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Porcello can't overcome rocky start

Porcello can't overcome rocky start

ARLINGTON -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland bemoaned the lack of production from his starting pitching once again before Sunday's game against Texas.

He emphasized the importance of Rick Porcello going deep into his start.

Then Porcello went out and gave up six runs on 10 hits, all in the first two innings, and was gone after the fourth inning, leaving Leyland to lean on his bullpen yet again for four more innings in an 8-4 loss to Texas.

It was yet another aggravating early-season moment for Leyland, who said of Porcello's outing, "Not good, next question." Then Leyland elaborated when it was pointed out that Porcello didn't give up a run in the third and fourth innings, even though he allowed four baserunners.

"He really wasn't good all day," Leyland said. "We need to stack the pictures and see if his arm angle is off. He's throwing more four-seamers, I don't know what happened. We'll have to wait and see.

"He hasn't been able to keep the ball down with any movement. He's got no movement and he's right over the middle of the plate."

Porcello has now had consecutive poor starts -- he also allowed six runs in 4 1/3 innings on Tuesday in Anaheim -- but doesn't think his struggles are because of his arm slot. He came in after his start and watched video. Porcello did agree with his manager that he's leaving too many pitches in the hitting zone.

"It's there," Porcello said of his stuff, especially his best pitch, his sinker. "I'm just leaving balls high. I'm throwing way too many belt-high fastballs. I have to do a better job of getting the ball down."

His offense staked him to a 3-0 lead in the first, but that didn't help Porcello settle into the game. He went to a full count to the third batter he faced, David Murphy, with a runner at first and tried to get a fastball by him. But the pitch drifted back inside and Murphy got it up into the jet stream to right-center field for a home run.

Porcello gave up three consecutive singles to the last three hitters in the Rangers' lineup to start the bottom of the second. That brought a visit to the mound from Leyland, who told Porcello to minimize the damage and not think about the runners at first and second. Just get a ground ball, he said.

Porcello went away from his sinker to shortstop Elvis Andrus, who is young and prone to swing at pitches out of the strike zone. So Porcello threw two sliders, both of which were way high and out of the strike zone. He ended up walking Andrus to force in a run, the key moment in the ballgame.

That's because Michael Young, one of the American League's top hitters, drilled a line drive double over center fielder Austin Jackson's head, clearing the bases for a 6-4 Texas lead.

"Michael Young is a great hitter," Leyland said. "He's going to get his hits. You're flirting with disaster when you walk that guy and start going to the big boys like Young and [Vladimir] Guerrero and [Nelson] Cruz. You're asking for a disaster."

Porcello, who is still only 21-years old, said there is no connection between his start in Anaheim and the one in Texas. He said poor pitch selection doomed him in the 6-5 loss to the Angels. This time around, it was location.

"I'm not executing where I need to be to get people out," Porcello said. "I was leaving the ball up when I struggled last year. I just need to lower my sights and get the ball down."

The bigger problem, aside from Porcello struggling in back-to-back outings, is the bullpen is now up to 66 innings in 19 games. That's 3 1/2 innings per game, which means the starters on average aren't getting out of the sixth inning. Leyland said that can't happen over a 162-game season.

The Tigers were able to use starter Dontrelle Willis in relief after he missed Saturday's game with an upset stomach, saving an already depleted relief corps with Brad Thomas, Eddie Bonine and Joel Zumaya all unavailable after pitching multiple innings in Saturday's 8-4 win.

Willis lasted one inning, which is what Leyland targeted him for, allowing a two-run single to Young after walking the bases loaded.

Willis will be ready to go for his start Thursday against Minnesota.

The Tigers started the game with a bang. Jackson hit his first Major League home run to lead off the game. Johnny Damon had an RBI double and Don Kelly picked up a two-out, run-scoring single for a 3-0 first-inning lead.

Ramon Santiago had an RBI single in the second to make it a 4-2 game, giving Porcello his second multiple-run lead to work with, but it didn't help.

Porcello was gone after four, and the bullpen was back at work.

"Our bullpen has been doing an incredible job," said Porcello of a group that has a 2.45 ERA. "I've got to do a better job of getting deeper into the game and giving those guys a break."

Todd Wills is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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