Rick Porcello is going to give up his fair share of home runs, especially when he faces Toronto.
But so far this season, when he hasn’t been facing Jose Bautista or Edwin Encarnacion, the 27-year-old sinker-baller has actually looked, dare we say… good?
The Red Sox, aided by a nearly dominant Porcello, and a phenomenal return from catcher Christian Vazquez, defeated the Blue Jays 5-3 Friday night. The win improved Boston’s record to 5-4 on the season.
Strictly by-the-numbers, Porcello and Vazquez had great nights. Porcello surrendered three runs on just two hits (two home runs from Encarnation) over 6 1/3 innings, while walking one and striking out six to improve to 2-0 for the first time in his career. He also hit two batters, which Dennis Eckersley said “is a good thing,” and was far from pleased when John Farrell lifted him from the game in the sixth inning.
You don’t need to be “007” to read those lips.
Before Friday’s game, the team announced they were recalling Vazquez from Pawtucket, and, unfortunately, optioning Blake Swihart. The Sox expressed a desire for Swihart to receive regular at-bats, work on his game-calling, and potentially see time in left field.
Vazquez was making his return after missing more than a year while recovering from Tommy-John surgery, and the 25-year-old defensive phenom made an immediate impact. He finished 2-for-4 with a double, though he made great contact all night. But it was his management of Porcello, and his energy, that really stood out.
In the second-inning, Porcello fanned Michael Saunders, and Vazquez exploded from his crouch to fire a missile to first base, picking off Troy Tulowitzki to end the inning.
remember how christian vazquez is good at throwing baseballs pic.twitter.com/nTVANOFB4c
— Joon Lee (@joonlee) April 15, 2016
Right from the start, the sinker was working, as Porcello induced three ground-ball outs in the first-inning. The relationship between Porcello and Vazquez was fascinating to watch all night, particularly in the sixth-inning. Vazquez showed that, despite his age, he’s not afraid to take charge on the diamond, as he refused to let Porcello shake him off.
— Joon Lee (@joonlee) April 16, 2016
He also proved why so many pitchers have lauded his ability to frame pitches and steal strikes:
— Joon Lee (@joonlee) April 16, 2016
With Vazquez on the field, in addition to Hanley’s play at first and Panda’s absence, Friday night’s game was further example that this year’s Red Sox are going to play a much cleaner brand of baseball than what we’ve seen in recent years.
Porcello / Vazquez — Maybe Vazquez’s presence is just what Porcello needed, as he certainly looked like a different guy, especially mentality-wise on Friday night. In addition to his performance and willingness to pitch more aggressively, I thought his attitude towards being removed was a welcome sight. Sure, he just gave up a two-run home run, but he struck out the next batter, and thought he deserved to finish that inning (which would’ve been the first seven-inning performance from a Sox starter this season).
Bullpen — Continues to dominate. Especially given the potency of lineups they’ve had to deal with so far, the bullpen has been beyond encouraging. Friday night was another strong performance. Junichi Tazawa came on to finish the sixth-inning, and Koji Uehara and Craig Kimbrel again slammed the door in the ninth, though Kimbrel did make things a little interesting. It remains to be seen when, or if, we’ll see Carson Smith this season, but the contrast between Uehara’s deceptive 86-MPH fastball, and Kimbrel’s overwhelming gas, has been great to watch.
David Ortiz — Another solid night for Big Papi. He finished 1-for-2 with a double, two walks, and two RBIs, and he just missed his fourth home run of the season in the first inning. The big man even stole his first base since 2013.
— Cut4 (@Cut4) April 16, 2016
Hanley Ramirez’s Equipment — I’m not sure what it is with this guy and losing his gear. Last year, he became infamous for his remarkable ability to lose his helmet no matter what he did. Friday night, he managed to send his bat flying down the first-base-line not once, but twice. Thank god they put the netting up. He also had a rough night when he was holding onto his bat, as he struck-out three times.
Brock Holt — Little bit of a lull for the Brockstar. He’s hitless in his last four games, and doesn’t really have the required pop to just slug his way out of a slump. Wouldn’t be surprised to see Chris Young get a start in left field tomorrow to give Holt a breather.
Sandoval Situation — Continues to evolve. Friday the team announced that Sandoval would be seeing Dr. James Andrews for a second opinion on his shoulder that he “couldn’t feel.” Bizarre how much the Panda situation is beginning to mirror Carl Crawford’s brutal stint in Boston.
KEEP AN EYE ON
It feels that trading Blake Swihart is the logical next step for the Red Sox. The team says they think he can move to left, and that they envision a scenario where both Swihart and Vazquez are on the team together, but it doesn’t feel practical. The team loves Vazquez, and last year’s first-round draft pick (seventh-overall) Andrew Benintendi isn’t looking too far-away.
It’s hard to imagine Swihart with a future on this team as a left fielder, or even as a backup-catcher / first-baseman. With the team’s glaring need for a legitimate number-two starter behind David Price, Swihart may be the perfect catalyst to facilitate a trade that fills that void.