video thumbnail

STL@DET: Jackson plates Laird with double to right

DETROIT -- Rick Porcello was a freshman in high school in the spring of 2004, when Jake Westbrook crashed the Cleveland rotation in no small part by confounding the Tigers. Porcello had just graduated high school and gone pro into the Tigers' system the summer that Westbrook helped the Indians pass the Tigers for the 2007 American League Central title.

If Porcello needed an example of how a sinkerball pitcher with consistency and some in-game adjustments can shut down a lineup of aggressive hitters, all he had to do was look out from his dugout Wednesday night and watch Westbrook go to work on Detroit in a 3-1 Tigers loss to the Cardinals, his current club.

Essentially, he took a lineup of hitters largely looking to crush him and let them pound the ball into the ground.

"Tonight's one of those nights, really, I just tip my hat to Westbrook," manager Jim Leyland said. "He was terrific."

Porcello couldn't watch much, of course, because he was busy trying to keep pace. He couldn't, and with a couple misplays from the Tigers defense, it wasn't entirely his fault that he didn't. But this might be an example he can look back on.

"Jake's been around for a long time. He's been very successful," Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones said. "Ricky's a very similar pitcher. I think Ricky's going to be around for a long time also and be very successful."

Statistically, Westbrook had a dominant performance, a complete-game five-hitter with an unearned run, one walk and five strikeouts. The 34-year-old went the distance in a game for the first time in two years, and he did it eight years after tossing 16 innings of two-hit ball over back-to-back outings against the Tigers as an injury fill-in.

Shutting down that Tigers' lineup, with Ivan Rodriguez and Carlos Guillen as its only hitters in their primes, was one thing. Doing something similar to this lineup, with Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, is another, even with the offensive inconsistencies the Tigers have posted all season.

Yet the way the Tigers attacked him became a lesson for a sinkerballer: Sometimes it's less about getting hitters out, than it is setting up hitters to get themselves out. They grounded out 15 times off Westbrook on Wednesday, and they had Austin Jackson's RBI double in the third inning to look back on as one of just two extra-base hits.

"You can't just kind of throw sinkers in there," Westbrook said. "You have to use [their aggressiveness] to your advantage and mix up your pitches to where it's not just center-cut where they can do some damage."

Westbrook's catcher, Yadier Molina, seconded that.

"I noticed that they were chasing everything down and away and inside, too," he said. "When you have a pitcher like Westbrook, where the ball moves a lot, that's an advantage for him."

Good sinkerball pitchers like Westbrook use that. If it was a rarity, then guys like him wouldn't last in the league as long as the good ones do.

"He had a great sinker, and then he went to the cutter and a few breaking balls later in the game," Leyland said. "He's a smart veteran."

It isn't glamorous, but it gets the job done. And if Porcello is going to make it in this league, no matter how others perceive, he's going to have to pitch in that fashion.

Wednesday night wasn't quite that. It was better than he had been lately.

Porcello gave up 10 hits over seven innings of two-run ball. Matt Holliday's sixth-inning double down the left-field line was the only one that went for extra bases, which fittingly set up the go-ahead run. Porcello's 11 ground-ball outs, compared to just two flyouts, stook in stark contrast to his previous two outings at Great American Ball Park and Wrigley Field.

He could live with the singles. So could the Tigers, who hammered home the point about keeping his pitches down on a night when the first-pitch temperature was 92 degrees.

"What we talked about coming into this game was making sure that the majority of your sinkers are from the knees down," Jones said. "That was the big focus tonight. I thought he threw the ball well. He got a lot of ground balls.

"They got some hits. That's a pretty good hitting team. He did exactly what he was supposed to do, keep us in the game. He kept us in for seven innings."

Holliday's double put the eventual go-ahead run on base before Allen Craig's ensuing line-drive single moved him to third with nobody out.

Porcello induced a double-play grounder from Molina, but that was enough to score Holliday. That was pretty much the ballgame, though Jhonny Peralta dropped a Molina line drive for an error to score an unearned insurance run off Brayan Villarreal in the eighth.

On many nights, those sinkers would earn Porcello a victory. The way the Tigers were swinging off Westbrook, though, was a lesson.

"Everything was working," Ramon Santiago said. "His ball got good sink, good movement, he kept it low. He didn't make any mistakes in the middle of the plate."

That's what sinkerballers do. That's what the Tigers hope Porcello eventually does.

MLB.com Comments