Notes: Porcello impresses early
Rookie shows no signs of nerves in first outing in Majors
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- If rookie pitcher Rick Porcello was a bundle of nerves in his first game appearance against Major League hitters Friday, he sure had his teammates fooled.
"I think he handled it better than I did," said Justin Verlander, who had been advising Porcello on what to expect three years after Verlander made his own spring debut before a pro start. "Just in his demeanor on the mound, he looked well beyond his years."
Brandon Inge was one of the Tigers who tried to calm down Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin in their big league debuts at Yankee Stadium the last two years. The only thing he had to worry about Friday was staying out of the way of Porcello's throw when he fielded David Eckstein's squibber to the third-base side of the mound.
"I'd put him right into the big leagues if there was a spot," Inge proclaimed with a smile. "If Al Kaline could do it, he could do it."
He was kidding ... mostly.
The Tigers clearly don't have the need to do it, and they obviously want him to develop. Nobody will get carried away with two Spring Training innings. Still, for a 19-year-old without a game at any Minor League level, those two innings were pretty impressive.
Not only did Porcello retire all six batters he faced, he didn't allow a ball out of the infield. The only ball in the air was a Vernon Wells popout ending the fifth inning, his first inning of work.
Porcello came back out for the sixth and struck out Frank Thomas, who chased a two-seamer out of the strike zone, before Russ Adams and Matt Watson grounded out.
"It went pretty fast," Porcello said. "Guys were coming out hacking. I was lucky enough to get some ground balls early. Didn't take guys too deep into counts."
The way he was throwing, it was difficult for hitters to work the count if they wanted. As catcher Max St. Pierre said, his fastballs had good movement on them, and even the curveball he threw over the plate to Wells induced a popout.
The strikeout of the Big Hurt was something to appreciate. Porcello was born on Dec. 27, 1988. Thomas made his big league debut just over 19 months later.
"It's only Spring Training, but it definitely helps your confidence a little bit," Porcello said. "At the same time, there's still a lot of work that you have to do to get to that point where you can do it on a consistent basis. I'm looking forward to working towards that, but it's going to be a long road."
No matter how impressive Friday looked, Porcello expects that road to be long.
"It's not always going to be that picture perfect," Porcello cautioned with a smile. "I'm getting ready for that day."
Robertson returns: Barely 36 hours after Nate Robertson's wife Kristin gave birth to their first child early Thursday morning, Robertson was back at work on the mound Friday afternoon. Trying to be frugal with sliders, he worked primarily with his fastball, changeup and a little perspective.
"It's hard to separate your personal life from your professional life," Robertson said. "I'm texting, five minutes before I go out on the field, to my wife just to see how Wyatt's doing and she's doing and, by the way, I've got to throw two innings. Everything's so much different.
"I'm kind of an intense guy and sometimes I think my intensity goes to a level that it doesn't need to. So maybe this takes a little edge off."
Baby boy Wyatt, who weighed in at six pounds, 14 ounces, and Kristin are out of the hospital and doing well.
Leyland upbeat on injured arms: Tigers manager Jim Leyland said on Friday that he's "pretty optimistic" about setup man Fernando Rodney's condition. Rodney said Friday morning that his arm was feeling good.
Further along on the relief front, Leyland said he was "very optimistic" about Joel Zumaya, who's playing catch every other day as he rehabs from shoulder surgery.
The initial timetable issued by doctors last fall suggested he'll miss at least half the season.
"I think things are going really well," Leyland said. "I don't want to put any pressure on Zumaya, because we won't bring him back again until we're absolutely confident he's right. But I think it's going to be sooner than people thought."
Up next: The American League Central isn't on the line just yet, but the pride of Polk County, Fla., will be when the Tigers begin a home-and-home series with the Cleveland Indians with a 1:05 p.m. ET contest on Saturday at Joker Marchant Stadium. Dontrelle Willis will make his first game appearance in a Tigers uniform when he makes the start opposite Cy Young award-winner C.C. Sabathia. Chris Lambert, Denny Bautista, Todd Jones and Tim Byrdak are also slated to pitch. The game will be broadcast on MLB Gameday Audio as well as on AM 1270 and 97.1 FM in Detroit.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.