INSIDE PITCH Starting pitching was supposed to be a Detroit strength entering the season.
The Tigers have been dead wrong.
Justin Verlander, for all his 13 wins (just two since the All-Star break), has gone 1-4 in his last five starts. He needs to start pitching the first two innings (3.00-plus ERA) like he pitches the next three (under 2.00).
Max Scherzer is 2-3 since the break, but in only two starts has he given up more than two runs. Despite Verlander's better stuff and greater assortment of quality pitches, Scherzer is the better pitcher right now.
Last year Rick Porcello was a 20-year-old who pitched like he was 30. This year he's a 21-year-old who too frequently pitches as though he were 41.
His last couple of starts have been better, but either his catchers aren't taking control when he gets in trouble or Porcello isn't pausing to think his way out of tight spots.
Porcello allowed just one baserunner through three innings against the Yankees on Thursday but gave up two runs and four singles in the fourth and didn't retire any of the four batters he faced in the sixth. He did a nice job of keeping the ball down, a major problem earlier in the season, but didn't throw enough curves and changeups the second time through the order.
Jeremy Bonderman has grit and determination but not enough stuff. Since the beginning of June he's made only one start in which he didn't give up a home run, which with an offense light on power will get you beat more often than not.
Armando Galarraga had one moment of glory -- his perfectly imperfect game -- and has just one win since. He pitches like a guy handed a chicken sandwich 30 minutes after he'd eaten a big meal and is too polite to set it aside -- he nibbles all around the plate.
Scherzer and Porcello are still getting their feet wet at the major league level. Bonderman is returning from a pair of 2008 shoulder surgeries -- this is the last year he can skate on that -- but his inability to add an off-speed pitch could become a fatal career flaw.
Verlander is making progress toward understanding how to make adjustments on the fly, but it's painfully slow and often painful to watch.
The coaching staff keeps telling Galarraga that his stuff is good enough to let him get more of the plate instead of nibbling around the edges.
YANKEES 11, TIGERS 5: Allowing nine runs in the sixth inning got Detroit beat for the third time in four games in New York. Miguel Cabrera provided Rick Porcello with a 2-0 lead when he hit his 31st home run, a two-run shot in the first. Porcello guarded the lead through three innings but was touched for four singles in five batters as the Yankees tied the score in the fourth. Porcello didn't get an out in the sixth, walking two and giving up a double plus a single. New York sent 13 batters to the plate in the inning. Jhonny Peralta hit a home run and Austin Jackson had an RBI single in the seventh. Brennan Boesch had an RBI single in the eighth. "The wheels kind of fell off in that one inning," manager Jim Leyland said. "Our bullpen just didn't shut anything down, give us a chance to crawl back in."
--1B Miguel Cabrera hit his fourth home run in four games at New York, a two-run blow to the opposite field in the first inning that made him the first hitter in the majors to reach 100 RBIs this season. Cabrera has 31 home runs, the sixth time in seven years he's reached 30 and the seventh year in a row he's had 100 RBIs. Even with speedy Will Rhymes on first, manager Jim Leyland kept him anchored there so New York wouldn't walk Cabrera. Phil Hughes threw him five straight fastballs to reach a 3-2 count but Cabrera looked as if he was waiting on a curve, which he got and lifted over the fence in right-center.
--RHP Rick Porcello did a better job of keeping the ball down but was not so good at mixing in curves and changeups. Porcello's control was good enough in the first three innings that it didn't bother him that he wasn't throwing first-pitch strikes to everyone. But he got burned on 3-0 pitches twice in the next three innings, the first time going for an RBI single by RF Nick Swisher. The second was an RBI single by C Jorge Posada in the nine-run sixth. What hurt him in the sixth was going 0-2 on 1B Mark Teixeira and then walking him. "I got Teixeira to 0-2 and then couldn't put him away," Porcello said. "That really started the outburst."
--2B Will Rhymes didn't get to Yankee Stadium in time to start Wednesday night, but he was in the lineup Thursday and got singles his first two times up. The next two times he got the ball in the air, flying out to center, which isn't his game. Rhymes is a smaller player with good speed who needs to hit groundballs and line drives if he wants to stick at the major league level. Rhymes also made a pair of choice plays on balls hit to his right.
--RHP Robbie Weinhardt came into a situation where a groundball is called for -- and got the ball up. DH Austin Kearns hit a 2-2 fastball that was up for a two-run double while New York was amassing nine runs off four Detroit pitchers in the sixth. "He's been getting the ball up, up, up, up, up," manager Jim Leyland said. "It's not really sinking. He's getting underneath the ball and when you're a sinkerball (pitcher) you've got to be on top of the ball."
--RHP Jose Valverde, who's only pitched 12 games since the All-Star break, worked a 1-2-3 eighth inning as manager Jim Leyland tried to get the struggling pitcher back on track. Valverde has allowed 12 earned runs in 13 2/3 innings since the break and his mechanics have been out of whack. He has had control problems, especially with his fastball, leading to 14 walks in that span.
--RF Brennan Boesch wasn't supposed to play a second game in a row, but manager Jim Leyland brought him in for the bottom of the seventh to give 1B Miguel Cabrera a couple of innings off. Boesch has been working with hitting coach Lloyd McClendon, re-learning how to judge balls and strikes by tracking pitches during special batting-practice sessions. Thursday, he came up with a man on second in the eighth and took a pitch outside for a ball. Boesch got a strike on the next pitch and grounded it firmly up the middle for an RBI single.
--SS/3B Jhonny Peralta is trying to convince Detroit to pick up his $7.5 million option for 2011 the best way he knows how -- by playing well. Peralta hit a single and his 12th home run of the season. He has been playing mostly shortstop since the return of 3B Brandon Inge. He started at short but slid over to third when Inge was lifted for the last two innings. The Tigers can buy Peralta out of his option for $250,000.
--C Gerald Laird should be able to play Friday after missing a couple of games because of a broken blood vessel in his right elbow. Laird didn't start Wednesday or Thursday, although he said he could have played in a pinch.
BY THE NUMBERS: 0 -- RBIs by 1B Miguel Cabrera during a 10-game homestand that ended Aug. 11. Cabrera has been the lone game-changing threat in the skidding Detroit lineup so teams have opted to pitch around him when they have a choice.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We have nothing to lose and a lot of people have a lot to lose. Nobody's counting us in. And there were a couple times this year when I thought we had the best team in baseball. If we play good right now and cut it to three, four, six games, you make it very interesting. There is no pressure on us; the pressure is on them. I don't think anything's done. That's why it's so important to make it fun -- so if we do not do it we can say we gave our all." -- DH Johnny Damon, on the postseason hopes for Detroit, which seems to have skidded out of contention as of mid-August.