RIck Porcello

Drellich: Price finds playoff redemption, but bullpen needs rotation's help

Drellich: Price finds playoff redemption, but bullpen needs rotation's help

BOSTON — David Price has redemption, or at least his first taste of it, after what he agreed was his best performance in a Red Sox uniform. 

Price’s four shutout innings in relief in Game 3 of the American League Division Series preserved a one-run lead that eventually morphed into a 10-3 win over the Astros, a performance that put Price in the same conversation with Pedro Martinez. Pedro was the last Sox reliever to toss at least that many innings out of the bullpen without allowing a run, back in his famous Game 5 performance in the 1999 DS.

MORE: Drellich's five thoughts from Game 3

As Price continues to dominate, the decision not to try to build him up as a reliever once he came off the disabled list in the regular season looks worse and worse.

"In the world of all hands on deck, today showed why you have that, and he exceeded expectations just being able to bounce back as a former starter," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "If there was any doubt on what players are willing to do or what they can do, today shows you that, what playoff baseball will bring out of you and him. His power attack is the same. These guys pitch us very similarly no matter who is pitching with trying to back us up off the plate. He did a good job of making our guys somewhat uncomfortable with the fastball in. He's got the back-door cutter, the changeup. There's weapons in there for him to attack. So it's what we expected. I think his resiliency and his — he sort of reached back and had a little bit extra on his pitches today that was pretty impressive. We weren't surprised by him."

Now, Price didn’t exactly write a love letter to Red Sox fans in his postgame press conference. It doesn’t seem Price has exactly lost the chip on his shoulder, or his concern for outside perception. And maybe both are essential elements to his performance.

Either way, Price seems to to grasp the bottom line: pitch well, and the rest falls into place. Sunday was an example of how that momentum builds.

“If I throw well out of the bullpen that doesn't mean anything, I got to do this as a starter. I know that, y'all know that, y'all write it and it will be talked about,” Price said Sunday. “I mean, I want to help this team win right now. That's if it's coming out of the pen, I'm going to do it. If it's playing center field, I'll do it. It doesn't matter to me. I want to win. That's why I came here, we just need to keep it going, whatever the team asks me to do, that's what I'm going to do. They know I want to start, they know I want the ball.”

But Price is wrong that pitching out of the bullpen doesn’t mean anything. What he’s done — in addition to helping the Red Sox tremendously — is show people in Boston that he can be a weapon in the postseason. 

Not everyone doubted it. But those who would still suggest he cannot pitch like this as starting pitcher in October have no logical leg to stand on. Price put it best himself.

"I can do this as a starter, too, I just haven't done it yet. Period,” Price said. “Pitching suits me well, and that's what I did. It has nothing to do with relieving or starting, I just threw the ball well today.”

Now, the Red Sox desperately — desperately — need his rotation-mates to do the same. We say rotation-mate purposely, because what Price did Sunday was the equivalent of a start, and better than any actual start the Sox have had this October. 

The Sox can’t turn to Price for much on Monday, if anything. They’d be able to get more out of him Tuesday, if Game 4 is washed out and pushed back a day.

The bullpen needs help from the rotation either way.

The fact Price even had a chance to keep Sunday’s score at 4-3 for four innings was in itself a minor miracle, one courtesy of Mookie Betts. The right fielder’s robbery of Josh Reddick’s three-run home run in the second inning kept a 3-0 game from becoming 6-0.

When you look beyond Price, and how the Red Sox move forward, the formula from Sunday is unsustainable. The 11.70 ERA Sox starters have through their last six division series games — three this year, and three last year — is phenomenally bad, and probably due to level off.

It has to start with Rick Porcello and continue with Chris Sale, the next two Sox starters lined up.

Both Porcello and Sale have their own, albeit very different, redemption stories that can play out here. Porcello had a tough 2017 and a poor postseason outing last year. Sale’s Game 1 was highly disappointing. (He's been, uh, pretty darn good otherwise.)

Price is doing his part, as fans and media clamored for and doubted. Now, the Sox need more of their strength, pitching, to show up from the get-go for Price to have a chance to make an even greater impact in these playoffs. 

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Sox playoff plan appears to have Fister in rotation, E-Rod in bullpen

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Sox playoff plan appears to have Fister in rotation, E-Rod in bullpen

HOUSTON — The Red Sox have taken the conservative route with their rotation, pushing Eduardo Rodriguez to the bullpen — most likely, anyway. The important thing is that all five starters are available to them if need be, and that John Farrell operates with a short leash.

