DETROIT — After pitching into the seventh inning in his best start of the season, Rick Porcello was asked whether the comfortable weather at Comerica Park helped his breaking ball.
The Detroit right-hander had a different explanation.
“I just think I stayed in the game long enough to get a feel for it today,” Porcello said.
Last weekend, Porcello allowed nine runs and was pulled before the end of the first inning, but he bounced back nicely Saturday, holding the Atlanta Braves mostly in check in the Tigers’ 7-4 victory. Former Brave Omar Infante and Jhonny Peralta both hit two-run homers for Detroit, and Jose Valverde pitched a perfect ninth for his second save since returning to the team earlier this week.
Infante’s homer off Kris Medlen (1-3) broke a 3-all tie in the fourth, and Porcello (1-2) allowed three runs in 61/3 innings. He was convinced his previous start at Los Angeles wasn’t as bad as it looked – but this was an important showing for the 24-year-old, who wasn’t assured of a spot in Detroit’s rotation until he won a job in spring training.
His role was looking a bit more tenuous after the Angels got to him early, but with the exception of a three-run third inning, he was sharp against Atlanta.
“I felt like my stuff was still good,” Porcello said. “Today I finally got some better results.”
On a calm day in Detroit with the temperature in the 60s, Porcello allowed five hits and two walks. He struck out five – after fanning only three hitters all season before Saturday.
“That’s one thing today,” Porcello said. “Get to two strikes, try to bounce some breaking balls and not give them good enough pitches to hit.”
Atlanta’s Justin Upton hit his major league-leading 12th homer in the eighth, but Infante doubled home a run in the bottom half and scored to make it 7-4.
Medlen became a regular starter for the Braves during the last couple months of last season. He was terrific down the stretch in 2012, and it looked as if this year he’d picked up where he left off. But he allowed five runs Saturday, matching a career worst.
Peralta opened the scoring with his two-run shot in the second. Atlanta answered the following inning, when Porcello walked Dan Uggla with the bases loaded, allowed another run on Upton’s grounder and gave up an RBI single by Freddie Freeman.
The Tigers tied it in the bottom of the third. With men on first and third and one out, Miguel Cabrera hit a grounder up the middle. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons shoveled the ball to second, but Uggla wasn’t able to hold on. The play was scored a single, and a run came home.
Infante’s homer came on an 0-2 pitch – after Alex Avila drew a two-out walk to keep the fourth inning going.
“I stayed back and waited for a slider or changeup,” Infante said. “He threw a fastball and I made a good reaction.”
Left-hander Drew Smyly, who was beaten out by Porcello for the final spot in the rotation, came on in relief in the seventh and struck out the only two hitters he faced.
Joaquin Benoit allowed Upton’s homer in the eighth, but Detroit came back with a couple insurance runs. Infante’s one-out double made it 6-4, and after he stole third, Austin Jackson walked. Cabrera’s two-out single to center gave the Tigers a three-run lead.
The Tigers were prepared to let Valverde leave as a free agent after he struggled at the end of last season, but they brought him back on a minor league deal and eventually called him up this week.
He worked a 1-2-3 ninth for a save against Kansas City, and Saturday’s appearance was even more impressive. He struck out B.J. Upton and Juan Francisco to end it.
The Braves are 3-7 since their 12-1 start.
Medlen and fellow starter Paul Maholm were breezing through the early part of the season for the Braves before coming to Detroit. Then Maholm was knocked around in a 10-0 loss to the Tigers on Friday, and Medlen allowed 10 hits in 51/3 innings the following afternoon.
“Hanging curveball to Peralta – can’t give him one there – and that pitch to Omar that was out over the plate,” Medlen said.
Porcello, on the other hand, left to a standing ovation in the seventh. He couldn’t match Anibal Sanchez – who set a franchise record for Detroit the previous night with 17 strikeouts – but this was a step in the right direction.