Porcello, Perry learn ropes together

Porcello, Perry learn ropes together

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Rick Porcello has more going in his favor than most 21-year-olds could dream of having. He has a 14-win rookie season, a breakout game under the national spotlight in the most pressure-filled of starts, contract security and a frontline rotation spot.

And when he can get a few more golf shots on his roommate, Ryan Perry, that's a really good day.

"Don't ask about golf," Porcello sighs with a smile. "My game is terrible. His game is really good."

Good to know success hasn't gone to their heads. In fact, it hasn't even gone to their apartment.

A year ago, they were the two rookie hurlers going through unexpected success in the big leagues together, from winning roster spots out of Spring Training to playing important roles down the stretch of a playoff race. Now, they're showing every sign of stepping into bigger roles in 2010 -- Porcello starting the Tigers' home opener, Perry potentially setting up for closer Jose Valverde.

Every sign, though, also shows they're the same people. They're sharing a place again this spring, and they're sharing their experiences.

"It's a little different, just because we have a better idea what to expect," Porcello said. "Last year, there were so many unknowns for both of us, as far as whether or not we could compete at the big league level on a day-in, day-out basis and contribute to the team.

"It's easier to go through a new experience with someone else there going through the same thing than it is to go through it by yourself. When either one of us was struggling, you have a friend there, somebody to talk to."

It's not just that their age and playing levels make them a match. Their personalities complement each other almost perfectly.

"We definitely get along very well," Perry said. "He's definitely more low-key. I'm kind of more out-there."

Porcello was the consummate hard-to-flap starter last year, despite his youth. His personality is as even-keeled as his mound demeanor. He now sits in the wing of the Tigers' Spring Training clubhouse that houses the established starters, next to ace Justin Verlander, but he generally has the same quiet presence that he did when he was among the Spring Training hopefuls on the other side of the room.

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That personality, moreso the consistency of it, sometimes makes him seem older than he actually is. As he caught a second wind to his rookie season just in time to help the Tigers in their playoff push, it was difficult to tell most days that he still wasn't old enough to take full part in a champagne celebration if they actually won the division.

Perry, by contrast, goes about his work with the same energy he brings to the mound in late-game situations. He had to learn how to control it in pressure scenarios and let it work for him rather than against him.

"Maybe that's why we get along so well," Porcello said. "I don't want to say we're exact opposites."

Said Perry: "We definitely complement each other well. We've never had an issue with each other, and we've lived with each other for the last year or so."

But when they're away from the ballpark, they don't talk much about baseball. They might have a good word or two from each other to lift their spirits, but they're more likely to play a video game or hit the links to get away.

"Usually we talk about other stuff," Porcello said.

On the golf course, ironically, their games are the complete opposite of their personalities. One could easily envision Perry ripping long drives with reckless abandon and struggling to maneuver the short game. Not so. Think: Porcello.

"I really just started playing once I got into pro ball," Porcello said. "A couple years ago, I kind of picked it up. I'm kind of a self-taught golfer, too, so I do some stuff unorthodox. I just enjoy going out there and playing."

Perry, by contrast, lettered twice in golf at Marana High School in Arizona. He plays his courses tactically, and he plays well enough to rank among the better players on the team. Still, the competitiveness in Perry comes out when Porcello suggests he can outdrive his roommate.

"The one thing I do have on him," Porcello said, "is that I do drive the ball farther -- if I can hit it straight. He might not want to admit it."

Not really, no.

"He can sometimes," Perry corrects, "if he hits it straight one out of every 10 shots. But on consistency, I've got him by that much."

Nevertheless, at no point does Porcello suggest he can outplay Perry for a round. They'll usually go with match play, hole by hole, to make it interesting and provide Porcello a fairer chance. They've had plenty of chances to take their shots, one of the upshots of getting to the big leagues.

"It's fun to go play courses you've never played before and never really thought about playing," Perry said. "When we go to places where they have nice courses like that, we get the chance to go. It's definitely fun. It's definitely relaxing and it takes your mind off things."

Porcello says he hasn't had many chances to play this spring. That might not help him against Perry, but Porcello takes competitive aim at other teammates, namely catcher Gerald Laird.

"He definitely beat me," Laird said, "but I've made some storming comebacks. He forgets to tell you that. He definitely beat me twice, but the season's still young. He's my pitcher. I have to make him feel good."

Make no mistake -- both Perry and Porcello are as competitive off the field as on. They just show it in different ways, which helps make them such an interesting pair.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.