Porcello maintains poise in eventful spring

LAKELAND, Fla. — Despite all of the trade rumors and talk of competition between him and Drew Smyly for the final spot in the starting rotation, it was a relatively uneventful, quiet spring for Rick Porcello.

So when Tigers manager Jim Leyland announced earlier in the week that Porcello would be in the rotation and Smyly would be in the bullpen, Porcello was completely unfazed.

“Definitely coming into camp I fully expected to be a starting pitcher,” Porcello said. “I said the entire time through camp, my mindset was that I’m going to be starting. Nothing else was really an option. I think that just kind of almost helped take the focus off of everything else, I just kind of focused on preparing like I would any other spring.”

But this wasn’t any other spring for Porcello.

In the offseason, Porcello set out to completely revamp his mechanics. He wasn’t satisfied with going 10-12 with a 4.59 ERA and 1.53 WHIP last season.

“Really kind of changed my delivery, got back to basics a little bit,” Porcello said. “I almost started from scratch this offseason. Kind of just rebuilt everything. That’s helped consistency on all my pitches and keeping the ball down in the zone and everything.”

Catcher Alex Avila said the way Porcello starts his delivery looks very similar to how it did last year, but the finish is different.

“He’s following through a little bit more, which I think has allowed him to have more command of his pitches,” Avila said. “He’s gotten stronger over the last few years. The life on his fastball, there’s a big difference. Probably the biggest difference is his breaking ball.”

Those results showed this spring. In Grapefruit League games, Porcello had six starts, going 4-1 with a 3.00 ERA and 0.75 WHIP. He had 21 strikeouts and zero walks.

Porcello did walk two in a minor league game.

He finished his spring in a minor league game Saturday, allowing no runs on one hit while striking out two for Double-A Erie back in Lakeland.

“I think just trying to keep the ball down, throw strikes,” Porcello said of his lack of free passes. “You’re going to walk guys. Everybody’s human. Being able to limit those, and I think the quality strikes are what’s most important.”

Avila said Porcello’s thrown plenty of quality pitches this spring with better command than he’s ever had.

“Not only the life on his pitches, his stuff, plus the command he has, there’s a difference there,” Avila said. “I think his new delivery and everything that he’s worked on has allowed him to really trust that four-seam anytime without relying so much on the sinker. He’s definitely in a position to make a step forward with the type of pitcher he’s going to be with an entire arsenal, not just one pitch.”

Porcello just turned 24 this past December so even though he’s won 48 games at the big league level, he’s still learning and growing as a player.

“I think he’s shown a lot of character in the way he handled the rumor stuff, the way he approached his job this spring,” Leyland said. “I think he’s a very good major league pitcher that’s getting better.”

That’s exactly what Porcello intends to do as he enters his fifth season in the major leagues — get better and help his team win.

“I think the biggest goal is consistency, that’s my goal every year,” Porcello said. “I know I’m capable of pitching at a high level and I think being able to deliver that every fifth day, that’s what everybody tries to do.”