Tigers fueled by deep rotation

Richard L. Shook, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

DETROIT -- It's the time of the baseball season when records start to fall and history comes out of the bookcase.
The Detroit Tigers' pitchers have a chance to set the record for strikeouts by a staff in a season, a function of general manager Dave Dombrowski's penchant for power arms.
The staff reached a milestone early in the week when Rick Porcello won his 10th game of the season, giving the Tigers five starters with double-digit victories.
The last time that happened for a Detroit team was 1962, an era of four-man rotations, when five starters the Tigers used that season won at least 10 games.
"It's a result of the starters being consistent throughout the course of the season and having a great lineup behind us," Porcello said. "We have one of the best offensive lineups in baseball. Any time you have them come up and putting up the runs they have, you have a chance to win games.
"You have to keep runs off the board and, for the most part, we've been able to do that this year."
Max Scherzer leads the way with a 19-1 record and 2.90 ERA despite giving up five earned runs against the Oakland Athletics on Thursday. Justin Verlander is 12-10 with a 3.73 ERA; Anibal Sanchez 11-7 with a 2.61 ERA; Doug Fister 11-6 and 3.54; and Porcello 10-7 with a 4.49 ERA.
"Pitchers' wins aren't the best reflection of how we pitched. Players play well; teams win," Scherzer said. "Our team has been winning consistently right now and our starting pitching as a staff has pitched deep into a game, and when you pitch deep into a game on this team, there's enough offense that you're going to rack up the wins as a pitcher."
"It means something -- we're pitching deep into games. When you look at innings and some other numbers, those are more indicative of what we're doing as a staff more than just wins."
It was a different era in 1962. Those Tigers had rotation problems when ace Frank Lary came down with a sore shoulder after pitching opening day in chilly weather and the club patched and filled as he struggled to come back throughout the season. They didn't know that Lary's career was essentially over at that point.
Another significant difference in the times: the 1962 starters also pitched in relief.
Jim Bunning, later traded to the Philadelphia Phillies and still later a U.S. Senator, was 19-10 with a 3.59 ERA. He pitched in 41 games, but six of those were relief jobs. All six would be regarded as saves today.
Hank Aguirre was 16-8 with a 2.21 ERA but he only made 22 starts in his 42 appearances. Don Mossi was 11-13 with 27 starts and eight relief appearances.
Phil Regan, who gained his greatest fame as a reliever after being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1966, was 11-9 with a 4.05 ERA while making 23 starts and 12 relief appearances. Paul Foytack was 10-7 with 21 starts and eight games in relief. His ERA was 4.38.
Starters today, at least the veterans and successful ones, don't work in relief except in special circumstances. Porcello is the only Detroit starter to work a game in relief, occasioned because he was skipped a start and it was an opportunity to keep sharp.
"When you have (starters) one through five that can go out every night and give you a chance to win, it speaks volumes to how your season is going to turn out," Verlander said. "If you have a chance to win every night, you're going to win a lot of ballgames."
Then there's the 1971 Baltimore Orioles, who boasted four 20-game winners. But that was a different era.

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