He may be only 25 years old, but in his sixth year with the Detroit Tigers, starting pitcher Rick Porcello is learning to recognize the finer points of pitching. Like his teammate Justin Verlander, Porcello has only played for one team during his major league career, but unlike Verlander, his journey to a breakout year has been a quieter one.
There are benefits to being part of a phenomenal starting staff, but there are also limits to how far that will take him. Eventually, Porcello needed to find what makes himself tick and while his pitching is still a work in progress, he's getting there. It may not be as flashy as fans are used to seeing, but sometimes there is value in subtlety.
Tuesday Rick spoke with Pat Caputo and Dan Dickerson on 97.1 The Ticket's TigerTalk to discuss last year's accomplishments. "I think every year I've felt personally it hasn't been reflected in the pitching at times, but I've definitely felt like I've made strides every year and you know my goal is to continue to get better," he said. "I think last year mainly focusing on the curveball and not worry about the slider so much allowed me to gain more confidence in that pitch."
Porcello didn't just change his focus; he all but abandoned the slider to focus on his curveball. In retrospect, laying off of a great pitch to increase the depth of another is a good thing because it creates versatility. In 2013 that helped bring his season ERA to 4.32, the lowest since his rookie year. "Being able to throw my changeup and breaking ball for strikes last year allowed me to do that [pitch deeper into games] at times and I want to continue to do better, but there's a lot of room for improvement and I think there'll be a lot of potential to help us out this year."
"Last year I started to get a little bit better at it," he said. "I was able to have a complete game and pitch deeper into some ball games that maybe I wasn't able to do younger in my career so it's just another step in the learning process, continue to grow and get experience each year."
With that in mind, he's going into the 2014 season with realistic expectations and new ideas. Whether or not that produces anything positive will depend entirely on how consistently he can improve. His approach meanwhile will remain simple. "I don't necessarily put it in terms of breaking out or what not I just want to continue to get better. I think I'm on the cusp of having a big season and really looking forward to having one this year, but I don't think it's something you can force. I think you have to continue to take things in strides and work hard."
If Rick Porcello is to going have a breakout year and fill the spot left open by Doug Fister, he will need to drastically improve his delivery and master his current arsenal. It doesn't need to be flashy, it just needs to work, and work well. "It doesn't happen in the blink of an eye, it happens one pitch at a time and with hard work through spring training and preparation, and continuing to learn from all my experiences that I've been through."