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McAdam: As hitters learn to upper-cut, Porcello’s best pitch turns against him

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(Kim Klement/USA TODAY)

Home runs are being hit at a record pace this season. Rick Porcello doesn’t need to be reminded of that trend.

Porcello gave up two more Friday night, accounting for all four runs he allowed in a 4-2 loss to the Kansas City Royals. In his last two starts, homers have accounted for all seven runs he’s allowed. In his last three starts, eight of the 10 runs have been produced by homers.

For the season, he’s allowed 25, or, two more than he allowed all of last year. Put another way: he’s allowed more homers this season than last, despite pitching 82.1 fewer innings. Only two American League pitchers (Ricky Nolasco and Masahiro Tanaka) have allowed more long balls.

What gives?

It may just be that this is a bad time to be a sinkerballer, with hitters focused on changing their launch angle and upper-cutting the ball. Porcello’s two-seam fastball may be pitching right into their swing paths.

“That’s a really, really hard question to answer, to be honest with you,’’ Porcello said, “because I’ve had some games this year where I’ve had a really good sinker going and I got a lot of outs with it. With some other teams, it hasn’t worked as well. It’s always hard to identify, ‘Is my sinker doing what it’s supposed to be doing? Or are they just hitting it now?' It’s kind of an exact science from my side of it.

“But I still believe well-executed pitches down (in the zone) are effective.’’

Thanks to the adjustments many hitters have made to increase their power, Porcello carefully studies tendencies in advance scouting and video sessions and makes note of which hitters to be wary of when it comes to throwing his two-seamer.

But it’s impossible for someone for whom the sinker is his best pitch to abandon it completely.

“Whether I want to get a guy out with it or not,’’ he said, “it’s a pitch that sets up other pitches and creates different looks visually, so I have to throw it.’’

Porcello then cited the big blow against him Friday night. In the fourth inning, with two on and two out, Porcello showed Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas virtually everything in his arsenal while running the count full – several four-seamers up in the zone, a cut fastball, a changeup.

“I hadn’t shown him my front-door two-seamer,’’ said Porcello, “and I threw it and he hit it (out for a three-run homer). There are a lot of guys, I throw that pitch and they take it and it’s strike three.’’

Porcello has tried to change eye levels and featured a four-seamer up in the strike zone more.

“A lot of guys who are lowball hitters can’t cover the ball up,’’ he said, “so you try to pitch to that. It’s a fine line between balancing your strengths against your weaknesses. You never want to get too far away from what you do well. At the same time, there are some guys who can really hit the ball down, no matter how hard it’s sinking.’’

The challenge for Porcello is to identify the dangerous low-ball hitters and avoid pitching into their paths, while making sure that he executes the sinker effectively when he does choose to throw it.

For now, it’s a battle that Porcello can’t seem to win.

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