Three things we learned from Red Sox' 1-0 win over Braves
1) Some mechanical adjustments late in spring training have made a big difference for Rick Porcello
In four starts, Porcello has posted a 3.51 ERA and is 4-0, having pitched into the seventh inning in each outing.
Part of Porcello's early-season success dates back to last summer when, after returning from a biceps injury, he reverted to what had made him a fairly successful starter in Detroit -- relying on his two-seam fastball for weak contact and focusing on keeping the ball down in the strike zone.
But in late March, Porcello stumbled upon an adjustment with his release point that has not only helped him keep the ball down, but also, enables him to better utilize his slider and occasionally elevate with his four-seamer.
It was the latter that gave Porcello so much difficulty in the first half of last season when he tried far too often to challenge hitters up in the strike zone and paid dearly for the idea.
Thanks to a more consistent arm slot, Porcello can now command the four-seamer to the edges of the strike zone, where hitters are far less likely to major damage.
Porcello is pitching with a confidence now that was absent from much of last season.
It's unlikely that he'll ever convince some that he's worth in excess of $20 million per season. But if he continues to pitch with an ERA under 4.00 and routinely takes the Sox into the seventh inning, you'll hear no complaints from him.
2) Christian Vazquez can still throw
In the 10 days since he was promoted to the big league roster, a great deal has been written and talked about regarding Vazquez's ability to frame pitches and call games. And indeed, that talk is justified.
It can hardly be a coincidence that the Red Sox' staff has enjoyed far more success with Vazquez behind the plate.
He gives pitchers -- both starters and relievers -- greater confidence with his take-charge personality and his ability to block balls in the dirt.
But what separates Vazquez from the vast majority of major league catchers is his arm strength - a strength that was very much in question after he underwent Tommy John surgery last April and missed all of the 2015 season.
On Monday night, Vazquez threw out his first base stealer of the season. and while the throw drifted a bit and Xander Bogaerts made a fine play to cross over in front of the bag to snare the throw, then reached back to place the tag on baserunner Jace Peterson, there was no mistaking the zip on the throw.
And it says something about the respect opponents have for Vazquez that that was just the second stolen base attempt they've made in seven games.
3) The Braves aren't just bad. They're really bad
That 4-15 record is hardly deceiving. The wonder might be how they won four games so far.
The Braves have made no secret about planning to rebuild in order to contend when they move into their new ballpark in Cobb County in 2017, but it's hard to see how they're going to make the necessary roster improvements in a year's time.
The lineup Atlanta rolled out against the Red Sox Monday night was hardly major league-caliber. The Braves have about three proven major league hitters - outfielder Nick Markakis, A.J. Pierzynski and Freddie Freeman.
Freeman is in such a slump that he was dropped to sixth in the batting order and Pierzynski, while still capable of some offense, is hardly your prototypical cleanup hitter.
Julio Tehran, the Braves' best starter, gave them a strong seven innings, allowing just one run. But now that he's out of the way, anything less than at least two wins in the next three meetings -- Tuesday night in Atlanta, then Wednesday and Thursday as part of MLB's idiotic home-and-home scheduling -- must be considered a disappointment for the Red Sox.
Part of being successful is taking advantage of poor teams when they pop up on the schedule. The Red Sox won't get many other gifts like this the rest of the way.