Red Sox: Rick Porcello working on his curveball


Boston Red Sox starter Rick Porcello knows he has adjustments to make following a disappointing season and altering his curveball is the next step.

Baseball is a game of adjustments, requiring both hitters and pitchers to alter their approach when the game isn’t going their way.

Not much went Rick Porcello‘s way in his first season in a Boston Red Sox uniform. The 7-year veteran was in the midst of the worst season of his career when he hit the disabled list in late July, sporting a brutal 5.81 ERA at the time. Taking nearly a month off was as much to the benefit of his mind as it was his body, as it allowed Porcello the time to work on his mechanics.

He made adjustments, returning near the end of August showing immediate improvement. Instead of trying to blow hitters away with his four-seam fastball, which backfired to the tune of a career-high 25 home runs allowed, Porcello went back to what made him successful earlier in his career, attacking the bottom of the strike zone with his sinker.

In his final eight starts following his return from the disabled list, Porcello posted a 3.14 ERA while striking out 57 batters in 57.1 innings. Now that looks a lot more like the pitcher the Red Sox thought they were getting when they handed him an $82.5 million extension back in April.

Working his sinker back into the mix was an important step in shedding the bust label that he earned with his dreadful start to his tenure in Boston, but he’s not done making changes yet. Porcello admitted to the Providence Journal’s Brian MacPherson that making these adjustments is a lot easier in the spring than it is in the middle of the season, so his time in camp will have an emphasis on revamping his curveball.

"“A lot of times, I’m trying to bounce it at the bottom of the zone, and if it’s short and it’s tight and I start it low, it doesn’t look like a strike, so you don’t draw as many swings,” explained Porcello. “I’m trying to start it at a level where it looks like it’s coming in as a strike and then bounces on the plate where I can generate some swings, some swings and misses.”"

In order to get opposing batters to chase his curve out of the zone, he first needs to be able to prove he can throw it for strikes. Otherwise hitters will lay off it and let Porcello fall behind in the count. His goal this spring is to command the curve so that he can throw it for strikes early in the count, which will set up hitters to chase it beneath the zone with two strikes. The key to doing so is to add more deception to the pitch by decreasing its velocity while increasing its break.

The model that Porcello aims to follow is that of St. Louis Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright, who many consider to have one of the best curveballs in the game.

"“I’ve noticed that he throws his curveball 72-73 miles per hour, and it’s got big break on it,” said Porcello. “He has a tremendous feel to be able to throw that for a strike — and for a ball in a two strike count. The big curveball like that is so sharp, it’s extremely hard to control, and he’s really mastered it.”"

Porcello threw his curve at an average velocity of 75 mph last season, the lowest he’s averaged in his career. Now he wants to go even slower, which he showed signs of doing by the end of the season. He even recalls seeing radar gun readings clocking his curve at 72 mph, putting him in Wainwright’s range.

Slowing his curve will not only compliment the sharper break Porcello is aiming for, but will also widen the gap in velocity between his curve and fastball. Since the sinker is a tick slower than his four-seamer, decreasing the velocity on his curve helps make up the difference.

The strides that Porcello made late last season are a promising sign that he could be in line for a bounce-back campaign. Staying consistent with his delivery will be vital to his success and we’ve already seen over those final 8 starts the progress he made with only about a month to make adjustments. Now we’ll see what a full offseason can do for him.

Next: Spring Training sleeper: Carlos Marmol

If Porcello sticks to the plan of attacking the bottom of the strike zone with his sinker while effectively mixing in his revised curveball then we may finally see the pitcher the Red Sox were hoping for when they acquired him last year.