After a year of defying expectations and standards for his age, Porcello takes the mound in what might be the biggest game of the Tigers' season -- at least, until the next night. With a four-game series against the Twins, the Tigers control their own destiny in the American League Central, and Porcello can control the opener.
He lost a pitchers' duel against the Twins a week and a half ago despite a quality start. In this case, winning would be the best revenge, but he isn't thinking of it as a revenge game.
"It's a big game," Porcello admitted, "but it's just another game. I'm trying to take that approach and stay even-keeled throughout the entire time."
That hasn't been a problem for him for much of the season. His teammates aren't expecting it to be an issue now, not after all the other key games in which he has pitched this year in his first experience above Class A ball.
"We've put him in every situation," Curtis Granderson said. "He started against the Yankees. He started against the Red Sox. He's thrown against Chicago here. He's thrown in big division matchups. Mentally, he's just been ready to go. I think that's the big thing, the fact that you've given him all the opportunities to do it from day one. There's no second-guessing him. There's no judgment side from the players' standpoint."
When manager Jim Leyland and team officials agreed to put him in the Tigers' rotation out of Spring Training, they did it with the belief that he had the maturity already to pitch in big situations and learn from them. His success, and the way he has succeeded lately, has seemingly proven them right. When hitters started sitting on his sinker and passing on his curveball, he dusted off his slider as a breaking pitch and became more of a power pitcher with four-seam fastballs to challenge hitters and set up the sinker.
Now it's his turn to adjust from his last meeting with the Twins. He induced two dozen balls put in play over his six innings of three-run ball, scattering eight hits, but he also had nine swings and misses from them. The Twins were aggressive on him, and they had a Michael Cuddyer two-run homer and a Delmon Young RBI double to show for it.
"You look at some of the mistakes I made then and try to correct it," Porcello said. "That's the biggest thing. We're going to go in there with a game plan and see what happens. Obviously things could change throughout the course of a game, adjustments and whatnot. We know what we want to do, and we're going to go out there and try to do it. It's going to be a fun series."
DET: RHP Rick Porcello (14-9, 4.14 ERA)
Armed with a four-run lead before taking the mound, Porcello overcame early command issues to cruise to victory with five innings of one-run ball in his last start Wednesday at Cleveland. He improved to 5-2 with a 3.23 ERA over 11 starts since the beginning of August, scattering 56 hits over 61 1/3 innings. Rather than running out of gas in his first Major League season, he almost had too much energy in his last start, working at too quick of a pace for Leyland's liking. Now, he gets a rematch with the Twins, who beat him despite a quality start Sept. 18 at the Metrodome.
MIN: RHP Nick Blackburn (11-11, 4.18 ERA)
Blackburn looked much more like the first half version of himself in his last outing. While the second half of the season has been rough for Blackburn, hes started to turn things around of late and his best outing came in his last start in Chicago. The right-hander pitched seven scoreless innings, scattering eight hits and striking out six in the victory. Blackburn mixed in all of his pitches and the Twins were pleased by the number of off-speed pitches he used in the outing. The club hopes to see more of the same from Blackburn when he faces the Tigers in the series opener. Blackburn is 1-1 with a 5.11 ERA in two starts vs. Detroit this season.
Granderson is 6-for-10 over his past two games, including a leadoff homer Sunday, and he said he has hope that a recent adjustment with help from hitting coach Lloyd McClendon has put him on track for a final-week hitting performance. ... The Tigers will hold a photo opportunity and a question and answer session with greats from the 1984 team soon after the gates to the park open at 5 p.m. ET Monday. Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson, World Series MVP Alan Trammell, American League MVP and Cy Young award-winner Guillermo Hernandez, Kirk Gibson, Lance Parrish and Jack Morris will join Dan Petry, Milt Wilcox, Dave Rozema, Juan Berenguer, Rod Allen, Tom Brookens, Darrell Evans, Johnny Grubb, Larry Herndon, Rupert Jones, Barbaro Garbey and coaches Roger Craig, Dick Tracewski and Gates Brown to remember the champions.
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Tuesday: Tigers (Justin Verlander, 17-9, 3.41) vs. Twins (Brian Duensing, 5-1, 3.33), 7:05 p.m. ET
Wednesday: Tigers (Eddie Bonine, 0-1, 4.60) vs. Twins (Carl Pavano, 13-11, 4.86), 7:05 p.m. ET
Thursday: Tigers (Nate Robertson, 2-2, 5.56) vs. Twins (Scott Baker, 14-9, 4.48), 1:05 p.m. ET