BOSTON -- Friday night, Rick Porcello formed his first battery with fiery Boston Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez in a 5-3 win over Toronto, and he was given the ground rules early when he tried to shake off a call from the demonstrative youngster, who simply shook back. On Wednesday night, Porcello felt juiced about his changeup coming out of his pregame bullpen session and thought he could whiff a few Tampa Bay Rays hitters with it. Vazquez got hip to the idea quickly, and the result was a season-high nine strikeouts and Porcello’s third win in as many starts as the Red Sox prevailed 7-3.
Clearly the two have come to appreciate each other quickly. Asked about his comfort level with his new batterymate, Porcello offered up a chuckle before saying, “I think you can see it pretty easy on TV.”
“He’s got great hands. I think everybody talks about how well he blocks the ball, and everything like that, but he’s really got a great feel for calling games,” Porcello continued of the 25-year-old Vazquez. “He sees a lot of things. Just simple things, too, like coming out for a mound visit, I kinda got into trouble there in the sixth or seventh. Just coming out and slowing the pace of the game down, he’s really talented out there.”
Porcello is off to a solid start, like he was last season, but this time around it feels different for a number of reasons. For one, the return of Vazquez, who missed all of 2015 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, has clearly made an impact on the way he handles the Red Sox pitchers.
For another, the number of strikeouts Porcello got last season on fastballs up in the zone felt like fool’s gold. So far in 2016, the right-hander is getting more swings-and-misses down in the zone, including some nifty changeups Wednesday that spun some late life.
“He’s been very consistent with staying out of the middle of the plate,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “I think his changeup continues to refine itself. He’s getting some swing-and-misses, he put away a couple of batters with right-on-right changeup.”
Farrell also pointed to improved command with his sinker, which Porcello tinkered with late in spring training, tweaking his arm slot to create more downhill trajectory. Vazquez calls the sinker Porcello’s best weapon -- “That’s the best he can pitch,” he said -- and if Porcello continues on this trajectory, the Fenway faithful could be in for a much brighter early season than they endured in 2015, when he got tagged with seven straight losses from May 22 to July 1 after starting 4-2.
“I just feel like my body is in a much more comfortable spot. I’m seeing the glove a lot more clearly,” Porcello said. “I feel my release point is a lot more consistent than it was in spring training and really what I had been working on the whole spring. It’s starting to come, I feel a lot more comfortable.”