May 18, 2013 at 1:00 am

Lynn Henning

This is why the Tigers refused to dump Rick Porcello in a trade

Rick Porcello has had one bad start in 2013. He has four consecutive quality starts (six innings or more, three or fewer earned runs allowed) after winning Friday nights pitching fest that saw the Tigers tip the Rangers, 2-1. (Associated Press)

Rick Porcello: A great example why it pays to be patient in baseball.

Tigers fans were impatient and, so, probably, were his employers as Porcello last year finished his fourth big-league season with a 10-12 record, 4.59 ERA, and with the dubious celebrity of having allowed more hits (226) than any other American League pitcher.

Porcello turned 24 last December. It might have seemed as if by now a Tigers starter with Porcello's arm should be pitching more like a 28-year-old approaching his prime. But even the Tigers, who constantly preached Porcello needed time, looked as if they were done waiting as Dave Dombrowski decided Porcello would be the best of his six starters to offer as spring-training trade bait.

But the trade talk came with a caveat. Dombrowski, the Tigers' front-office chief, wanted something particularly juicy in return. He didn't get it. And so Dombrowski was content to go north with Porcello in manager Jim Leyland's rotation and with Drew Smyly, the left-handed starter they preferred to have in the five-man mix, assigned at least temporarily to the bullpen.

Porcello has had one bad start in 2013. He has four consecutive quality starts (six innings or more, three or fewer earned runs allowed) after winning Friday night's pitching fest that saw the Tigers tip the Rangers, 2-1.

It gets ticklish, deciding on a pitcher's development. You can rush them, as the Tigers concede they probably did 10 years ago with Jeremy Bonderman. Or you can decide there is probably not a lot they will learn in the minors they can't learn in the big leagues as long as their base pitching package is solid.

Porcello's was, even at age 20, which is how he ended up in Detroit. And the reality is the slider he bagged this spring in favor of the curveball, the better zip on his sinker, and the change-up he has thrown so very well of late, needed time that would not have been anymore advantageous to him or to the Tigers had they left him in the bushes for a couple of additional years.

They instead made him a regular who could eat innings and stand a decent chance of winning a ballgame. And now they have a potentially heavy weapon at the end of their rotation that makes him fairly indistinguishable from the rest of a very good starting quintet.

Baseball doesn't offer shortcuts. It takes time. And at 24, Porcello is ahead of the pack when it comes to knowing how to throw that increasingly impressive repertoire of his.

How it all plays out when the Tigers still want Smyly in the rotation isn't yet clear. Check in a couple of months from now when the rotation's health, a bullpen's alignment, and a team's needs will better determine Porcello's — and the Tigers' — 2013 fate.

lynn.henning@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/Lynn_Henning