Red Sox

Rotation or relief for Price? 'I just want to pitch'

Rotation or relief for Price? 'I just want to pitch'

BOSTON — The pitcher sounds like he wants to go the distance, the manager sounds like he has a different idea. The age-old decision is about to play out in an unusual way: David Price’s potential role with the Red Sox for the start of the postseason. 

Does the skipper or the pitcher make the call? In this case, it won't be so black and white, because health is a hazy question.

Price and Red Sox manager John Farrell are to discuss the plan for Price on Thursday, a day after Price threw three innings with inning breaks at Fenway Park. Price faced Chris Young, Deven Marrero and Tzu-Wei Lin in his second sim game on the way back from an arm injury. 

The way Price sounded on Wednesday, he wants to start and he wants to move into major league action right away. That’s precisely what you’d expect to hear.

“I don’t know how many days we have left and how many games,” Price said when asked if he feels he can start. “Threw 40-some odd pitches today. Felt good. Felt strong at the end. So, it’s not the decision I’ll be making.

“I just want to pitch. Whatever it is, that’s fine.”

Time is indeed the biggest problem, although it is not the only consideration. 

The Red Sox have 18 games left. There is no intermediary step available to the Red Sox for Price to build up his pitch count outside of a major league game or another sim game. The minor league season is in its final days.

Price’s next outing, therefore, could be in the majors.

“I don’t know how many more times I have to do a live B.P., but if I come in tomorrow and feel fine, I don’t know what else I can do,” Price said when asked about his confidence he can be ready for the playoffs.

But here’s the thing: if Price wants to start, he’s going to need another sim game, at least as Farrell saw it Wednesday.

Farrell’s inclination, however, appears to have Price in relief.

“You’re looking at at least one more sim game,” Farrell said of starting. “That would be the need at a minimum. It is September. You’ve got guys that can build in innings behind him with a progression if you were to choose to do that. It would be aggressive to bring him back as a starter right now, in my mind.”

Price’s health, Farrell said, is the most important factor.

“Get him back to a certain level as far as game condition, game activity, is one,” Farrell said. “Then, what is he physically built up and the duration enable him to do?”

Determining what provides greater stress for Price, a relief or starting role, is not straightforward. There’s a familiarity factor to consider. 

The last time he pitched in relief was in the 2015 American League Division Series, with three runs allowed in three innings for the Blue Jays in Game 4 vs. the Rangers. He’s pitched in relief 11 times in his career between the regular season and postseason.

The pitch counts would be lesser in relief. Frequency of pitches would not be. Stress would be high either way. He’s comfortable pitching out of the stretch full-time.

“It’s always fatigue-related. So when does the fatigue show up? Is it late in the game after 100-plus pitches, or is it after frequent use?” Farrell said. “As it relates to David, I don’t have that exact answer. I do know this, what he’s showing us right now is all positive.”

That answer is an important one to figure out. But it’s not a sole factor.

The appeal of having Price — or simply, an effective starter — in the bullpen during the playoffs is easy to see. 

“I think what we’ve seen in past postseasons is that there’s a pitcher, whoever that pitcher has become, there’s been a multi-inning pitcher in there that has made major contributions,” Farrell said. “[In 2013] it was [Felix] Doubront. Prior to that I’m sure there were other guys who came out of the bullpen after they started or they had innings under their belt and contributed, whether it was Derek Lowe from years past, situations like that are not uncommon. But I don’t want to paint him as a reliever after today’s work.”

If rust is a concern for Price either way in a playoff setting, the idea he would be less risky in relief — in an impactful late-inning situation — is hard to buy. Pulling him out in the seventh inning may be easier on the relievers coming in behind him, as opposed to being yanked in the second inning. But that’s a contingency the Sox could plan for.

If Price’s arm can handle starting, it’s hard to look at the Sox’ rotation at present and see that there are four pitchers who deserve a spot while he does not. He was unsure of his velocity Wednesday, but he looked strong and the talk around him continues to be strong.

There doesn’t seem to be a great reason in the public arena right now preventing Price from making a trial start, so to speak.

"In September, it’s different just because we’re not taxing a bullpen [because of expanded rosters],” Farrell said when asked how many innings Price would need to be built up to for a start to be made. “We have the ability to cover the innings, so you could say that the progression would be to activate him and put him in a game at three innings and you continue to build that out. That’s one scenario. But again, these are things we have to sit down and discuss and determine what’s best for him."

Most under-appreciated Red Sox of 2018? Rick Porcello

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Most under-appreciated Red Sox of 2018? Rick Porcello

PHILADELPHIA — Red Sox manager Alex Cora threw Brian Johnson’s name into the Red Sox MVP conversation before Tuesday’s game. From the sound of it, Cora was speaking more to the condition of being under-appreciated by the masses, of being a subtly important contributor.

Such discussion is a rabbit hole that leads to Average Al Horford hand-wringing and circular arguments about the need for the little things, as they say.

Here's fuel for the fire. On a night when Rick Porcello said that Sandy Leon is “the best catcher I’ve ever thrown to” — Leon not only homered, but ended the game with a fantastic play to finish a strikeout on a ball that got away — and on a night when Brock Holt also hit the Red Sox’ first pinch-hit home run of the season, here's another nominee for most under-appreciated member of the 2018 Red Sox. Porcello himself, the former Cy Young winner.

The most news Porcello has made in 2018 is for his double off Max Scherzer. Right?

He was at it again Tuesday night in a 2-1 Sox win over the Phillies. Hitting. He doubled again, finishing with a flop of a dive into second base in the third inning off starter Nick Pivetta. Everyone had a hoot.

“It was bad," Cora said. "It was really bad."