Doug Fister and Rick Porcello are penciled into starts for Games 3 and 4 in the American League Division Series, with Rodriguez moving into the bullpen.

There’s a caveat on Game 4, however. For one, Chris Sale could come back on short rest. How many pitches he throws Thursday — and whether the series dictates a need for Sale on short rest — will play into that choice.

Porcello is also the long man for Games 1 and 2. If the Sox need to use him, Rodriguez would then be in line for the start in Game 4.

But Rodriguez has another role, that of Robby Scott. His absence from the roster was the biggest surprise when it was put out Thursday morning, because he was the lead lefty in the ‘pen all season. Austin Maddox, a righty who did very well in September, made it instead.

But the Astros have a mostly right-handed lineup, and the Sox needed to carry length in their bullpen beyond David Price, necessitating all five starters to be on the roster — including the lefty E-Rod.

“There might be one spot inside the lineup, whether it’s [Josh] Reddick or whether it’s [Brian] McCann, just felt like the need to have multi-innings,” Farrell said, “just felt like that was the better way to go at this point.”

One thing to note: A fastball-changeup pitcher, Rodriguez has actually been better against righties in his career (.704 OPS) than lefties (.785 OPS). Against the Astros, who mash lefty starters typically, that may be just what the Sox want.

Rodriguez’s upside is greater than Fister’s. That’s a legitimate gripe, for those who would prefer to see E-Rod start over Fister, or even Porcello.

Why Fister over Porcello for Game 3?

“The later action to the staff,” Farrell said. “A little bit more consistent sink, a little bit more separation between sinker and curveball, that’s probably what it came down to in addition to some performance and recognizing that guys have pitched well in certain spots. And there’s been some challenges mixed in for both.”

Fister, Porcello and Rodriguez all have a worrisome implosion factor. The experience Fister and Porcello have as veterans probably made the Sox feel they were better off giving them starts, and turning to Rodriguez in relief if need be.

“When left-handed starters are on the mound for us, the [Astros] lineup becomes pretty distinct,” Farrell said. “Top part of the order being all right-handed, bottom half we felt like left-handers are better suited to go through. And that’s not necessarily a situational left-hander in that spot, because of turning the switch-hitters around: [Marwin] Gonzalez, [Yuli] Gurriel, to me, who takes better swings against right-handed pitching. That’s where that was factored in.”

Rodriguez’s strikeout stuff probably would play better in relief than say, Fister’s ground-ball style. But, the same thing that makes you worry about Rodriguez in a start — inexperience — doesn’t exactly disappear in relief. He has one career inning as a reliever in the majors, although he was prepared to be a reliever last year as well.

The important thing is the Sox have the ability to turn away from one of their starters quickly. If Fister or Porcello has a rough game, Farrell has the ability to go E-Rod quickly.

Overall, the Sox bullpen had a dramatic makeover at the end of the season. Maddox made his case in September, with one run allowed in 13 2/3 innings. He struck out 12 and walked two in the month. Carson Smith made the roster as well, with  Brandon Workman or Matt Barnes out. Barnes threw more relief innings than anyone.

Smith, Price, Maddox, Joe Kelly, Addison Reed, Craig Kimbrel, and E-Rod make up the seven-man bullpen, which is an eight-man group if you include Porcello.

On the position-player side, veteran Chris Young did not make the roster, which is not a surprise given his struggles this year. Rajai Davis is the lone dedicated back-up outfielder and pinch-runner.

Nonetheless, the conversations with people like Chris Young and Matt Barnes, who contributed all season, weren’t easy.

Both Deven Marrero and Brock Holt made it, as expected. The Sox need infield coverage with Dustin Pedroia and Eduardo Nunez both battling knee injuries. Holt also gives the Sox a lefthanded bat off the bench.

“If we weren't in a situation to need the extra infielders, he would be hot,” Farrell said. “I can respect his thoughts and opinions and desire to be on this roster, and I respect him as a person and as a player. But I felt like what our team needs was to have the coverage defensively on the infield.”

Nunez was the DH on Thursday in place of Hanley Ramirez and is expected to be the DH on Friday in Game 2 as well, with Ramirez playing first base against Astros lefty Dallas Keuchel.

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For Red Sox playoff rotation, who'll be the odd man out?

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For Red Sox playoff rotation, who'll be the odd man out?

BOSTON -- Drew Pomeranz is the Red Sox Game 2 starter in the American League Division Series, as expected, opposite the Astros’ Dallas Keuchel. Beyond that, there’s a bit of mystery.

