Rick Porcello and the strikeout rate
Rick Porcello didn’t crack five strikeouts per nine innings for a season until his third year in the Major Leagues. That was two years ago. He bumped his strikeout rate a little bit from there to 5.5 last year. After Monday’s six-inning, 10-strikeout performance, he’s up to 6.96 this season. With matchups against the White Sox and Marlins due up to finish out his season, he has a legitimate chance to end the year averaging seven.
This is no longer the sinkerballing Porcello we’ve come to expect. This is more like the pure pitching Porcello some saw out of the draft in 2007. The sinker is still his dominant pitch, but it’s no longer the only thing he can throw for outs.
“You’ve got to be able to strike guys out, especially in the American League,” Porcello said after Monday’s 4-2 win. “With the type of hitters they have in big, strong guys, we have to be able to get swings and misses when you need them. I’ve been to do that a little bit better this year than I have in year’s past. It is a weapon.”
Mariners manager Eric Wedge would probably agree. His last year in Cleveland was Porcello’s first in Detroit, so he had a chance to watch him a lot as a rookie.
“He wasn’t really making mistakes,” Wedge said. “He’s more of a complete pitcher now than he was three or four years ago when he was younger. He just has more weapons.”
If you count his sinker and his power fastball as two different pitches, then he threw a five-pitch arsenal as the M’s on Monday. Yes, the sinker was the workhorse pitch, comprising 38 of his 105 pitches. His next-favorite selection, however, was his curveball, the onetime show-me pitch in his arsenal. He threw 22 of them, 12 of strikes, five for swings and misses, according to brooksbaseball.net. All five whiffs came from left-handed hitters, who had four more off his changeup.
“I think coming into the game, knowing they had a lot of left-handed hitters, knowing that breaking ball was going to be a big pitch for me to be effective tonight, we really used it a lot early,” Porcello said. “Started to get some swings and misses and some effective outs with it, so we kind of kept going to it and it worked out.”
He struck out seven of Seattle’s first 19 hitters, three of them on curves. Other times, the curve and changeup set up hitters for the fastball, which Porcello was able to spot.
“I knew that offspeed pitches were going to be real big today,” he said. “They only had two right-handed hitters in the lineup. A lot of times, a lineup that’s right-handed heavy I can rely on my sinker a lot more but when we get left-handed hitters up there, they seem to hit the sinker a lot better. The offspeed pitches were big and we knew that going in and that was our game plan was to keep it those down. Alex [Avila] called a great game and we were both in sync.”
Porcello said he thought the curveball was the key pitch for him, while Jim Leyland thought it was the changeup. Either way, the two gave him a chance against lefties.
“I think he’s executing pitches better,” Leyland said, “and that’s a weapon against a left-hander. He can throw a sinker down and away and got some ground balls, but you also have to have something to get [hitters] off the sinker, because you keep throwing sinkers and you throw a high sinker, they go a long way. His offspeed stuff is getting better as we speak. That’s been a big key for him.”