The Tigers were able to pull into a tie for the division lead with their win on Tuesday night, but, while that might be cause for celebration amongst fans, the team can’t afford to let off the gas even a little bit.
Rick Porcello, tonight’s starting pitcher, isn’t having a terrific year by any means, but he’s continued the trend of the past few seasons of showing improvement in the ERA, FIP, and strikeout categories. At just 23 years of age he’s probably far from a finished project, but he has sizeable limitations at this point in his career, and those limitations need to be noted and planned for by Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland.
As Chris pointed out last week, Porcello’s pitching results get markedly worse as the opposition turns over their batting order. In an attempt to re-frame some of the numbers Chris gave, here are the on-base percentages Porcello has allowed to the opposition this season with respect to how many times the batter had seen him in the game:
First time through the order – .313 OBP allowed.
Second time through the order – .337 OBP allowed.
Third time through the order – .413 OBP allowed.
And his career numbers follow a similar trend. Roughly speaking Porcello is a good pitcher the first time through, an average one when facing batters for the second time in a game, and terrible when hitters are seeing him for the third time. Porcello is often criticized for not having a swing-and-miss “out pitch” to rely on. One might hypothesize that his effectiveness vanishes completely once hitters figure out how his two-seam sinking fastball is moving on any particular day.
The Tigers will likely continue to be in “must win” mode for the remainder of the season, so every available advantage must be taken. Jim Leyland needs to be proactive with his bullpen usage tonight. Unless the Tigers hold a large lead (let’s say five runs or more), Porcello needs to be out of the game by the time Alex Gordon (Kansas City’s presumed number three hitter for tonight) steps to the plate for the third time. I don’t care if it’s the eighth inning or the fifth inning, or if he had been throwing a one-hit shutout to that point – that should be the end of his night.
The bullpen should be rested after Sanchez’s complete game last night so everyone should be rested and available. The Tigers have plenty of arms in the pen to bridge the middle innings – guys like Al Alburquerque, Brayan Villarreal, Octavio Dotel, and even Phil Coke – could be employed in the fifth through seventh innings with greater effectiveness than Porcello would yield.
The Tigers can’t afford to wait around until trouble finds them these last eight games. They need to be proactive in leveraging their roster to squeeze out every possible win. That needs to happen tonight with Porcello on the mound.