Rick Porcello: Detroit Tigers' Starter Continues to Impress in 2012

Christopher Czar@@detsportsczarContributor IApril 11, 2012

DETROIT, MI - APRIL 10:  Rick Porcello #48 of the Detroit Tigers throws a fourth inning pitch while playing the Tampa Bay Rays at Comerica Park on April 10, 2012 in Detroit, Michigan.  Detroit won the game 5-2. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

If there is a Brandon Inge of the Detroit Tigers' starting pitching staff, it's 23-year-old Rick Porcello.

He's a player who has shined at moments, but his success has more often than not been outweighed by his failures.

He was at one time a highly thought-of prospect who was believed would be an ideal No. 2 to Justin Verlander

Well, Verlander has dazzled, and last year's trade pickup—Doug Fister—became a great story as an incredibly efficient second starter who keeps the Tigers in every game.

Meanwhile, Max Scherzer has failed to find any consistency despite the A+ stuff that we all know he has.  We're starting to see shades of Jeremy Bonderman in Scherzer—a young fireballer with all the talent in the world but no idea of how to approach a game.

Still, Scherzer is far too talented to give up on him yet.

Porcello obviously isn't Verlander, and he lacks the consistency of Fister and the stuff of Scherzer.  Of the four, if you were asked to pick a Tiger starter who would throw a shutout in any given start, you'd probably pick Porcello last.

Porcello was rushed to the majors and has a "meh" career statline to show it: 38 wins, 30 loses and a 4.51 ERA.  Not great, but not awful for a fourth starter.

Porcello regressed a bit the last two years after a fine rookie season, but he's starting to show some signs of rediscovering the success he had in that season.

He's best when his ground balls are up and his walks are down.  He induced 1.23 ground balls to one fly ball his rookie season—a number that dipped to 1.06 and 1.19 the next two seasons.  Porcello will allow batters to get hits—his career average against is .283—so he needs those ground balls to induce double plays and wipe out as many of those base runners as possible.

The other way to limit base runners is to limit walks.  Porcello has never been wild as a starter, but he's more like Fister than Verlander or Scherzer, in that he relies on pinpoint control to be successful.  

While Fister is a master at hitting his spots, often times Porcello's walks come on pitches just a bit out of the strike zone.

He also needs to learn to shake things off when he doesn't get things to go his way—rather than imploding and allowing a one-run inning to turn into a blow out.  This is very similar to what Verlander went through earlier in his career.

In his start Tuesday, Porcello showed excellent poise in a situation he might have allowed to get out of hand in years past.  After getting the first two outs of the third inning against the Tampa Bay Rays, Porcello allowed back-to-back singles.  He then hit Carlos Pena on a curveball—that didn't curve—to load the bases.

With one of the game's best hitters at the plate—Evan Longoria—Porcello refused to give him a hittable pitch.  He painted the corners of the strike zone but finally walked Longoria on a full count.

It might have been a smart move since Matt Joyce weakly grounded the next pitch to Jhonny Peralta, and the Tigers found themselves down only one run.  They eventually rallied to win the game 5-2, but a bases-clearing hit by Longoria in that situation might have ended the game with the dynamic Matt Moore on the mound for the Rays.

You might say it's just one start, but technically—real or not—it's a string of five good starts in a row this year for Porcello, who posted a 1.59 ERA over four spring starts.

While the Tigers were waiting for Scherzer to step up and claim the No. 3 spot in the rotation, he might be getting passed over by a familiar face who's finally learning to pitch.

 

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