Rick Porcello emphasizing the curveball

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Porcello mostly crisp in first spring training start.

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Sure, the fans in Lakeland would like a victory. It's more fun when the home team wins and when the starting pitcher blows through batter after batter. But it doesn't actually work that way in spring training, no matter how much people might wish it did. The starting pitcher is out there to get his work in, and that's what he does.

Thursday, Rick Porcello put in his two innings of action for the Tigers. Most of that action turned out well. A batter who worked a walk led to a little hiccup. But that's baseball. Porcello forced a pair of grounders at second base and another at short in the first inning, then struck out the side in the second, and his day was done. Then it was off to get the rest of his workout in, safely away from opposing hitters.

"I was excited to be out there," Porcello said. "It always feels like that the first time. Get a nice little adrenaline rushing going, and to be out there after a couple months off is a good feeling. "

And if in the regular season Porcello continues to have outings like he did against the Braves, fans are going to have a pretty good feeling, too.

One part of that success is the revamped Tigers infield. Not all of that was on display though, as the only expected Opening Day starters on the infield were Miguel Cabrera and Jose Iglesias. Still with the kind of contact Porcello was forcing, it doesn't take Gold Glovers to convert outs.

The other part of the success was Porcello's continued ability to get strikeouts. This was often the criticism of Porcello in years before 2013. Sure, he can get opponents to put it on the ground, but what's his out pitch? Porcello's rate of strikeouts jumped from 13.7 percent of plate appearances in 2012 to a career-best 19.3 percent.

That curveball played a role -- though you can't directly credit it for the strikeouts he got Thursday. The changeup played a role, too.

"Throwing my curveball last year was kind of a decision that we made, sticking to that as my main breaking pitch," Porcello said, in comparison the the slider. "i'm going to continue to do that. That's a pitch that saw some really good results last year, saw some good progress. Having a year of throwing mainly that under my beld, now's the time to get better with that and really use it as a weapon. Still throw my curveball, four-seam, sinker and changeup, mix in cut fastball and slider, those are the three main pitches to continue to work on."

Porcello said the curve isn't there yet -- he's going to continue to sharpen it, as he would any other pitch.

It's early -- as anyone would rightly caution. But Tigers manager Brad Ausmus was happy about Porcello's start, too, even if he did give up a hard, run-scoring triple to Ryan Doumit.

"He looked good," Ausmus said. "His two-seamer, sinker, whatever you want to call it, seemed a little crisper in the second inning. I know he gave up that run, but I think he looked good on the mound. Delivery looked clean. He was fine."

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