Rick Porcello has been everything the Tigers could have hoped for this season. In his last start on Thursday, the right-hander was that and more, notching the first shutout of his career, a three-hit effort on the road against the Rangers.
Porcello has hit his stride in concert with the entire Tigers' team, which returned home from a 7-2 road trip in which it took hold of first place in the AL Central. On the heels of that came Monday's stirring victory in the opener vs. the A's, when Rajai Davis crushed a walk-off grand slam in the ninth to lift the Tigers to a 5-4 win on the night they honored the 30th anniversary of the 1984 champs.
For the second time in 10 years, the Tigers celebrated an anniversary of their '84 World Series title with a walk-off slam. It was their first walk-off slam since Carlos Pena's tiebreaker beat the D-backs on June 27, 2004, the day the Tigers celebrated the 20th anniversary of their World Series title.
In a year when Justin Verlander has surprisingly struggled to find his form, Porcello is playing his part in lifting up the Tigers' staff with his best campaign since entering the league in 2009. He is 10-4 with a 3.41 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP, and will get the ball Tuesday against the A's at Comerica Park.
With two more outings after this one before the break, Porcello has a chance to match last season's win total of 13 before the All-Star Game, while moving within one of his career high of 14 set in 2009 and matched in '11.
"I don't want to play that down. I'm very fortunate to get to that mark on a personal note," Porcello said of his 10th win. "But the bottom line is a product of the defense that I have playing behind me and how well those guys have swung the bats when I've been on the mound."
In his last start vs. Oakland on May 29, Porcello had a crucial bounce-back performance following his poorest start of the year against Texas. He held the high-powered A's to two runs in 5 2/3 frames, and in his last six starts including that one, he has a 2.95 ERA.
This recent run of success culminated in Porcello's gem on Thursday, when his sinker was working beautifully as he extended his scoreless-innings streak to 16. He is now in contention for a spot on the American League All-Star team.
"He looks extremely confident," catcher Alex Avila said after Porcello's last start. "The thing is now, he's got four pitches that he can rely on for outs, and I think he's very confident that if one or two is not working or not feeling as good, that his other stuff is good enough to get guys out as well."
Detroit will look to maintain its momentum against A's left-hander Brad Mills, whom the AL West leaders acquired for a mere $1 on June 17. Mills far exceeded that value in his second start on Wednesday, holding the Mets to three runs on nine hits in 6 1/3 innings for his first big league win since 2012.
Mills doesn't boast dominant stuff -- a mid-to-upper-80s fastball and a low-70s curveball -- but he is hoping to become the latest surprise success story on an A's roster that is full of them.
The matchup between the Tigers and A's may fall short of a rivalry, but the teams have been the class of their respective divisions in recent years -- not to mention the Tigers have bounced the A's in the AL Division Series in consecutive seasons.
"I think whenever we play these guys, it's probably a bit more cached based on the last couple of years," said A's manager Bob Melvin. "We know it's a very good team and we have to play well to beat them. Both teams, to say the least, are up to speed on each other. It's all about going out there and performing on the field."
A's: Norris could return during Tigers series
Catcher Derek Norris was sidelined for a third straight game Monday with lingering back soreness, but Melvin is hopeful he will be behind the plate by the time Oakland's three-game set in Detroit concludes on Wednesday.
Norris exited Friday's game in Miami with pain in his lower back, similar to what he experienced earlier this season. He could hardly walk on Saturday, but on Monday he could touch his toes and twist side to side pain-free.
He "felt OK" taking swings in the cage on Monday.
"Backs just take time," Norris said. "There's no quick fix, nothing you can really do to take the time to let the muscles that were [ticked] off cool down."
Tigers: Martinez scratched Monday with back soreness
Tigers' manager Brad Ausmus kept Victor Martinez out of the lineup Monday after Martinez mentioned feeling soreness around his back. The designated hitter showed no clear signs of injury, but his manager wasn't taking any chances.
"He didn't want to come out," Ausmus said. "He took BP and he looked OK, but I just decided that I didn't want to risk losing Vic for an extended period of time."
Martinez was scratched from the Tigers' lineup for the first time this season, and J.D. Martinez took his place.
The injury does not look serious, but Ausmus wanted to play it safe.
"Today was the first time I'd heard about it," Ausmus said. "He said he felt it a little bit yesterday and he felt it again today, so I just decided it would be better to take him out."
• A's left fielder Yoenis Cespedes extended his career-high hitting streak to 14 games on Monday after moving into third place among American League outfielders in the All-Star ballot update released earlier in the day.
• Cespedes and Josh Donaldson are in line to become Oakland's first fan-elected starters since Jason Giambi in 2000.
• Tigers' second baseman Ian Kinsler hit .459 (17-for-37) with three home runs, 10 RBIs and nine runs scored during the team's recent nine-game road trip.
Aaron Leibowitz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.