Tigers 7, Braves 4: Rick Porcello bounces back in style

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The story going into today's game was if Rick Porcello could recover mentally from one of the worst starts of his career. It should never been in question, as Porcello would counter with his best start of 2013.

Rick Porcello bounced back from his disastrous start last Saturday to pitch the Detroit Tigers to a 7-4 victory over the Atlanta Braves.

Porcello (1-2) was knocked out of his last appearance after allowing nine runs in 2/3 of an inning. Today was a different, and much better, story. The Tigers number-five starter earned his first victory of the season, pitching into the seventh, allowing just three runs on five hits, striking out five.

Resurrected from the ashes, closer Jose Valverde earned his second save in as many opportunities, pitching a hitless ninth.

Braves starter Kris Medlen (1-3) took the loss, tagged for five runs on ten hits, including a pair of home runs.

Justin Upton continued his torrid April for the Braves, driving in two runs and hitting his twelfth home run of the season in the eighth inning.

The offensive star for the Tigers was Omar Infante, with three hits, three RBIs, a stolen base and a two-run home run. Jhonny Peralta also went deep for the Tigers, hitting a two-run shot to ignite a 13-hit attack. Miguel Cabrera chipped in with two hits and two RBIs.

After last Saturday's death-by-papercuts first inning in Anaheim, Porcello needed a good start in today's game ... and a nervous fan base needed it even more.

They got it.

Just as last week, Porcello's sinker was working in this first inning. but this time there were no seeing-eye ground balls finding holes. Porcello needed only 13 pitches to get out of the inning on a pair of ground ball outs and a strikeout of Justin Upton.

WHEW.

Porcello was just as effective in the second, a mere ten pitches setting the Braves down in order, including two more ground outs.

Kris Medlen set down the first four Tigers he faced, helping himself by picking off Austin Jackson after a lead-off walk. But the next two Tigers he faced made life more difficult for the possibly still shell-shocked Braves.

Victor Martinez, playing first base for the first time since mid-2011, had the first hit of the game, singling to left. The not quite fleet-of-foot Martinez was able to take a slow tour of the bases thanks to Jhonny Peralta. The Tigers' shortstop clubbed his second home run of the season, drilling Medlen's hanging changeup over the bullpens in left to give the Tigers a 2-0 lead.

Good start be damned, Porcello still couldn't shake the bad juju from his last start. The first hit he allowed was to B.J. Upton leading off the third. It was, of course, an infield single, Upton using his speed to beat out a swinging bunt. BABIP'd!

Upton would be wiped off the bases when Alex Avila threw him out attempting to steal. But Porcello replaced him at first base, walking Juan Francisco.

The second hit allowed was a one-out seeing eye single off the bat of Jordan Schafer, a ground ball in the hole just past a diving Peralta. BABIP'd again.

Andrelton Simmons followed by looping a single to right. It could have been for extra bases, but Francisco didn't pick up the ball right away and held up at third base.

Porcello couldn't take advantage of the reprieve, compounding his own misery by walking Dan Uggla, driving in the first Braves run.

It looked as if Porcello would get out of the inning on a double-play ball off the bat of Justin Upton. Peralta made a good feed to Infante, but he dropped the ball making the turn. They did record the second out of the inning, but Upton was safe at first and the tying run crossed the plate.

An error was not charged against Infante, as the play was scored a fielder's choice. Error or not, the miscue would ultimately cost the Tigers the lead.

Freddie Freeman's looper to center dropped just in front of Jackson, because, as we all know, Jackson doesn't dive. Porcello was BABIP'd for the third time in the inning. Simmons crossed the plate to give the Braves their first lead of the series, 3-2.

To the Tigers' credit, they bounced right back to tie the game in the bottom half of the inning, thanks to the Dynamic Duo.

Jackson singled to center with one out. Hunter moved his to third when he reached out and slapped a single into short center.

Cabrera followed, and didn't hit the ball hard, but hit it where they weren't, sending a ground ball up the middle. Uggla tried to make a bare-handed play and flip the ball to Simmons covering the second-base bag. The toss was off, everyone was safe, Jackson scored and Cabrera was credited with an RBI infield single to tie the game at 3-all.

The Tigers continued to impress chicks who dig the long ball, hitting their second home run of the game, third of the series, in the bottom of the fourth.

Alex Avila, doing what he does best, showing patience at the plate, worked a two-out base on balls. Medlen would be one strike away from ending the inning, but Infante drilled an 0-2 fastball into the bullpen, the two-run homer giving the Tigers back the lead at 5-3. It was Infante's first tater of the young season.

