Time/Place: 4:10 p.m., Petco Park
SB Nation blog: Gaslamp Ball
Pitching Matchup: RHP Max Scherzer (0-0, 1.20 ERA) vs. RHP Tyson Ross (0-2, 4.35 ERA)
Control has been a big problem for Tyson Ross so far this season. He has walked a whopping nine hitters in his first two starts, resulting in 11 runs allowed. He has never had great command, but was able to limit the damage with 44 walks in 125 innings in 2013. Part of the command issues likely stem from his odd delivery. He's a gigantic human being at 6'5", 225 pounds, but his pitching motion looks as if he's simply lobbing the ball in towards the plate. He has struggled to maintain a consistent release point, something he did pretty well in 2013.
Left: 2013, Right: 2014. Charts via Fangraphs.
Ross primarily works with a fastball-slider combination, mixing in the occasional changeup against left-handed hitters. The change-piece is no great shakes, and lefties have hit Ross for a healthy .777 OPS throughout his career. The fastball sits in the mid-90s, making his stiff pitching motion even more puzzling. Ross' slider is his best pitch, and it was one of the best in all of baseball during the second half of 2013. Paul Sporer detailed more in his 2014 Starting Pitching Guide:
The pitch allowed a meager 291 OPS – easily the best in the game – even topping Master Slider himself, Chris Sale (369 OPS). The comical .049 well-hit average (simply well-hit balls/at-bats with the well-hit balls being judged by TruMedia) was the second-best of any single pitch thrown at least 300 times in the second half. Hyun-Jin Ryu’s changeup gave batters fits, as evidenced by their .031 WHAV in 98 PA during the same timeframe.
It's early, but all signs point to 2013 being the new normal for Max Scherzer. We tried to keep things level-headed after he dominated the Kansas City Royals in his first start, but there is no need to hold back after his last outing. Scherzer held a potent Los Angeles Dodgers lineup to two runs in seven innings while striking out eight. He allowed his first home run of the season -- to Dee Gordon, of all people -- but otherwise was as in control of the proceedings as we saw throughout last season. Early trends show that he is throwing his slider a bit more this season at the expense of his fastball, but that could partially be due to the fact that he is getting ahead more often. Through his first two starts, he has thrown first-pitch strikes to 38 of the 55 batters he has faced.
Hitter to fear: Will Venable (.429/.429/.714 in 7 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Seth Smith (.214/.353/.214 in 17 plate appearances)
Scherzer's time in the National League has not afforded him much experience against the current Padres roster, in part because many of them debuted after he became a Tiger. Max has only faced six of their hitters, and Chase Headley is the only career Padres (read: not Seth Smith) with more than 10 plate appearances against him. Headley is 3-for-10 with a walk and a hit-by pitch. Venable has a pair of doubles against Scherzer in seven at-bats, while Nick Hundley is the only other Padre with an extra-base hit off Scherzer (also a double).
With a win today, the Tigers will have a 3-2 record on their first west coast trip of the season. It's a bit early for scoreboard watching, but they have already opened up a 1 1/2 game lead in the division. Fifteen of the Tigers' next 18 games are against divisional opponents, so a win could be a nice momentum-builder heading into the next few weeks. It would be nice to see the Tigers take a few more pitches today than they did against Ian Kennedy last night given Ross' command issues, but it's hard to complain about yesterday's results.
More #Maxface for all as Scherzer picks up his first win of the season.