Game 5 Preview: Yankees at Tigers

Jonathan Daniel

Phil Hughes will return from the disabled list to start for the Yankees today against Max Scherzer and the Tigers.

New York Yankees (1-3) at Detroit Tigers (2-2)

Time/Place: 4:05 p.m., Comerica Park

SB Nation blog: Pinstriped Bible

Media: FOX (broadcast map), Tigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: RHP Phil Hughes (16-13, 4.23 ERA in 2012) vs. RHP Max Scherzer (16-7, 3.74 ERA in 2012)

Right-hander David Phelps was originally slated to start today's game, but the Yankees decided to scrap Hughes' rehab start in favor of letting him pitch at Comerica Park. This move screams desperation, given the fact that Hughes didn't pitch in any of the Yankees' Spring Training games in Florida due to a back injury. Hughes had mixed results against the Tigers last season. He brought the offense to a halt in a complete game back on June 3rd, but allowed four runs on eight hits in just 4 1/3 innings on August 7th. He only logged three innings in his start against the Tigers in last year's ALCS, allowing one earned run. Odds are Phelps will still see some action today, especially if Hughes doesn't pitch deep into the game.

Hughes relies primarily on a fastball that averaged 92 miles per hour last year, but can touch 95 in tight spots. He throws it roughly two-thirds of the time. The other third of his pitches are a big, looping curveball and a changeup that is quickly becoming his best pitch. Hughes posted some extreme reverse splits last season, allowing left-handers to hit just .211/.270/.340. Part of this may be due to an increased reliance on his changeup, but I'm betting that the .238 BABIP was also a reason why lefties struggled against him. An extreme fly ball pitcher, Hughes allowed 35 home runs last year.

Scherzer racked up the highest strikeout rate in the majors last season thanks to a 12.2% whiff rate, which was second to only Cole Hamels. Hitters were particularly mystified by his slider, which was 5.8 runs above average and had a swinging strike rate of 19.2%, according to PitchFX. As you can see in the image below, his slider breaks in the opposite direction from his fastball and changeup, both of which have excellent fading action towards right-handers.

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via pitchfx.texasleaguers.com

Scherzer only threw the slider 8.4% of the time to left-handed hitters, which may be one of the reasons he struggled against them. By becoming largely one-dimensional, Scherzer allowed lefties to hit .292/.366/.465. He also walked 46 lefties compared to just 14 right-handed batters all season.

Outlook

With many of the Yankees' big left-handed bats out of the lineup, Scherzer should be able to handle the majority of their batting order. Designated hitter Travis Hafner and new Tiger killer Brennan Boesch both have the power to take Scherzer deep, and we all know what Robinson Cano is capable of no matter who is pitching. If Scherzer can command his fastball, he can use his off-speed pitches to great effect like he did over the last two-thirds of the 2012 season. Hughes' status, on the other hand, is largely a mystery. Unless the ball is traveling well, Comerica is big enough to swallow up enough fly balls to keep him in the game until the later innings.

Prediction

Hughes pitches into the 7th behind a zillion warning-track flyouts to give the Yankees a much-needed victory.

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