The 22-year-old right-hander shut down the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday, allowing just one hit over eight innings as the Tigers ended a five-game losing streak with a 2-0 win.
“He kept the ball on the ground pretty good,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. “He was pounding the strike zone pretty good. He was fantastic. No question about it, he was fantastic.”
Despite cruising through eight innings on 84 pitches, Porcello was replaced in the ninth by closer Jose Valverde(notes). The move nearly backfired before Valverde worked out of a two-on, none-out jam to earn his 11th save in as many chances.
“I know it’s worth a second guess for everybody in America, but to me, it was a no-brainer,” Leyland said. “Unless a guy is absolutely lights out, your closer is supposed to be better than your starting pitcher who has just pitched eight innings on a pretty hot day.”
Porcello wasn’t complaining. And he wasn’t lamenting the loss of a shot at the first shutout of his career, though he did plead his case to Leyland to stay in the game.
“I was telling him I was good to go and he said, ‘No you’re not,’ and that was that,” Porcello said. “It’s a losing battle. … I understand it, though. We needed that win bad. (Valverde) is ready to go and that’s why he’s there, to close out tight games.”
“You can say I’m pitching good enough to lose, that’s kind of how it’s going,” Maholm said. “Hopefully it turns around soon.”
Porcello’s previous start was wiped out by rain, but he hardly looked rusty. He kept the surging Pirates off balance all afternoon and even added a single during a rare plate appearance.
“He was just throwing a lot of strikes,” Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. “You look at his pitch count when he went out after eight innings, you’re not going to see many lower the rest of the season.”
Still, Pittsburgh managed to make it interesting in the ninth. Xavier Paul(notes) singled and Valverde hit Andrew McCutchen(notes) with a pitch before bearing down to strike out pinch-hitter Ryan Doumit(notes). The reliever then got Garrett Jones(notes) and Neil Walker(notes) to hit harmless groundballs to end it.
“He put himself in a pretty tough jam but he also did a heck of a job to get out of that jam,” Leyland said.
The Tigers have been one of baseball’s most Jeckyll and Hyde teams in May. They ripped off a seven-game winning streak earlier this month, then followed it with a weeklong run of futility behind an anemic offense.
Leyland bemoaned his team’s woeful run production during the slide, marked by a lack of clutch hitting with runners in scoring position.
Detroit wasn’t much better Sunday, but the way Porcello was dealing the Tigers, didn’t have to be.
“We’ve got to hope this win gets some guys going, maybe relaxes some guys a little,” Leyland said. “We’re back to .500 and hopefully we’ll get on a positive roll. Our starting pitching has been good and we’ve got to give them some help.”
Porcello hardly needed it. He retired the first nine batters he faced until walking McCutchen leading off the fourth. McCutchen stole second but was stranded at third when Walker struck out to end the inning.
Pittsburgh’s only serious threat came after Cedeno finally broke through in the sixth. He moved to third on a sacrifice and the Pirates had runners at the corners with one out after McCutchen walked.
The Pirates were looking for their first three-game sweep in interleague play in a decade but the offense that fueled their modest four-game run again vanished with Maholm on the mound.
Pittsburgh has scored 14 runs when the veteran left-hander is on the hill. Though he wasn’t nearly as sharp as Porcello—he needed 96 pitches to get 16 outs—Maholm did what he’s done most of the season by keeping the Pirates in it.
“Paul probably had below-average command, below-average stuff and way-above-average guts,” Hurdle said. “(He used) duct tape and chicken wire and kept going out there and kept going at ‘em and gave us a chance to win.”
NOTES: Injured Pittsburgh reliever Evan Meek(notes) could rejoin the team as early as this week. Meek has been on the 15-day disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis. … Detroit is 64-29 in interleague play since 2006, the second-best mark in the majors behind Boston during that period. … The Tigers now head home for a 10-game homestand. … The Pirates host a two-game set against Atlanta starting Tuesday.