The predicament with Porcello
Rick Porcello wasn’t exactly cruising through three innings Sunday, but he was showing signs of working past the mechanical problems that plagued him the past couple starts. His sinker, while not consistent, had some bite to it, and he had a feel of changing speeds and mixing in sliders.
Then came the long rest of a seven-run third inning for the Tigers. And out came a different looking pitcher.
“He just got away from what he was doing,” manager Jim Leyland said. “I’m not defending him, because he’s got to close that game down. I’m not making any excuses, but he did sit there for a seven-run inning. But he got away from what he was doing. He started getting hurt with his slider. He had sinkers on the ground for the most part of the day, and then he went away from that, left a couple sliders up and they got hit.”
Leyland has to have patience with Porcello, because for almost three seasons of experience, he’s still just 22. Still, a little bit of frustration was fair, because a seven-run lead is normally a situation to cruise. And Leyland could see the inning unraveling, which is why he made the move as quickly as he did to Duane Below.
“Let’s face it, if he’s throwing really good and it doesn’t look like he’s in trouble, you might say, ‘Ok, I’m going to let him go ahead.’ But I didn’t like the way things were going,” Leyland said. “I didn’t like it. I felt like we had a better chance to come out of the inning with nothing more with the left-hander facing Choo, Cabrera and Hafner, than we did the things were unraveling on Porcello. I didn’t think Rick Porcello had a chance of coming out of that inning without giving up more runs, and I still believe that. Doesn’t mean I don’t have confidence in Rick Porcello. It just means today, that’s what you go on.
“The starting pitcher didn’t get the job done. I can’t hide from that. I’m not mad. I’m not being critical. That’s the facts. He’s gotta shut that down for a couple more innings and give us a chance to add on runs. I mean, we were milking outs from the fourth inning on.”
Before the game, I had asked Leyland about all the side work Porcello had put in (3-4 sessions worth) before this start. The real test, he pointed out, would be the game. He didn’t mean that critically, but that side sessions aren’t always an accurate gauge.
Now, Porcello and pitching coach Jeff Jones have four days to get him ready for Friday night’s series opener at Minnesota, and somehow figure out how to make the mechanics stick.
It’s a situation watch for the Tigers, who benefitted greatly from his five wins last month. Flat out, they need him effective if they’re going to go anywhere in October. They’ve obviously seen his best very recently. Even if it might feel like he’s spinning his wheels in recent days, he pretty much has to work through it here.