He had an ERA that looked more like a tire size, in double figures, after allowing nine earned runs in two-thirds of an inning in Anaheim on April 20.
But since that disaster of a start, Porcello has posted a 2.84 ERA in nine starts, the most recent seven innings of three-hit shutout ball on Friday in a 4-0 Detroit victory in Minnesota. He is 4-1 in that span.
The reason for the turnaround is the sharpening of a curveball he worked on extensively during Spring Training, throwing it for strikes at any time in the count and used in concert with a good changeup which combined keeps batters from looking exclusively for sinkers when they get into hitter's counts.
"They're not just sitting on fastballs anymore," manager Jim Leyland said. "His secondary stuff has set his sinker up. That's been a huge difference for him."
It's taken some time for Porcello to sort things out. When he first got to the majors as a 20-year-old rookie, he relied on the sinker that got him to the bigs after one season of minor league ball.
He dabbled with a slider and his curve and neither was a consistently good pitch as he sort of flipped back and forth between the two. After last season, he and pitching coach Jeff Jones decided to junk the slider for the most part and concentrate on sharpening the curve.
"His change-up has been a lot better," said Leyland, whose Tigers beat Baltimore 5-1 on Monday. "But it's his curve that's really been a big pitch for him."
"It makes my fastball better," Porcello said.
There is one more thing left for Porcello to do to become a consistently good starter, according to Leyland.
"To me," Leyland said, "Rick Porcello needs to get over the hump of learning how not to try too hard. He wants to do it so badly; he wants to beat the other team, he wants to win for the Tigers, he's such a competitor -- and every now and then, that works against him.
"When he settles in, and doesn't get too antsy once in a while, he'll be just fine. You pull for all your pitchers, of course, but you pull for him because he's such a good kid and so dedicated. But he has to learn how to channel his desire to win. He's better at it, but still has a ways to go. That's the last hurdle for him."
"I don't normally look back at any point in my career and say, 'Wow, I've never pitched this well,' or anything like that," Porcello said. "My stuff's evolving and getting better. The use of my off-speed stuff is getting better, so I want to continue to get good breaking pitches over the plate and keep mixing up my pitches."
NEXT: Orioles (Zach Britton, 0-1, 9.00) at Tigers (Justin Verlander, 8-4, 3.41)
C Alex Avila (deep contusion, left forearm) was placed on the 15-day DL on Monday. Avila was hit by a Brian Duensing pitch during Sunday's 5-2 victory over Minnesota. Avila is batting .172 with five homers and 13 RBIs, though he did have two hits in Sunday's game. The Tigers believe Avila will be ready to play again when the 15 days are up. Brayan Pena will handle the bulk of the catching duties until he returns.
RHP Anibal Sanchez (strained right shoulder) was placed on the 15-day disabled list Monday, retroactive to Sunday. Sanchez lasted just 3 2/3 innings and threw 72 pitches in his last start at Minnesota before Leyland gave him a quick hook. Sanchez had his previous start skipped because of shoulder and back stiffness. The club is hopeful he will only miss two starts and return when the 15-day stint is completed.
RHP Justin Verlander looks to continue his dominance over Baltimore at Comerica Park on Tuesday. Verlander has an 8-0 career record against the Orioles, his most wins against any team without a defeat, though six of those victories came at Baltimore's Camden Yards. Position players currently on Baltimore's roster have a collective .184 average against him. Verlander has won four of his last five starts and took a difficult no-decision in Kansas City in his last start, throwing seven shutout innings before a blown save by Jose Valverde.
RHP Jose Valverde remains the No. 1 option at closer but manager Jim Leyland admits his bullpen is still in flux. Joaquin Benoit closed out the win at Minnesota on Sunday. Valverde has given up five homers in his last seven appearances but has also saved three of those games. "We don't have our furniture totally arranged in the bullpen," Leyland said. "I don't have a magic formula for you." Leyland added that No. 5 starter Rick Porcello is not a candidate to close.
LHP Jose Alvarez will be called up from Triple-A Toledo on Thursday and start the series opener against Boston that night. Alvarez made a spot start for Sanchez on June 9, holding Cleveland to one run in six innings and striking seven while collecting his first major league victory. Alvarez has a 5-4 record and 2.78 ERA with the Mud Hens this season and leads the International League with 84 strikeouts.
OF Avisail Garcia was recalled from Triple-A Toledo on Monday but it's unlikely he'll stay through the week. Garcia gives the Tigers a full complement of players during the Baltimore series but he'll probably return to Toledo on Thursday when the Tigers recall Alvarez. Garcia hit .288 with two homers and 10 RBIs while Austin Jackson missed over a month with a hamstring injury, but was sent down last week when Jackson returned. He went 0-for-2 after pinch-hitting in the fifth inning Monday.
C Bryan Holaday was recalled from Toledo on Monday to back up Pena during Avila's absence. Holaday, a right-handed hitter, was batting .259 with two homers and 15 RBIs in 47 games. Leyland said Holaday would likely receive his first start Friday with Boston left-hander Jon Lester scheduled to pitch. Holaday appeared in six games last season with Detroit, batting .250 in 12 at-bats.
RHP Max Scherzer became the first Detroit pitcher since 1909 to reach 10-0 at the start of a season Monday. He dominated Baltimore by striking out 10 in six innings and giving up just one run, a solo homer to Chris Davis. Scherzer has added a curveball to his arsenal this year, giving him the extra weapon he needed to make history. He also has six or more strikeouts in his first 14 starts, joining Pedro Martinez as the only American League pitchers to accomplish that feat.
Miguel Cabrera raised his league-leading average to .358 with three more hits Monday, including a two-run homer. He also has a major league leading 71 RBIs. Cabrera is hitting .415 against left-handers, which could set him up for another big night Tuesday against Baltimore starter Zach Britton.
"It's nice being 10-0, I'm not going to lie. It just also shows how good an offense we have, too. I haven't had some of my best outings, and they've picked me up."—RHP Max Scherzer after a win Monday.
C Alex Avila (deep contusion, left forearm) went on the 15-day disabled list June 17.
RHP Anibal Sanchez (strained right shoulder) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to June 16.
RHP Octavio Dotel (right elbow inflammation) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 20, and he was transferred to the 60-day DL on June 8. Dotel has been unable to progress beyond light throwing or minimal mound work while working out at the club's spring training base in Lakeland, Fla.
RHP Justin Verlander
RHP Max Scherzer
RHP Doug Fister
RHP Rick Porcello
RHP Jose Valverde (closer)
RHP Joaquin Benoit
LHP Drew Smyly
LHP Darin Downs
LHP Phil Coke
RHP Luke Putkonen
RHP Evan Reed
1B Prince Fielder
2B Omar Infante
SS Jhonny Peralta
3B Miguel Cabrera
DH Victor Martinez
INF Ramon Santiago
LF Andy Dirks
CF Austin Jackson
RF Torii Hunter
OF Matt Tuiasosopo
OF Don Kelly
OF Avisail Garcia