Game 45 Preview: Rangers at Tigers

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Rick Porcello makes his first start in a week today against the Texas Rangers. Rookie Nick Martinez will toe the rubber for the Rangers.

Texas Rangers (23-25) at Detroit Tigers (28-16)

Time/Place: 4:08 p.m., Comerica Park

SB Nation blog: Lone Star Ball

Media: Fox Sports 1, MLB.TVTigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: RHP Nick Martinez (0-1, 2.28 ERA) vs. RHP Rick Porcello (7-1, 2.91 ERA)

Pitcher GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP FIP SIERA fWAR
Martinez 3 27.2 5.20 4.55 0.98 1.41 4.84 5.26 0.2
Porcello 8 52.2 5.64 1.20 0.68 1.01 3.20 3.70 1.3

Nick Martinez was pressed into duty quicker than most Rangers fans expected. After a solid 2013 season in the minors, Martinez was named the team's fifth starter out of Spring Training. Of course, it took injuries to Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, and Colby Lewis for this to happen, but making it to the show is all that counts, right? Martinez had a solid debut, allowing three runs on four hits in six innings against the Tampa Bay Rays on April 5. After a short trip back to the minors, he was recalled in late April. Martinez has held opponents to a 1.66 ERA in 21 2/3 innings since his latest call-up.

Lone Star Ball has a detailed write-up on Martinez as part of their top prospect list (he's #15), including a good summary of how he improved in 2013:

2013 ended up being a breakout year for Martinez. Starting the year at high-A Myrtle Beach, Martinez was terrific for the Pelicans, putting up a 2.87 ERA in 119.1 innings, striking out 105 batters, walking 38 and allowing just 5 homers. His performance got him invited to the Carolina League All Star Game...and earned him a late season promotion to AA Frisco, where he allowed just 6 runs in 32 innings over 5 appearances, putting up a 1.12 ERA. Overall, Martinez had a 2.50 ERA on the year in 151.1 innings, and while his peripherals didn't change much between 2012 and 2013, he dramatically reduced his hits allowed, giving up 4 fewer hits in 2013 despite throwing 34 more innings.

Martinez does not have ace-level stuff, but could turn out to be a solid back-end starter for a contender. His fastball averages 92-93 miles per hour and has gotten as high as 94.4 miles per hour this season. His slider and changeup both rest in the mid-80s, while his curveball comes in around 78-79 miles per hour. He primarily sticks with the fastball and slider against right-handed hitters, but is not afraid to throw the occasional changeup. Against lefties, he throws a mix of everything. He did not have any major platoon splits in the minor leagues, but walked lefties at a 10.5% clip, nearly double that of right-handed batters.

Because he was pushed back a couple days due to tightness in his side, Rick Porcello was not part of the rotation's Worst Week Ever in Cleveland. His last start came a week ago against the Boston Red Sox, when he allowed one run on six hits in eight innings. This has become the norm for Porcello despite a lack of strikeouts. He has held the opposition to two runs or fewer in all four of his May starts and has only walked three batters. With just seven walks allowed all season, Porcello has the fourth-lowest walk rate in the American League. Of the three guys ahead of him, only Masahiro Tanaka has a lower ERA.

Hitter to fear: Shin-Soo Choo (.321/.387/.464 in 31 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Elvis Andrus (.118/.211/.118 in 19 plate appearances)

Shin-Soo Choo thoroughly enjoys terrorizing Tigers pitching, and Porcello is no exception. Choo is the only Ranger with an OPS of .750 or better against Porcello in more than 10 plate appearances, though he has never homered off the Tigers' right-hander. Ditto Adrian Beltre, who is hitting .300 with a pair of doubles in 20 at-bats. Alex Rios is the only Rangers player to have taken Porcello deep, and he has done it three times. However, Porcello has otherwise held him in check, keeping him to a .211 on-base percentage. Elvis Andrus and Chris Gimenez are the only Rangers to have been flummoxed by Porcello's offerings. To be fair, however, Gimenez seems flummoxed by just about every pitcher in the big leagues.

Outlook

Last night's win was important for the Tigers -- it stopped the bleeding, as they say -- but now it's time to get greedy. This is not the same Rangers lineup that we have seen over the past few years, and another long road trip awaits the team after this weekend's series. Martinez has pitched well against some good competition, but high walk and strand rates suggest that there will be a regression period at some point.

Prediction

Porcello shows no signs of rust and the Tigers win their second game in a row.

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