Toronto Blue Jays (3-5) at Detroit Tigers (4-4)
Time/Place: 1:08 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Bluebird Banter
Pitching Matchup: RHP Josh Johnson (0-0, 4.50 ERA) vs. RHP Doug Fister (1-0, 5.40 ERA)
Johnson wasn't particularly effective against the Boston Red Sox last Friday, but still earned a quality start for his efforts. He allowed four runs (three earned) on nine hits, but also flashed his potential with six strikeouts in six innings. The good news for the Blue Jays is that he was able to command all of his pitches, throwing both his fastball and breaking balls for strikes at least 60% of the time. Johnson's recent struggles have been partially due to an elevated walk rate; from 2008 to 2010 he only walked 2.5 batters per nine innings, but walked 3.1 batters per nine innings in 2012, when he went 8-14 with a 3.81 ERA.
Johnson's four-seam fastball averaged nearly 94 miles per hour on the radar gun in his last start, touching a maximum of 95.6 mph. PitchFX says that he throws a two-seam fastball about 5% of the time, but I'm wondering if this is just his four-seamer running in on the hands of right-handed hitters a little more than usual, especially given that their respective average velocities are nearly identical -- two-seamers typically run two to four miles per hour slower than four-seamers. He also throws a slider and curveball. The curveball is a newer development for Johnson, who relied primarily on a fastball-slider combo in his early years with the Marlins. He will also throw the occasional changeup to left-handed hitters to keep them honest, which has kept his career right-lefty splits at a near-even level.
The normally efficient Fister had trouble commanding his fastball in his previous start against the New York Yankees, which resulted in him throwing 96 pitches in just five innings of work. He allowed three runs, one on a wild pitch that showed how much he was struggling with his command. He only threw 52% of his two-seam fastballs for strikes, down from the near-70% strike rate he had with that particular pitch last season. He also struggled to locate his curveball, but missed below the zone in most cases on Friday.
I wouldn't be concerned about Fister's location yet, but it will be something to keep an eye on today, especially if the weather isn't cooperative.
Fister fun fact
This is the first season that Fister started 1-0 since 2009. If he wins his next decision, he will be 2-0 for the first time in his career.
Johnson is the type of pitcher with the potential to either shut down the opposing lineup entirely or give up eight runs in 3 2/3 innings. He looked like the former more often than the latter in his first start of the season and should benefit from the deep Comerica outfield. However, he has struggled away from home throughout his career, though this could be due to the fact that Miami has been home to barren pitcher's parks for their entire existence. Fister, meanwhile, will probably welcome the fact that he doesn't have all of the Opening Day hoopla surrounding this start, though the prospect of rain can't be much more comforting.
The Tigers take the series behind a strong outing from Fister.