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Porcello starts early, eyes early results

Rick Porcello found his fastball late last season, and hopes to carry that velocity into 2012. Steven King/Icon SMI

LAKELAND, Fla. -- It's easy to forget that Rick Porcello is so young, because we heard so much about him before he was drafted out of New Jersey's Seton Hall Prep, because there was a lot of anticipation before he made his major league debut, and because he's already spent three years in the big leagues.

But Porcello just turned 23 a couple of months ago, and he's younger than Stephen Strasburg and just a little older than Matt Moore. He's got 89 starts in the big leagues, but is still developing, still learning.

He made a significant adjustment in this offseason, and already feels better for it. Last year, Porcello started his throwing program right after New Year's, which is standard operating procedure for a lot of pitchers. But it wasn't until after Porcello started playing catch in January of 2011 that he slammed his index finger in a door, creating a bubble of fluid underneath the nail. He had to have the fingernail drained, and couldn't start throwing in earnest for a while. When spring training opened in February, Porcello was behind.
He felt like he had to push to catch up, which set him back, and he opened last season with the worst fastball velocity of his career.

"I didn't get full strength back until later in the year," he said the other day at the Tigers' spring training facility.

By October, Porcello had finally regained his fastball (see table), generating some of the best velocity of his career, and his start in the playoffs against the Texas Rangers was among his best. He shut out the Rangers into the sixth, but more importantly, it all felt right to him. The ball was coming out of his hand better, Porcello thought; there was more zip on his fastball, and his breaking ball was sharper.

Having gone through the frustrating experience of always trying to catch up last year, Porcello decided to start his throwing program earlier this winter. He picked up a ball for the first time and started playing catch Dec. 1, a month earlier than last winter, and while the Tigers haven't formally started spring training, he's already bullpen sessions, throwing from a mound.

"I'm really trying to get myself to midseason form at the beginning of April," Porcello said. "I want to give myself the best chance to do well right off the bat, and not be concerned about mechanical things or arm strength. I just go out there and compete."

"I feel great; there is definitely a noticeable difference. There's no tightness. My workload is more right now. I'm on track."

<Remembering Carter

The phrase "carpe diem" always applied to Gary Carter. He drew the marrow from life his whole life.

Carter is one of Canada's great sports heroes, writes Richard Griffin. A teammate had a nickname for him because he smiled so much, writes Bob Elliott.

He had been a champion for children in need, writes Joe Capozzi.

George Vecsey thought he was strangely alone in the Mets' clubhouse, and that he was more complicated than his image. Keith Hernandez took the news hard.

Carter was the final piece of the Mets' championship team, writes Mike Vaccaro. His influence was felt from Cooperstown to West Palm. Joel Sherman remembers Carter's Mets debut.

Carter inspired on and off the field, writes Bob Klapisch.

Here's Dick Goldstein's obituary of the man they called "Kid."

FROM ELIAS: Gary Carter had nine seasons in which he caught at least 120 games and hit 20 or more home runs as a catcher (1977-80, '82, '84-87), tying him with Johnny Bench for the major league high. Carter is also the last of the four players who hit two home runs as a catcher in one World Series game. He did that at Fenway Park in Game 4 of the 1986 World Series, joining a list on which the other names are Yogi Berra (1956), Gene Tenace (1972) and Johnny Bench (1976).

Most career home runs hit as a catcher, MLB history

Mike Piazza: 396

Carlton Fisk: 351

Johnny Bench: 327

Yogi Berra: 306

Ivan Rodriguez: 304

Lance Parrish: 299

Gary Carter: 298

Notes

• The Yankees and Pirates are on the verge of finishing an A.J. Burnett deal, and Dejan Kovacevic likes this deal for Pittsburgh. Totally agree with him.

Miguel Cabrera has lost about 25 pounds and wants to get down to about 250, teammates say. With Cabrera moving to third base, Jim Leyland hopes Brandon Inge can successfully play second base. The Tigers are rolling the dice with Cabrera moving to third, writes Lynn Henning. He needs to narrow his base when playing defense, says Rafael Belliard.

Carlos Zambrano says he'll have no problem co-existing with Ozzie Guillen, writes Juan Rodriguez.

Scott Kazmir will throw for scouts today; his session Wednesday was postponed by a couple of days.

• The agent for Brandon Webb says the right-hander is throwing on flat ground and preparing to throw for scouts. The agent, Jonathan Maurer, says Webb is pain-free.

Justin Verlander was walking off the field after throwing a bullpen session and some running at the Tigers' facility, and there was a small group of fans waiting with baseballs and jerseys to sign. Verlander was headed to the weight room to continue his morning workout, and he appeared focused on that.

But a woman held a relentlessly cute boy of about 3 years old, and as Verlander neared, the child, holding a baseball, called out to the pitcher. "Mr. Verlander," he said, "can you sign my baseball?"

Verlander broke into a big grin. "That's just not fair," he said to the boy's mother, and he stopped and signed the boy's baseball, and all the other baseballs and jerseys held forth.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Phillies are long shots to sign Jorge Soler, writes Jim Salisbury.

2. The Pirates closed out their final two arbitration cases.

3. The Red Sox signed Ross Ohlendorf, and are hoping he can pitch in.

4. The Rays added depth at catcher.

5. The Braves are going to ease a couple of relievers into spring training.

6. The signing of Yoenis Cespedes gives people a reason to talk about Oakland.

7. Mike Matheny is set to open his first spring training as the Cardinals manager.

Other stuff

• The pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona is urging young players in the Dominican to be honest.

• Here's a Cubs spring training preview.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka must earn his keep this year.

• Here are seven Twins worth watching in spring training, from La Velle Neal.

•The Nationals' rotation will be better, says Nats' pitching coach Steve McCatty.

• Here are five burning questions about the Phillies.

• The key for Jhoulys Chacin is command, says his manager.

• Kevin Towers thinks the Diamondbacks are ready for a good year, writes Nick Piecoro.

• C.J. Wilson's mind is always racing.

• There are a lot of questions about the Orioles.

• Matt Harvey hopes to make it to the big leagues with the Mets.

Mark Melancon has seen both sides of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry now.

Ty Wigginton is smiling a whole lot since being traded to the Phillies, writes Bob Brookover.

• Don't expect Neftali Feliz to be Alexi Ogando as a starter, writes Evan Grant.

• The Rangers are confident, with spring training around the corner.

Danny Hultzen talks about pitching to contact.

• A Mariners prospect is working on his defense.

• Tony Gwynn is resting after surgery.

• Vanderbilt put up 102 points.

And today will be better than yesterday.