Kansas City Royals (0-2) at Detroit Tigers (2-0)
Time/Place: 1:08 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Royals Review
Pitching Matchup: RHP Yordano Ventura (0-1, 3.52 ERA in 2013) vs. RHP Anibal Sanchez (14-8, 2.57 ERA in 2013)
Ventura was a surprise call-up in 2013, earning three September starts for a contending club as a 22 year old in his fourth year of professional baseball. The Dominican flamethrower allowed a 3.14 ERA in 134 2/3 innings across Double and Triple-A last year. He struck out 155 batters to just 53 walks, showing impressive command despite his swift ascent through the Royals' system. He only tallied 15 1/3 innings in his three big league starts, allowing six runs on 13 hits. His strikeout totals didn't translate to the big league level last fall, but he fanned 23 batters in 23 1/3 innings this spring.
The reason Ventura racks up so many strikeouts is because of a plus-plus fastball that sits in the mid-to-high 90s. How good is it? Justin Verlander has thrown 10 of the 11 fastest fastballs by a starting pitcher in the PitchFX era -- in terms of a single pitch thrown -- but Ventura's 101.9 mile per hour heater he uncorked last season tops the list. Ventura averaged 97.1 miles per hour with the fastball last year, which profiles as a plus-plus pitch. He is no Tony Cingrani, however. Ventura also features a curveball that some prospect analysts have given the "plus" label, and I would wager that Jason Kipnis may agree.
Ventura also features a developing changeup, which he primarily threw against left-handed hitters in 2013. The change may or may not have contributed to his reverse splits in the minor leagues -- sometimes even the threat of a third pitch can help -- but there is no mistaking the numbers. Ventura has held left-handed hitters to a .609 OPS throughout his minor league career compared to a .736 OPS for righties.
Speaking of changeups, Anibal Sanchez has a pretty good one. He has used this pitch effectively throughout his career, keeping lefties in check with a .696 OPS. It was the increased use of his change against right-handed hitters that made the difference in 2013, though. Sanchez threw the changeup a whopping 20% of the time against righties last season -- up from 11% for his career -- and held them to a .201/.250/.286 line in 333 plate appearances. The 22.5% whiff rate and 48% ground ball rate led to a .182 average for righties on the changeup, including 31 strikeouts, in 88 plate appearances.
Hitter to fear: Alex Gordon (.333/.375/.400 in 16 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Omar Infante (.167/.211/.167 in 19 plate appearances)
Sanchez dominated the Royals in 2013, allowing three runs in 20 1/3 innings across three starts. This dominance did not extend to Alex Gordon, who had four hits in nine at-bats with an RBI against Sanchez last year. Most of his damage has been limited, however, as Gordon has just one double and no home runs against the Tigers' right-hander. Most of Omar Infante's plate appearances against Sanchez came when Infante was playing for the Atlanta Braves, as the two have been teammates for the past three seasons. Infante's three hits against Sanchez are all singles, but include two RBI. He has also grounded into two double plays against Sanchez in his career. In addition to Infante's futility, new whipping boy Mike Moustakas has one hit in 10 at-bats, while the half-man, half-monster Salvador Perez is 0-for-9.
Unlike Jason Vargas yesterday, Ventura has the stuff to work effectively within the strike zone. That said, the Tigers need to force him to work within said strike zone. While Ventura has not had any serious walk issues throughout his time in the minors, he has not been perfect either. He totaled 11 starts with three or more walks in 2013 compared to just four outings with no free passes issued. Meanwhile, Sanchez will look to continue the early trend set by Sanchez and Scherzer of forcing the middle of the Royals' lineup to hit with the bases empty. Norichika Aoki and Omar Infante are a combined 2-for-17 with a pair of walks in the series. Because of this, Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler, and Alex Gordon have combined for seven plate appearances with runners in scoring position in the first two games of this series, and are 0-for-4 with one RBI.