DETROIT -- The Tigers returned home looking for big hits, wanting a deep start to rest the bullpen and needing a clean game and a no-doubt win more than anything. Their opener against the Royals provided the answer to their troubles.
Tuesday's 9-3 win wasn't simply about catching the right team at the right time, because the Tigers have seen the last few years what the Royals can do to a team that isn't playing good baseball. If Rick Porcello hadn't made some tweaks to his mechanics under the watch of pitching coach Jeff Jones, the Tigers might have been in for a long night, just as they might have been without a handful of solid defensive plays behind their young sinkerballer.
Their manager, Jim Leyland, has been talking about getting the wrong combinations for more than a week while they lost eight of their last 10 games. For the first time since maybe their season-opening series with the Red Sox, the combinations all went right, and they started with Porcello.
The combinations earned Leyland his 1,600th career victory, moving past Tommy Lasorda for 17th on the all-time list.
"Tonight, we looked more like the Tigers you expect to be seeing for the most part this year," Leyland said. "It won't happen every night, obviously, but tonight it was."
By the time the Tigers made their first out of the night at the plate, they were on their eighth hitter, having built a five-run lead with five singles, a double and an error. By the time Porcello allowed a runner in scoring position, he was in the fifth inning protecting a 9-0 lead.
Porcello took that lead, brought some mechanical tweaks with him to the mound and just about brought it home.
"Ricky really needed that," Leyland said. "The club really needed it."
Porcello (2-2) had been roughed up for 13 earned runs on 17 hits over 7 2/3 innings in his previous two starts, but his between-starts work with Jones led to an adjustment to his windup, raising his hands in order to find a better balance. The firmer fastball and sinker that resulted allowed him a steady diet of ground-ball outs, 13 of them to comprise more than half of the 24 outs he recorded before Phil Coke pitched the ninth.
"Porcello's a sinkerball guy, and when you get behind like that, he can get comfortable," the Royals' Jeff Francoeur said. "Even if you get a couple runs, he knows he's going to get a double-play ground ball somewhere along the way."
The Tigers right-hander needed just 98 pitches to get there, the third time he has covered so many innings with so few pitches over his three-plus seasons in the big leagues.
By slowing down the pace in his delivery, Porcello picked up the pace in the game.
"It was just something that Jonesy suggested -- just to slow my delivery down," Porcello said of raising his hands. "My biggest problem has been my tempo, getting out too quick and leaving pitches up in the zone. So we tried going over the head to slow everything down, and I think it helped me be able to locate my offspeed stuff, especially."
In turn, it helped everything behind him, as the defense responded. Prince Fielder made a tumbling stop and throw from his knees to Porcello at first base to rob Alex Gordon of a single in the first. Don Kelly made a running catch in the left-field corner in the second inning to take extra bases away from Mike Moustakas, then robbed Eric Hosmer of an RBI with a diving grab in the sixth.
Leyland agreed that the Tigers might have made the most solid defensive plays of any game they've played this year. The way Porcello was pitching, it wasn't a coincidence.
"I think you saw the point that I was trying to make in New York the other day," Leyland said. "When you're walking a lot of guys, your defense is standing around, and it's almost to a bore. Well, tonight, Rick was throwing strikes. The defense was moving, ready to go, and you saw play after play. That's what happens when you've got action going on."
That's easier to do, in turn, when the offense is providing ample support. Austin Jackson went 4-for-5 with three leadoff singles and a two-run double in the third, raising his batting average 30 points to .314. He got in on the defensive act in the ninth inning by reaching over the left-field wall to bring back a drive from Francoeur that had bounced off the top of the fence.
"[The win] just gives us that confidence that we need," Jackson said. "We've been playing well. We've been playing some good ballclubs in some good games, but they just haven't been falling for us. But we know if we keep going out there and put up the effort, we can turn things around."