But Porcello is not making news outside of his slugging because he just doesn’t stand out like his rotation peers. 

Chris Sale is a monster. David Price is pitching well and never far from the spotlight. Nathan Eovaldi is the new guy with a perky cutter. Porcello’s just getting the job done, against every team that’s not the Blue Jays.

Except that description doesn’t aptly serve the strength of his season. With 10 strikeouts on Tuesday in seven innings, Porcello recorded his fifth career double-digit strikeout performance and his first since 2015. (Not 2016, his Cy Young season, but 2015.)

“Just pitched a lot better,” Porcello said, referring to his seven runs in four innings against the Jays in his previous outing. “You saw both games. I was throwing pitches right down the middle and walking guys in Toronto. Today for the most part I was able to stay out of the middle of the plate, not give up any free passes.”

He’s doing more than that, though. More than ever has in his career, Porcello is striking batters out — the currency for pitchers — now at a rate of 8.9 per nine innings. That’s better than the Phillies’ Aaron Nola (8.71), than Corey Kluber (8.57) and Jon Lester (7.03). It’s very close to David Price (8.98), Cole Hamels (9.11) and Zack Greinke (9.12).

Among 43 pitchers with 130 innings on the season as a starter, Porcello’s strikeout rate ranks 19th. His rebound from last year was expected, but not a given. 

This is the second straight season Porcello has improved his K rate, jumping from 7.6 per nine just two years ago. His walk rate is where it was last year, but he’s allowing fewer hits all-around, home runs included.

At 151 2/3 innings and a 4.04 ERA, Porcello has been a picture of middle-of-the-rotation steadiness. Even when he's not doubling.

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Holt's pinch-hit homer lifts Red Sox over Phillies, 2-1

Holt's pinch-hit homer lifts Red Sox over Phillies, 2-1

PHILADELPHIA -- Brock Holt took advantage of a rare opportunity.

Holt belted a pinch-hit tiebreaking homer, Rick Porcello threw seven impressive innings and the major league-leading Boston Red Sox beat the Philadelphia Phillies 2-1 Tuesday night.

Sandy Leon also went deep for Boston, which improved to 86-35. The Red Sox increased their total to 168 homers, matching their number from last year when they hit an AL-low 168.

Porcello (15-5) gave up one run and two hits, striking out 10. He tied Max Scherzer and Luis Severino for most wins in the majors.

Rhys Hoskins homered, but the Phillies wasted a solid outing from Nick Pivetta. He allowed one run and three hits in six innings.

Holt hit the first pitch he saw from Tommy Hunter (3-2) in the eighth off the video screen on the facing of the second deck in right field.

Red Sox manager Alex Cora said Holt wouldn't have been used in that spot in an American League ballpark because he wouldn't have removed Porcello after only 90 pitches.

"We don't have a lot of opportunities to pinch-hit in the AL so I was in the cage, taking flips, staying loose, trying to stay more ready than normal," Holt said. "Just wanted to be ready for a good pitch to hit. Pinch-hitting is a tough job."

Heath Hembree tossed a perfect eighth, striking out Odubel Herrera swinging at a pitch that hit his left foot. Craig Kimbrel finished the two-hitter for his 36th save in 40 chances. He's 41 for 41 in interleague games in his career.

Leon gave the Red Sox a 1-0 lead in the third. The least dangerous hitter in Boston's lineup sent a 95 mph fastball into the seats in right-center for his fifth homer.

Porcello followed with a liner over right fielder Nick Williams' head and slid headfirst into second base for his second career extra-base hit.

"I got lucky," Porcello said.

Cora was afraid Porcello might get hurt when he saw him start to dive.

"That slide was horrible," Cora said. "He was ready to hit. He's a good athlete, he competes."

Porcello retired his first 12 batters before Hoskins drove his 23rd homer out to left in the fifth.

The Phillies have lost five of seven to fall into second place in the NL East behind Atlanta.

"I don't see us pressing," manager Gabe Kapler said. "I see us competing and staying in the game to the end. We lost to one of the best teams in baseball."

CATCHER APPRECIATION

Porcello on Leon: "No disrespect to any catcher I've ever thrown to, but he's the best. He's the heartbeat of the pitching staff. He always knows what to throw. We rely on him. He's as good a game-caller as there is."

NL DOMINANCE

The Red Sox have won 20 of their last 23 interleague games.

ROSTER MOVES

The Phillies traded righty Jake Thompson to the Milwaukee Brewers for cash. Thompson was acquired in the trade that sent former ace Cole Hamels to Texas in 2015. He was 7-8 with a 4.87 ERA in 30 appearances, including 18 starts, in three seasons in Philadelphia. ... Former Phillies closer Hector Neris was recalled from Triple-A Lehigh Valley and infielder J.P. Crawford was sent down.

LINEUP SHUFFLE

Kapler moved Williams up to No. 2 and Asdrubal Cabrera to No. 3. Hoskins went from second to cleanup and Carlos Santana dropped from No. 4 to fifth in the order.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Red Sox:Blake Swihart was activated from the disabled list and C Dan Butler was designated for assignment. ... 2B Ian Kinsler could return Wednesday from a strained left hamstring.

Phillies: C Wilson Ramos was 4 for 9 with three doubles in three rehab games for Single-A Clearwater and could join the lineup Wednesday. The two-time All-Star catcher hasn't played since being acquired from Tampa Bay on July 31 because of a hamstring strain.

UP NEXT

RHP Nathan Eovaldi (5-4, 3.74 ERA) makes his fourth start for the Red Sox since arriving in a trade from Tampa Bay while RHP Vince Velasquez (8-9, 3.98 ERA) goes for the Phillies on Wednesday night.

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