July 7th, 2014

Game 85: Porcello’s sinker takes flight

Rick Porcello compiled his 25-inning scoreless streak over the course of four different starts and three weeks. It took just five pitches and two batters for the Rays to end it. One batter later, Porcello had a three-run deficit before he had his first out. With David Price pitching on the other side, that was essentially the ballgame.

It took six batters for Porcello to get a ground-ball out, one of 10 he ended up earning on the night.

It took just five-plus innings for the Rays to get Porcello, owner of back-to-back shutouts, out of the game.

All in all, it was a rough night. And Final Vote or no, it was not a good spotlight for him on national television.

“I was falling behind guys,” he said. “I didn’t stay down in the zone well tonight at all.”

After three outings that made him look like he could pound hitters into the ground with his sharp-moving sinker, Sunday was a reminder that even sinkerballers like Porcello need secondary pitches to work.The numbers off the sinker were startling: He threw 27 out of 37 for strikes, the Rays swung at 22 of them, and missed on just two. They put 13 in play and got base hits on six.

“We’ve said all along that the key for him is being down with his sinker,” Ausmus said. “When it gets up, it gets flat. You see more fly balls. He made the adjustment. He actually started getting the ball down in the zone. He got some ground balls. A couple of them found holes. He was getting the ground balls he was trying to get. That’s going to happen sometimes with ground ball pitchers. Some will find holes.”

Porcello gave up three other hits off the four-seam fastball, two on the changeup, and one off the slider (which is really more of a cutter at this point). The one pitch that seemed to avoid heavy damage for him was the curveball, and even that drew eight swings out of 11 strikes.

To state the obvious, the Rays swung early and often, and they didn’t miss much.

“I think it’s important to get on him early like that,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said, “because if you don’t he settles in and it’s really difficult. We worked good at-bats, obviously, we have the last couple of nights.”

Tigers All-Stars in quotes

MIGUEL CABRERA (9th All-Star selection, 5th with Tigers)

“It’s very special. I appreciate the fans. We want to win, try to get home field advantage for the World Series.”

Best part of All-Star week: “We’re off. We see the best players in the National League, American League. We’re going to enjoy it.”

VICTOR MARTINEZ (4th All-Star selection, 1st with Tigers)

“Believe it or not, man, last year watching the Home Run Derby, [Victor Jose] told me these words: ‘Daddy, you better make it next year, because I don’t want to see my butt on the couch watching the Home Run Derby on TV again.’ I’m like, ‘Really? It’s that easy, kid?'”

MAX SCHERZER (2nd All-Star selection in a row)

“We both [Scherzer and Porcello] said we were kind of on the fringe if we were going to make it or not. We were crossing our fingers both.”

“It’s such an honor to represent the American League in the All-Star Game. I’m so excited to be able to go there next week.”

Cabrera will not take part in Home Run Derby

Miguel Cabrera will be an All-Star Game participant for the ninth time in his career. For the Home Run Derby, however, he will be an observer once again.

“I’m going to enjoy watching,” said Cabrera, who confirmed that he has declined an invite to the event.

Cabrera has taken his swings in the event twice in his career, but not since 2010, and not since his current run as the game’s most dangerous hitter. He did not take part in last year’s Derby because of a nagging back injury, a decision the Tigers welcomed.

Manager Brad Ausmus made it clear he’d have no problem if Cabrera or any other player wanted to take part. But while Ausmus doesn’t buy the idea that swinging for home runs in such an event can mess with a player’s swing, Cabrera does.

“I don’t feel like I can mess with my swing right now,” Cabrera said. “I’ve got enough [going on with it] right now.”

Cabrera definitely had a lot going on with his swing early in the year, when he batted .277 with just two months over the season’s opening month. He seemingly cleared that hurdle in May, when he hit .380 with eight home runs, 34 RBIs and a 1.126 OPS. However, he hit a relatively low .279 in June, though four home runs and 11 doubles tempered the average drop for an .845 OPS.

With Victor Martinez dealing with a sore back and uncertain for any of the All-Star festivities at this point, it appears unlikely the Tigers will have a competitor. Cabrera had been lobbying for Martinez to be invited, but that was before Martinez missed most of this week with the bad back.