Game 46 Preview: Rangers at Tigers

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Verlander takes the mound today hoping to salvage a split against Colby Lewis and the Texas Rangers.

Texas Rangers (24-25) at Detroit Tigers (28-17)

Time/Place: 1:08 p.m., Comerica Park

SB Nation blog: Lone Star Ball

Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TVTigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: RHP Colby Lewis (3-3, 5.40 ERA) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (5-3, 3.55 ERA)

Pitcher GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP FIP SIERA fWAR
Lewis 7 36.2 8.59 2.45 0.98 1.75 3.71 3.70 0.7
Verlander 10 66.0 6.68 3.68 0.27 1.42 3.19 4.50 1.7

For those that missed Lewis' in-game interview yesterday on Fox -- an impossible task if you were actually watching the game -- he has gone through quite a lot in order to get back to the big leagues. He underwent surgery to repair a torn muscle tendon in his right elbow in July 2012, then had a hip replacement in August 2013 after a few minor league rehab starts. After one start in Triple A to begin the season, he has made seven starts for the Rangers with varying results. He has worked into the sixth inning in all but one start, but has only finished the inning one time.

Despite a 5.40 ERA, Lewis has put up some impressive numbers early on. He owns a 3.50 strikeout-to-walk ratio and is limiting home runs compared to his career norms. He is also being victimized by an unsustainable .420 BABIP, though a dip in his swinging strike rate compared to his previous numbers doesn't help. As one might expect, his velocity has declined slightly, and he has turned to a two-seamer to induce weaker contact. The exact opposite has happened thus far, however. Lewis is allowing a 25% line drive rate and opposing batters are hitting .371 on the two-seamer this season.

Justin Verlander's first start against the Rangers in 2013 signaled The Beginning of the End for the combustible portion of the Tigers fanbase. He only lasted 2 2/3 innings, allowing eight runs on six hits and two walks -- surprisingly efficient, if you think about it. Of course, we all know how it went after that. Verlander struggled at times, but still put up numbers that 95% of baseball would salivate over. Then the postseason came and he brought death and destruction down upon those that stood in his way. Except Mike Napoli.

Anyway, Verlander's last start was kind of the same deal, except he still worked six innings. He was rocked from the beginning by the Cleveland Indians, allowing five runs on seven hits in his first two innings. His command was off, he left several pitches out over the heart of the plate, and the Indians did their job by hitting some good pitches too. It was not the first time Verlander has struggled with his command this season -- his walk rate has been elevated all year long -- but, like the Texas start last year, it was the outing that opened everyone's eyes.

Hitter to fear: Alex Rios (.350/.409/.475 in 44 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Elvis Andrus (.192/.250/.192 in 28 plate appearances)

Last year's poor start aside, Verlander has dominated the Rangers throughout his career. He is 8-3 with a 2.67 ERA and a 3.48 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 13 starts, impressive numbers considering the high-octane offenses the Rangers have had in recent seasons. Alex Rios has done the most damage against Verlander, though he has never faced him in a Rangers uniform. Ditto Shin-Soo Choo, who owns a .701 OPS and a pair of homers against him in 56 plate appearances. Mitch Moreland has also hit well, with three doubles in 16 at-bats.

Outlook

The Tigers bullpen has logged 23 2/3 innings in six games this week, nearly 20% of their season total of 134 2/3 innings. This falls on the starting pitching, which has fallen off a cliff since the team's travel snafu when heading out of Boston. It comes as no surprise that this week's lone quality start turned into the team's only win. It goes without saying that Verlander needs to right the ship in order to build a little momentum before the team heads out for their second west coast trip of the season. Lewis is a wild card for the Rangers, but if the Tigers can drive up his pitch count early, they should be able to take advantage of the Rangers' depleted bullpen.

Prediction

Verlander rebounds and the Tigers split the series before heading out west.

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