Homers hurt Porcello in debut
Hanging curve one of few mistakes by poised rookie
TORONTO -- Not many 20-year-olds could've pitched the kind of game Rick Porcello did Thursday against Major League hitters. On the other hand, plenty of pitchers far older could've thrown the mistake that proved to be his downfall.
For someone who hadn't pitched an inning in the regular season above Class A ball until Thursday, Porcello didn't need experience to know his hanging curveball was in trouble as soon as it left his hand and floated towards Adam Lind. And as Lind sent it soaring out to center field, giving the Blue Jays the lead for good en route to a 6-2 Tigers loss, the frustration was finally evident on Porcello's normally composed face.
"It was just one of those pitches," Porcello said, "where, as soon as you let it go, you want it back. I just knew it was hanging up there and pretty much praying for him not to swing."
If that was the worst mistake from Porcello's Major League debut, then all in all, it wasn't a bad afternoon.
"Our guy's going to be pretty good," shortstop Adam Everett said. "Barring an injury, he's going to be the real deal. He could be very special. Man, the way he went out there and pitched ... "
Porcello had his share of other miscues, but none of them major, and none of them showing the signs of a rattled kid with any hint of being overmatched. And even with four runs allowed over five-plus innings, he gave the Tigers and their usually potent offense a chance, leaving with a 3-2 deficit and a runner on base before Toronto scored three more times on Detroit's bullpen.
"I thought he kept his composure really good," manager Jim Leyland said, "and I thought he pitched. I thought he pitched well. He made a bad pitch and he paid a price for it. But at the same time, I've seen those pitches get popped up, too. That's just the way it is. I thought, for his first outing and everything, he handled himself very well."
Not only did the first-ever matchup of first-round Draft picks making their Major League debuts as opposing starting pitchers dominate the attention leading into this series finale, they pretty much commanded the game itself until the later innings. While Jays left-hander Ricky Romero (1-0) recovered from a pair of Detroit third-inning runs, one of them on Curtis Granderson's second home run of the series, to salvage a quality start, Porcello worked out of several hitters' counts to keep Toronto from big hits early.
Porcello misread an assignment on who would cover second base on a potential double play in the first inning, but his double-clutch allowed him to fire off an accurate throw to Ramon Santiago to start the twin-killing that ended the first inning. His nasty curveball dropped over the plate for a called third strike on Michael Barrett to stranded runners at the corners in the second.
"I thought I was going to be a little bit more nervous," Porcello said. "But after the first pitch, I thought I was able to settle in a little bit, felt pretty good."
His two-seamer sent down Travis Snider swinging to strand two more in the fourth once the Jays got on the scoreboard. After Aaron Hill turned on an inside fastball for the solo homer that tied the game at 2 in the fifth, Porcello regrouped for back-to-back strikeouts of Alex Rios and Vernon Wells.
For someone who didn't have a 1-2-3 inning and had more first-pitch balls than strikes, Porcello didn't come off as a pitcher who was about to give up the big inning. Neither Rios nor Wells got the ball out of the infield against Porcello, let alone had a base hit. And Barrett managed Toronto's only hit against him with runners in scoring position.
"He had good sink and great run on his fastball," Snider said. "He did a great job the first five innings. We got to him a little bit later on. But for a debut for, what, a 20 year old kid -- I say that being a 21-year-old kid -- he had great composure out there."
The strikeouts of Rios and Wells in the fifth were impressive enough to earn him another inning. But he couldn't get the pitch that would earn him the first out of the sixth.
Porcello used a curveball to send Lind missing, putting him in a 1-2 count leading off the sixth. He went back to the curveball looking for the same result. But instead of burying it, he watched it sail high and just off the plate. Then he had to watch it sail out.
Fatigue, Porcello said, was not a factor there.
"It was a mistake, and he capitalized on it," Porcello said of Lind, who drove in seven runs in the series. "You have to tip your hat to him for putting that ball out. He's got some pretty good pop."
Jose Bautista's ensuing infield single brought out Leyland to make the pitching change, but it didn't contain the damage. Nate Robertson recorded back-to-back outs and nearly sent down Snider before the Jays rookie belted Robertson's full-count delivery off the right-field fence for an RBI double. Marco Scutaro followed with a two-run homer off Juan Rincon to put Toronto comfortably ahead.
"The add-on runs were what killed us," Leyland said.
As much as Porcello might've been disappointed, he did the job he went into the game wanting to do. And much like Ryan Perry the previous night, he has gotten his first outing out of the way.
"It was just one of those games where I'd like to have a couple pitches back and make a couple better pitches," Porcello said, "and it might've turned out different for us."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.