ARLINGTON -- In his fourth outing this year, Rick Porcello had arguably the worst start of his career.
He gave up nine runs and recorded just two outs against the Angels on April 20, a 10-0 loss. Porcello's ERA skyrocketed to 11.08 and the pitcher who allowed more hits than anyone in the American League last year (226) was off to an 0-2 start this season.
Since then, however, Porcello has been much more effective. He is 2-0 with a 3.24 ERA in his last four starts, picking up a victory in the Tigers' 2-1 triumph over the Rangers on Friday.
"He's been good, hasn't he? Really good," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "He's had some stiff competition, too. I'm really happy for him. He did good last night, stayed out of the middle [of the plate]. I thought he attacked them pretty good."
Porcello allowed one run on five hits over 5 2/3 innings in Friday's win, striking out six and walking only one. Since the forgettable outing against the Angels, he's lowered his ERA from 11.08 to 5.92. He credits much of the improvement to his changeup.
"I just pretended like it never happened," Porcello said of the April 20 start. "My changeup has been coming around nicely. I've been able to get some swings and misses off it lately, especially with two strikes. I'm throwing it to both righties and lefties. It's been a nice pitch for me this year.
Bullpen stepping up to assist starting rotation
ARLINGTON -- In their first two games against the Rangers this week, the Tigers got one solid outing from their starting pitcher and one bad one. Both times they've needed plenty of quality innings from their bullpen.
Justin Verlander was touched up for eight runs in 2 2/3 innings of a 10-4 loss Thursday night while Rick Porcello surrendered just one run in 5 2/3 innings during Friday's 2-1 win. Scott Downs and Evan Reed, making his Major League debut, each pitched 2 2/3 innings following Verlander, allowing one run apiece. On Friday, Jose Ortega, Drew Smyly, Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde combined to pitch 3 1/3 scoreless innings, with Valverde picking up his fourth save.
"I'm very happy with [the bullpen]," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "We're a bullpen that really has to stay on top of being prepared after sitting for a few days. ... I think Downs quietly has done a heck of a job. Smyly has done a heck of a job. [Phil] Coke is just coming back and we know what he can do, so that's a good thing. Valverde is giving us some stability."
Four Tigers relievers -- Benoit, Downs, Ortega, and Valverde -- have ERAs below 2.00 in their last five outings. Valverde has a 1.80 ERA as the team's closer, with opposing hitters batting just .040 against him this year.
"Everybody down there has done a good job," Porcello said. "That's been huge for us, guys coming out of the bullpen and having shutdown type outings. It's been really, really good. They've been very effective."
Leyland's hopes for horse racing milestone dashed
ARLINGTON -- A year ago, Tigers manager Jim Leyland watched Miguel Cabrera become the first player to win a Triple Crown in 45 years. This year, he was rooting for a Triple Crown of a different kind.
Before Saturday's game against the Rangers, Leyland was watching the pre-race festivities at the Preakness Stakes. He said he was rooting for Orb, who won the Kentucky Derby earlier this month, to win the second leg of the Triple Crown.
"I want that Triple Crown," Leyland said. "I think it'd be good for horse racing. It's unbelievable. It's beautiful. That place is nice. All kinds of people having a good time."
Cabrera batted .330 with 44 home runs and 139 RBIs last season, all of which led the American League. But Leyland's hopes for a Triple Crown in horse racing this year were dashed by Oxbow, who won the 138th Preakness Stakes while Orb finished 4th.
The other two horses Leyland was pulling for, Departing and Will Take Charge, finished sixth and seventh, respectively. Affirmed won the last Triple Crown in 1978.
Garcia starts in center field for Tigers
ARLINGTON -- Avisail Garcia got the start in center field, just his second of the year, and batted eighth in Saturday's game against the Rangers.
With the Tigers' everyday center fielder Austin Jackson on the 15-day disabled list since Sunday with a pulled left hamstring, Don Kelly took over in center the previous six games. But manager Jim Leyland decided to give Kelly a day off and put Garcia in the lineup.
"[Garcia] hasn't played there a whole lot but he's played some," Leyland said. "I know he can run and he can throw, obviously. He's the best choice to put there. We'll put him out there tonight and he'll play tomorrow as well. I don't want him to sit too long."
Garcia, who was called from Triple-A Toledo this Monday, hit his first big league home run in Wednesday's 7-5 loss to the Astros and has batted .308 in 26 career games.
• Tigers manager Jim Leyland said that Scott Downs and Evan Reed, who each tossed 2 2/3 innings in Thursday's loss to the Rangers, "probably won't" be available Saturday.
• Injured outfielder Austin Jackson, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list last Sunday with a pulled left hamstring, should return "on time", according to Leyland. Jackson would be eligible to return May 26.
• The Tigers only recorded six hits in Friday's 2-1 win over the Rangers but still led the American League with 407 hits and a .280 batting average entering play Saturday. Those 407 hits are the most by the Tigers through 40 games since 1993.
Christian Coronais a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.