Detroit Tigers (18-11) at Houston Astros (8-23)
Time/Place: 4:10 p.m., Minute Maid Park
SB Nation blog: Crawfish Boxes
Pitching Matchup: RHP Justin Verlander (3-2, 1.83 ERA) vs. RHP Philip Humber (0-6, 7.58 ERA)
Humber was picked up off waivers by the Astros in November, ending a five year run in the AL Central with the Minnesota Twins, Kansas City Royals, and most recently, the Chicago White Sox. He threw a perfect game against the Seattle Mariners last April, but was taken out of the rotation by August after allowing a 7.01 ERA in his next 13 starts. This year, Humber was victimized by a lack of run support in his first few outings, losing his first three starts despite a 2.89 ERA at the time. After that, the wheels came off. He was rocked by the Cleveland Indians to the tune of eight earned runs in just one-third of an inning, and the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees scored a combined 11 runs off him in his next two starts.
Oddly enough, Humber's ground ball percentage is way up from last season and he has only allowed three home runs. His BABIP is .363, but that is largely due to the fact that he recorded one out and allowed eight hits against the Indians. He is only striking out 4.55 batters per nine innings this season, well below the 7.50 per nine innings he struck out last year. Of course, when your fastball averages 90 miles per hour and none of your off-speed pitches are particularly lethal, you're not going to get a lot of swings and misses. Humber goes to his curveball most often with two strikes, but has begun to use the slider more in these situations this year. We may see the Tigers take a similar approach to last night, sitting on the fastball early in the count.
Verlander's fastball velocity started to pick up in his last start against the Twins. He averaged 93.6 miles per hour with the four-seamer and topped out at 97.5 miles per hour. His velocity peaked earlier in the game than usual, but this was in the high-stress second inning where Verlander allowed a run and threw 30 pitches. Are we seeing a new Justin Verlander? It's still way too early to tell, but it's possible. One factor to consider is that he has only pitched into the eighth inning one time this season and hasn't needed the late inning fireworks to finish off opposing hitters.
Matchup to watch: Verlander vs. Chris Carter
Carter has three career at-bats against Verlander and has struck out three times. Something tells me he gets the day off today.
Closest Taco Bell to Minute Maid Park: 2.6 miles, 3.0 miles if you avoid the highway
Poor Philip Humber. Not only does he have to pitch against the best pitcher in baseball today, he has to face a lineup that is starting to click from top to bottom. Victor Martinez's home run last night got the proverbial monkey off his back while Alex Avila and Andy Dirks have both had some nice looking swings in this series. Austin Jackson showed that Thursday's golden sombrero was just a fluke with two hits and two very loud outs in last night's game. Meanwhile, the Astros were every bit as stymied by Max Scherzer last night as we thought they would be. I don't see any reason why that will change this afternoon.
Verlander pitches into the eighth, sending Humber to his seventh loss of the season.