BOSTON -- Rick Porcello did not treat his horrible start to the season passively.
The Red Sox right-hander lost his first three starts while posting an 11.12 ERA and walking 12 in 11.1 innings. None of those numbers remotely resembled the Porcello that Red Sox fans had come to expect and respect, the innings-eater who compensated on the days he lacked overpowering stuff with a scrapper's will.
Porcello wasn't about to flush his season down the toilet, so he set about fixing it. At one point, he threw a bullpen every day between starts until he figured out what could be fixed -- namely a fastball that opponents were teeing off on at a greater than .400 clip.
On Tuesday night at Fenway Park, that work paid off not only in Porcello's best start of the season, but the finest effort any Red Sox starter has delivered this year, period.
He shut out the A's on two hits for eight innings in a 5-1 victory, striking out eight, walking two and allowing basically nothing but soft contact. For one night, at least, he was every bit the 2016 Cy Young Award winner.
"It's not the first time I've been roughed up before and it won't be the last," Porcello said of the bad start to his season. "You have to be professional about it and have that inner confidence you're going to find your stuff. We've been working hard at it. In the one week I threw a bullpen every day in between starts. We're doing whatever we can to get it on track and it's starting to come around. I think everybody is throwing the ball a lot better and it's time to go for us."
Those of us who wonder why the Red Sox haven't made re-signing Porcello more of a priority point to nights like this, where he worked at an absurd pace -- the time of game was only 2:34 -- and took control from the start with a fastball that touched 94 mph and a resurgent slider that left the A's off balance all night.
"It's a great flow," said pitching coach Dana LeVangie. "You guys see it. The game's moving. Defense is active. Gets him back in the dugout, gets the offense ready to roll."
Porcello's transformation from extreme groundball pitcher to someone who could strike out eight and induce six popups on Tuesday is a testament to his adaptability.
"I mean, you've got to make adjustments," said manager Alex Cora. "We talk about how to attack hitters and how they are attacking us, it's a back and forth. For him, I've been saying all along, he's so versatile, he can use the fastball up in the zone, he can go down and away, he can use the slider and the curve and then the changeup, that's a good thing.
"Sometimes that works against us because there's a lot in play and we get caught in between what we're going to use, but then he's smart, he understands what he means to us, especially going deep into games, that's something they take pride in and when you are versatile like that, things like that happen. Today was outstanding."
The rotation appears to be figuring some things out with a 13-17 April in the books. The Sox have allowed four runs or fewer in eight of their last 11 games, and they've won seven of them. Though they'll start May closer to last place than first, they're finally moving in the right direction.
For that, they've largely got their rotation to thank, from David Price to Eduardo Rodriguez to Porcello. Even ace Chris Sale, who remains winless, gave them seven innings over the weekend.
"I've got confidence in all of them," Cora said. "It was just a bad start for everybody. People can point out spring training or whatever, I don't think that's the thing. Adjust over 162 games and see what happens. They struggled early, now they're finding their rhythm and we'll see where it takes us."
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