ST. PETERSBURG -- As the Rays were being forced to use a bevy of pitchers, the Tigers benefited from a strong performance from their starter Saturday.
Detroit's Rick Porcello pitched seven shutout innings, allowing just four hits to help the Tigers to a 6-2 win over the Rays at Tropicana Field in front of a crowd of 29,443.
Porcello made short work of the Tampa Bay lineup, and Rays center fielder B.J. Upton said he felt Porcello's ability to locate his sinker was what proved to be the difference.
"He's a sinkerball pitcher, that's one of the things -- just keep the ball low," said Upton, who went 0-for-3 against Porcello. "He's pretty deceptive, because his ball looks straight but it's not. You have to think about swinging, and before you know it, it wasn't where it started. He pitched well. You have to tip your cap to him."
Porcello said he felt his changeup was also one of his more effective pitches, but batterymate Alex Avila agreed with Upton that the sinker was key.
"He had a tremendous sinker today," Avila said. "He was hitting my knees perfectly today, elevating when he needed to. Slider, changeup, everything was working real well, and he was locating, throwing strikes with everything."
Tampa Bay, meanwhile, wasn't as fortunate with its starting pitcher, Jeremy Hellickson. The righty was hit in the right leg just below the knee in the top of the third inning, forcing him from the game. The team later diagnosed the injury as a bruised right shin, and X-rays were negative. He said he expects to make his next start.
"It didn't get bone, but it hurt," Hellickson said. "I tried to stay in, but it just went numb on me."
Detroit scored the first run of the game in that inning with Prince Fielder batting and the bases loaded with one out. Fielder scorched a liner right to Hellickson that hit him and ricocheted to first baseman Carlos Pena. While the Rays recorded an out on the play, the Tigers took a 1-0 lead.
The Rays first turned to J.P. Howell for relief, and he fared well, pitching two innings with two hits and a walk against him. Wade Davis came on in the fifth with two outs and worked through the end of the sixth.
As the Rays' bullpen continued to tread water, their bats couldn't get anything going through the first five innings against Porcello. The righty allowed just one man to reach base, a bunt single by Elliot Johnson in the third.
"I've been grinding all year, really, just to find some rhythm and get on a bit of a roll," Porcello said. "These past three starts have definitely been positives."
In the sixth, Tampa Bay had its best chance to get on the scoreboard, set up by three straight singles with one out from Will Rhymes, Desmond Jennings and Carlos Pena. On the next two pitches from Porcello, Upton popped out to short and Luke Scott grounded to second, leaving the Rays unable to capitalize.
"I've got to put together a better AB than that," Upton said.
The Rays' bullpen finally slipped up in the eighth, with Joel Peralta pitching fresh off a suspension for using pine tar on his glove. Brennan Boesch got things going with a double and Ramon Santiago was hit two batters later. Austin Jackson then cranked a homer to left field that put Detroit up by four runs.
"Hitting Santiago was the play of the game," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Two outs, two strikes, hit batter, and then you bring [Jackson] to the plate, whereas normally I think Joel has a pretty good shot at getting that guy out. ... Those are the moments we normally get beyond."
Jeff Keppinger and Pena delivered solo homers in the eighth to bring the Rays within two runs, but the Tigers got a pair of insurance runs back in the ninth.
"We fought to the very end, and you've got to dig that also," Maddon said.
With the bullpen pitching 6 2/3 innings of the game, there seemed to be concerns about fatigue for the series finale, but outside of Howell and Burke Badenhop, Maddon said he feels comfortable with his available arms.
"Wade should be good, Peralta should be good, [Jake] McGee will be back and Fernando [Rodney] is good," Maddon said. "We've got four solid, and I think even if we needed to, Kyle [Farnsworth] could pitch tomorrow, but I'd rather not."
Greg Zeck is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.