Tigers Look to Stay Hot Behind Struggling Rick Porcello

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Fresh off an improbable series win in Tampa, the Detroit Tigers head to the Twin Cities to take on a struggling Minnesota club in a weekend series beginning tonight. The Twins, losers of five straight and eight of 10, have the worst run differential in the American League, for whatever that’s worth.

The Scheduled starter for Minnesota tonight had been Anthony Swarzak, but he was pressed into relief duty yesterday when Francisco Liriano had to leave his start against Baltimore early. As a result, left hander Scott Diamond was recalled to make the start versus Detroit. Diamond has made one career major league start, taking the loss on July 18. In that game, he allowed four runs (3 earned) over 6.1 innings.

He has been brutal at Triple-A Rochester this season, however, posting a 4-14 record and 5.56 ERA in the International League. His 1.577 WHIP in 123 minor league innings is thanks largely to his high amount of hits allowed. He doesn’t walk many (2.6/9), but he doesn’t strike out all that many, either (6.6/9).

Here’s what Wally Fish of Seedlings to Stars had to say on Diamond after his initial big league start:

"Diamond was selected by the Twins in the Rule-5 draft back in December and when they didn’t have room for him on the major league roster coming out of spring training, they dealt relief prospect Billy Bullock to Atlanta to keep Scott around. It was a move I classified as a blunder at the time and examined the early returns of the deal at the end of April. Suffice to say, I’ve never been a fan.What Diamond gave the Twins in his debut is about the best the team could have hoped for. He lasted 6.1 innings while allowing 7 hits, 4 runs (3 of them earned), walked 2 and gave up 1 home run. He struck out 2 and kept the team in the game but ultimately took the loss. Bullock, meanwhile continues to whiff batters at a very healthy pace – 12.9 SO/9 this season for the Montgomery Biscuits (AA). There are plenty of folks who have taken up the defense of Scott Diamond and plenty of others who bash him – and the Twins – for the acquisition. I didn’t understand the move at the time and frankly I still don’t, but for one night at least Scott Diamond was an average major league pitcher."

Still, as much as the numbers might seem to favor Detroit, this is the type of pitcher that has given the Tigers fits over recent seasons. He’s a lefty and they haven’t seen him before and he doesn’t appear to have great stuff. If you’ve been paying attention since 2006, you’re probably scared to death of a guy like Diamond.

It doesn’t figure to help that the Tigers will counter with right hander Rick Porcello. Over his last three starts, Porcello has allowed 27 hits and 19 runs (17 earned) in just 13.1 innings. His ERA over that span has jumped from 4.49 to 5.17 and this stretch is coming off a six start run that saw Porcello work 38.2 innings and allow only 36 hits and 14 earned runs.

There are lots of theories as to what has cause Porcello to go sideways lately, and the Tigers say they have identified the problem. Garret Craig took a look at the situation on his blog earlier today. It’s a good read with some surprising numbers that illustrate how Porcello is relying more on his sinker than in previous starts, and how the pitch has become far less effective.

Craig’s piece fits well with the thoughts, expressed by many before the season, that Porcello needs to utilize his secondary pitches more often to be effective. He’s still very much a groundball artist, but whether or not that sinker isn’t sinking, he has to have the ability to keep hitters off balance with his four-seamer, his change, and his slider. Lately, he hasn’t been able to do that.

While Porcello has a propensity to allow home runs to non-sluggers (think Chris Nelson, Juan Pierre), he shouldn’t have to worry all that much about keeping Justin Morneau or Joe Mauer in the yard. Since Morneau’s concussion on July 7 of last year, the two have combined for exactly one home run in over 330 at bats in their home park.

On paper, the Tigers would appear to have an upper hand in the series opener, but questions abound as to how this club will react to seeing Diamond for the first time, and as to whether or not Porcello can make the necessary adjustments in his approach to keep the Twins offense down.

The good thing this weekend is that the Tigers, and specifically Justin Verlander, who starts on Saturday, won’t have to deal with Jim Thome. The Twins dealt the legendary slugger to Cleveland yesterday for a player to be named later. The bad news is that it means Detroit will have to see Thome six more times this year now instead of three.

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