Game 20 Preview: Royals at Tigers

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Verlander and James Shields face off for the third time in their careers today in the finale of a two-game series with the Royals.

Kansas City Royals (10-8) at Detroit Tigers (10-9)

Time/Place: 1:08 p.m., Comerica Park

SB Nation blog: Royals Review

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

Pitching Matchup: RHP James Shields (1-2, 3.00 ERA) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (2-2, 2.13 ERA)

Through four starts, Shields has been every bit of the ace that the Royals were looking for when they traded away all-universe prospect Wil Myers, MLB-ready Jake Odorizzi, and a couple of other young talents. Shields already has one complete game under his belt and has gone six innings in each of his other three starts, allowing nine runs in 27 innings. His record is purely a product of poor run support; in Shields' two losses, the Royals have scored a total of two runs.

You will hear Rod Allen mention Shields' excellent changeup a number of times throughout today's telecast, but that's because it's really good and he throws it a lot. Shields will throw it upwards of 48% of the time with two strikes to right-handed hitters, but has no qualms about using it in any count to any batter. He will make someone look foolish today. He doesn't have that varied of an arsenal, throwing a fastball-curveball-changeup mix, but he uses multiple types of fastballs to get a little bit of late movement. His cutter is the best of the bunch, but all three are effective.

On two or more days of extra rest, Verlander was lights out last season. He only made two starts on such occasions, but tossed 16 shutout innings in those games while striking out 15 and walking just three hitters. As for his decreased velocity? This might be more than just a radar gun epidemic. Verlander is pounding the periphery of the strike zone this year; 53.4% of the pitches that hitters don't swing at are strikes, up from the low 40s over the past few seasons. They are also swinging at fewer pitches out of the strike zone, but the overall percentage of swings and whiffs that Verlander has gotten so far hasn't changed. His first strike percentage also hasn't changed, which is interesting. I'd venture a guess that Verlander is trying to stay around the plate more often to get a few easier outs, but this hasn't translated into results yet.

Outlook

Both Shields and Verlander will look to be more efficient in today's game. Shields has hit 100 pitches in the sixth inning three times this year, while it took Verlander 126 pitches to get through the seventh inning in his last start. They have faced off twice before, with Shields getting the better of Verlander both times in low-scoring matchups. Expect similar fireworks today. And by "fireworks," I mean frustrated hitters.

Prediction

Billy Butler continues to torment Verlander with three hits today.

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