Evan Drellich

Pomeranz says issue is 'clear-cut,' but mystery is unsolved

Pomeranz says issue is 'clear-cut,' but mystery is unsolved

PHILADELPHIA — Drew Pomeranz’s story at this point is less about the Red Sox and more about the individual, and it’s a minor mystery.

Theoretically, the free-agent-to-be can still find a way to help the Sox down the stretch. Eat some innings, look a little better. But barring a dramatic turnaround or a strange situation elsewhere on the pitching staff, he’s not sniffing the postseason roster.

The lefty's ERA rose to 6.34 on Wednesday night in a 7-4 Red Sox loss to the Phils, after he allowed three earned runs in an inning of work. He faced eight batters, allowed three hits and one walk with one strikeout.

Pomeranz has been so much better than this in past seasons. And he's too young, 29, for his stuff to just disappear. 

Alex Cora left Pomeranz in the game as trouble grew, the manager said, because he wanted to see how Pomeranz would fare in a late-inning relief role. The other part: Matt Barnes and Tyler Thornburg were both unavailable because of workload, per the manager. (Neither has pitched since the weekend, but Barnes did throw three straight days in Baltimore, while Thornburg — who briefly warmed up on Thursday, before Cora went a different direction — is coming back from surgery. The Sox have the division padding to be cautious.)

The most difficult thing to accept is that Pomeranz is healthy. His velocity this year is the lowest of his career, 89.59 mph entering Thursday night, per BrooksBaseball.net.

He was at 91.78 mph in 2017, at 91.93 in 2016 and had a career-high 93.08 in 2015. His stuff isn’t playing up in any notable way out of the ‘pen now, either.

“I feel fine, like I said it’s something that I started doing at the end of last year, started drifting this way,” Pomeranz reiterated to NBC Sports Boston. “I’ve just been kind of stuck in that. I’ve done a thousand things to try and get out of it. I don’t know what it is, but, you know it’s something I’m definitely focusing on every single day, catch. I don’t know, something’s going to click eventually. That’s what I’m waiting for. Other than that I feel healthy. Health-wise, I feel fine."

There wouldn’t be much logic in Pomeranz maintaining he is healthy if he is not. Any team interested in him this winter will get a chance to review his medicals. Were he to hypothetically hide something, there wouldn’t be much potential gain — not at this point in the year, when salvaging his season to the point of a major payday is unlikely.

Pomeranz said his impending free agency hasn’t weighed on him.

“I don’t think so,” Pomeranz said. "I’ve pretty much narrowed it down, that it’s the main reason. It’s pretty clear-cut. You talk to [Brian] Bannister and look at my data, my release point’s short of what it’s been the last two years. And that just goes along with me blocking myself off. Open up, then you can reach out and get better extension and that’s pretty much what’s happening so."

Perhaps Pomeranz really can’t get his mechanics right for a reason that has nothing to do with health. But to lose a couple miles per hour on his fastball the whole season just for mechanics is an uncommon situation. Whether and when and how he proves that to be the case will be interesting to watch, even if it’s not with the Sox. 

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Alex Cora on luck's role in amazing Red Sox season

Alex Cora on luck's role in amazing Red Sox season

PHILADELPHIA — Luck in baseball can manifest itself in ways other than just a blooper falling in.

The Red Sox have been so good entering Wednesday that they can play under .500 baseball the rest of the season, 20-21, and still set the franchise record for wins at 106. 

Naturally, some level of luck has been involved in a season that could put the Sox in position to challenge the major league record of 116.

One of the simplest ways to evaluate luck is looking at how many runs a team has scored and allowed, one of Sox consultant Bill James’ many claims to fame. Using that math, the Sox at 86-35 are five games better than what their runs totals would suggest, 81-40.

Sox manager Alex Cora is aware what those numbers say.

“I don’t know, sometimes I’ll look at Baseball-Reference, their expanded standings, seems like we’ve been lucky for their standards,” Cora said on Wednesday afternoon. “Oh well. Hey, I’ll take it.”

But run differential wasn’t the first area that came to mind when Cora was asked how luck has played into the 2018 Sox season.

“For me, we’ve been lucky with the weather throughout the season … Baltimore aside,” Cora said. "We haven’t run into — and it’s coming when we go to Atlanta, we know it’s going to be hot — but we haven’t been to three cities in a row that it’s 92 and humid. And early in the season, although in Boston it was cold, it wasn’t that bad when we went to other cities. I think that’s luck, you know?”

Quality of starting pitcher is another matter out of a team’s control that Cora pointed to.

“Sometimes you face the No. 1 and No. 2 of teams every series,” Cora said. “And I think we’ve faced them, but sometimes we don’t.”

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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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