Game 23 Preview: Royals at Tigers

April 21, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Duane Below (64) pitches during the fifth inning against the Texas Rangers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

Kansas City Royals (6-15) at Detroit Tigers (11-11)

Time/Place: 7:00 p.m., Comerica Park

SB Nation Blog: Royals Review

Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: Luke Hochevar (2-1, 4.98 ERA) vs. Duane Below (2-0, 0.00 ERA)

Despite the elevated ERA, Hochevar has been pretty good this season. He had one bad inning against the Cleveland Indians, giving up 7 earned runs in the Royals' home opener. Remove that inning, and he has allowed just 5 runs in 20 2/3 innings this season. He was a ground-ball-inducing machine in his last start against those same Indians, snapping the Royals' 12-game losing streak with a 6.1 IP, 4 H, 2 ER effort.

In that last start, Hochevar was still showing some of the after-effects of a line drive that hit his left ankle during his first start against the Indians on April 13. He was originally scheduled to pitch against the Tigers in their last series, but his ankle forced him to be pushed back to the next day's game against the Toronto Blue Jays. He hasn't thrown 100 pitches in a start yet this season.

Below picked up 2 wins in relief against the Boston Red Sox and, sadly, still leads the team in wins (he's tied with Justin Verlander, for what it's worth). Below hasn't given up a run in 12 innings of work, a stat that I expect to change this evening. Part of Below's success might be attributed to the fact that he's throwing his curveball a lot more this season. Yes, we're looking at a very small sample here, but Below is throwing the bender 22.4% of the time, way up from the 13.7% figure from 2011.

Billy Butler gives me nightmares

Butler has been on fire lately, going 10-for-23 in his past 5 games. He only has 7 RBI in that span, and this includes three home runs. Needless to say, he's not the problem right now. Butler also had 7 hits in the 3-game series in Kauffman Stadium back in April. He is currently the only Royals hitter that can and will beat the Tigers if given the opportunity, so hope that they don't pitch to him. It's probably a safe assumption that he's not going anywhere if he gets to first base.

Outlook

As a team, the Royals only hit .214/.274/.324 against lefthanders, and that includes Billy Butler's .294 average. Below can be successful if he hits his spots. If he's on, he could move through this lineup of free-swingers fairly efficiently. Don't be surprised if he works into the 7th inning. Hochevar has been effective, though slightly inefficient at times this season. He has shut down the Tigers offense a couple of times before, but I don't think he will tonight.

Prediction

Below continues his march toward a 20-win season with 'W' number three tonight.

Gameday Reading:

Doug Fister Injury: Duane Below Will Start Monday For Detroit Tigers - SB Nation Detroit, Tommy King
"In five relief appearances this season, Below has pitched 12 innings, allowing no runs on seven hits, while striking out nine batters. He recorded a 4.34 ERA in 14 games - two starts - last season."

Hot Start by Yuni Betancourt and Chris Getz Have Royals Getting to Second Base - Royals Review
"After three weeks, the Yuni-Getz combo at second base has been amongst the productive in the league." We'll see what happens in another three weeks.

Finally, Jonathan Sanchez's start was pushed back to tomorrow because of his health.

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