Detroit Tigers (16-11) at Houston Astros (8-21)
Time/Place: 8:10 p.m., Minute Maid Park
SB Nation blog: Crawfish Boxes
Pitching Matchup: RHP Doug Fister (4-0, 2.38 ERA) vs. RHP Bud Norris (3-3, 4.20 ERA)
Norris was a statistical anomaly in 2012, posting some of the most extreme home-road splits in baseball history. He was 4-1 at home with a 1.71 ERA but 3-12 with a 6.94 ERA on the road. For whatever reason, Norris seemed to lose his command away from Minute Maid Park. His 2.08 walks per nine innings at home ballooned to 4.66 walks per nine innings on the road. He has continued this trend in 2013, allowing five runs at home compared to nine on the road in three starts apiece. He wasn't very sharp in his last start, allowing five runs (three earned) in six innings against a red-hot Boston Red Sox lineup at Fenway Park. Norris tried to pitch most of the Red Sox' heavy hitters away, a strategy that didn't work. The Sox' 2-5 hitters were a combined six-for-15 with three RBI, sending Boston to a four-game sweep of the Astros.
Norris relies primarily on a fastball-slider combo, throwing those two pitches about 85% of the time. His fastball sits in the 92-93 mile per hour range but he can reach back for a 95 mile per hour heater when needed. His slider is his best pitch, averaging 84-85 miles per hour. He may not throw it as often as Al Alburquerque, but he uses it quite a bit, especially against right-handed hitters. If any of our righties get to two strikes, expect the slider. Norris also mixes in an occasional changeup to left-handed batters. Despite the extra pitch, lefties have hit him at a much higher clip throughout his career. This season, lefties are hitting .357/.416/.543 off him.
Fister has been excellent this year despite dealing with some mechanical issues, which is why he's hitting so many batters. This may be slightly disappointing for those hoping that Fister was becoming a modern day Bob Gibson, but the fact that he's still pitching this well is very encouraging. Fister's 3.16 FIP indicates that he may be due for a little bit of regression, but not much. I don't think Fister will maintain a walk rate of 1.59 batters per nine innings, but his strikeout rate is lower than it has been since he first donned a Tigers uniform in 2011.
Fact-checking can be important sometimes
The Tigers' pitching staff has the third highest BABIP in baseball at .313 despite having one of the highest ground ball percentages in the league at 46.6%. Part of this may be due to the slick infield surface at Comerica Park, but it's also playing a big role in how teams are scoring against the Tigers. They have the second-lowest home-run-to-fly-ball ratio in the majors at 7.0% and have allowed the fewest home runs in the major leagues. Teams haven't been putting the ball in play against the Tigers -- who also lead the majors in strikeouts -- but when they are, it has been weak contact on the ground yet still has resulted in one of the highest BABIPs in baseball.
I can't imagine that the Astros' bullpen is as taxed as everyone believes it will be this evening. Other than Dallas Kuechel, no Astros relief pitcher threw more than 20 pitches last night, and Jose Veras was the only other guy to throw more than 13 pitches. That said, I don't think they will need it. Norris has been lights out at home over the last year and the Tigers offense had some very ugly swings in last night's game. The Astros will scrape a run or two together against Fister, but that might be all they need.
One bad inning from Fister is enough for the Astros, who get a much-needed victory.