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TB@DET: Prince raps go-ahead RBI single in eighth

DETROIT -- The question about Matt Moore, and how tough of a young pitcher the Rays' gifted left-hander is, wasn't even finished when Tigers manager Jim Leyland interrupted.

"So is [Rick] Porcello," said Leyland, with the head nod he'll make when he wants to make a point.

When Porcello pitches like he did in Tuesday's 5-2 win over the Rays, he still has that potential. The Tigers think he can be that guy more often.

Porcello wasn't as highly touted as a rookie as Moore is now. He was still well-regarded, but not American League Rookie of the Year Award material. So was Austin Jackson in his inaugural season a year later.

Both Porcello and Jackson had their fair share of struggles since. Both are looking like they might have finally made the leap.

While the Tigers have back-to-back hits from Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder to thank for the go-ahead rally in a three-run eighth inning, their 4-0 start -- Detroit's best since 2006 -- wouldn't still be going without Porcello and Jackson.

The way Moore was pitching, it took the best season-opening start of Porcello's career to keep the Tigers close. And it took Jackson homering off Moore for the one pitch the rookie would like to have back to get them back to even and get Moore out of the game without a lead.

It was a no-decision for Porcello, but dueling Moore to a draw was essentially a win.

"The only chance we had today was for Rick to keep us in the game and pitch good, and that's what he did," Leyland said. "That was two outstanding young pitchers today -- obviously one for them, but a pretty good one for us too."

Porcello had never topped five innings in the first start of his previous three seasons. He pitched seven innings in fewer than 99 pitches just twice last year. Porcello did it a handful of times as a rookie because he knew his pitch counts were tight.

Doing it once doesn't necessarily mean Porcello has turned a corner. Doing it against a Rays offense that can hurt a pitcher with smaller hits, however, means a little more. Doing it off a dominant Spring Training means a lot.

Gerald Laird caught Porcello a lot as a rookie and again during his 2010 struggles. He's seeing a different pitcher, and not just for the facial stubble.

"You can tell he's growing up and he's getting that idea what he wants to do," Laird said.

If the 42-degree first-pitch temperature and intermittent snowfall wasn't enough to cool off hitters, the pitchers were. While Moore survived on flyouts, Porcello racked up quick outs on the ground, comprising seven of his 21 outs. The young righty threw 92 pitches in seven innings.

Only one hit off Porcello went for extra bases. Five were on ground balls. Left-handed hitters, who usually trouble him, had just two hits, and none after the first time through the lineup.

"I don't know if it was the cold weather or what, but for the most part, everything felt good," Porcello said.

Porcello was a sinkerballer Tuesday, and a good one. When he commands it on both sides of the plate, Laird said, hitters hesitate, not knowing where to focus.

"That's his pitch," said Evan Longoria, 1-for-3 with a walk on the day. "We went into the game knowing that he was going to use that primarily. At times, when he throws it where he wants to, it's a really tough pitch to make good contact against."

Longoria's bases-loaded walk in the third was the one real alarm for Porcello, and he came back with a first-pitch groundout to left-handed-hitting Matt Joyce. When Longoria and Ben Zobrist both singled in the sixth, Porcello came back with three straight fastballs for called strikes after a 2-0 count on Jeff Keppinger. When Desmond Jennings singled in Jose Molina for a 2-1 lead, Laird threw out Jennings trying to steal.

Minutes later, Jackson answered.

Jackson continued his scorching hot start Tuesday by reaching base safely three times. He only put the ball in play once, but it was big. After working his third full count, Jackson sent Moore's fastball deep to left for his first home run of the year and a 2-2 game in the seventh.

"I tried to get a little big on it," Moore said of the pitch, "threw it and wound up pulling it right in the middle of the zone for him."

Jackson went 1-for-2 with two walks, lowering his batting average to .563. His on-base percentage through four games is now .650. Jackson has walked as many times as he has struck out.

The Tigers, meanwhile, are the AL's last perfect team. They won't go unbeaten, Leyland answered. If Porcello breaks through, though, they could be really, really good. Comments