Has Rick Porcello turned a corner?

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Rick Porcello had to battle just to keep his rotation spot this spring, but he’s currently showing some signs of a breakthrough.

Porcello allowed three hits and no walks over seven scoreless innings last night in a 3-0 victory over the Twins. While he still holds a mediocre 4.37 ERA for the year, he has a 2.84 ERA and 56/10 K/BB ratio in 57 innings over his last nine starts.

As Neil Weinberg of New English D points out, Porcello’s success goes well beyond ERA. The 24-year-old currently has career-bests in strikeout rate (7.59 K/9), walk rate (1.59 BB/9) and ground ball rate (56 percent). It makes for a pretty valuable combination.

He’s striking out more than 7 batters per 9, walking fewer than 2 batters per 9 and has a groundball rate above 50%. From 2000-2012, here is the list of pitchers who have finished a season with that mix: Halladay (4x), Carpenter (3x), and Hamels (1x). In 2013, the pitchers on that list are Felix Hernandez, Doug Fister, and Rick Porcello. That is some excellent company.

If we push the limits farther, to 7.5 K/9, 2.0 BB/9 and 55% GB (which Porcello has) the list of pitchers since 2000 to accomplish that feat drops to zero. Nobody. We don’t have groundball data from before the early 2000s, so I can’t tell you how rare this is in MLB history, but since the data became available, it’s never been done.

Very interesting. While it’s easy to write this off as a hot streak given Porcello’s past results, it’s important to note that he has altered his pitching mix, adding in more curveballs and changeups than ever before. If he has truly taken a step forward as a pitcher, the Tigers’ rotation could be more dangerous than we already thought.

Will Middlebrooks carted off field with left ankle injury

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Phillies third baseman Will Middlebrooks suffered a serious injury during Saturday’s Grapefruit League contest against the Orioles. The infielder was chasing down a pop fly in the eighth inning when he ran into left fielder Andrew Pullin, who inadvertently trapped Middlebrooks’ ankle under his leg. Middlebrooks was unable to put weight on his leg following the collision and was carted off the field and taken to a local hospital for X-rays.

Per MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki, not much is known yet about the severity of the ankle injury or the recovery time it will require, though it appears serious enough to set Middlebrooks back considerably as he seeks a backup/bench role with the team this spring.

The 29-year-old is currently seeking another opportunity to extend his six-year major-league career in 2018. He’s coming off of two down years with the Brewers and Rangers, during which he slashed a cumulative .169/.229/.262 with four extra bases through 70 plate appearances.