season, he's not about to change a thing.

"You boil it down to getting into your routine and keeping everything the same mentally in your approach,'' he said, "and not trying to do anything more, now that the national spotlight is on you. Just go out there and play your game. It's the same game. And just see where you end up.''


Kimbrel returns to Red Sox after daughter's heart surgery

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Kimbrel returns to Red Sox after daughter's heart surgery

All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel returned to Fort Myers on Sunday after his 4-month-old daughter underwent successful heart surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital, and the Red Sox are confident he'll be ready for Opening Day.

“Oh, yeah. Plenty,” manager Alex Cora replied when asked if Kimbrel had time to get ready for the March 29 opener against the Rays in St. Petersburg. “With him it’s a different schedule, anyway. He’ll be ready.”

Kimbrel's daughter, Lydia Joy, was born with a heart defect. He left the team Feb. 28 to be with her and his family in Boston, but pitching coach Dana Levangie said Kimbrel was on a pitching program during that time.

“The most important thing is that the family is okay with [Kimbrel returning to the Sox],” Cora said. “If they’re okay with it, we’re okay with it.”

The Baseball Show Podcast: Should we be confident in the Red Sox rotation?

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The Baseball Show Podcast: Should we be confident in the Red Sox rotation?

0:21 - With less than two week before the beginning of the 2018 season, the Red Sox don’t have all of the answers for their rotation. Lou Merloni and Evan Drellich project their Opening Day rotation and discuss the lack of depth in it.

4:39 - Will Boston’s version of the ‘Killer B’s’ return in full force this season? Lou and Evan analyze the performances of Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Andrew Benintendi.

10:07 - Buy or sell? John Farrell will find another managerial position this season; J.D. Martinez will have a better season than Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton; Dave Dombrowski has put the best possible team out there for 2018.