A lot seems to hinge on a question of whether or not to start Doug Fister, who doesn’t appear to be a candidate to be on the roster as a reliever, while Eduardo Rodriguez and Rick Porcello are.

Starts in Games 3 and 4 are expected to be made by at least one, and maybe two, of those three.

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“Fister would probably be the one that would not be [considered for both the ‘pen and rotation],” manager John Farrell said Tuesday. “The other two, potentially.”

Considering stature alone, it’d be hard to imagine Porcello moving to the bullpen, leaving Rodriguez as perhaps the best candidate for a relief job in the Sox’ eyes.

"You do like the fact of a veteran presence," Farrell said. "Guys that have been in a postseason, guys who seemingly will pitch with more emotional control, or control the running game, or executing a pitch in a key moment, that has maybe a tendency to shine through a little more.”

But maybe the Sox will ignore stature entirely with Porcello because of his propensity for home runs.

Farrell’s dropping hints that Fister will wind up with a start. Using Rodriguez in Game 3 would mean left-handers in three consecutive games. Would that be an issue?

“No, it wouldn't give pause, it wouldn't prevent us from doing anything,” Farrell said. “But again, I think what I tried to explain earlier is [it’s a matter of], what is the best combination of our pitching staff? And how does that play out, and putting certain guys in certain roles? It wouldn't be a shock to see a guy that's been in our rotation finding his way into our bullpen.”

Well, if a starter’s in the bullpen, that would seem to guarantee Fister is in the rotation, based on what Farrell explained Tuesday.

The hesitation to use Fister in relief is understandable. Fister’s a ground-ball pitcher who has had trouble in his first innings of work in his time with the Sox. The first batter he faces carrying a .500 on-base percentage against him this year. In his first inning of work overall, it’s .375.

But the Sox definitely want length in the bullpen, and Fister has relief experience not only this year, but in the past. Fister’s 33 innings in the ‘pen between the postseason and regular season outdo Rick Porcello’s 10 and Eduardo Rodriguez’s one. The matter of adjustment shouldn’t be overlooked.

Rodriguez has high upside with strikeouts. But he also has reverse splits, doing worse against lefties (.808 OPS) than righties (.718 OPS). The Astros are a righty heavy lineup. But, Rodriguez shouldn’t be looked at as a force to dominate lefties.

Rodriguez is also relatively inexperienced, and has been through a lot with his knees, affecting both his mechanics and his confidence in the past. How well would he handle a change?

The Astros are particularly familiar with Fister because he threw 180 1/3 innings for them last year. Granted, he’s changed significantly since then -- but the Astros have access to plenty of video, and also faced him Friday at Fenway Park in a 3-2 Sox loss.

“I think it’s definitely a difference,” Fister said Tuesday of his pitching now vs. 2016. “Whether it’s the movement on the ball, the deception getting back across the body, throwing it from the first-base side of the rubber. There’s a lot of different things. They just saw us last week, they saw me last week, so they have seen me.

“Now it just comes down to execution. I know what they do, I know what they do. It’s like facing [Alex] Bregman. I know he hits the ball inside, and that’s what I gave him for a home run [Friday]. But if I execute my pitch [further inside], I got better luck there.”

Fister said he's fine in whatever role he's asked to do.

With Porcello, the biggest scare is the home run. His rate of 1.68 long balls allowed per nine innings was the fifth-highest in the major. The Astros mash. That would be the greatest reason to get Porcello out of the rotation.

Fister and Porcello both struck out about eight batters per nine this season. Fister walked more (3.79 per nine vs. 2.12) and allowed considerably fewer homers, .90 per nine.

Farrell’s trying to take a holistic approach to his pitching staff. The Sox met Tuesday morning to work through more of the roster, and they need to also deliver the news to individual players.

“The way guys have pitched recently,” the manager said. “The composition of our bullpen, how it supports the entire pitching staff, not just looking at it in two separate segments: rotation and bullpen. I think there’s got to be some complement there. The four games that we talked about during the series [to end the regular season], that gives a little bit of first-hand knowledge and recent knowledge and how we might use guys to the best of our abilities or their abilities to take advantage of that.”

What about ordering, or bringing back Chris Sale on short rest?

Sale could go on three days rest if needed in Game 4 at Fenway Park, but that choice would be “solely dependent” on what happens in Game 1, Farrell said.

As for Game 3?

“There are two scenarios in place that will be revealed at the appropriate time and that means probably more internal discussion is needed here,” Farrell said. “I don't think Game 3 starter is going to hinge upon winning or losing Games 1 or 2.”

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