Detroit Tigers (19-11) at Washington Nationals (17-15)
Time/Place: 7:05 p.m., Nationals Park
SB Nation blog: Federal Baseball
Pitching Matchup: RHP Anibal Sanchez (3-2, 1.82 ERA) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (5-1, 1.64 ERA)
Jordan Zimmermann might be the best-kept secret in baseball. His numbers above speak for themselves, and he's backing them up with a 0.75 WHIP, a 2.92 FIP, and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.86. In his last two starts, he has allowed four baserunners in 17 innings against a pair of playoff teams from 2012 -- the Cincinnati Reds and Atlanta Braves.
Zimmermann has been somewhat unfairly tagged with the "ground-ball pitcher" label. While he does get the majority of his outs via the ground ball, his stuff is much better than, say, Rick Porcello. His fastball sits around 94 miles per hour and has some nasty late movement.
The movement makes it a very tough pitch for hitters to square up, resulting in a lot of weak contact and broken bats, and he knows it. Zimmermann throws the heater nearly 70% of the time and doesn't let up if he gets batters ahead. He won't go to his off-speed stuff more often to fish for strikeouts.
He also has a big, looping curveball and a changeup with nice run, both of which he primarily throws against left-handed hitters. Oh, and then there is this beast.
Zimmermann primarily saves the slider for two strike counts against left-handed hitters, but he can throw it for a strike in any count against right-handers.
Sanchez was the lone Tigers starter to not have the chance to pad his stats against the Houston Astros. Instead, his last start came against the Minnesota Twins last Wednesday, and it was his worst outing of the season. Of course, when your worst outing of the season consists of allowing three runs in six innings while striking out nine batters, you're doing something right. Sanchez was horribly inefficient in the first couple innings against the Twins, but buckled down and was able to work through six. His effectiveness against lefties -- who have a .545 OPS off him this season -- will be important today against a Nats lineup that features at least three full-time lefties in Denard Span, Bryce Harper, and Adam LaRoche.
Don't let Bryce Harper beat you
Of course, this is easier said than done. While getting him out would be helpful, it also means keeping Denard Span and the yet-unannounced #2 hitter off the basepaths in front of him. While a hobbled Jayson Werth or a free-swinging Ian Desmond shouldn't pose too much of a worry to Sanchez, Span will. He's a known Tiger killer -- 131 tOPS+ against the Tigers for his career -- and is getting on base at a .346 clip this season. Span is 0-for-3 against Sanchez in his career, which is encouraging. I won't post his numbers against Doug Fister yet, as it might give The Evil Denard mixed thoughts on how effective he is supposed to be tonight. Jedi mind tricks, indeed.
Call me crazy, but I'd be more comfortable if the Tigers were facing Stephen Strasburg tonight. Zimmermann has been lights out to start the season, and his last two outings are as dominant as we have seen out of any pitcher in 2013. Scoring will be hard to come by tonight, especially considering that Victor Martinez won't be in the lineup. Luckily, the Tigers come in with their own red-hot pitcher. The difference? While Zimmermann has never faced the Tigers in the regular season, Sanchez has owned the Nationals. He is 8-0 with a 1.97 ERA against them in his career, which includes a 1-0 record and 1.29 ERA last season. A run or two might be enough to take this one.
First team to score wins.