Rick Porcello returned from nearly a month-long hiatus to deliver seven shutout innings against the White Sox, matching perennial Cy Young contender Chris Sale pitch for pitch. Sale exited after seven scoreless, and Travis Shaw promptly greeted reliever Nate Jones with a two-run blast down the right field line.
Top Play (WPA): Shaw’s homer, like, by a lot. Shaw’s two-run, go-ahead shot (+.400) was worth more positive WPA than the next nine plays combined. The Red Sox first basemen took a first-pitch 97 mile-per-hour fastball, well located low and inside, and redirected it towards its eventual landing spot 400-some feet away in the right field bleachers. Here, watch it again.
It’s tough to get a read on Shaw’s long-term fit in Boston. His minor-league performance doesn’t really jump out at you — he struggled in Double-A as a 23-year-old in 2013, and he didn’t exactly fare much better in parts of two seasons in Triple-A Pawtucket over the last two years. So far in the big leagues, however, it’s been a different story, as Shaw has posted a shiny .312/.356/.591 slash line in 101 plate appearances. The numbers will eventually come back to earth, but who knows, maybe he’s Brian Daubach Version 2.0.
Bottom Play (WPA): The White Sox had good scoring chances in both the fifth and sixth innings, but Porcello worked out of both jams unscathed. In the fifth, with one out and runners on the corners, Tyler Flowers flied out to shallow right field (-.089), failing to drive in the runner. In the sixth, with two outs and runners at second and third, Porcello got Adam LaRoche to fly out to center field (-.087), preserving the shutout.
Chris Sale also worked out of a number of jams. In the second inning, the Red Sox loaded the bases for Hanley Ramirez with two down. Sale worked Ramirez up and away with hard stuff all night, and in this at-bat, he got Hanley to swing through a 1-2 fastball to end the inning.
Key Moment: The real winner here is Shaw’s home run, but we already discussed that. In the bottom of the fifth, the White Sox had runners on the corners with two outs. Porcello induced a weak grounder off the bat of Tyler Saladino toward the hole between first and second, and Josh Rutledge, picked up in the Shane Victorino trade, made an outstanding barehanded flip to get the out. Rutledge was shading Saladino toward second base, too, which meant he had to run a long way just to get to the ball. Dustin Pedroia would be proud. Give credit to Shaw, as well, for realizing that his best move was heading to first base rather than trying to field the grounder.
Trend to Watch: The likely tinkering the Red Sox did with Porcello during his absence seemed to work. According to Brooks Baseball, Porcello upped his sinker usage from 34 percent during his previous 2015 starts to 46 percent last night. He also peppered the lower regions of the strike zone, particularly with his sinker, as you can see here. Whatever Porcello was trying to do earlier in the season — throw more four-seamers and get more strikeouts, it seemed — wasn’t working. Perhaps he just functions optimally as low-strikeout, high-groundball kind of guy, and even if that accompanies a high-threes/low-fours ERA, it sure beats the iteration of Porcello we saw from April through July.
Of course, it’s only one start. Porcello threw seven solid innings against the Tigers on July 24th, just five days before he allowed 10 hits in two innings against the White Sox in his final start before hitting the disabled list. Everything might not be fixed yet, but one good start is better than one bad one. There’s hope here.
Coming Next: The Red Sox get Thursday off before meeting the unstoppable force that is the New York Mets on Friday night. The Mets have won six straight, outscoring their opponents 64 to 35 during that stretch. Yeah, the Mets. They’re gonna be tough. Boston will get Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard in the three-game weekend series. On Monday the Red Sox return to Fenway for a three-gamer against that other New York team.
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