It must be catching — because look who has become a strikeout pitcher.

Of sorts.

Rick Porcello, his season continuing to mend since a first-inning nightmare in Anaheim, made it four consecutive strong starts Friday night in the Tigers' 2-1 victory over the Texas Rangers.

As the winning pitcher, Porcello (2-2) allowed just the one run, and struck out six in 5.2 innings — which means he's fanned 24 in the last 25 innings.

On a team where more than one strikeout per inning is actually the norm, Porcello suddenly has begun to fit right in.

It's the first time in his career, in fact, that he's struck out at least five in four consecutive starts.

But that's not the only, or even the biggest, reason he's pitching better. He's getting ground balls again. He's pitching with confidence again. He's hanging in there against good teams — such as the Braves, Indians and Rangers, three of the four teams he's faced in his last four starts.

"That makes it even more impressive, the teams he's doing it against," manager Jim Leyland said. "Ricky has been aggressive, has a better breaking ball, has been sinking his pitches — and he's been around the plate."

Speaking of being around the plate, Porcello coaxed Nelson Cruz into hitting a double-play grounder in the fourth in a first-and-second situation with no outs.

But the double-play that Cruz hit into in the eighth, with Joaquin Benoit on the mound, was even bigger in terms of the outcome.

With runners at first and third and one out, the Rangers could have tied it with a fly ball, but Cruz hit a shot to second instead.

"Jhonny Peralta made a fine play to complete it," said Leyland, "because the throw to him was high."

With a scoreless ninth inning, Jose Valverde earned his fourth save.

"As I've said, I'm happy to have him back," Leyland said of Valverde.

If, for some reason, it was productive second basemen you wanted to see in this game, instead of a pitching duel, you were out of luck.