Boston Red Sox left-handed pitcher Drew Pomeranz had an injury scare related to a cracked fingernail but remained in the game to produce a quality start.
The lefty delivered six solid innings in which he allowed only four hits and a pair of walks. Unfortunately, two of those hits were solo home runs off the bat of Stanton. Neither was particularly crushed, at least not to the mammoth proportions we’re used to seeing from the former MVP.
Stanton’s second-inning line drive would have been off the wall at Fenway, perhaps holding him only to a long single. The 365-foot shot to the opposite field in the fourth inning would have died on the warning track in most parks. Not in Yankee Stadium, where the ball carries to right field as well as in any park. Pomeranz wasn’t throwing meatballs down the middle of the plate. This was a case of a powerful slugger muscling pitches over the fence that would be harmless off the bats of most mortals.
Those would be the only runs Pomeranz allowed in an otherwise promising performance. The lefty got off to a rocky start this season following a delayed debut due to forearm tightness. He seemed to be turning a corner in his last outing against the Kansas City Royals, earning his first win of the season. Last night’s performance against the New York Yankees was his best of the year.
What makes the effort more impressive is that Pomeranz battled through a cracked fingernail on his left index finger. That can be painful for any pitcher, especially one who relies on that finger to get a grip on his curveball.
The Red Sox sent the trainer to the mound to check on Pomeranz early in the second inning. It appeared the finger bothered Pomeranz enough to consider taking him out of the game yet the lefty talked his way into staying on the mound.
"“My fingernail, the way I throw the curveball I kind of use the top part of my finger and my fingernail split down the middle and it was like a little sliver that was pulling on the skin so when I threw my curveball it kept bleeding,” Pomeranz explained to reporters, per WEEI’s Ryan Hannable. “I had to cut it off but I couldn’t pull all of it off because it was still pulling on the skin. I thought I wasn’t going to be able to throw my curveball. I didn’t throw it for a few pitches and then I finally started throwing it again because I have to throw my curveball. I cannot not throw it in this game, so I just dealt with it.”"
Pomeranz threw his curveball on 36.5 percent of his pitches, according to Fangraphs. That’s right around the percentage he utilized the pitch last year, so the curve is clearly a vital part of his arsenal.
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Seven of the 18 outs that Pomeranz recorded came on his curveball, including a pair of strikeouts. Even when he wasn’t using it as his out pitch, the curve still helped set up many of the batters he retired.
He needs the curveball to be effective. Pomeranz briefly abandoned it in favor of a seldom-used changeup when he had trouble locating the curve earlier this season. The pitch wasn’t fooling anyone and he struggled to get swings-and-misses. That was the main culprit behind his early struggles. Switching to the changeup proved to be no more effective.
Pomeranz generally works with four pitches. His four-seam fastball has seen a dip in velocity in the early going. That was a concern through his first two starts but he’s shown improvement. He’ll mix in a cutter and a slider but it’s the curve that he turns to most to balance out his fastball. Without it, he’s lost.
That’s why it’s encouraging that he managed to grind through the fingernail issue to recapture control of that curveball. Proving he can be effective again with that pitch is what will help restore him to the pitcher he was last year.
The Red Sox ultimately lost the game to the Yankees but they may have gained the 2017 version of Pomeranz they’ll need moving forward. That’s a win for Boston in the long run.