September 27th, 2013

Porcello scratched, Alvarez to start tonight

With a division title wrapped up and a Division Series looming, the Tigers shifted their rotation for the opener to their season-ending series against the Marlins. Lefty Jose Alvarez will make a spot start in place of Rick Porcello.

No official reason was given, but the move is not believed to be an injury situation. More likely, it sets up a Porcello move to the bullpen for the postseason, when the Tigers need just four starters.

The Tigers rotation for the rest of the series remains the same. Anibal Sanchez will start Saturday before Justin Verlander starts Sunday’s regular season finale.

For Alvarez, it’ll be brief return to his old role, but a departure from his potential playoff role. The 24-year-old made five starts from early June to July 1 while Anibal Sanchez was injured. More recently, Alvarez has been a valuable lefty out of the bullpen, making himself an option for manager Jim Leyland’s playoff roster if Phil Coke can’t come back from his flexor tendinitis.

Don’t expect Alvarez to deliver an abundance of innings. Friday is being classified as a bullpen start, which will allow them to line up relievers and get them work.

Porcello’s scratch likely will cost him a chance at a third 14-win season. It also halts the momentum of what has been a stellar stretch for him over his last three starts: 21 2/3 innings, 18 hits, four earned runs, three walks, 24 strikeouts. He pitched a complete-game seven-hitter in Chicago on Sept. 10, struck out 10 Mariners over six innings of one-run ball Sept. 16, then took a no-decision against the White Sox last Saturday for 6 2/3 innings of two-run ball with nine strikeouts.

On many pitching staffs, it’s the kind of run that would send a starter into a postseason rotation with momentum. The Tigers, however, have a talented enough rotation that somebody is going to have to be the odd man out. Porcello has always been the expectation in that regard.