May 3rd, 2014

Saturday’s lineups: Tigers at Royals

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With back-to-back left-handed starters going for the Royals this weekend, Brad Ausmus planned on resting Alex Avila for one game and playing him in the other. He chose to rest him Saturday and bring him back Sunday for Justin Verlander’s start. Thus, the Tigers will field an all-righty lineup against Royals lefty Danny Duffy, who has allowed a .272 average (126-for-464) and .825 OPS against right-handed hitters in his career, compared with .250 and .711 for lefties.

Royals manager Ned Yost told Dick Kaegel that Duffy should be good for 75-85 pitches tonight in his first start for Kansas City this season. He has been working out of the bullpen since his call-up April 12. Ausmus, meanwhile, said Drew Smyly could stretch out his pitch count a bit tonight if he’s going well.

The Royals lineup originally posted early this afternoon had Salvador Perez in it, but he’s now out, reportedly with a bruised left shin. Brett Hayes gets the start behind the plate.

A reminder: Tonight’s game is on Fox Sports 1, not Fox Sports Detroit. If you go to FSD, you’ll find something else. If you don’t get FS1, you have time to improvise.

Gameday | TV: FS1, MLB.TV | Radio: 97.1 FM, AM 1270, Gameday Audio

TIGERS (career numbers against Duffy)

  1. Rajai Davis, LF (1-for-3, double, walk)
  2. Ian Kinsler, 2B (1-for-4, HR, walk, K)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B (4-for-13, 2 doubles, 4 walks, 3 K’s)
  4. Victor Martinez, DH (2-for-11, walk, K)
  5. Torii Hunter, RF (0-for-4, walk, K)
  6. Austin Jackson, CF (2-for-13, double, HR, 3 walks, 4 K’s)
  7. Nick Castellanos, 3B (1-for-2)
  8. Bryan Holaday, C (0-for-2, K)
  9. Danny Worth, SS

P: Drew Smyly

ROYALS (career numbers off Smyly)

  1. Nori Aoki, RF
  2. Omar Infante, 2B
  3. Eric Hosmer, 1B (1-for-9, walk, 3 K’s)
  4. Billy Butler, DH (5-for-6, double, K)
  5. Alex Gordon, LF (1-for-12, walk, 7 K’s)
  6. Salvador Perez, C (1-for-1, HR)  Danny Valencia, 3B (0-for-2)
  7. Alcides Escobar, SS (3-for-9, double, 3 K’s)
  8. Justin Maxwell, CF
  9. Brett Hayes, C

P: Danny Duffy

Game 24: Time to pay up for Porcello?

Tigers fans went into the season wondering if this was the last ride for the Tigers’ vaunted starting rotation as they knew it, because of Max Scherzer’s contract year.

One month into the season, it might be time to think about Rick Porcello in his next-to-last season before free agency, and wonder if there’s still time to buy in.

Yes, it’s early. That’s the point.

Historically, May is the month when we start talking about Porcello’s potential, because he keeps flashing it. With seven innings of four-hit, two-run ball Friday at Kansas City, he’s now 14-6 with a 3.13 ERA in 26 career starts in May, averaging six-plus innings per start. He hasn’t lost in May since 2012. He was just 1-0 with a 3.13 ERA last May, but he had more strikeouts (32) than innings pitched (31 2/3).

Compare that to the months before and afterward. Porcello is 9-12 with a 6.12 ERA for his career in April. Even if you take out the nine-run first inning from last season against the Angels, he’s 9-11 with a 5.57 ERA. In June, he’s 9-12 with a 5.30 ERA.

“I have no idea [why],” Porcello shrugged. “I wish I could tell you. I don’t have an explanation for it.”

He’s now 4-1 with a 3.66 ERA, the first four-game winner on the Tigers staff, and he has just started into what is historically the best month of his career. His performance Friday night reflects why his season so far is not just a fluke.

He threw first-pitch strikes to his first nine batters and 20 out of 25 Royals batters. He rebounded from Billy Butler’s fourth-inning solo homer by retiring the last 12 Royals he faced after that. He left Royals hitters talking highly about what they saw from him.

“He had a good sinker tonight,” Butler said. “He was on, there’s no doubt about that. His ball was moving, diving on us and getting a lot of ground balls. A lot of first-pitch strikes and that’s going to bode well for a sinkerball guy. Give him a lead and he can go to work.”

He has allowed just four walks in 32 innings, producing a ratio of 1.13 walks per nine innings that ranks second-lowest among American League starters behind only David Price. He owns a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 5.50 that ranks fourth in the AL behind Price, Masahiro Tanaka and Felix Hernandez.

He’s throwing about two-thirds of his pitches for strikes, easily the best ratio of his career, and he’s getting the bump from swings and misses. His percentage of pitches swung at is up, and his contact rate is down.

When he gets ahead in counts, he’s becoming more than a sinkerball pitcher. He’s beginning to use his full repertoire — curveballs, sliders and all.

He’s doing this at the age of 25. He’s on track to hit the free-agent market before he turns 27, young enough to sign one major contract, then hit the market again for another one. A breakout season would put Porcello in a somewhat similar position Scherzer has now, only a year from free agency while delivering the best pitching of his career. Moreover, Porcello has no arm injury history to date.

To buy in on Porcello now would still require the Tigers to take a risk, one of the Tigers learned well with past contracts for Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson and Dontrelle Willis. Sometimes it’s not a breakout, simply a repetition of the pattern. The age and the learning curve already made suggests the breakout might well be coming.

The Tigers have rarely done in-season extensions over the past eight years, so all this talk might well be moot. Then again, Porcello has the potential to be a unique case. We’ll see.