Porcello's sinker works up three-hit shutout
Right-hander reaches 10 wins before Verlander, Scherzer
ARLINGTON -- This is how a sinkerballer's start is supposed to work. Team gets early lead. Pitcher gets a lineup of hitters who have been standing out in the field for a long stretch. Pitcher pounds the bottom of the strike zone with sinkers, gets quick outs, gives bullpen a day off.
It hasn't always worked this way for Rick Porcello. It's working this season. It worked for nine innings of three-hit ball Thursday night in Texas, earning him his first career shutout and his second complete game.
"He was under control against a Rangers team that a couple weeks ago put it on us," Torii Hunter said.
And as the 25-year-old Porcello sits at 10 wins in the closing days of June, the first double-digit winner on a staff that includes two of the last three Cy Young winners, and 16 consecutive shutout innings over his last three starts, the formula might just work for the breakout season many had anticipated at some point.
"He had spells when he was up, but for the most part he was down," manager Brad Ausmus said. "And when he's down, he's very tough, especially on right-handed hitters. He's done that quite a bit this year."
Whether it works him into the All-Star pitching staff discussion, it should at least work into the discussion among Tigers starters that opponents would rather not face.
"It would be a huge honor if I were to make [the All-Star] team," Porcello said, "but I don't think that's anything that I think about."
He's one of five AL pitchers at double-digit wins now, but he's the only one with an ERA over 3.00. A large part of that 3.41 ERA came from these same Rangers, who blistered balls for eight runs on 12 hits over 5 1/3 innings May 24 at Comerica Park.
"I really didn't even try to think about that game at all," Porcello said. "That was a wash to me, and I tried to have a fresh start against them tonight. The sinker was a lot better, got a lot of ground balls and some timely double plays."
He had the makings of an All-Star season before that, and the loss started him on a four-game skid with one quality start. He has found his form again, just in time for the Tigers to find theirs.
"He looks extremely confident," catcher Alex Avila said. "The thing is now, he's got four pitches that he can rely on for outs, and I think he's very confident that if one or two is not working or not feeling as good, that his other stuff is good enough to get guys out as well."
He didn't need much of his other pitches Thursday. With a comfortable lead early and a Rangers lineup reeling, he used his sinker to pound outs into the ground.
In those stretches, Avila would line up his glove over the plate and let the sinker move where it wanted. Most times, he knew where it was going. Even if hitters did, too, it didn't help much.
Thirteen of Porcello's 27 outs came on ground balls, including three double plays that erased half of his six baserunners. All three hits he allowed were singles, none of them particularly scorched.
Two of his double plays came from Elvis Andrus, just 3-for-20 against him going into the night. One quickly finished off the third inning after the Tigers had put up three runs in the top half. Another followed back-to-back singles leading off the sixth, ending the final threat the Rangers mounted and helping Porcello regroup.
"I was a little out of whack, honestly, in the middle innings," Porcello said. "I had walked a couple guys and fell behind some batters and they really kept me on track."
Said Avila: "We were just trying to get him not so much to overthrow or make a perfect pitch in situations like that, especially the way his sinker was moving today, because he didn't have to. He made some big pitches early on for them not to be able to get back in the game, and got on a roll there towards the end."
Porcello (10-4) retired the final 11 batters he faced, starting with Andrus' sixth-inning double play. In the process, Ausmus went from having Blaine Hardy warming up in the sixth inning to letting Porcello go out for the ninth at 105 pitches.
"To be honest with you, I didn't think he'd have a shot at the complete-game shutout," Ausmus said. "He came in after the eighth and had 105 [pitches]. I really didn't want him going 115. I might let him go 120. That's only 15 pitches to play with, with the top of their lineup. I didn't think it could happen."
It happened in 10 pitches.
"I wasn't quite sure if he was going to let me go back out," he said, "but I'm glad that he did."