A Tale Of Two Red Sox: Eduardo Rodriguez & Rick Porcello

The Boston Red Sox’ starting pitching has been almost entirely remade with trades since last summer and the team’s worst-in-the-AL ERA stands as an indictment of GM Ben Cherington’s regime. No pitcher captures that better than Rick Porcello.

Conversely, Cherington’s moves didn’t all blow up in his face—the acquisition of Eduardo Rodriguez has the potential to be a huge steal at the expense of a division rival.

Both pitchers were on display in less than 24 hours at the Rogers Centre in Toronto and their most recent starts were par for the course.

Rodriguez got the ball on Tuesday night. The 22-year-old lefty was acquired at last year’s trade deadline from the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for Andrew Miller. Rodriguez has made seven starts, including on Tuesday and is 4-2 with a 3.92 ERA.

The numbers don’t show how good Rodriguez really is though. His two bad starts, one of them against the Orioles, were truly awful, and subsequent video review showed that he was tipping his off-speed pitches with a dramatic difference in the positioning of his head. He corrected the problem on Tuesday night against the Blue Jays, the other team to have lit him up.

While there were some difficult moments, where you could tell Rodriguez was working on new habits and perhaps overthinking things, the results drastically improved—six innings of four-hit ball against the best lineup in the league.

Just watching Eduardo Rodriguez is a pleasure. His throwing motion is so smooth that it reminds one of The Natural, with Roy Hobbs’ effortless lefthanded pitching style. In a year when Red Sox legend Pedro Martinez will be inducted into Cooperstown, the franchise may have found its next must-see pitching attraction for a new generation.

Now let’s look at Porcello. To understand the complete failure of this acquisition from the Tigers, we have to put it in a larger context and it involves Jon Lester. In the winter of 2014, coming off their World Series title, the Red Sox declined to lock up Lester with a four-year/$70 million deal. By midsummer, they would trade Lester to Oakland for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. This past offseason, Boston tried to resign Lester at more than double the original price tag. He went to the Cubs instead.

Cherington then went to Plan B (or should I say Plan C, because Plan B was apparently to double the cost of Lester when you could have signed him prior to the 2014 season). Anyway, he shipped Cespedes and two minor-leaguers off to Detroit for Porcello.

Thus, if you look at the moves in context, it boils down to giving up Jon Lester and a couple prospects for Rick Porcello. The new pitcher’s results are a 6.08 ERA. He hit rock-bottom on Wednesday afternoon when he gave up seven runs in two innings, including home runs that would have gotten Toronto hitters bonus swings under the new Home Run Derby rules that reward distance.

Porcello is only 26 and had a nice year last season, with a 3.43 ERA for a division champion in Detroit. But changing your work address from Comerica Park to Fenway Park is going to have a negative effect on a pitcher. That appears not to be have been given consideration by Cherington, or at least was dismissed. It’s the reason I never liked this deal.

We’ve now reached a place where ESPN Boston writer Gordon Edes is suggesting that the schedule allows Boston to skip Porcello’s next two starts prior to the All-Star Break when they can decide what to do.

Presumably, “what to do” should involve making up an injury to stash him on the DL, because unlike Justin Masterson, another acquired starter who’s been a train wreck, Porcello probably can’t pitch out of the bullpen. He’s a sinker-ball pitcher that’s leaving everything up in the zone and it’s tough to see how pitching in relief is going to fix that.

Porcello’s struggles are firmly on a par with that of Cherington’s other prize acquisitions, from Masterson, to Joe Kelly, who’s been banished to the minors. But at the very least, the GM gave us Sox fans Eduardo Rodriguez, the principal bright spot in what’s been a gloomy season to date.