Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon

Porcello dazzles in pro debut

Detroit's top pick tosses five scoreless innings as Lakeland wins opener, 4-1
April 3, 2008
TAMPA, Fla. -- Rick Porcello's first professional pitch, a fastball strike, crackled over home plate at George M. Steinbrenner Field shortly after 7 p.m. Thursday night.

He delivered his 71st and final offering, also a fastball, just over an hour later, and the result was the same. In between, Porcello was mostly dominant, tossing five shutout innings as Lakeland opened its Florida State League season with a 4-1 victory over Tampa.

Porcello (1-0), Detroit's top pick in last June's First-Year Player Draft (27th overall), allowed just one hit, an infield single in the second inning. He struck out three, walked two and hit a batter. The 19-year-old right-hander struggled to get through the fifth, needing 22 pitches to complete the inning.

"It's always nice to get your first pro win," Porcello said. "For me it was definitely nice. I'm looking forward to getting some more. I was a little nervous in the bullpen, but when I got out on the field, I felt OK. As I started throwing, I got better and better. I wasn't bothered at all."

It took Porcello nine pitches and less than three minutes to make it through the first. Tampa managed three weak ground balls, the last of which was a Mitch Hilligoss comebacker to Porcello. The entire Lakeland squad was on the top step of the dugout waiting for the teenager as he came off the field.

Edwar Gonzalez led off the second by squibbing a 1-2 fastball between the mound and the third-base line. Porcello bounded off the hill, fielded the ball and made an off-balance throw that Gonzalez just beat out for Tampa's only hit against him. He made Seth Fortenberry his first strikeout victim before retiring Josue Calzado and Kyle Anson to strand Gonzalez.

"[Porcello] pitched very well," Lakeland manager Andy Barkett said. "He was poised out there. He might have been nervous but if he was, you couldn't tell. He does everything very well. He didn't seem like a 19-year-old kid out there. You really couldn't ask for anything more from him. Whether he's 19 or 25, to get five strong innings like that in your pro debut is impressive."

Porcello hadn't gone to a full count prior to the fifth, but walked Anson with one out. He appeared to be on his way out of trouble when he got first baseman Kevin Smith to hit a grounder. But Lakeland shortstop Cale Iorg bobbled what appeared to be an easy double-play ball and was only able to register a fielder's choice at second base. Porcello then walked Tim Battle, whom he had hit with a pitch in the third.

A visit from pitching coach Joe Coleman seemed to calm Porcello down. After Damon Sublett took him to another full count, he struck out the second baseman to end the threat. Even if Porcello, whose fastball was in the low 90s for much of the evening with a high of 94, had breezed through the inning, it would have been his last. He was on a 75-pitch limit or five innings, whichever came first.

"I wasn't tired in the fifth inning," said Porcello, who was also charged with an error on a pick-off throw after hitting Battle. "My arm slot just dropped a little bit. I started to lose control a little. I just have to go back out there and get after it.

"Joe said to bear down and go after the last hitter. It wasn't exactly pretty, but I got him. I walked a couple of guys and lost some control. It's something I have to work on, but otherwise everything went pretty well."

Barkett indicated that had Porcello not been on a count, he would have pitched deeper into the game despite his fifth-inning struggles.

"Joe Coleman went out there and let him know what adjustments to make," Barkett said. "It was impressive that he was able to make the adjustment and get through the inning. I wouldn't say he was out of gas. He had enough left to go another inning."

The Tigers snapped a scoreless tie in the top of the sixth by scoring three times off Tampa starter Eric Hacker (0-1). Ryan Strieby's RBI single put Lakeland ahead before Brennan Boesch connected for a two-run double. Iorg added an RBI triple in the seventh.

Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for