Rick Porcello was fantastic last night in the Detroit Tigers’ 4-2 win over the Seattle Mariners, but, barring a late injury to Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, Doug Fister, or Justin Verlander, there’s really nothing he can do to earn a spot in the postseason rotation. Rick may not love the idea of being relegated to bullpen duty – starters usually want to start – but having an extra (rather dependable) arm in the bullpen would be a big shot in the arm for the Detroit Tigers.
Joaquin Benoit has been just about as dominating as they some since taking over the closer’s role from Jose Valverde this summer, Drew Smyly has been predominantly lights out in his year-long setup role, and Jose Veras has been fine (if not inspiring) since coming to Detroit in a July trade. After these three, however, the Tigers have nothing but question marks in their bullpen.
Bruce Rondon hasn’t pitched in two weeks due to a sore elbow, Phil Coke and Al Alburquerque have been completely unreliable all season long, and Luke Putkonen has hardly faced a high leverage situation as a big league player.
So, unlike last year, Porcello’s jump from the rotation is going to land him rather high on the setup list. If it were up to me he’d likely displace Veras as the primary right-handed setup man, but, even if not, Jim Leyland would probably like to use him in relatively high leverage spots. The one possible holdup is that Rick really doesn’t have any experience in coming out of the bullpen.
The good news is the schedule favors the Tigers if they want to give him a trial run or three.
The normal rotation schedule would have Porcello make two more starts. He’d pitch on Saturday (September 21) in Chicago on normal rest and then on again the following Friday (September 27) in Miami on one extra day of rest. But, because the Tigers have Thursday, September 26 scheduled as an off day (his “normal rest” day to start), they could, in effect, skip him in the rotation and keep everyone else on normal rest. The benefit here would be three opportunities (September 27-29 in Miami) for Porcello to get used to the process of warming up and pitching out of the bullpen.
Coming out of the bullpen isn’t completely foreign to Rick – he’s made four appearances in the playoffs that way and even came out of the pen once back in April – but never really in a non mop-up role where one would want to come out firing all of their bullets. He’s also never been asked to pitch on back-to-back days.
It’s probably a minor point, but skipping his final turn and allowing him a couple of shots at becoming comfortable in the bullpen could give both the player and the manager a confidence boost heading into October.