Tigers 4, Twins 0
Rick Porcello kept up the starting pitching surge Detroit has been riding all season.
Prince Fielder came through with another clutch hit, and Jose Valverde even had a stress-free appearance to try to get back on track. This is the way the Tigers wanted to start the series in Minnesota.
Fielder broke open a scoreless game with a two-run double in the sixth inning, the spark that Porcello and the Tigers used to beat the Twins 4-0 on Friday night.
Despite his status as the afterthought of this stacked rotation behind Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister, Porcello has shined in his last four appearances. He is 2-1 with 30 strikeouts in 27 innings and just 15 hits, five runs and four walks against him during that stretch.
''I've honestly really felt confident all year,'' Porcello said. ''I like what I've been working on, especially in the offseason going into spring training, and I'm starting to get some good results from it now.''
Victor Martinez and Jhonny Peralta followed Fielder's soaring drive with RBI doubles of their own, ending the night for Twins starter Scott Diamond (4-6). Even better for the Tigers was that the four-run cushion kept sputtering closer Jose Valverde out of a pressurized save situation.
''He wanted to be back out there tonight, and he wasn't shy about it,'' Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
Porcello (4-3) didn't need much relief. The right-hander breezed through seven scoreless innings, allowing just two singles and one double without a walk. He struck out five and gave the Tigers their 19th quality start (of at least six innings and three runs or less) in the last 20 games.
''Porcello was unbelievable. The last couple starts, he's been doing great. The breaking ball and two-seamer he's throwing, it's awesome,'' Valverde said.
Diamond walked Austin Jackson, the leadoff man back in his familiar spot after he missed the last month because of a pulled left hamstring, with one out in that decisive sixth. Torii Hunter advanced Jackson with a groundout, and Miguel Cabrera was intentionally walked.
''Diamond matched him for a long time there,'' said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, lamenting the leadoff walk: ''He got some balls up after that.''
Fielder made the Twins pay.
''He's done a terrific job of picking us up in that situation when it's happened. Terrific job. Tonight, off a left-hander, that's really special,'' Leyland said.
With one of those huge upper-cut swings, he smacked a 2-0 curveball high off the towering right-field wall to put the Tigers in front. Cabrera ran through the stop sign by third base coach Tom Brookens, whose arms were still straight up in the air as the big slugger chugged home without a throw.
''We're a team that slugs it pretty good, and when we slug it pretty good we look pretty good,'' Leyland said.
Valverde came in for the ninth after Drew Smyly and Joaquin Benoit collaborated on a scoreless eighth. Valverde walked Joe Mauer to start the inning, but Ryan Doumit followed with a double-play ground ball. Josh Willingham was grazed by a pitch, but Justin Morneau struck out looking to end the game.
''It's great for me and great for my teammates to be on the mound and have my confidence again,'' said Valverde, who allowed 10 hits, seven runs and five homers over his last six appearances while blowing two of his five save opportunities.
Valverde gave up a tying, two-run homer to Kansas City's Lorenzo Cain with two outs in the ninth inning on Wednesday, a game the Tigers lost in the 10th. Detroit's bullpen, the one glaring area of concern on this otherwise-championship-caliber club, has a 4-12 record with eight squandered saves in 22 chances.
Leyland bristled at a question about whether Valverde was still the closer, angrily lacing his answer with expletives before eventually affirming the veteran right-hander's status.
''We're going to use Jose Valverde until we decide Jose Valverde can or can't do it or we've got somebody else better,'' Leyland said.
The skipper tried to suggest too much attention has been fixated on his relievers, noting the Tigers have had some recent trouble scoring. While losing two of three to the Royals they had seven runs in 28 innings. But the Tigers still have the best batting average in baseball, at .281 entering the night.
Diamond, who was replaced with two outs in the sixth, gave up five hits and two walks with just one strikeout. The six scoreless innings he pitched on June 2 fueled his lone victory of the last seven turns. That is also the only time in that span he finished six innings.
NOTES: Valverde was warming up on the field before the game, working on the split-fingered fastball that has been hit hard lately. ... Willingham, the regular in left field, was the DH for the Twins for the fourth straight time to rest his sore knees as much as possible. ... Sanchez (6-5, 2.65 ERA) will pitch for the Tigers on Saturday against RH Samuel Deduno (2-1, 3.47 ERA) of the Twins. Sanchez took a no-hitter one out into the ninth inning the last time he faced the Twins, in Detroit on May 24. He sat out his previous start because of tightness in his shoulder.
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