Tigers confident in Perry, Porcello
Organization officials in complete agreement rookies belong
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The easiest answer, manager Jim Leyland said, would've been no. In the end, Leyland said, nobody gave that answer on either Rick Porcello or Ryan Perry.
"Are we right? I don't know," Leyland said Wednesday after the Tigers finalized their pitching staff, with Porcello and Perry on it. "We think we are. I think the easiest thing is to say, 'They're not ready.' Anybody can say no.
The fact that the Tigers said yes on both of them is fitting. They came into camp as a duo, both former first-round Draft picks. They've stayed at the same apartment in town, and they've been inseparable at times this Spring Training. They also earned comparisons to another young Tigers duo, Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya, who made the club in 2006.
So when team officials had their answers on Perry and Porcello, Leyland brought them into his office at the same time rather than individually, which he does with almost every other player. He then sat down the two kids and tried to tell them that they didn't make the club as an April Fool's joke. They didn't really bite.
"To be honest, I think they both knew I was fooling," Leyland said, "because they both knew they were good enough."
That's part of what got them here. They both knew they could compete for a job, Leyland said, no matter the inexperience. They won their jobs by showing the poise to pitch beyond their years.
There were subtle differences in the two. In Porcello's case, team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said, they knew going in that he was a "special situation," a term that Dombrowski said he has used maybe five or six times in around 30 years in baseball. Porcello came to Spring Training as a long shot, but still a legitimate shot. His maturity was known, as was what Dombrowski called a "very, very nasty sinker."
The more Porcello pitched, and the more other candidates struggled, the more his candidacy picked up. In some ways, he was more consistent on the mound than others beyond his experience level, save for a two-game hiccup after a cut on his right middle finger prevented him from pitching on the side, much less pitching in games. He allowed four earned runs on 16 hits over 13 2/3 innings this spring, striking out seven. He gave up more than one run in an outing only once, and more than one walk in an outing just twice.
As much as Leyland downplays the idea of one outing making a difference in a player's case, he admitted that Porcello's final performance Tuesday against the Nationals played into his thinking. It was after back-to-back subpar outings, including three hits and three walks over 2 1/3 inning against the Rays in a night game.
With decisions looming, Porcello was efficient in his execution, sending down the first nine Nats in order on his way to a Spring Training high of five innings with a lone unearned run allowed. He induced 10 ground-ball outs, compared with just three in the air.
"That did play into it," Leyland said. "I'm assuming that he knew he wasn't just going out there for exercise. And I thought the way he handled himself above and beyond just struck me. I don't know if that was the thing that tipped it for sure."
Porcello will make his Major League debut next Thursday afternoon at Toronto in the series finale against the Blue Jays. His first start at Comerica Park will likely come Tuesday, April 14, in a day game against the White Sox.
Perry, Dombrowski said, was more of an unknown besides the initial wow factor. Though many believed he could move quickly through the system, this kind of speed was something else. Perry couldn't simply earn a job on the strength of an upper-90s fastball; he had to show a feel for pitching that would convince Detroit officials he could retire big league hitters.
"In Perry's case, I really wasn't thinking that he would make our big league club coming in here," Dombrowski said, "but I knew that he would open a lot of eyes."
Perry gave up a lone run on eight hits over 10 2/3 innings with seven walks and 11 strikeouts. He lit up radar guns, but his location and patterns grew more impressive as time went on. By mixing his fastball with his slider and retiring hitters rather than simply overpowering them, he threw the Tigers a bit of a curve.
"Watching him, I think he's gotten better all the time," Leyland said.
Said Dombrowski: "The thing that got him is his composure, the way he's handled things. He's just very comfortable in this setting. I don't know, I guess if you're that good, you're quietly confident, because he doesn't seem intimidated whatsoever."
One possible reason to say no on either of them might've been the workload. Perry spent last year pitching at the University of Arizona, not an everyday schedule. Porcello pitched in the Florida State League on a 75-pitch limit each start. Dombrowski said that the Tigers can monitor workloads better than some believe, and that Porcello's quick outs can make his innings less stressful than those for others.
"If we're going to increase [Porcello's] workload from 120 to 160 innings, well, we can do that at the Major League level or at the Minor League level," Dombrowski said. "If he was going to pitch 100-110 pitches at the Minor League level, we can do that at the big league level."
The intensity level, obviously, is different. So is the experience. The confidence level is pretty high.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.