Tuesday, July 1, 2014

What We've Been Waiting For

Rick Porcello is 25 years old.

Rick Porcello is 25 years old.

I'll give you some time to let that sink in.

This revelation shouldn't dawn on you because of his prowess over the past few games, amassing an 11-4 record before the All-Star break and an ERA below 3. No - this should dawn on you because it seems like he's been pitching for the Detroit Tigers forever! Right?!

His official debut came in April of 2009, but he's been on the Tigers' radar since the 2007 High School draft, where he was picked by the Tigers 27th overall. At a time when Justin Verlander was breaking out in a big way (17-9 in 2006, 18-6 in 2007) at such a young age, everyone just assumed that Porcello would be right behind him. Verlander and Porcello would become the mighty due of the roster, and lead the Tigers to many World Series victories.

Things didn't exactly end up that way. Verlander certainly dominated, but he did have his down seasons (11-17 in 2008). And Porcello, while he started strongly (14-9 in 2009), ended up becoming a very average pitcher. He was known back then for drawing groundouts, and if his pitching wasn't up to snuff, the opposition would pick him apart - not on home runs, but on the power of the small ball.

Eventually, as Doug Fister and Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez joined the roster and racked up the wins, Porcello was demoted to 4th- and even 5th-place on the 5-man roster, sometimes coming up short behind perennial 5th man Drew Smyly and others.

For three straight seasons, Porcello has been trade bait speculation for the thousands of Tigers fans who tune into Detroit sports radio and communicate via social media. Most of the fans had decided that Porcello just wasn't going to cut it as a Tigers' pitcher. I even heard it in my father's voice when we were going to Comerica Park. It wasn't excitement or disappointment in his voice when he said, "Porcello is starting." It was just a shrug of the shoulders and an "I wish we were seeing Verlander" regret in his voice.

But in 2012, 2013, and 2014, Porcello has avoided arbitration and signed a 1-year contract, ending that speculation of trade fodder...for a little while. It always seemed to come up again near the trade deadline (July 31) if he had been mediocre in the first 2/3 of the season. I'm sure if he'd done it this season, he would have been packaged in a trade for Rays pitcher David Price.

It didn't happen, though. Instead, Rick Porcello has finally become that pitcher we all expected him to become back in 2009. His sinker balls have sunk. The ground ball hits he draws so often go straight to a Tigers defenseman. (He had 17 tonight!) And while he might not get the strikeouts like his teammates do, he draws the out.

Suddenly it's Porcello that's receiving the consideration to start in the All-Star Game. It's Porcello who has over 10 wins before the break, allowing him to join great pitchers like Mark Buerhle, Clayton Kershaw, and Masahiro Tanaka. And Verlander is the one, sadly, that is struggling.

Porcello could have spent more time in the minors and still be at this position in his career. But I think, because he spent nearly all of his career in the majors, that this sudden upswing is all the more surprising and exciting for Tigers fans. We've watched his starts since 2009, and now that tricky arm is finally bringing powerful offenses to their knees.

And since Porcello is only 25, this could only be the beginning.

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2 comments:

  1. One key also is that he doesn't have to throw too many pitches to get outs (he had neither a walk nor a strikeout last night!) Thus his pitch count allows him to go the distance and avoid the Tiger bullpen.

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