Cool Porcello ready for home opener
Just 21 years old, righty has big-game experience
KANSAS CITY -- Rick Porcello seemingly grew up in front of a national audience by pitching in the toughest of road environments. Six months later, he gets the flip side.
If Porcello could handle the roar of a packed crowd at the Metrodome and pitch well in the American League tiebreaker, the Tigers expect he can hold his own Friday amid the nonstop buzz and emotional outpour of Detroit's unofficial spring party, the Tigers' home opener. That's part of the reason this 21-year-old right-hander with a 28-year-old's maturity landed the next-best assignment to starting Opening Day.
"I don't think you ever know for sure, but I don't think he'll get hung up in that," manager Jim Leyland said. "I think he'll just go about his business."
That's what Porcello does. He kept his cool last year in situations that should've flummoxed many 20-year-olds. More importantly, he kept his sinker and his fastball, two pitches that flustered Indians hitters to no end last year. If he has those going Friday afternoon, Detroit fans should be in for quite a party, even if Porcello isn't reveling in it.
He does understand the significance, even if he has to keep it out of his mind. He remembers last year's home opener as a bystander, having made his Major League debut the previous day in Toronto, and watching all the activities. He had never been to an Opening Day game as a fan, so it was an experience on many levels that brought out a little bit of the kid in someone who did such a good job of keeping those emotions out of his game.
"I didn't realize how incredible it was, how big of a deal it was," Porcello said.
He knows it now, of course, and he knows the challenge that goes into channeling that. While the atmosphere might compare with what Porcello encountered at the Metrodome last October, the overwhelming difference will be who fans are pulling for. Not only will he have a dozen different family members in town from three different states, including his parents, he'll have the vast majority of a capacity crowd pulling for him.
That makes a difference to Porcello, even if he has to try to tune them out a little bit.
"You're out there and you've got an entire stadium, and you feel like they're cheering you on and they've got your back," Porcello said, "as opposed to pitching on the road and they want to see you just get rocked."
All those Twins fans couldn't get him rocked the last time he took the field in a regular-season game, a contest that was essentially a playoff elimination game. Facing a win-or-go-home scenario, Porcello did more than his part to try to turn the win scenario into reality.
He showed a pretty effective mix of the sinker that induced so many groundouts in the first half of last season and the four-seam power fastball that flustered hitters after that. With temperatures expected to approach 50 degrees Friday, it would not be a surprise to see Porcello try to jam hitters inside with more fastballs.
His ability to react and adjust to hitters in tandem with catcher Gerald Laird last year was another sign of his focus on the mound. No atmosphere is likely to change that.
"There's so much made about it," Leyland said of the home-opener atmosphere, "but I don't really think that pitchers think about that. He shouldn't be thinking about that. He should be thinking about Cleveland's hitters and how he's going to try to get them out, and I'm sure that's what Rick will be doing."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.