What is going on with Rick Porcello?

Rick Porcello doesn’t have that look at last year when he talks about his struggles. A year ago, he looked exasperated, like his mind was spinning into overdrive trying to figure out why he wasn’t able to get the ground-ball outs that were so plentiful in 2009. Porcello believes he’s on the right track now, and he sounds mature about it.

That’s his look off the field. On the field, he’s taking a beating these last three starts.

To be fair, one of those three games was a debacle of singles at Dodger Stadium last Wednesday, when he looked like a hard-luck pitcher. Another was a Coors Field game for a sinkerball pitcher, and as Mike Hampton might attest, those don’t go well sometimes.

Tuesday was a different feel. If Willie Harris had gotten to second base on his fourth-inning shot off the right field fence, then Porcello would’ve given up the cycle in four batters and just five pitches. Their singles were not cheapies.

It was the kind of outing that, when coupled with the other two, creates concern on a ballclub and a task for a pitching coach.

“Obviously tonight, it was just one of those things,” Rick Knapp said after the game. “He felt like they were on him, and he tried. He used his other pitches. He used his slider. He used his curveball. I thought he threw a couple good curveballs tonight. But at the same time, if he doesn’t execute his best pitch consistently, that’s when he’s going to get hurt.”

The mix of pitches was there for Porcello on Tuesday. The finishing pitch with two strikes was not. Divide Porcello’s 47 strikes thrown by the 11 hits he allowed, and he had just over 4.25 strikes per hit. He also had just two swings and misses from Mets hitters. His 2-to-1 ratio of groundouts to flyouts was good, but that’s because the vast majority of the balls they hit in the air against him went for hits.

“Tonight he threw some bad pitches that they hit, and he threw some decent pitches that they hit,” Jim Leyland said. “It just wasn’t his night.”

When you hear about hitters doing damage on good pitches, and hitters barely missing any pitches, one of the first things to come to mind is whether a pitcher is tipping his pitches. It’s something pitchers and coaches don’t like to talk about much, and they weren’t saying a whole lot after the game Tuesday. But it’s safe to say they’re looking at it, looking for anything that might even give a hint.

When those numbers are coming against a pitcher like Porcello, who focuses on one very good pitch that can get outs even when hitters know it’s coming, then it can be a different question. Is he throwing his secondary pitches well enough to keep hitters honest? Is he executing the bread-and-butter pitch?

Statistically, Porcello had one of his better mixes going, with double-digit pitch totals in four different pitches. But his slider, which often complements his sinker, just wasn’t working, getting just seven strikes out of 15 pitches, and his changeup was marginally better.

Look at his strike zone plot on brooksbaseball.net, too, and though he had some pitches low, almost all of them were first-pitch balls, which led to second-pitch strikes higher up in the zone. The two swing-and-miss strikes he got were both on high pitches.

“I think it’s just a matter of pitch making,” Porcello said. “I think early on [this season, when he was on], I was down in the zone very consistently and lately, balls have been coming up. I’ve been paying the price for it. It just can’t go any further. I’ve got to squash it and make sure that everything I’m throwing is down in the zone and keeping guys off-balance with a good mix of pitches.

“I definitely felt like today and in previous bad outings, I think guys have been all over my fastball, especially left-handed hitters. That’s been kind of na ongoing thing for me that I’ve got to make sure I shut down lefties in the lineup. Almost all the lineups I’m going to face are stacked with left-handed hitters. That’s just an ongoing challenge.”

I asked Porcello what he saw as the difference, pitch-wise, between what he threw in Pittsburgh in May over eight scoreless innings and what he threw Tuesday night.

“I think there’s not a big difference between my stuff in Pittsburgh and now,” he said. “In fact, I think velocity-wise, it was the best my fastball has been all year. I felt like I had a pretty sharp slider again. It’s just a matter of throwing strikes and putting the pressure on them to (with) pitches.”