Porcello settled down after the third inning, allowing only a one-out single in the fourth, and sending the Braves down in order in the fifth. Porcello did get some defensive help on a great play by Peralta, who ranged deep into the hole at short to throw out Simmons for the first out of the fifth.

After the disaster which was his last start, Porcello was just one inning away from a quality start.

The Tigers threatened against Medlen in the bottom of the fifth, Fielder leading off with a single, Matt Tuiasosopo doing the same with two outs, sandwiching a pair of warning-track fly balls from Martinez (near the 420' mark in center) and Peralta. Avila would look at strike three to end the threat.

Porcello continued with his clean innings, tossing a 1-2-3 sixth, having set down ten of the last 11 Braves he faced. Porcello even channeled his inner Verlander-Scherzer-Sanchez by striking out Johnson and Evan Gattis, K's four and five on the afternoon.

The Tigers attempted a small-ball attack in the bottom of the sixth. Leading off, Infante singled over the head of Simmons. Jackson was asked to move the runner over, which he did with a textbook sacrifice bunt.

Runner now in scoring position and Hunter (and his .389 batting average) due up, Braves skipper Fredi Gonzalez made the call to the bullpen. He replaced Medlen with right-handed reliever Jordan Walden. Two ground-ball outs later, the threat was extinguished.

As a precaution, Drew Smyly was warming up in the sixth. But Porcello had sailed through the inning, retiring the last seven Braves, and ten of 11, his pitch count only at 89, so Jim Leyland allowed him to start the seventh.

Porcello got the first out of the inning with one pitch, B.J. Upton bouncing out 6-3. A pair of left-handed bats due up, Captain Hook then made his move, pulling Porcello for Smyly.

The move paid off handsomely. Smyly struck out Francisco on three pitches and Schafer in five.

After the Tigers went down in order, Leyland followed his bullpen bible to the letter. Even though Smyly hadn't broken a sweat, missing bats in the seventh, setup man Joaquin Benoit took over in the top of the eighth to face the top of the Braves order.

Jose Valverde was up in the pen, preparing for his second save opportunity.

Benoit got the first two Braves easily, but MLB home run leader Justin Upton extended his lead when he took a Benoit 0-1 splitter over the fence in right center, his twelfth home run pulling the Braves to within one run at 5-4.

Don Kelly had entered the game in the top of the eighth, replacing Tuiasosopo in left. Facing lefty Luis Avilan, Kelly would lead off the bottom of the inning by dropping a humpback liner just inside the right-field foul line, doubling into the corner.

Leyland asked Avila to drop down a bunt. He failed miserably, popping up to third.

Number-nine hitter Infante, already having a great game at the plate, made it even better and bailed out Avila by yanking an RBI double to left. Donnie Baseball easily scored the insurance run, the Tigers pushing their lead to 6-4.

Infante, throwing caution to the wind, caught a huge break. He took off for third, and looked to have been thrown out. Replays confirmed as much. The umpire didn't agree, Infante was called safe.

Jackson reached base for the fourth time on the day, drawing a walk. Runners on the corners and one out, Gonzalez called for right-hander Cory Gearrin to face Hunter and Cabrera.

The move almost paid off. Almost.

Gearrin induced Hunter to pop up to second. But B.J. Upton couldn't make a sliding catch on Cabrera's sinking liner. He got his glove on the ball, but couldn't hold on, Cabrera credited with an RBI single to give Papa Grande a three-run cushion, the Tigers now up 7-4.

The Big Potato entered the game throwing the splitter we didn't see on Wednesday. More impressively, Papa Grande was throwing in the mid-90s while pounding the strike zone. Valverde would get ahead of all three batters he faced.

Gattis flew out to right on a 1-2 pitch.

B.J. Upton struck out swinging on three pitches.

A sold-out Comerica Park crowd on their feet, Francisco waved feebly at a 95 MPH 1-2 pitch, striking out to end the game.

GAME OVER.

The Tigers move to within 1/2 game of the first-place Royals in the AL Central, raising their record to 12-10. The Tigers have won two in a row and three of four so far on their nine-game home stand.

Losers of three straight, the Braves drop to 15-8 on the season, but continue to hold on to a three-game lead in NL East over the Nationals.

In the final game of the three-game set, the Braves send Mike Minor (3-1) to mound in hopes of salvaging one win in the series. The Tigers counter with undefeated Doug Fister (3-0).

John Kruk alert! The game will be nationally televised on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball, first pitch scheduled for 8:08 PM.

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