Tigers' staff could be MLB's best

Justin Verlander gets all the ink, all the publicity and a lot of the face time, which undoubtedly, he deserves.
Nate Thompson
Jan 19, 2012

 

He’ll be on the cover of an upcoming baseball video game and apparently, he’s popular enough to gush about his love for Taco Bell on television with late night talk show host Conan O’Brien.

Publicity is a good thing for the likeable Verlander and the Tigers organization, but when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of it all, the guys backing him up will make the Tigers rotation the best in the Major Leagues this year and play a bigger role in determining if Detroit repeats as American League Central champions and reaches the World Series.

Two-fifths of that rotation were the guests of honor on Wednesday at DeVos Place in Grand Rapids at the annual West Michigan Whitecaps’ Winter Banquet. Rick Porcello and Doug Fister were gracious in granting several interviews to local media, and shed their thoughts on the prospects of the Tigers in ‘12.

“We obviously have a lot of potential,” the 23-year-old Porcello said. “When you look at a guy like Verlander at the top of your rotation, he is almost a guaranteed win every five days. And Doug was exceptional last year when he came over to us and now he will be here for a full season.

“And myself and Max (Scherzer) are capable of being very effective too, so I think if we can go out there and do what we are capable of doing then I think we are going to be good.”

It’s understandably easy to get excited about pitching behind Verlander, who is the Roger Clemens of his generation. But Porcello and Fister shouldn’t be considered rump roast to Verlander’s prime rib, or in this case, chalupa.  

While it would be tremendous to witness again, it would be surprising if Verlander matched his same remarkable numbers from his Cy Young and AL MVP season in 2011, in which he went 24-5 with a 2.40 earned run average.

Even if his super-human stats slipped to mere mortal totals of 19 or 20 wins, the Tigers can still thrive, largely because of the potential in the rotation Porcello was talking about.

Porcello hasn’t reached his prime, but you get the feeling he’s on the cusp. People tend to forget he’s was only 22-years-old last season and still won 14 games.

Most 22-year-olds are just happy not to be living with their parents.

But his face was often the target on a dart board for Tigers’ fans, simply because he was so inconsistent. It’s an area Porcello is striving to improve and should do so.

“On days when you don’t have you best stuff, being able to work through that and get deeper in games and keep your team in the game, that’s been my biggest challenge so far,” he said. “I’ve just got to keep pressing forward, just try to learn, absorb as much info as I can and stay positive.”

While Porcello’s win total could easily swell to 17 or more, the ceiling is even higher (and needs to be) for the 6-foot-8 Fister, who showed guts of steel with his Game 5 performance in New York in last fall’s American League Division Series.

His acquisition from Seattle was easily the biggest trade deadline deal in the Majors, as he went 8-1 with a miniscule 1.79 ERA down the stretch for Detroit, and at times, was more impressive than Verlander on the mound. So it’s no surprise the two share some secrets to their success.

“For me, I love people watching and I love learning different stuff,” Fister said. “So I’ve spent a lot of time watching (Verlander) and asking him different questions from what he does. It’s actually kind of fun, because he does the same thing with me. It’s kind of a give and take relationship.”

Like Porcello, Fister is still young (28), and when he throws his off-speed pitches for strikes, he’s proven to be unhittable.

Potential is a scary word, especially concerning Major League pitching staffs, and unlikely as it may sound, Detroit could very well carry four starters with 16 or more wins apiece. Last year, their regular starting five produced 72 wins, which included the washed up Brad Penny, whose best accomplishment was proposing to Karina Smirnoff (guys, look her up).

Penny has been nickel and dimed, so to speak, meaning the fifth starter for Detroit is still anyone’s guess. I’d place the smart money on 21-year-old phenom Jacob Turner, who got his feet wet with three appearances in the bigs last year.

Tigers’ general manager Dave Dombrowski said Wednesday he’s not completely sold on Turner being the clear answer with it still being January and snow on the ground, but once the sun shines in Lakeland, Fla., in March, the answer should be a lot clearer.

Porcello, for one, thinks the job is Turner’s to lose.

“He’s a guy with very great makeup, and he’s a mature, humble young man,” Porcello said. “He’s got great stuff.”

But that’s a luxury the Tigers could have — their starters don’t have to be great. If you’ve got four guys on your staff who can be good on any given day in a marathon season, that should lead to another division title.

Only once the calendar hits October is when we’ll demand greatness.

 

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