Red Sox: The crazy 88’s of the pitching staff

Apr 3, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox pitcher Rick Porcello (22) walks off the mound during the third inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 3, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox pitcher Rick Porcello (22) walks off the mound during the third inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports /

The Boston Red Sox have seen two pitching keys get rung up recently. Is this a sordid vision of the future of the staff?

In the movie “Kill Bill: Volume 1” director Quentin Tarantino gave the audience the masked Yakuza gang known as the Crazy 88’s. The Red Sox pitching staff in the last week presented their own version of the 88’s as two stellar pitchers both had the ignominious statistical line of allowing eight runs – all earned in a start.

Steven Wright managed his gifting in just 1.1 innings in which four servings left the yard. Wright’s early season earned run average suddenly ballooned into four figures. Wright’s first start of the season was a rather pedestrian effort of 6.2 innings and four runs – certainly an acceptable performance.

The next team to benefit from in-game batting practice was the Tampa Bay Rays that simply pounded Rick Porcello into a fine dust as fans had visions of a return to 2015 form. Porcello – like Wright – gave up four home runs and none were of the cheap variety. No Pesky Pole looping fly balls, but blunderbuss drives that craned the neck of the of the outfielders.

Porcello had not been sharp in his first two starts, but he was competent enough to keep his team in the game, save the bullpen and extra inning or two and pick up a win. That is essentially what most of Red Sox Nation anticipated when Porcello was brought to town.

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Wright and Porcello are key ingredients to that most important baseball recipe for winning – pitching. The immediate reaction to the emotional and the panic-stricken fan base is this portends a very dismal future for both. Wright certainly had some lingering injury concerns and the Porcello’s Cy Young Award may just be a career anomaly.

Knuckleball pitchers come with – like a mattress – a warning label. If the mysterious pitch does not function in an appropriate manner you get what Wright experienced – a flurry of line drives. I believe Tim Wakefield once gave up six in a game and actually staggered away with a win.

Wright is more than just a knuckleball pitcher since he is capable of getting the fastball pony up to a blistering 89 MPH – mostly it resides in the low 80s. That mixed in with an occasional curve and other pitching slop can offer some basic pitching survival skills if the knuckleball is far from perfect. In the early going Wright has tossed the curve 11% of the time versus 3.1% from 2016, but his last start was – to be kind – a bit flat.

With Wright expect a latter-day version of Wakefield when there will be games when batters are mesmerized like cats to a bird feeder. At other times you will see the very painful exhibit that resulted in eight runs. I may not have a real personal comfort zone with knuckleball pitchers, but Wright will be solid for the season.

Porcello, I have no illusions about. I consider 2016 a bonus. What I do expect is a return to what Porcello was in Detroit in 2014 – a capable middle to lower end rotation arm that will give you a gritty performance. I consider Porcello a good, but not a great pitcher.

With Wright and Porcello, I see a strength in the lower end of the rotation or the middle down. Chris Sale is beyond question the ace of the staff and a healthy David Price a very close second. Wright and Porcello measure up as well as any in the league in that particular slot I have assigned.  Both give Boston a slightly better chance of winning than their pitching counterparts in New York, Tampa, Baltimore and even Toronto. That translates to a positive in the big picture.

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A bad outing is not the time to push the panic button. If ten starts from now both are coughing up fur balls, then we can collectively hit that big red panic button. For now, I just dismiss it as a pitching blip.