It might well have been that the Pirates simply didn’t hit him well, or that the Mets hit him particularly well. But unlike last year, he calls this a bump in the road.

I know the question will come up among fans whether Porcello needs to go to Toledo to work things out. At this point, I would say no. It wasn’t that long ago that he was pitching effectively, and it’s abundantly clear that the Tigers need to get him going here to have any shot at doing things in October. I don’t see any other clear candidate as a third starter right now. I don’t think Jacob Turner is ready for that yet, and I think Andy Oliver has his own set of circumstances. You have to be able to throw someone other than Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer at a team, and when Porcello is right, he’s by far the best of the rest.

21 Comments

Good kid with good stuff. Opponents BA with RISP has been great this year – as well. Hope his locating of the pitches comes back soon. And while you’re at it, how about practicing the throw to 1st base.

Agree that sending down Porcello is too drastic. Need to watch the tape and see if he is tipping the pitches. Also agree with Jason on Turner and Oliver, they are not ready yet. If we need another starter I would look at Furbush before Oliver at this point.

What would it hurt to give Furbush a start? I think Rick should have a talk with Jack Morris. I think GK had mentioned he was not getting the call on the low strike and then he gets it up in the strike zone. And Schelerth? Why the SOC keep putting him out there? Let’s score some runs tonight!

I have alwasys been worried about Rick’s “hitability”. Groundballs are great but to be a good pitcher you need to get outs. He has not been able to develop an out pitch with 2 strikes, one that can as easily end up in a K as a ground ball. Until he get that we will just have to get accustomed to these shellackings.
I was unable to watch the game so I’ll have to digest the post mortem via the box score—I presume Inge didn’t look good and can only surmise that Raburn wasn’t much better. It’s suicide batting them 8 & 9

The plethora of LH relief pitchers is a curse not a blessing. The problem is that none of them (other than Furbush, who is not really a reliever) haven’t been dependable.
Schlereth is pretty much a one-trick pony. When he gets his curve over he’s not bad but a couple of things about that curve: it’s not that effective against RHB, it’s hard to throw for strikes and it is so loopy that the LHB will learn how to stand in against it and crush it eventually. Schlereth would be better off traded. Thomas is a sub mediocre pitcher. Why would you want to clutter up your pen with guys like him or Gonzalez? Purcey is ordinary, is not a strike thrower and gets hit by LHB. Worth keeping? Marginal, but probably.
They need Coke badly, because they do NOT have a good lefty in the pen.
Actually the other best LHP option is probably Fu-Te Ni–not Thomas.
Hoping for a better day today and for Coke to prove me (and many others) wrong about being a capable starter.

Very good analysis, Jason. Last night, it appeared that Rapuano was going to give Rick the low strike call, but Rick was up in the zone. I’m also wondering where his fastball has gone. He threw one last night at 88 mph? When he’s hitting 93, he’s got that out pitch. Has he ever tried a cutter? That’s a pitch that can be learned quickly by some. I still think it’s just developmental issues for a 22-year old, and that he’ll come along at some point. Verlander had his issues too.

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I would really like to hear a scout’s honest opinion on the guy right now. I have a feeling it would really disappoint many Tigers fans. This guy looks very, very ordinary right now, if not below ordinary. And it’s not like it’s 2009 where he shows flashes of future stardom every once in a while. He has shown nothing above ordinary since the end of the 2009 season (game 163). Nothing at all. His velocity is way down, he no longer has a four-seamer he can use effectively, and overall, he is no where near that “top prospect” that Detroit thought it was drafting in 2007. He looks like a career #5 starter right now, with little potential to move out of that.

Referring to last night, he said: “In fact, I think velocity-wise, it was the best my fastball has been all year.”

He was barely hitting 93 last night, averaging around 92 or so. When a righty in the major leagues can’t get above 93 MPH (with any pitch), you know there’s a problem. What happened to the Porcello of Game 163 who was pumping in upper-90s four-seamers at the letters?

