Minnesota Twins (11-11) at Detroit Tigers (14-10)
Time/Place: 7:08 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Twinkie Town
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Vance Worley (0-3, 6.38 ERA) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (2-2, 1.95 ERA)
Worley's stat line is a bit deceiving, as he hasn't been as bad as the 6.38 ERA suggests. He was lit up for seven earned runs in one inning during his start against the New York Mets. In his other four starts, he is 0-2 with a 3.93 ERA, and the Twins offense scored a total of three runs in his other two losses. His 3.20 FIP supports the "not that bad" assessment, but a trigger-happy C.B. Bucknor deflated that FIP a bit during Worley's start against the Chicago White Sox. If you're interested, here's what a strike zone looks like when ten batters strike out looking in one game. Worley hasn't struck out more than three hitters in any of his other four starts.
Part of Worley's decline in strikeout rate -- Bucknor Punchout Party* excluded -- is due to a change in pitch selection. Last year, Worley mixed his two and four-seam fastballs almost equally, and threw his slider 22% of the time. This year, Worley is throwing the two-seamer much more often. Given the Twins' organizational philosophy of pitching to contact, this isn't surprising in the slightest. His usage rates of his slider and curveball have both declined, but I'm calling small sample size on that one.
Verlander left his last start early due to a blister on his right thumb. Then, the Tigers bullpen melted down and we all kind of forgot about the thumb issue for a bit. Since Verlander is starting on normal rest, I'm assuming it's not an issue, but I wouldn't be surprised if Jim Leyland pulls him early as a precaution. As for the "other" issue we have heard about all year, Verlander hit 96 miles per hour on the radar gun with his fastball in his last start. He is still averaging about 92 miles per hour with the heater, but it's encouraging to see that he can reach back for the upper 90s gas when necessary.
*Bucknor Punchout Party sounds like the knockoff version of Mike Tyson Punchout, except there are no winners and everyone goes home crying.
I'm still not sure if it's good or bad that the only offense that has been able to stop Verlander this season is his own. The Tigers have scored 14 runs in Verlander's five starts this year and have been shutout twice. Granted, those shutouts were against CC Sabathia and a red-hot Hisashi Iwakuma, but this trend of the offense taking a day off on Verlander Day dates back to last season as well. I would expect Verlander to pitch to contact a bit more today and get into the deeper innings, but his longevity may depend more on how his thumb responds to pitching, especially if he throws some high-stress pitches early on.
Leyland pulls Verlander after seven efficient innings and the fanbase goes crazy, but the Tigers still win