As Alex Cora assesses his pitching options – four-man rotations, putting starters in the bullpen – while he does whatever it takes to manage the Red Sox back into the playoff picture, one thing remains constant that has largely escaped his club this season.
He just wants his starters to pitch deep into games, and then, he believes, the rest will take care of itself.
Cora is clearly willing to get creative and even aggressive with the way he utilizes his staff, but not unless he has to. More nights like Friday are certainly more preferable.
Porcello went six strong innings as he allowed just one run on four hits, and the offense produced more than enough as the Red Sox rolled to an easy X-X victory over the lowly Baltimore Orioles in a crisp two-hour, 41-minute game to open up a three-game series at Fenway Park.
The Red Sox (65-59), fresh off an impressive series win over the Indians in Cleveland, picked up where they left off. They moved to 6½ games back of the Tampa Bay Rays for the second wild card spot after they lost to the Detroit Tigers on Friday.
It may be against inferior opponents, but Porcello, who entered Friday with the second-worst ERA among qualified American League pitchers, has certainly looked sharper of late. He pitched six quality innings against the Kansas City Royals, and after giving up five runs against the Angels last week, he rebounded Friday with his third quality start in his last five. A
Porcello, who improved to 11-9 with a 5.49 ERA, set the tone with his first inning as he worked around Jonathan Villar’s leadoff single to set down the Orioles (39-83) on six pitches. Rafael Devers then drove in Mookie Betts to give the Red Sox an early lead.
After a 1-2-3 second, Porcello coughed up the lead in the third when Trey Mancini ripped an RBI double to the corner in right. But given another lead after Andrew Benintendi and Mitch Moreland both hit stand-up triples to give the Red Sox back the lead, he didn’t disappoint.
Porcello came up with timely pitches when the Red Sox needed it. After issuing a walk to Chris Davis followed with a walk to Chance Sisco in the fifth, Mancini came up again with two outs. Pitching coach Dana LeVangie came out for a quick visit before getting behind Mancini with a 3-1 count, but a curveball induced a weak fly ball from Mancini to end the inning.
Porcello quickly put away the O’s in the sixth when he got Jace Peterson to ground into an inning-ending double play. That put Porcello at 84 pitches, but with a string of lefties due up in the seventh, Cora elected to go to his bullpen to finish the job as Josh Taylor and Travis Lakins combined for three shutout innings.
The Red Sox padded their lead after loading the bases in the sixth when Chris Owings hit a two-run double to the left-field corner. Jackie Bradley Jr. and J.D. Martinez each added one on sacrifice flies before Benintendi hit an RBI double. Mookie Betts hit his 21st homer of the season in the eighth.