Tough day for Porcello, Tigers in loss to Angels
Right-hander labors in a nine-run first inning, including grand slam
ANAHEIM -- The dribbler to short on Rick Porcello's second pitch Saturday afternoon was not a good sign.
The back-to-back ground balls through the middle that followed suggested Porcello was going to need a big pitch if he was going to stop the rally.
The Mike Trout grand slam to center field that punctuated a nine-run opening inning was the clincher. The big pitch wasn't happening.
"To be honest with you, at that point in the inning I was pretty gassed," Porcello said.
For the Tigers, it pretty much ended any suspense in a 10-0 loss to the Angels, save for the free tacos fans won when the Halos reached double digits. For Porcello, it closed an outing that looked rough in the scorebook and on the field in completely different fashions.
"A little rusty, a little wild, a little unlucky," manager Jim Leyland said of his starter. "And that pretty much sums it up."
Trout's first career slam was the only extra-base hit of the bunch off Porcello. In between was a combination of two line drives, three infield singles and three ground balls through the middle of a Tigers infield that has enjoyed better days than this one over the season's first three weeks.
Converting one of those opening singles into an out would have limited the first-inning damage to three runs rather than nine. Then again, a sharper curveball to Trout from Porcello -- who held onto his rotation spot this spring on the strength of his curve -- might have limited the first inning to five runs. An out on Josh Hamilton, who battled out of a 1-2 count to draw a walk, would have done the same.
Sometimes, defenses pick up their pitchers. Sometimes, pitchers make a pitch to support the defense behind him. When neither happens, sometimes games like this do.
"I think we've all had games where guys are hitting the ball hard just right at [defenders]," Porcello said, "and you cruise through seven innings or whatever and you walk away feeling pretty good about it, but you didn't throw the ball that well. Today, I felt like I threw the ball fine. It just wasn't in the cards for me."
Add in an offense that has scored three runs over its last four games -- the lowest-scoring stretch the Tigers have had under Leyland's watch -- and is mired in a 4-for-44 funk with runners in scoring position, and a team that looked down on Friday looked much the same the next afternoon.
"There's some uphill battles and then there's some uphill battles," Leyland said. "And that was one of those, 'And then there's some uphill battles.'"
Porcello became just the second Tigers pitcher since 1916 to give up nine earned runs without getting out of the first inning. Hank Borowy allowed nine earned runs without retiring a batter against the St. Louis Browns on August 18, 1951. No Major League pitcher had done it since Cincinnati's Johnny Cueto on July 6, 2009.
The last Tigers hurler to allow a nine-run opening inning was Nate Cornejo on July 30, 2003, at Seattle. Like Porcello, Cornejo was a sinkerballer who was a high Draft pick. Like Porcello's day, Cornejo gave up a grand slam. Unlike Porcello's debacle, an error behind him led to six of the nine runs being unearned.
The Tigers didn't commit an error behind Porcello, but they didn't make a big play, either. After Peter Bourjos' infield dribbler, Trout and Albert Pujols both singled through the middle, the latter traveled so closely that both shortstop Jhonny Peralta and second baseman Omar Infante gave chase, leaving them looking at each other after it eluded both of them and continued into center field.
"The whole time that we play him, we play him to pull to the third-base side," Peralta said of Pujols. "And he hit one to the middle."
As the opening inning unraveled, Porcello stuck with his sinker, looked for the ground ball that would get him out of it. Both outs he recorded came on a Chris Iannetta ground ball to third. An earlier out would have made it an inning-ending double play. Instead, the inning continued with the Angels already holding a 4-0 lead.
Three more singles, including back-to-back infield grounders, loaded the bases again for Trout. Porcello got him in an 0-2 count before trying to finish him off with a curveball.
"That at-bat, I was fighting for my life to get out of there and just get that last out and regroup," Porcello said. "I hung a breaking ball a little too up in the zone and he hit it well."
Though Drew Smyly retired 11 consecutive Angels from the third inning through the sixth, his work did more to save the bullpen than it did to salvage the game.
Porcello's outing came almost a year to the day after he gave up an eight-run first inning to the Rangers last April 21. His struggles at times last season raised the question whether the he could ultimately succeed behind Detroit's infield. Infante's return to Detroit did a lot to address that, and Peralta showed improved range in Spring Training, especially towards the middle.
Saturday's performance raised the damage off Porcello (0-2) to 16 runs on 23 hits over 13 innings with as many walks (three) as strikeouts. Still, it would be a shock if he didn't make his next scheduled start on Friday against the Braves at Comerica Park.
"We played the game all right," Leyland said. "We just got ambushed."
Angels starter Garrett Richards (1-0) took the lead and never gave the Tigers an opportunity with multiple runners on base. With 12 groundouts over seven scoreless innings, he had the kind of outing Porcello was seeking.
"Anytime you're facing the Tigers and their offense, runs early, especially runs early, are really important," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "For us to break the game open at that point is important."