The Detroit Tigers' starting pitchers have yet to allow a run, though manager Jim Leyland would probably like to see his next one go a little deeper.
A day after Detroit's maligned bullpen blew a lead, Rick Porcello hopes to avoid a similar fate and help the Tigers win Thursday's series finale against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field.
Detroit starters Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez each threw five scoreless innings in the first two games of this series, giving up a combined five hits and striking out 12. Leyland wanted to limit their pitch counts to begin the season and each had surpassed 90 through five, causing him to turn to a relief corps widely considered to be the Tigers' biggest weakness.
That certainly seemed to be the case Wednesday. With Detroit leading 2-0, Darin Downs allowed a run in the seventh. Joaquin Benoit worked a scoreless eighth but walked the leadoff hitter in the ninth, then Phil Coke gave up a single and a two-run double to Eduardo Escobar as the Twins won 3-2.
"He just made a couple bad pitches at the end," Leyland said of Coke, who saved Monday's 4-2 win in Minnesota. "He got them up, out over the plate, which is the strength of those guys. That's where he got them, and they hit them."
Before the season, the Tigers (1-1) didn't re-sign three-time All-Star closer Jose Valverde, who struggled in the playoffs, and supposed heir apparent Bruce Rondon was sent to Triple-A for more seasoning. That left the team with a closer by committee. Drew Smyly may be part of that group but allowed both runs in the opener.
Porcello didn't give up many runs in March, winning all four of his spring starts last month while posting a 2.25 ERA - a major difference from his poor finish to 2012. He had a 1-6 record over his final nine outings, failing to get beyond the sixth inning in the last six, and didn't make the playoff rotation.
"I think he's got some things figured out," Leyland told the team's official website. "... He looked very, very good this spring - really good."
Porcello (10-12, 4.59 ERA) hasn't had much success in April, going 5-9 with a 6.13 ERA - his highest in any month. The right-hander, though, is 3-0 with a 2.70 ERA in his last four starts at Target Field.
Former Twin Torii Hunter is enjoying his latest return to Minnesota, getting four hits in this series. Reigning AL MVP and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, meanwhile, has driven in a combined three runs.
Cabrera had a pair of two-out RBI singles Wednesday and is batting .377 with 27 RBIs in his last 17 games against the Twins (1-1).
The Tigers have won 16 of 21 in Minnesota, but Mike Pelfrey will try to help the Twins keep reversing that trend in his return from Tommy John surgery.
Elbow problems limited the right-hander to three starts for the New York Mets in 2012, and the Twins signed him to a one-year deal in December.
"It's going to be a big moment for him. A lot of hard work goes into that. He had to really push it to the limit," manager Ron Gardenhire told the Twins' website. "But there's always fear involved when you do something like that to your arm. But you have to push through that fear."
Pelfrey, a 15-game winner in 2010 for the Mets, lost his only start against Detroit on June 30, 2011, allowing five runs, eight hits and five walks over 4 2-3 innings.