Keeping Porcello makes sense for Tigers

Detroit Tigers pitcher Rick Porcello has spent the offseason on the rumor mill.

DETROIT -- Detroit Tigers pitcher Rick Porcello has spent the offseason on the rumor mill.

The Tigers nearly made the Justin Upton trade between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Atlanta Braves a three-team deal by involving Porcello, according to Ken Rosenthal of

Now the Diamondbacks have lost interest in Porcello after picking up Randall Delgado from the Braves. And the speedy, defensive shortstop Detroit had interest in, Nick Ahmed, who played Single-A ball last season, went from the Braves to the Diamondbacks.

Porcello also has been connected to trade talks with the Baltimore Orioles, San Diego Padres, Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners.

How has Porcello dealt with the constant speculation?

“I’m still a Tiger the last time I checked,” Porcello said. “I’m ready to go down to Lakeland (Fla.) and earn a spot in the rotation.

“I wouldn’t be doing my job if I let this stuff get to me. If I’m traded, I will adjust accordingly at that time. But with the Tigers, there has never been a year where I have taken a job for granted.”

Porcello will compete for the No. 5 spot in the rotation with lefthander Drew Smyly, who was 4-3 with a 3.99 ERA in 23 games and 18 starts as a rookie in 2012. Porcello was 10-12 with a 4.59 ERA in 31 starts.

I understand trading from your strengths to improve your weaknesses, but unless the Tigers acquire a proven closer or a differencemaker shortstop in a Porcello deal, I don’t like it. Frankly, it's doubtful Porcello will bring either of those commodities unless he’s part of a multiplayer deal.

There's also this to consider: Should Porcello be dealt and somebody in the rotation goes down, Detroit doesn't have a farmhand it’s itching to give a chance. Would you feel comfortable with Casey Crosby or somebody else as the No. 5 starter for more than a couple weeks?

There's not a Jacob Turner or Andy Oliver down on the farm any more, and for all the anticipation those two prospects created, they didn't excel either when called upon and have since been dealt away.

“Rick Porcello is a member of our team right now,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said, “and I like having Rick Porcello as a member of our team ... I love Rick Porcello and I like Drew Smyly.”

Those who have lost confidence in Porcello accentuate his reliance on ground-ball outs -- on a team with shoddy infield defense -- and high earned-run average (4.59 last season).

Those who believe Porcello’s best days are ahead of him point to his 48-42 record at age 24 and his improving his fastball speed, which is up to 95 mph. His strikeouts per nine innings have risen each season, too, up to 5.5 in 2012.

If Porcello can command his slider and quit relying on his sinker, he could easily become a strong middle-of-the-rotation starter. He was with a 14-9 record and 3.96 ERA as a rookie in 2009.

“This guy was the premium (high school) talent coming out in the draft,” Dombrowski said of his 2007 first-rounder. “He’s just struggled with consistency with his breaking ball.

"His fastball is up to 95 and he has a good sinker. His changeup’s been there at times. I think he’s going to be a very good major-league pitcher.”

Dombrowski mentioned a “funk” in Porcello’s delivery, something pitching coach Jeff Jones is “smoothing out.”

“We’re working on the finish in his delivery and keeping a bent front leg to keep him moving forward," Jones said. "And we’re also working on smoothing out his take-away with the ball from his glove.

"What you have to remember is that if Rick went to college, he’d probably just be coming up to the majors.”

After giving his No. 48 to new teammate Torii Hunter for a donation to Hurricane Sandy relief, Porcello will once again be wearing the No. 21 he had as a dominant pitcher at Seton Hall Prep in West Orange, N.J.

“We’re trying to find a foundation where all of it’s assured to go to relief on the Jersey shores,” Porcello said. “We lost power for two weeks where I live and a lot of trees went down. But it was not nearly the same as what happened down on the shores and the Rockaways (beaches in New York)."

So the young veteran who has made 31 professional starts in four consecutive seasons will wear his old number while searching for the great promise he showed in high school.

Leyland said he plans to use the odd-man-out in the Porcello-Smyly competition in the bullpen.

“My job is to do whatever Skip tells me to do,” Porcello said. “And I’m prepared to do my job to the best of my ability.

"Internal competition will push both of us to get better, and I am looking forward to that.”

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