Time/Place: 3:35 p.m., O.Co Coliseum
SB Nation blog: Athletics Nation
Pitching Matchup: RHP Rick Porcello (7-2, 3.88 ERA) vs. RHP Jesse Chavez (4-2, 2.61 ERA)
Jesse Chavez has been one of the biggest surprises of the 2014 season so far, holding opposing batters to a .648 OPS in his first 10 starts. When asked if they expected this kind of performance out of Chavez, Athletics Nation's Alex Hall responded with a resounding "nope." He elaborated on Chavez's development and performance with the following:
When we got him in 2012, the general consensus was "what the hell is Beane thinking?" He looked terrible and seemingly had no redeeming qualities, but Beane stuck with him. In 2013, he began to emerge as a reliever as he regained control of his pitches and stopped walking everybody, and his breakout performance came in June '13 when he recorded 17 outs at the end of an 18-inning win against the Yankees. At that point, some of us began to wonder if he had a future as a starter. When that idea came to fruition in spring training, and then injuries led to an opportunity for Chavez, AN's reaction was cautious optimism.
One would expect some outrageous peripheral numbers when a 30-year-old with no previous track record of pitching this well bursts onto the scene. However, Chavez has posted some legit numbers to go along with that sparkling ERA. He is striking out nearly a batter per inning and only walking 2.32 hitters per nine innings. His home run rate is a little high, but that isn't surprising given he relies so much on a cutter-curveball mix. He has been absolutely lethal against right-handed hitters, holding them to a .513 OPS. Lefties have been hitting much better, at .275/.342/.399. If there is any major regression to be had here, it will be with the strikeout rate. Chavez is only generating whiffs at an 8.7% clip, which usually doesn't produce a strikeout rate approaching 24%.
Well, so much for that breakout season. At least, that's what some will say after Porcello got tagged for eight runs on 12 hits in 5 1/3 innings in his last start. The rough outing ballooned his ERA by nearly a full run, but actually improved his FIP thanks to five strikeouts. He seemed to come unraveled in the fourth inning after a pair of defensive miscues -- yes, one involved Torii Hunter airmailing a cutoff man -- and gave up six of the eight runs afterward. In summary, it was vintage Rick Porcello in all the wrong ways, and it will take a long time before certain segments of the fanbase will forgive him.
Hitter to fear: Josh Reddick (.500/.667/1.250 in six plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Nick Punto (.143/.250/.143 in 17 plate appearances)
The A's have hit Porcello around in his career, handing him five losses and a 4.50 ERA in eight starts. He only pitched a pair of innings in relief against them in 2013, and has had decent success against the current roster. His one-sided rivalry with Nick Punto dates back to 2009, including an 0-for-2 performance in Game 163. Porcello has also held Alberto Callaspo in check with a .583 OPS in 20 plate appearances. Josh Reddick and Coco Crisp have had the most success against Porcello with seven combined hits in 15 at-bats. No one else has more than three plate appearances against the Tigers' right-hander.
While his last outing wasn't very good, one of the keys to Porcello's hot start was his ability to get left-handed hitters out. Always a bugaboo, Porcello improved his numbers against lefties in 2013. This season, he has held them to a career low .678 OPS with a 2.33 strikeout-to-walk ratio that is well above his career rate. He has continued his good work against right-handers as well, and has supplemented this with a 2.6% walk rate. He will be put to the test with what should be a lefty-heavy lineup. Meanwhile, Chavez will get to enjoy his righty-righty matchups against the Tigers, who rank last in the AL with just 44% of plate appearances seen with a platoon advantage.
Porcello rebounds and the Tigers take the series finale.