Monday’s message: Porcello pitches to protect lead
Monday’s Tigers win was basically the convergence of two different stories. The first, and the bigger one in the short term, was the outburst of a Tigers offense that scored just five runs over three games in Pittsburgh. Chalk part of that up to a rough night for Justin Grimm, but it’s the same lineup that Brad Lincoln tamed over the weekend.
On the other hand, this is largely the same Rangers lineup that has pounded many pitchers this season, and roughed up Rick Porcello for an eight-run first inning back in April at Comerica Park. Porcello was one big hit away a few times from watching a 5-0 first-inning lead — or an 8-0 lead sixth-inning lead — turn into the kind of long night and high-scoring slugfest this ballpark is known for, and the kind of rough outing that encapsulates the ups and downs for Porcello the past few years. Those ups and downs are the same reason that could be cited if the Tigers are enticed into dealing Porcello this summer for short-term help. One source said the Tigers have not shopped Porcello, but scouts are anticipating the possibility.
In the end, Monday could end up being an example why teams would covet the 23-year-old sinkerballer, especially on a team with a better infield defense for ground balls in a smaller ballpark. Or it could be a big reason why the Tigers ultimately keep him. He didn’t really need a great defensive play behind him to hold down the Rangers. With seven strikeouts over six-plus innings and few well-struck ground balls, three of those strikeouts in key situations with runners in scoring position, Porcello showed he can support himself when he has a good sinker working.
He got away with some mistakes, no doubt. His sixth-inning strikeout of Nelson Cruz with two runners on came on a backup slider that went high on him and still induced a swing and miss. But he also had a really good sinker, something he credited to the hot, humid conditions.
“Honestly, I think the hot weather really helped it out,” Porcello said. “With the humidity, I had a pretty good grip on the ball the entire time, which sounds kind of weird. But I felt really good. I felt like I could throw it on both sides of the plate.”
Porcello threw 45 two-seam fastballs, or sinkers, out of 96 total pitches, according to data from MLB.com’s Gameday application collected by brooksbaseball.net. He threw sinkers a lot, and he threw them hard, averaging just under 92 mph while topping out just shy of 94. Nearly three-quarters of his sinkers went for strikes. By contrast, barely half of his 22 sliders went for strikes, but he got four swings and misses out of them.
He won’t have conditions like this all the time. He certainly won’t have them in his next start when he pitches indoors at Tropicana Field on Saturday. But he’ll have the confidence in his pitches. The fact that even he acknowledged his sixth-inning strikeout of Mike Napoli was big beyond that particular game spoke volumes.
“I know for myself, I needed to get out of one of those jams and just come out of this outing feeling pretty good,” Porcello said. “I think it was a big pitch in more than one way.”