DETROIT -- Rick Porcello did not get the seventh inning this time. Instead he got run support.
The way Porcello has been pitching lately, offense has been just about all he's been missing for a win. He finally got it on Saturday with six early runs, but the margin proved more important in helping the bullpen hold on late.
"I think having some run support, there's definitely some comfort to it," Porcello said after the Tigers' 6-4 win over the Indians on Saturday at Comerica Park. "But at the same time, you're going out there trying to put up zeros on the board regardless."
The win pushed Cleveland below .500 and bumped the Tigers' lead in the American League Central to 4 1/2 games. It's not only their largest lead in the division this season, it's a bigger gap than they had at any point last year.
It also brought Porcello (3-3) back to .500. The way he has pitched for the last month and a half, he has deserved better. But what he hasn't been getting in victories, he has been slowly getting back in regard.
"He's coming of age," manager Jim Leyland said. "He's got a ways to go yet. He's still got to learn how to relax a little bit. But overall, I thought he did a terrific job against a real good hitting lineup."
Porcello is averaging 2 1/2 strikeouts per nine innings above his career rate, yet he's getting twice as many groundouts as flyouts for a career-best rate there as well. By getting away from pounding sinkers and mixing in an effective changeup and curveball, he's not just getting more swings and misses, he's getting more ground balls.
"It's a nice feeling to know that when you get behind hitters or in a tight count, I'm not always going to have to go to my fastball," Porcello said.
He has hitters, especially in the division, looking at a different style of hurler than the kid they remember.
Porcello gave up a double to Michael Bourn and Jason Kipnis' RBI single in his first four pitches, then settled in to retire the next 12 hitters.
"I thought starting out, we ... took some good swings. And then, when they got the lead, it looked like [Porcello] really settled down and relaxed and started using all his pitches," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "He became a little more confident, because all of a sudden, his stuff was better."
Porcello has thrown quality starts in six of his eight outings, but Saturday marked just his second win out of them. He had a 16-inning scoreless streak going until the seventh inning last Sunday in Baltimore but didn't have a win to show for it. The fact that the Tigers had scored just two runs in his last two starts combined played no small role in that.
When Indians starter Carlos Carrasco stranded the bases loaded in the opening inning, sending Porcello out for the second inning with a one-run deficit, one had to wonder whether Porcello was headed for another tough-luck day. Prince Fielder's bases-clearing double in a four-run second inning erased that thought.
Carrasco (0-2), called up from Triple-A Columbus for a spot start, allowed 11 of the first 17 batters he faced to reach base. Yet he fired fastballs like a power pitcher, with enough nastiness to execute an unhittable pitch at times. It was the kind of combination that sometimes gives Detroit's hitters, even the All-Star ones, fits.
"I mean, he's 94 to 97 [mph], and you don't know where the ball is going," Torii Hunter said. "It's uncomfortable. Effectively wild, but today he got behind in the count, and we were able to capitalize on him getting behind and getting the count in our favor."
Fielder's one-hopper to the right-field fence was the punishing shot. It also pushed him over the 50-RBI mark, putting him in the same group with Miguel Cabrera.
Five of Detroit's six runs scored with two outs, including the one plated by Andy Dirks' third-inning single on a 3-0 pitch to build a five-run lead.
"His stuff is electric," Francona said of Carrasco, "but there's still some learning to do, because he didn't pitch in."
Porcello did his best to make sure it was enough, though Cabrera's throwing error led to an unearned run in the fifth. After a leadoff walk in the sixth, he carved through the middle of the Indians' order for two strikeouts and a comebacker.
Against the slumping Nick Swisher, Porcello employed a different look, with back-to-back changeups from behind in the count to send him down swinging. Two batters later, Porcello used a 2-1 slider to get a foul ball from Mark Reynolds and set him up for a fastball and a called third strike.
This time there were no regrets from Leyland.
"I thought he did a terrific job in the sixth inning," he said. "He was getting around the pitch count, where I watch pretty close, but I thought he made a terrific pitch on Reynolds and struck him close. That's taking another step forward. That's what I'm hoping for."
The Indians rallied off Detroit's bullpen in the seventh with a two-run homer from ex-Tiger Ryan Raburn off Luke Putkonen. Though Leyland said before the game that he wanted to give Jose Valverde a rest after watching him throw 26 pitches in a non-save situation on Friday night, he went to him for the ninth.
Less than 24 hours after the Indians hit two splitters out for solo homers, Valverde left the tying run at the plate with back-to-back strikeouts on splitters -- the first to catch Raburn looking, the second to fan Mike Aviles, who homered off him on Friday night.
"What you saw today," Leyland said, "is [that] he didn't panic, he kept his composure and he got two strikeouts to end the game. That's pretty good. He's a pretty cool customer."