Detroit Tigers (15-9) at Kansas City Royals (14-14)
Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Kauffman Stadium
SB Nation blog: Royals Review
Pitching Matchup: LHP Drew Smyly (1-1, 3.60 ERA) vs. LHP Danny Duffy (1-1, 2.16 ERA)
The Tigers were originally slated to face left-hander Bruce Chen this evening, but a back injury landed him on the disabled list. Former starter turned temporarily reliever Danny Duffy will get the start instead, his first in the big leagues since allowing a pair of runs in 4 1/3 innings against the Tigers on September 7th, 2013. Duffy walked five in that start, illustrating the iffy command he has sported throughout his professional career. A former top 100 prospect, Duffy missed most of the 2012 and 2013 seasons due to Tommy John surgery. He only made five starts in 2013, but held opponents to a 1.85 ERA and 3.09 FIP in 24 1/3 innings.
Control issues aside, Duffy has the arm to be a legitimate big league starter. His fastball is back to the 95-96 mile per hour range he averaged before his surgery and he uses it about two-thirds of the time. He also possesses the typical "slider vs. lefties, changeup vs. righties" arsenal, though the slider is much more effective. Lefties have hit just .143 off of it in his career, a big reason why he holds them to a .711 OPS overall. Righties, on the other hand, have hit .272/.375/.450 off Duffy in his career, including 13 of the 17 home runs he has allowed at the major league level.
It has been a while since we've seen Drew Smyly on a pitcher's mound. His last start came way back on April 23rd against the Chicago White Sox, and despite promises that he was available out of the bullpen earlier this week, he has not faced live hitting since. He allowed two runs in that start, both off a Jose Abreu home run in the first inning. The rest of the way, Smyly was lights out, allowing just three more hits in his next five innings. He struck out seven hitters on the evening, a far cry from the two he fanned in his dismal outing against the Angels five days prior.
Hitter to fear: Billy Butler (.833/.833/1.000 in 6 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Alex Gordon (.083/.154/.083 in 13 plate appearances)
Allowing a bunch of hits to Billy Butler is nothing to be ashamed of -- hell, Justin Verlander has done it his entire career -- but Butler's numbers against Smyly are starting to get a bit scary. Butler is five for six with a double off of the Tigers' lone left-handed starter. Mike Moustakas is 3-for-7, while Salvador Perez homered in his only plate appearance. On the other side of the stat sheet, Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer are a combined 2-for-21 against Smyly with 10 strikeouts. Seven of those strikeouts belong to Gordon, and neither of them have an extra base hit.
Royals manager Ned Yost announced that Duffy would be limited to 70-85 pitches this afternoon, opening up an opportunity for the Tigers to take advantage of a lackluster Royals middle relief corps. As a team, the Royals were allowing 4.84 walks per nine innings prior to Friday's game. While they have five relievers with an ERA under 3.00, keep in mind that one of those relievers is now the starter. Guys like Michael Mariot and Louis Coleman have not been impressive, and an early exit for Duffy could spell trouble.
Smyly works off the rust in the first couple innings and rebounds for his second win of the year.