As the Tigers continue to move towards their probable playoff birth they have to start thinking about their playoff rotation. Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson form a strong top two. After that Jarrod Washburn has, not unexpectedly, seen his performance come back to earth and will have his next start skipped in hopes of alleviating some knee pain. Still you have to pencil him in to the rotation. In a four-man playoff rotation they have little choice but to go with Rick Porcello as the fourth pitcher. The alternatives, Nate Robertson and Armando Galarraga, just inspire too little confidence.
Porcello is having a circa-2007 Chien-Ming Wang type season. Very poor K/9, mediocre K/BB but lots of grounders. The end result is an ok performance, no doubt aided by Detroit’s excellent infield defense. The problem is that Porcello is just 20 and has already thrown ten more innings than last year, if he takes 4 or 5 more turns through the rotation in the regular season he would be up to at least 30 innings more than last year. The Verducci effect suggests that pitching 30 or more innings more than the year before drastically increases the chance of injury to a young pitcher. The Tigers would, of course, ease those guidelines for playoff innings, but it would be nice if they could limit Porcello’s regular season innings, as the Yankees are doing with Joba Chamberlain.
Unfortunately the Tigers’s rotation is not healthy, or deep, enough to do that in the thick of a still not totally settled AL Central race. Nate Robertson came off a AAA rehab stint to enter the rotation in place of Armando Galarraga who was out with elbow inflammation. Now Galarraga has to come straight back to the majors rather than make a scheduled start in AAA to take Washburn’s spot. So there is not much opportunity to skip Porcello’s starts at the moment.
Hopefully the Tigers can wrap up the division soon or get Robertson, Galarraga and Washburn simultaneously healthy, so they can limit Porcello’s innings down the stretch. If not they could, if they go on a deep playoff run, put a dangerous number of innings on Procello’s young arm.