What happened to him is Rick Knapp. Our pitchers would be much better with a different pitching coach.

yea right Knapp was doin wonders wit the Twinks!

Knapp wasn’t the pitching coach for the Twins. He was their minor league pitching coordinator.

Living in Erie I have seen Turner pitch several times. I think he is ready to go to the show. He gives up a few HR’s but he pitches in a band box. Several times Erie has been players out of position due to the rosters. Stats can be misleading sometimes on a game. Put him in the monster field of Comerica with an MLB defense behind him then lets see what happens.

Let’s bear in mind that the radar gun readings are not always accurate, especially from one gun to the next. Also, a pitcher can get away with less than mid-90s if he has good location, late movement, or both. I see Rick’s situation as basically getting the sinker down. When it’s up, it’s right in a hitter’s wheelhouse, expecially a lefthand hitter. When that sinker is up, he needs a big fastball and doesn’t have one. That’s when he needs good old fashioned high heat. It’s command issues. He’ll get there. He’s 22. Most big league pitchers aren’t even up here yet at that age.

you have no idea if he will get there or not. He is young but it is his 3rd year. I think I heard the same thing about Bonderman, I heard that he was young for his whole career.

Rick needs to be a trade deadline deal. We need a starter badly.

It’s called showing confidence in him, Reid. I can’t predict the future. There’s no comparison between Bonderman and Porcello. None.

In 2003 Bondo had 19 L. He was shutdown to avoid having him with 20 lost games. That was a mistake. In 2006, he was pitching a no hit untilthe seven. After the first hit , he walked a batter. Jl Or Pudge? None went to talk to him. Then Inge and Guillen had errors with the plays that were supposed to end the inning.He lost to Santana a game taht was 4-0 until Inge and guillen errors.Then he went against Y´s and so Damon but the ump called the pitch ball. The next pitch HR. Tigers tied the game . He so A.Rod but the ump caled it ball, HR the next picth and JL was expelled. After that 25 games in line without losing, including 5 2-3 of perfect game against Ys in the playoff. How they got the first hit, Cano left home late and the ump gave him the time off, next pitch hit. A- Rod tried the same and fly out to shallow center.Next year he gegan 8-0. After two Ls , Pudge said he is injured , the medical team found nothing.After the 5 lost in line he said that he was injured.And his carrer ended.He wanted to prove something to the team. Allowing him to lost in 2003 perhaps was the right call.Going to the mound to calm him after one bad call perhaps was enough.
He beaned the Ys player that injured Guillen and beaned the Twins player after Everett was badly beaned by Mijares. He was a team player,too loyal to the team. He even retired when Tigers said no more

Good article by Tom Gage over there on the News about what it’s like to be Jim Leyland amid the complaints regarding his managing. I did a lot of managing on different levels but the only example I need is the year I spent coaching a 9-12 year old team. The bleachers were right behind the bench, and every single one of those parents were better managers than I was! :-)

A little different than “Huge’s” article huh Rich. I think most of have said if you play at Comerica you need speed and defense and not rely on the 3 rum homer. Jim seems to manage in the olden days. We will see what the 2nd half brings and if we win it I will start smoking thru all the play off games,

The olden days are when guys were all roided up. No longer.

Porcello main pitch is sinker. Wiillie hernandez, the last and well deserved MVP, said tha he neeed to work many inning to be effective, 140 in aseason in relief. A tired arm is supposed to boost his performance.
Porcello gaveTigers one qs after another for nothin and now has three bad outing in line.Less bad outings than Scherzer.
The Tigers do have a starter , Furbush has showed he can pitch. He is better and older than Oliver.He deserved a chance and was denied of it.
The game last night was in reach until Schlereth was called instead of Furbush.
Their best inning was killed when the automatic out so called hitter leaded off the inning before loading bases with two outs.
Magglio is 7 for 17 , he deserves to bat third. Did he buy new glasess ? he is raking walks. When he can use again the full outfield , there will be a line of 300 from second spot to 7th

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