Buoyed by bats, Porcello sinks Rangers

Buoyed by bats, Porcello sinks Rangers

Buoyed by bats, Porcello sinks Rangers
ARLINGTON -- Argue all you want about whether there's such a thing as a big pitch with an eight-run lead. When it involves Rick Porcello, the Texas Rangers and triple-digit temperatures in the cozy confines of The Ballpark in Arlington, there is such a thing.

If Porcello believes in it, it is a huge pitch, even though the Rangers eventually broke up his scoreless outing in an 8-2 Tigers win Monday night.

"I know for myself, I needed to get out of one of those jams and just come out of this outing feeling pretty good," Porcello said. "I think it was a big pitch in more than one way."

The Tigers certainly hope so.

It was a bases-loaded jam in the sixth inning, and it was a full-count pitch to Mike Napoli. It was also the same maddening pattern that had flustered the Tigers more than once this year with Porcello, who followed a strikeout of Nelson Cruz for the second out with a four-pitch walk to David Murphy.

Even a grand slam would merely cut Detroit's lead in half, but it wasn't the point. Porcello had Napoli in an 0-2 hole before missing on three consecutive pitches to run the count full.

Porcello had missed with a fastball inside for Ball 2, then high with a fastball for Ball 3. Napoli was going to make him throw a strike. Porcello and catcher Gerald Laird went back to the fastball, this time over the plate. If he was going down in this outing, he was at least going to challenge the likely All-Star catcher.

When Napoli swung and missed at the 92-mph fastball, Laird had a bigger fist pump than did Porcello.

"I was pumped up, too," Porcello said. "It was a big pitch in more than one way, not only as far as the game goes. If they get a big hit there, if he hits a home run or something like that, then the game's changed and they're back in it. It was a big pitch in that regard, and I think for myself, to get out of that jam."

His manager's was a more muted reaction, but it wasn't for failure to grasp the importance.

"He threw him a good one, boy," Jim Leyland said. "That was a big situation. Things happen fast, particularly in this ballpark. I mean, look how fast we got five."

If not for Porcello's performance, that outburst would have been the story of the game. The Tigers hadn't scored more than three runs in a game since last Tuesday, totaling eight runs over their past five contests. They had scored more than five runs in a game once since June 13.

The Tigers had a favorable matchup Monday with Justin Grimm, making his second Major League start, filling in on the injury-depleted Rangers rotation, but Detroit had struggled to hit similar pitchers before. Brad Lincoln's six innings of one-run ball against the Tigers on Saturday seemed to fit the profile.

Detroit never allowed Grimm to fall into the rhythm that Lincoln found. Austin Jackson's double leading off the game was the first of seven Tigers hits in a 20-minute top half of the first that took 40 pitches out of Grimm. None of them went for more than a double -- Miguel Cabrera hit a two-run two bagger in the inning and finished 3-for-4 with three RBIs in the game -- but the cumulative effect put Detroit in command from the outset.

Just as important, they put Porcello -- who lost a 3-1 decision to the Cardinals his last time out despite throwing seven innings of two-run ball -- in a position of leverage.

"We came out swinging early, put some runs on the board and let Ricky relax," Leyland said.

Yet that relaxation has a limit. Forget the Tigers' last visit here during the ALCS, when the Rangers showed how easily they could manufacture runs late. This is the same team that put up an eight-run first inning against Porcello two months ago on a chilly afternoon at Comerica Park.

Porcello had given up three runs over 14 2/3 innings in his previous two starts before that disaster. Opponents had been batting .337 off him since.

"I was trying to keep the mindset that it was a 0-0 game," Porcello said. "For me, if I start thinking otherwise, start thinking that I have a cushion to work with, you tend to get complacent, maybe not be as aggressive in the strike zone, execute the pitches that I need to execute. I've fallen into that trap before."

Between six hits and three walks, he had that opportunity again. Porcello pitched with runners on in all but one of his first six innings. However, he avoided the big hit that has plagued him on other nights, continuing a trend he established in his previous start. His two extra-base hits allowed were doubles down the left-field line, and they both came with nobody on base.

With his name being mentioned in rumors as a possible trading piece for other clubs at the July 31 Trade Deadline, Porcello (5-5) held the Rangers to 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position, including three of his seven strikeouts. The last of them was to Napoli.

"They had that big first inning, and at that point he was commanding his sinker," Rangers first baseman Michael Young said. "He worked ahead, threw strikes and forced us to make contact. He did a good job."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.