Chicago White Sox (9-10) at Detroit Tigers (9-6)
Time/Place: 7:08 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: South Side Sox
Pitching Matchup: LHP John Danks (1-0, 3.32 ERA) vs. RHP Anibal Sanchez (0-1, 3.21 ERA)
John Danks missed most of the 2012 season due to a shoulder injury that later required surgery, and wasn't quite himself in 2013. He was just 4-14 with a 4.75 ERA and 5.06 FIP, and there was no late season surge that you sometimes see from a player the year after a major injury. This season, Danks has looked more like his old self. He only has 13 strikeouts to 10 walks in 19 innings of work, but has only allowed 14 hits and one home run. He gave up three hits and a run in the first inning during his last start, but settled down to scatter four walks through five scoreless innings.
One point of concern for Danks is that the decline in his fastball velocity from 2013 has decided to stick around in 2014. Previously sitting around 92-93 miles per hour before his surgery, Danks now rests at 89-90. The cutter has always been a big part of his arsenal, but it has also dropped from 88 miles per hour to the mid 80s. Opposing hitters are making more contact with the cutter in 2014 -- small sample size caveats apply -- but they are still fanning on Danks' signature changeup at an 18% clip. One interesting development is his newfound tendency to throw his curveball on the first pitch of an at-bat, possibly as a means of compensating for the loss in fastball velocity.
We still have yet to see the 2013 version of Anibal Sanchez in 2014, but he showed flashes of breaking out in his last start. After walking the bases loaded in the first inning against the Cleveland Indians, Sanchez warmed up -- literally and figuratively -- to allow two runs (one earned) on two hits and a walk while striking out eight in his final four innings. His 2.36 FIP is largely a product of his nonexistent home run rate, but he has 14 strikeouts in his last two starts. This is a promising development considering the White Sox -- for all their early season offensive firepower -- have the second-highest strikeout rate in the American League.
Hitter to fear: Alejandro De Aza (.500/.556/.750 in 9 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Alexei Ramirez (.167/.231/.250 in 13 plate appearances)
Alejandro De Aza has had some success against Sanchez, but he has also struck out four times in eight career at-bats. Adam Dunn and Sanchez have a long history due to their previous matchups in the National League, but Sanchez has held Dunn to just seven hits in 30 at-bats with no home runs and 14 punch-outs. Alexei Ramirez may have poor numbers against Sanchez, but he has been teeing off on American League pitching so far this season. He is hitting .360/.400/.587 with five doubles and four home runs in 2014. Oh, and his glove continues to be ridiculous as well.
Luckily, the MLB schedule makers have decided to give us an early season matchup with the White Sox after holding out until July in 2013. The Sox have scored 106 runs in their first 19 games and are second in the American League with 23 home runs. Alexei Ramirez's .987 OPS leads the way, but Adam Dunn, Jose Abreu, and Adam Eaton have all chipped in. Abreu's 17 RBI are second in the AL, while Ramirez and Eaton have scored 15 runs apiece.
Their pitching has been another story, however. They have the highest ERA in the AL and are walking 4.7 batter per nine innings as a team. Their bullpen has a 5.72 ERA and more walks (42) than strikeouts (39). The keys here are easy: get Anibal on track and drive up Danks' pitch count as quickly as possible.
Sanchez settles in after a rough first inning and picks up his first win of the season.