Verlander, Porcello raise ante in mound duel

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Boston — It was strange, Alex Avila admitted that. Facing Rick Porcello instead of catching him like he had for the previous six season, yeah, it was odd.

But there was no talking. Porcello gave Avila a funny look after he singled in the seventh, other than that, they might as well have been strangers.

"Knowing him and knowing myself, we weren't going to talk before," Avila said. "Especially with this being the first game of the series. I didn't want to do that. But we'll talk now."

Porcello and Justin Verlander had themselves quite a duel Friday. Each gave up a run. Porcello was pulled after seven innings, Verlander after eight. But Porcello ho-hummed it.

"There are a couple of guys over there that I played with for a while," Porcello said. "But really it was just about us coming off seven straight losses. We needed that win bad, so just leave it all out there."

He allowed five hits and struck out six. His fastball was consistently clocked at 93 mph and he was hitting 95.

"He threw that hard here," Avila said. "He averaged anywhere from 89 to 94. His stuff was the same. But I didn't think he threw as many sinkers tonight. He was throwing a lot of four-seamers and a lot of off-speed.

"Just from watching, he might not have thrown more than five sinkers all game, and by doing that, he kept us off-balance."

Porcello didn't think he had any advantage because he knew the Tigers so well.

"It goes both ways," he said. "I know them and they know me. Just see what happens. Make your pitches."

It was the first time Porcello had finished the seventh inning in seven starts. But his poor record is a little deceiving. He has pitched better of late, especially at home. Opponents were hitting .247 with a .273 slugging percentage and .548 OPS at Fenway, best among Red Sox starters.

"I just got back to being myself," he said. "Just attack with my fastball and execute. That's what the difference has been when I was struggling — I wasn't executing."

Verlander's innings may not have been as clean as Porcello's, but he was good.

"This was a much-better pitched game for Verlander," manager Brad Ausmus said. "The command of his pitches, his approach to the hitters, he pitched very well, with the emphasis on pitched."

He allowed seven singles. He was hitting his spots with his fastball (91-94), slider and curve. And, big difference from his last outing, his mechanics didn't come apart when he worked out of the stretch.

"I wasn't nearly as uncomfortable (out of the stretch)," he said. "It was much better than it had been and I feel it can get a lot better. It feels like I am getting there, but it's a funny game. Consistency is the main thing. You have to be able to repeat.

"I feel like I am beating a dead horse here, but I have to go out there and get repetitions and pitch every five days."

The lone Red Sox run off him came in the third on a two-out, two-strike single by Brock Holt.

Verlander had retired Holt on three straight curveballs in his first at-bat. With a 0-2 count in the third, he tried to sneak another by him. Holt was waiting and ripped it into right.

After a two-out single to Alejandro De Aza in the seventh, Ausmus came out to the mound. Verlander glared at him.

"Just killing time to get a left-hander up in case David Ortiz was going to pinch hit," Ausmus said. "I had no intention of pulling him."

Just to be sure, Verlander retired the next four hitters and left the mound in the eighth with a fist-pump.

"Now that it's done, I guess it was pretty cool," Verlander said of battling against Porcello. "Obviously I wanted the outcome to be different. It's not like I was watching him, thinking, 'Oh, Ricky is doing this.' That's not what I was thinking. I was thinking, he's pitching well and runs aren't going to be easy, so I have to keep them off the board."

Twitter @cmccosky