DETROIT -- Add Wednesday to the puzzling season of Rick Porcello and the Tigers.
In Porcello's defense, he did not have much of a defense behind him. The Tigers erred around the horn, with one miscue from each of their infielders, setting up four unearned runs in as many innings in the 11-7 loss to the last-place Twins.
On the other hand, all six runs scored on hits, four of them for extra bases -- a scenario that means curtains for a sinkerball pitcher.
"In fairness to Rick, we didn't help him out a lot," manager Jim Leyland said, "but he didn't help himself a lot tonight, either."
It was a shared effort that saw the Tigers fall behind big for the second straight day, come back with a big inning, then give up the lead twice. But it's the fact that the Tigers starting pitcher didn't get an out past the fourth inning for a second straight game that had manager Leyland worried.
"Tonight, we scored seven runs. You've got to win," Leyland said.
The Tigers have alternated wins and losses for the last five days after losing back-to-back nights in Oakland. Now, their concerns have turned from an offense had had struggled to score runs for a few weeks to a rotation that has shown signs of sagging in the middle lately.
Leyland mentioned it before the game, saying of their starts, "we need to get the good ones more consistently."
He had no reason to change his tune afterward.
"I want to emphasize, a couple miscues added to it," Leyland said. "But two days in a row, a hundred pitches by starting pitchers in the fourth inning, that's just not acceptable."
In the case of Max Scherzer on Tuesday, he left two batters into the fifth inning with 99 pitches. Porcello got a Brian Dozier fly out to end the fourth inning on his 100th pitch. It was a rare inefficiency for a sinkerballer.
"That's not being upset at anybody," Leyland continued. "That's not saying they're not going to be in the rotation. I mean, they're our bread and butter. They're our good pitchers. They're both really good pitchers -- 15-, 14-game winners. But it's got to get more consistent. Three out of four [outings] have got to be good, not two out of four or one out of three."
For Porcello, it's currently four out of eight. He started the season with back-to-back outstanding performances, seven-plus innings with one or two runs against the Rays and White Sox. The Rangers and Mariners then got him for 13 runs over 7 2/3 combined innings. He picked up back-to-back quality starts and wins over the Royals and White Sox before giving up 15 hits over nine innings in his last two starts combined to the A's and Twins.
Wednesday's was a statistical rarity. According to research on baseball-reference.com, Porcello was just the third Major League pitcher since at least 1988 to last just four innings with 100 pitches without allowing a walk. The other two, Kansas City's Luke Hochever against the Tigers in 2009 and Tampa Bay's Bryan Rekar in '01, gave up a dozen or more hits.
Part of Porcello's struggles, he said, was a hurried delivery out of the stretch when he had runners on base. He can't slow down his delivery by bringing his arms up then like he can out of the wind-up.
Another problem, though, was his struggles throwing something other than the sinker and fastball.
"I think it was really just not getting the slider down, not being able to have that pitch to go to," Porcello said. "The 3-2 slider to [Josh] Willingham [for a first-inning double] was just a hanger, and the other one that he put off the right-field wall [for a third-inning double] was a hanger. And then I think not being able to throw an effective slider kind of took me out of my game against Dozier a little bit. I just wasn't able to set him up the way I wanted to."
Dozier sat on a sinker in the second inning and sent it out to right for a three-run homer, three pitches after Ryan Raburn couldn't handle a two-out grounder from Erik Komatsu.
While the Twins put together the kind of big hits one would expect from the Tigers, Detroit's outburst off Twins starter Nick Blackburn came without an extra-base hit. Prince Fielder had sacrifice flies in each of his first two at-bats, the latter following a one-out walk and five consecutive singles in the second inning.
The Tigers knocked out Blackburn after two innings and 53 pitches. Minnesota's bullpen limited Detroit to a run over the final seven innings, that coming on a Miguel Cabrera RBI double in the fifth that briefly put the Tigers in front again before Jamey Carroll's two-run double in the next inning off Duane Below put the Twins in front for good.