June 10, 2013 at 7:33 pm

Terry Foster

Tigers pitcher Rick Porcello is a starter, plain and simple

Rick Porcello is even-keeled, mild-mannered and polite. He does not have the bravado of a typical closer. (Robin Buckson/The Detroit News)

Detroit— Tigers pitcher Rick Porcello looks up from his dressing stall and shrugs.

He is a starting pitcher, plain and simple, despite the clamoring from Tiger fans he should be their closer.

Manager Jim Leyland says Jose Valverde is his closer, though the skipper’s confidence in Papa Grande has to be shaky.

Valverde entered Friday’s game with a four-run lead in a non-save situation and promptly surrendered two home runs to the Indians. He protected a two-run lead Saturday to earn his eighth save, but not before some tense moments for Tigers fans at Comerica Park.

In his last four outings, Valverde has given up four home runs, six earned runs and eight hits in 3.2 innings.

The Tigers must find a better closer. Jose Valverde made a valiant comeback from the scrap heap but is now giving up hits and runs in bunches.

Fans want to nominate Porcello as the closer because they see lefty Drew Smyly as an adequate replacement for Porcello as the fifth starter.

There is also the perception Porcello (3-3, 4.86 earned-run average) easily gets through the order the first time through and struggles as the game progresses.

The numbers do not support that.

Easing in

In his first three innings Porcello has a 7.05 ERA, a WHIP of 1.41 and opponents bat .292 against him. In the remaining innings his ERA falls to 2.23, his WHIP to 1.05 and opponents bat .211 against him.

That does not sound like a closer. It sounds like a guy that eases into games and finds his way.

“My job is to be a starting pitcher and that is what I am focused on,” Porcello said. “I have not given much thought to (closing) so it is kind of a hard question for me to answer.”

Porcello is even-keeled, mild-mannered and polite. He does not have the bravado of a typical closer. He gets people out with a decent fastball, an effective sinker and an underrated curveball. He likes to work the plate and work different pitches.

Closers mostly run onto the field with their pants on fire and pulverize the strike zone. Rick Porcello works the strike zone.

“In my mind (Porcello) is a starter,” Leyland said. “When you talk about closers you are talking about guys who are resilient that can pitch four or five times a week. Can Porcello close a game? Yes. Do I think he is resilient enough to be a closer? No.”

Porcello looks forward to every fifth day. The day he is on the mound he feels in command and believes he is just as important as Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. It is his day and he wants to make the most of it.

“The starting pitcher’s job is to take control,” he said. “The moment the game begins it’s about getting your team in the dugout as quickly as possible. If a team scores a couple of runs then you have to put up zeroes right after.”

Just a steady guy

Many closers get guys out with one pitch. The Yankees’ Mariano Rivera is considered one of the best relievers in history. He doesn’t mess around with curveballs and changeups. He gets guys out with a nasty cutter. Everybody knows it is coming. Few can hit it.

“He never threw a curve that I knew of,” Leyland said. “He threw that cutter for 15 years.”

Added Leyland: “The closer is the guy that has to be able to turn the page because all eyes are on you when you blow a game. It is a different mentality for a closer than a starter.”

The closer is usually a little eccentric. Todd Jones and Valverde certainly fit that description.

Porcello is just a steady guy that stays out of the way until every fifth day.

“Some guys thrive on getting those last three outs,” Leyland said. “A lot of guys can’t get those last three outs. I think a lot of it is, to be a closer you have to have the mentality of a burglar.”

Porcello is not here to steal the limelight at the end of games. He simply wants to start games and win games in a low-key style.

terry.foster@detroitnews.com
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