Detroit Tigers (27-13) at Cleveland Indians (20-25)
Time/Place: 7:05 p.m., Progressive Field
SB Nation blog: Let's Go Tribe
Pitching Matchup: RHP Justin Verlander (5-2, 3.15 ERA) vs. RHP Trevor Bauer (0-1, 1.50 ERA)
Trevor Bauer is one of several highly-rated prospects that Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers
grew tired of has traded away during his tenure. Last season, Towers looked like a genius, as Bauer allowed a 5.29 ERA and 7.05 FIP in four major league starts. He was not much better in the minor leagues, giving up a 4.15 ERA in 121 1/3 innings. After retooling his delivery during the offseason, Bauer is back to looking like a top-10 prospect. He dazzled in his only start for the Indians this year, allowing two runs on four hits while striking out eight in six innings. His minor league numbers are just as shiny, with a 2.15 ERA in seven starts.
The biggest step for Bauer this season hasn't been the results themselves, but rather the significant drop in walk rate. Last year he walked 5.4 batters per nine innings at Triple-A Columbus. This year, he has cut that rate in half, with 14 walks in 46 innings of work. He only walked two batters in his first major league start as well, after allowing 16 base on balls in just 17 big league innings last season. He has the stuff to be successful in the strike zone, with a mid-90s fastball and a grab-bag of off-speed offerings. He has made major strides in fixing his wonky mechanics, and could be a difficult matchup for years to come.
Progressive Field has not been kind to Justin Verlander throughout his career. He is 9-10 with a 5.26 ERA in 20 career road starts against the Indians, though still boasts a respectable 3.11 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Tribe batters have a .732 OPS against Verlander at Progressive, nearly 100 points higher than his career OPS allowed of .657. Things have gotten much better in the past few years, however. Verlander is 5-2 with a 3.56 ERA and 5.10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in Cleveland since the start of 2011. He has not been sharp lately, however. In his last four starts, Verlander has allowed 13 earned runs and 20 strikeouts to 12 walks in 27 innings of work.
Hitter to fear: Michael Brantley (.390/.432/.463 in 44 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Asdrubal Cabrera (.211/.274/.298 in 64 plate appearances)
Michael Brantley continued to torment Justin Verlander in their first meeting this season, driving in a pair of runs with an RBI single. Brantley homered later in the game off Ian Krol as well, proving that his dominance of the Tigers extends throughout the pitching staff. David Murphy and Michael Bourn have also hit well against Verlander, though neither has homered. The only Indians to homer off Verlander are Nick Swisher and Carlos Santana, who have three apiece... but are hitting a combined .178 against him.
Despite a frustrating loss last night, the Tigers are still sitting with a 6-1 record on one of their longest road trips of the year with their two best pitchers set to go on consecutive days. Verlander has struggled at times at Progressive Field, but he will be counted on to shoulder the load thanks to a pair of short outings from Anibal Sanchez and Drew Smyly on consecutive days. The Tigers are already undermanned thanks to Justin Miller's recent demotion, and have pitched 10 2/3 innings. It's not out of the question -- Verlander has a pair of complete games under his belt at Progressive -- but another inefficient outing could lead to a seriously gassed 'pen with no off days coming up on the horizon.
The Tigers experience no travel delays en route to the ballpark tonight.