Detroit Tigers (74-53) at New York Mets (58-67)
Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Citi Field
SB Nation blog: Amazin' Avenue
Pitching Matchup: RHP Doug Fister (10-6, 3.63 ERA) vs. RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka (5-8, 3.92 in Triple-A this season)
It seems like forever, but it has only been 11 months since we have seen Dice-K in the big leagues. His last outing with the Boston Red Sox was on October 3rd... and it didn't go well. He signed a minor league deal with the Cleveland Indians during the offseason, but despite their rotation struggles he wasn't able to warrant a call-up. He exercised a clause in his contract on Tuesday and was granted his release, then signed with the Mets yesterday. The Mets were in the market for a veteran starter after Jenrry Mejia hit the disabled list earlier this week with elbow inflammation.
Matsuzaka has been better as of late, going 4-3 with a 3.08 ERA and 1.11 WHIP for the Triple-A Columbus Clippers since the All-Star Break. Five of those seven outings have been quality starts, and he allowed just one run in three of those starts. It's a far cry from last September when he went 0-4 with a 14.36 ERA for the Red Sox.
Whatever sort of arsenal Matsuzaka is working with these days, don't expect it to happen very quickly. Dice-K is one of the slowest-working pitchers in the game, finishing just ahead of resident snail Josh Beckett in terms of pace last season. Brad Penny's slowest season came with the Tigers, when he averaged 25.4 seconds between pitches. This is Matsuzaka's career average. Add in his career 58.5% first strike percentage and we could see a long first few innings tonight. They may turn out to be even longer if the Mets can't figure out that darn bullpen phone.
Fister wasn't very sharp in his last start, allowing 10 hits in 6 1/3 innings. Despite all the baserunners, he was able to get out of trouble, allowing just three runs in a 6-5 Tigers win. He regained his strikeout touch, fanning six Royals hitters after striking out a combined three White Sox hitters in two of his previous three starts. It will be important for Fister to pound the strike zone tonight. The Mets collectively swing at the lowest percentage of pitches outside the strike zone and have the third highest walk rate in the National League.
The Tigers are just 6-8 since rattling off 12 consecutive wins in late July and early August, and have lost three of their last four series. Five of those eight losses have come in one-run games. With Matt Harvey and Dillon Gee set to pitch the other two games in this series, tonight is the only game where the Tigers have a clear advantage on the mound. If they can stay patient with Dice-K's offerings and come through with runners on base, they should be able to start off the series with a win.
There are plenty of LOBsters on the menu, but the Tigers scratch across enough runs to spoil Dice-K's return.