Cleveland Indians (30-29) at Detroit Tigers (32-26)
Time/Place: 7:08 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Let's Go Tribe
Pitching Matchup: RHP Ubaldo Jimenez (4-3, 4.83 ERA) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (7-4, 3.70 ERA)
Jimenez looked like his normal, crazy-wild self through the first couple innings of his last start against the Tampa Bay Rays, but then he settled down and was on auto-pilot the rest of the way. The final result? Eight shutout innings with just four hits and a walk allowed -- to the first batter he faced, no less -- and countless ugly swings from Rays hitters. It was the best Jimenez has looked in the four or five starts of his that I have watched this year, and a night-and-day difference to his last start against the Tigers. Above all, he was efficient. He didn't throw more than 17 pitches in an inning and finished with 108 pitches thrown on the afternoon.
One of the differences between his last start and his overall numbers this year is his increased use of his sinker compared to his four-seam fastball. On the year, he has been throwing both pitches at a fairly even clip, but he went with a heavy diet (46% use rate) of sinkers against the Rays, relegating the four-seamer to a 12% use rate. Frankly, I don't understand why he doesn't do this more often. The late movement on his two seamer -- which looked a bit sharper than in previous starts -- gave the Rays fits, jamming right-handed hitters on multiple occasions for weak groundouts.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Jimenez's start on May 27th against the Cincinnati Reds. He allowed two runs on four hits in seven innings, but still walked four batters. The "effectively wild" tag seems like it was invented for Jimenez, and it was seemingly on full display in that outing.
Meanwhile, it seems like Justin Verlander was just waiting for me to leave the country. After struggling in three starts in mid-May, Verlander buckled down to allow six runs in 14 innings while striking out 18 hitters in his last two starts. Both games were big wins for the Tigers, as they were the only two wins the team had over the Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles in that seven game stretch. There isn't anything glaring in the PitchFX to indicate that Verlander made any adjustments -- fastball velocity included -- though it seems like his average release point is ever so slightly higher in his last two starts. Until we see more, there's nothing to read into this.
Outlook not so good.
One thing that sticks out about the Tigers' last matchup against Jimenez is that they made him throw as many pitches as possible. Only two of the 23 batters that Jimenez faced swung at the first pitch, and one of those swings resulted in an RBI double by Jhonny Peralta. Combine that with the fact that Jimenez was behind the majority of batters he faced -- he only threw 12 of 23 first-pitch strikes -- and it's easy to see why the Tigers were successful. I'd imagine that they will take a similar approach tonight. If Jimenez is hitting the zone early, it may be a long night for the Tigers.
The Indians have had success against Verlander by jumping on his fastball. Of the 16 hits he allowed to the Tribe in his two starts in 2013, 10 have been on the fastball. Five of the 16 were on his changeup, which madpoopz outlined as a problem area earlier this week. In his past two starts, he has had more fade on the change, though that hasn't translated to success with the pitch -- opposing batters hit over .400 on his changeup in those games. That said, the increased fading action will eventually pay dividends, both for his changeup and his fastball. I'm going to be watching how he works to establish both of those pitches early on tonight. Don't be surprised if Verlander uses a lot of off-speed pitches early to set up his fastball later in the game.
The Indians' run on thrashing Cy Young award winners ends tonight.