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MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

Porcello's emergence coming at right time for Tigers

Detroit righty, already with 15 wins, will be key in Sanchez's absence

Porcello's emergence coming at right time for Tigers play video for Porcello's emergence coming at right time for Tigers

DETROIT -- The uncertainty of Anibal Sanchez's return to the Tigers' rotation is going to place a premium on the work of Detroit's other established starters.

Fortunately for the Tigers, Rick Porcello is now solidly in that category.

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With the news that Sanchez had felt pain in the area of his strained right pectoral muscle during a throwing session on Monday, Tuesday could have been a day for doubts around Comerica Park. But Porcello led his club in a much more positive direction.

Porcello and the Tigers beat the Yankees, 5-2, on Tuesday night. Everybody involved was reminded that the Detroit club still has four outstanding starting pitchers. The "dream rotation" may remain a dream as long as Sanchez is still unable to pitch. But his absence does not have to completely derail the Tigers' postseason aspirations.

Porcello, as usual, had his sinker generating plenty of ground balls -- 14 over eight innings. And he had to be good, because the Yanks had won five straight and had scored 27 runs during that stretch.

Porcello worked eight innings, giving up two runs on nine hits, walking none, striking out two. Only one Yankees hitter gave him serious trouble; Jacoby Ellsbury, who hit two solo homers, both on offspeed pitches.

Porcello is now 15-8 with a 3.06 ERA. This is his breakthrough season, and it comes at an ideal time for Detroit.

"What I've seen is a very consistent performer who prepares very well," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "He's been as consistent as any pitcher we have."

Tuesday night, it was more of the same.

"From the get-go, his sinker was down, which is always the key for him," Ausmus said. "He's really come a long way in terms of getting left-handed hitters out, which helps against [the Yanks'] lineup. He's done an excellent job all year, and this was another excellent game."

What has been the key to Porcello's consistency? Porcello's modesty is as real as his sinker. He gives a primary share of credit to his defense, in particular, second baseman Ian Kinsler.

"I've got a great defense playing behind me, that's one thing," Porcello said Tuesday night. "With 'Kins' coming over here, he's made so many plays, I can't tell you how many plays he's made where I think off the bat they're hits, and he's turned them into outs.

"And that may not sound like a whole lot, but when he's making those plays, you're able to have quicker innings, you're able to get into a rhythm. So he's been huge for me.

"It's a lot easier to throw my sinkers to lefties instead of trying to set it up. I can really just attack them with that pitch, because I know [Kinsler is] going to be in the right spot and make a play for me.

"And then it's just a matter of mixing up my pitches, keeping the ball down, that's the biggest thing. Just trying to simplify everything."

It is understandable that Porcello might not have the name recognition or the star power of Justin Verlander, David Price and/or Max Scherzer. They've all won an American League Cy Young Award. In fact, they were the last three winners of the honor.

That's some pretty impressive company for Porcello to be keeping, but his performance has met some lofty standards. He is only 25, but he has had a substantial big league workload. Porcello's first full season with Detroit was in 2009.

"I'm proud of my body of work, and I'm trying to get better," Porcello said. "But the biggest thing right now is that we're in a playoff race. I want to continue to do well, most importantly so we can make the playoffs and win. Hopefully, you work hard and keep your head down and personal success comes with team success."

The Tigers have not been particularly fortunate establishing rotation depth this season. Robbie Ray and Buck Farmer were tried and were found to be not ready for prime time. Lefty Kyle Lobstein, after a useful long-relief outing against Minnesota, will get a starting role Thursday against the Yankees.

As Detroit battles for a postseason berth, the uncertainty regarding Sanchez's health can be unsettling. But at this time, the work of Porcello is at the other end of the spectrum -- consistent, reliable, dependable, successful.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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