Tampa Bay Rays (32-26) at Detroit Tigers (31-26)
Time/Place: 1:08 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: DRaysBay
Pitching Matchup: RHP Roberto Hernandez (3-5, 4.87 ERA) vs. RHP Max Scherzer (7-0, 3.42 ERA)
For those that didn't read the lede above, Hernandez is the guy that pitched for the Cleveland Indians under the assumed name Fausto Carmona through 2011. During that time he was 8-6 with a 4.03 ERA and 1.317 WHIP against the Tigers in 20 appearances (17 starts). He made three starts in a comeback attempt with the Tribe in 2012, but allowed 12 runs in 14 1/3 innings. Last offseason, the Rays signed him to a $3.25 million contract, a move that wasn't particularly popular at the time.
So far, it has gone as expected by Rays fans. Hernandez has a 4.69 FIP and 3.54 xFIP, with the latter deflated due to him allowing 1.57 home runs per nine innings in 2013. He is striking out a career high 7.85 batters per nine innings while walking 2.51 per nine -- which is well below his career average -- but his 52.8% ground ball rate is the lowest mark of his career (2012 excluded). Lefties are hitting him at a .273/.359/.539 clip this year, including eight of the 10 home runs that he has allowed.
As you may remember, Hernandez relies heavily on a sinker to get ground ball outs. In his breakout 2007 season, he had a ground ball percentage of 64.3% in large part because of that heavy sinker. He throws the sinker, which sits around 92 miles per hour, about 50% of the time in all counts. He also throws a changeup to both right and left-handed hitters, mixing it in about 29% of the time. His once-lethal slider has lost some of its bite, but still ranks slightly above average. He doesn't lean on any specific pitch in certain counts, other than throwing his sinker nearly 65% of the time in three-ball counts.
Scherzer was excellent in his last start, allowing three runs in eight innings while striking out 10 Orioles hitters in a surprisingly efficient outing (for him). I won't discuss what happened after he left the game, because people tend to lose sight of things like "reason" when discussing the Tigers' bullpen (or the Tigers, for that matter). Anyway, this was Scherzer's fourth outing with at least 10 strikeouts in 2013, matching his total from all of 2012. His overall strikeout rate is slightly off last year's league-leading pace, but he has cut his walk rate considerably.
Part of his success has been due to the addition of his curveball, which has helped him hold left-handed hitters to a .189/.242/.320 line this season. He throws the hammer roughly 10% of the time to lefties, but they haven't been able to do anything with it. He has a 13.6% whiff rate on that pitch, second only to his changeup to lefties. When they do hit it, they are often pounding it into the ground for easy outs. Opposing lefties have an ISO of just .071 against Max's curveball in 2013.
Don't mistake today's pitching matchup as a repeat of what the Tigers faced last night. While Hernandez has a reputation as a ground ball pitcher, he doesn't have the stuff or strikeout rate of Alex Cobb. The one thing Hernandez does have going for him is that he hasn't shown any particular tendencies in certain situations, such as leaning heavily on one pitch in a given count. He has been pretty vanilla across the board, which could lead to some confusion if he mixes his pitches well and hits his spots.
Meanwhile, Max has pitched well in his career against the Rays, allowing a 3.04 ERA and 1.099 WHIP in four starts. If he can continue to command the strike zone as he has all season, we may be in for another double digit strikeout performance.
Scherzer picks up win number eight behind a strong offensive output.