ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- In many ways, there is no better representative of the Red Sox' lot in life than Rick Porcello.
The expectations. The roller coaster of a season. The contract talk. And now the trade-deadline uncertainty.
Welcome to the world of the Red Sox and the pitcher who may have a pretty significant say regarding which path Alex Cora's club will be heading down.
"It’s the way I look at it in my own head, that it’s a tale of two seasons," said Porcello in a lengthy conversation with WEEI.com Monday. "Last year we played great ball but everything went well for us last year. It seemed like we caught every break and won every close game. All of those things seemed to just fall into place. This year it’s almost like the exact opposite. You take two steps forward and it feels like you get punched in the mouth again and you have to keep constantly responding. That is the motivator for me is no matter how rough it has been to this point, whatever else has been said about how we’ve played or our season … This is what it is all about. The fact we’re coming off a World Series championship and to have this opportunity again to make a push. It’s not going to be the same journey every year and this is our path right now. Focus on the positives and focus on moving forward and what we can do with the remaining games we have left, that’s where all the energy should be."
Easier said than done.
The Red Sox are creeping up on their season's fork in the road thanks to 14 straight games against the Rays and Yankees, along with the July 31 trade deadline. And while Porcello and Co. would love to suggest it is business as usual, simply attempting to take more steps forward than back, circumstances make that somewhat difficult.
If things go terribly wrong over the next few series than the Red Sox will most likely be forced to explore selling off their goods instead of scooping up helpful pieces for a 2019 run. And if that happens many eyes will turn to Porcello, the 30-year-old pitcher who is riding out the final year of his contract.
But like so many in that clubhouse, Porcello believes there is an answer to what ails these Red Sox, and he can ultimately be part of that solution.
"I want to get it right," he said. "Yeah, the trade deadline is close and we want to prove things. But I still feel completely confident that I’m going to turn this around and our bullpen can keep playing the way we’ve been playing and we’ll be fine. We just have to keep playing. Baseball is a hard game to understand, figure out and explain sometimes. You just continue to block out the outside noise of whether or not people think you’re good enough, you just go out and focus on things that you can and prove you’re good enough.
"It’s just like with free agency, you can’t control what happens. I all I can control is my preparation, how I perform and hopefully the impact I make on the guys who are around me every day. Those are the things you focus on. You play enough baseball you start to realize it’s so much wasted energy thinking about if we’re going to get a player, am I going to get traded, what’s going to happen, are we still trying to win? I have one priority right now and that’s getting my shit right to get guys out. That’s it."
Consistently inconsistent. How many times have we heard that from Cora when talking about his team? How has Porcello thought it about himself this season?
Like the Red Sox, pinning down one explanation for Porcello's problems isn't a turn-key proposition.
The 30,000-foot analysis of the righty's struggles oftentimes goes immediately to the one thing that we know to be different in Porcello's world this time around -- performing in a contract year. According to the pitcher ... nope.
"I’ve never gone through it before, but that wears off pretty quickly, honestly," said Porcello of thinking about his uncertain future. "It happened and was done with. I’m a professional and completely understand both sides of the game. There’s a performance side and there is a business side. Sometimes it doesn’t go hand in hand. I haven’t really been bothered by it or focused on it at all. I’ve been concentrating on doing what I have to do to be good for our ball club this year. We’re doing a lot of things well in a lot of areas. I think our bullpen, say what you want, they’ve been great. And our offense is second to none. There’s a huge opportunity here, regardless of what other people think. I see it in our team and I see the potential we have. That only leads me down the road of me focusing on what I need to focus on to maximize our potential as a team.
"I don’t think about the contract stuff anymore. I’ve been very fortunate to be in the position I’m in. I don’t feel a lot of pressure going into this offseason as far as that stuff is concerned. I feel the pressure to perform for our team, our organization now. That’s the God’s honest truth. We’ll figure out what happens in the offseason when we get there. We’ll see what happens. You can’t predict what is going on in the offseason now anyway. You have absolutely no idea what the opportunities are going to be so there is no point in thinking about it."
So, what has led to this 5.61 ERA? Again, no easy answers.
When weaving his way in and out of possible explanations Porcello does touch on an interesting notion. The pitcher who relied so much on location, movement and guile might be falling victim to the new order of hitting.
"It’s different than in years past because the approach you’re facing is a little bit different," he said. "At times it was more a focus of command over stuff, and now it’s focus on both or in some scenarios stuff over command. It’s been a difficult line for me to toe this year. I’m kind of a guy who has had to rely on both, effectively commanding the baseball and traditionally not giving free passes and also the last couple of years I’ve felt like I’ve had enough weapons to generate strikeouts and play both of those games. I haven’t been very good at either one of those this year. You’re seeing the inconsistencies of it.
"It’s been very up and down as far as the consistency and that’s always been something I tried to focus on and pride myself on. I would be the first one to admit, I’ve been pretty bad at it this year. I’m figuring things out right now. It’s kind of what you focus on when it’s going like this. It’s hard to look back at struggles you’ve had, take that stuff and stay positive. The most important thing is that I realize something is off right now and I’m not going to go out there and do the same thing. I’m going to continue to make adjustments until it starts working again. There has been plenty of mechanical stuff I’ve been either inconsistent with or I’ve been working on some of the wrong things. Sometimes there is the mental approach to things, whether it is sticking too much to the scouting report and not focusing on throwing pitches with conviction or visa versa. Everything, the results have been representative of inconsistencies on finding things that have been working."
The Red Sox took the first step in keeping things together, beating the Rays in the teams' series-opener Monday. That is a step toward where Porcello and his friends are hoping to land at come Aug. 1 ... a small step. There is a lot to accomplish, both for the club and one of its key starting pitchers.
"I think we all feel that way," said Porcello regarding the hope that the Red Sox could make a run with this current group. "The best way to exemplify that is through our play. For whatever reason it has been off all year. We struggled that first month to then playing well and getting back to .500 and now we’ve just been see-sawing back and forth. It’s not because of a lack of focus or determination or a lack of understanding of what we have in this locker room. We haven’t been firing on all cylinders and I’ve been a big part of that. I think a lot of the momentum and flow of our team comes from starting pitching. The offense is going to do what they do. When you have strong starting pitching that allows you to control the game the way you want to control it, whether it is bullpen usage or anything. I would be the first one to admit, I’ve been the biggest problem with that."