DETROIT -- Rick Porcello doesn't feel lost right now, not the way he did last year. That's good, because there's a good chance they need him here if they're going to go places this season. But they need him better than his results Tuesday.
As big as Tuesday's 14-3 loss to the Mets loomed on the scoreboard, like a result that somehow crossed the street from Ford Field next door, the pitcher who gave up half of those runs is a much bigger concern. If the Tigers are going to contend, it's a huge concern.
It's not the same concern as last year, and they aren't quite the same numbers. But they're not nearly the numbers the Tigers need from him, either.
"As stuff goes, I feel like it was as good tonight as it's been all year," Porcello said. "I feel like it's just a matter of pitch-making, leaving balls up, making some mistakes to some guys."
As good as Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer have been, manager Jim Leyland pointed out last week, the Tigers need results from their other three starters. Get good outings from one of those other three, and there's a chance to win three out of five, play .600 ball, if not better.
Porcello is the Tigers' best chance at that formidable third guy. After two tough starts to open the season, Porcello was that guy for a six-week stretch. But after three straight ugly losses to National League teams, his midseason rough patch is looming large.
Porcello learned from last year. He's in study mode now. After seven runs on 11 hits over 3 2/3 innings Tuesday, he spent the rest of the game watching video, trying to figure out how the Mets could attack him so aggressively.
"A year ago, I felt lost. That was then," Porcello said later. "Right now, it's a bump in the road, there's no doubt about that. But I mean, I don't have time to sit here and be worried about it. I have to figure it out and fix it.
"We're trying to win a division. I can't go out there and have performances like that, especially [three] games in a row."
Add Tuesday's damage to his defeat at Dodger Stadium last week and poor showing to the Rockies before that, and Porcello has given up 18 earned runs on 28 hits over 11 1/3 innings. His ERA, in turn, has risen from 3.58 on June 7 to 5.06 after Tuesday's start.
"Actually, his start in L.A. really wasn't that bad," Leyland said. "He kind of got blooped to death in L.A. But the start in Colorado and this one certainly were not good."
The final half-run of that ERA jump came Tuesday, and all of it came with two outs. Daniel Murphy and Angel Pagan hit back-to-back RBI doubles with two outs in the first. Porcello had three straight batters in two-strike, two-out situations before Miguel Cabrera finally snagged a hard-hit liner from Willie Harris to strand runners on in the second inning.
Porcello's demise in the fourth came after retiring the first two batters of the inning. He left a fastball up to ninth hitter Josh Thole for the catcher's first home run of the year. He threw back-to-back offspeed pitches to Jose Reyes, who lined the second into the right-field corner for a triple.
His first-pitch sinker to Willie Harris ended up hitting the right-field fence. Had Harris gotten an extra base out of it, it would've set up Porcello to give up the cycle in a four-batter, five-pitch span, because Carlos Beltran lined his next pitch to center for another single.
After challenging Daniel Murphy on a 2-0 pitch and giving up an RBI single, Leyland brought the hook.
"Tonight, he threw some bad pitches that they hit," Leyland said, "and he threw some decent pitches that they hit. It just wasn't his night. He got some balls up, and he threw some decent pitches that they hit. They were real aggressive, kind of charging him."
Porcello has never been a big strikeout pitcher, and doesn't get many swings and misses even when he gets strikeouts. But even by his standards, his total of two swing-and-miss strikes Tuesday was low. He had three swings and misses out of 81 pitches at Dodger Stadium, and two swinging strikes out of 55 pitches at Colorado. He had nine against Seattle before that.
No matter which pitch Porcello threw Tuesday -- 24 sinkers, 18 four-seam fastballs, 15 changeups and 12 sliders out of 71 pitches, according to brooksbaseball.net and MLB.com Gameday -- they seemed to track it well. But if the secondary pitches aren't executed well, they won't keep opponents from sitting on sinkers.
"I definitely felt like today and in previous bad outings, I think guys have been all over my fastball, especially left-handed hitters," Porcello said. "That's been kind of an ongoing thing for me that I've got to make sure I shut down lefties in the lineup. Almost all the lineups I'm going to face are stacked with left-handed hitters. That's just an ongoing challenge."
The Mets' left-handed hitters went 5-for-9 against Porcello. Opponents are now batting .326 from the left side off him.
"For Rick, his safety zone is the sinker down and away to lefties," pitching coach Rick Knapp said. "If you execute one out of four, it's difficult. If you execute two out of four, it's different. That's what we're working for, to try to get his sinker. That, in a nutshell, is it."
If he's tipping pitches, the Tigers either don't know or aren't telling. It would certainly have to be on their minds as they look at the video. But opponents aren't missing.
Porcello has one more NL opponent left when the Giants face him Sunday. He'll no doubt be studying.