By: Mike McCann
Remember Rick Porcello? That tall lanky kid who was a pitcher for the Tigers, he wore #48? He’s gone. I watched a little of that Astros/Tigers matchup back on March 4th, and the pitcher we’ve all seen for four years now was nowhere to be found. Instead, it was some kid wearing #21 who looked like his teammate wearing #35. Could Porcello be the next Detroit athlete to emerge a mainstay, following a number change? Tomas Holmstrom was great for the Red Wings, but that was wearing #96. He was a young, average forward when he wore #15. Or how about Lindsey Hunter…he couldn’t be the next Isaiah and the Pistons could never get over the hump when he was wearing #1, but he and the Pistons were quite solid when he wore #10. Is it that simple?
Unfortunately, it isn’t that elementary, no. And as good as Porcello has been this spring, Drew Smyly has been better. Smyly went another four strong innings last night against the Braves (a team that hit Porcello hard), and is yet to give up a run now in nine innings of work this spring. Porcello hasn’t really taken a backseat, though. No, Porcello has been more of a front-seat passenger, working eight innings so far this spring and surrendering just the three runs to Atlanta. At the end of the day, none of it matters. It’s spring training. We won’t know who will be better as the fifth starter until…well, until one of them is better as the fifth starter.
If there were spring training All-Star teams, Ryan Raburn would hit be hitting third. He’s hitting .450 right now for the Indians, with four homers and eleven RBI. Anybody think he’s going to put those kinds of numbers up this summer…? All I hear are crickets. No, no sane person thinks Raburn will hit anywhere near .350, let alone .450 (okay be honest, you don’t even think he’s going to hit .250), and that’s the point. Spring training success does not always translate to those summer nights. You just have to wait and see.
The beauty of the situation is this: there is no such thing as too many pitchers. It’s entirely possible that by the time Opening Day rolls around (if that’s not supposed to be capitalized, it should be) that Porcello finds his #21 jersey with a different logo on the front. However, it’s also entirely possible that by the time the sixth week of the season rolls around, Porcello and Smyly have both outpitched the much richer Anibal Sanchez. Both are possible, but probably unlikely at this point.
You have to believe that one of them is going to emerge. One of them is going to settle in and settle down, and be able to give the Tigers six to seven solid innings every fifth night. And while it may seem like Smyly now, which it entirely could be, wait for him to do it in the regular season before you anoint him as the almighty occupant of the fifth starter spot. While it may not be the most relevant determiner of success, you’d rather have them pitching well in the spring than poorly. Luckily that is something both of them seem to be doing.