Cleveland Indians (7-7) at Detroit Tigers (6-5)
Time/Place: 1:08 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Let's Go Tribe
Danny Salazar seemingly came out of nowhere for the Indians in 2013, bringing a triple-digit fastball to the majors en route to a 3.12 ERA in 52 innings during the team's playoff run. He was tasked with starting the Wild Card game, but allowed three runs in four innings of work. Salazar had a stellar big leauge debut against the Toronto Blue Jays, but his start against the Tigers in August is what opened eyes around the league. He struck out 10 hitters in 7 2/3 innings and was one at-bat away from handing Miguel Cabrera a golden sombrero and a 3-2 lead to his bullpen. Unfortunately for him, Cabrera took a 100 mile per hour fastball over the wall in right-center, and a seemingly easy Indians win turned into a 14-inning marathon.
Salazar relies primarily on his fastball, throwing it over two-thirds of the time. It sits at 96-97 miles per hour, and as mentioned before, it can reach triple digits at will. His best off-speed pitch is his changeup, which is unusual for a young pitcher. It garnered swings and misses at an impressive 22% clip last season. He threw it to both right and left-handed hitters, but used it almost exclusively against righties when he got ahead in the count. Against lefties, he used it in all situations, which was a major reason why he held them to hitting just .219/.293/.295 last season. He also throws a slider that appears to still be a work in progress. Righties only hit .188 against it last year, however.
Justin Verlander looked much more Verlander-esque in his last start, striking out eight San Diego Padres in seven innings of work. It took Verlander a few innings to find his groove, as he compiled six of those eight punchouts in his last three innings of work. The eye test showed much of the same, as Verlander's fastball command was much better than in his previous starts. His off-speed pitches also seemed sharper, resulting in seven whiffs in a combined 48 pitches. This slider to Chris Denorfia was particularly nasty, and was a very welcome sign after Verlander only struck out five hitters in his first two starts.
Despite having some very good numbers against individual Indians hitters -- Kipnis, Mike Aviles, Nick Swisher, and Asdrubal Cabrera all have a sub-.700 OPS against Verlander in more than 20 plate appearances -- the Tigers' ace has struggled against the Tribe in his career. He has allowed a 4.38 ERA against the Indians in 224 innings of work, including 23 home runs. Brantley has given him plenty of trouble with a .395 batting average, while Swisher and Carlos Santana have both taken Verlander yard three times. David Murphy also put up solid numbers against Verlander while in Texas, tallying eight hits in 25 at-bats.
Remember that whole "feast or famine" offense thing from 2013? The Tigers have been held to two runs or fewer in six of their 11 games so far in 2014. Miguel Cabrera's slow start has not helped, but the Big Fella -- I see you, Rod Allen -- looked awful close to breaking out last night with a pair of RBI singles on a trio of sharply-hit balls. The Indians have been a more productive offensive outfit, but it's worth noting that they have played the Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins, and avoided Andrew Cashner in their series against the San Diego Padres. Verlander has also started to turn the tables on the Indians over the past few years, allowing a 2.96 ERA in 11 starts against the Tribe since 2011.
Verlander rescues the Tigers' floundering offense and gets his second win of the year.