Warning: what you are about to watch is extremely gruesome. If you are squeamish or easily startled by things such as violent curveballs, please look away.
With that disclaimer out of the way, let's get down to business. As we know, Rick Porcello has taken a massive leap forward since his rough start in Los Angeles. The current numbers? He's 4-1 with a 2.84 ERA, a 2.77 FIP, a 0.947 WHIP (!), and he is striking out 8.8 per nine innings to boot.
Tonight, Porcello carved up the Minnesota Twins just three weeks after they tagged him for five runs on ten hits in five innings. He allowed just three hits in seven innings, and no runner advanced past second base. Even then, that doesn't accurately describe just how dominant he was at times in this game.
In the second inning, Porcello faced Josh Willingham, Justin Morneau, and Oswaldo Arcia. Seven pitches later -- or less than three minutes, if you're timing him -- Porcello was headed back to the dugout after a 1-2-3 inning. Seriously, it was brutal.
In the first at-bat, he starts off Willingham with a fastball for a called strike, then drops an unfair curveball in for strike two.
Seriously, that hammer was nasty. He made Joe Mauer look as foolish as we've ever seen on a curveball that nearly hit his feet in the first inning. Porcello finishes off Willingham with an inside fastball for the first out of the inning.
Next, Morneau fouls off a first-pitch fastball to start the at-bat. Porcello goes to the curveball again on the 0-1 pitch and Morneau swings over the top because nobody hits a curveball that breaks like that.
We have spewed a decent number of words emphasizing the need of "wasting" 0-2 pitches over the past couple days, but Porcello debunks all of that with a perfectly located fastball on the outside corner to retire Morneau. If Morneau makes contact, it's a slow ground ball to third, and the bat barrel likely travels further than the baseball. Instead, he doesn't.
Finally, here's Arcia's flyout to end the inning because it feels good to have our center fielder back where he belongs.
Wow. Of all the impressive things I can point out in this inning, here are a few key points:
- Porcello was getting some serious run on his fastball tonight. It's especially prevalent on his third pitch to Morneau. The pitch looks as if it's coming down the middle of the plate, but it breaks so much that Morneau is left lunging at air. Usually, you might see this kind of run on a changeup, not on a 93 mile per hour fastball. Rick had the two-seamer working very well tonight, and his command early on was impeccable.
- During the game, Rod Allen mentioned that Porcello and Avila were working well together. While Porcello went along with most of the pitches that Avila was calling, he shook Avila off a couple times and it seemed to pay off each time. In this inning, he shakes off Avila before the 0-2 fastball to Willingham. You don't want to see this too often from your starting battery, but the fact that Porcello has both the confidence and the freedom to call his own game when its warranted -- and to excel when doing so -- is a great sign for the Tigers.
- I want to do an in-depth look at this at some point, but Porcello's balance during his wind up was as perfect as my amateur eyes can distinguish in real time. I can't remember seeing Porcello fall off the rubber to one side or the other at any point in tonight's game, and his foot placement in the GIFs above is extremely consistent. Combine this with his pace -- he's actually averaging more time between pitches this season than in years past -- and I think you're seeing a pitcher that is much more in control of himself, and the game by extension, while on the mound.
It is amazing, yet very rewarding to see Porcello transition into the pitcher the Tigers thought he could be when they drafted him back in 2007. Watching an inning like this almost makes you forget how frustrating it was to watch him pitch for the past few years, and even at times this year.
It still remains to be seen whether this is simply a hot stretch or if he truly has turned a corner, but the signs I pointed out above hint toward the latter. Either way, this rotation has been a lot of fun to watch in 2013. With all five starters under contract in 2014 as well, we still have plenty of time to enjoy this embarrassment of riches.