Detroit Tigers (31-21) at Seattle Mariners (27-28)
Time/Place: 4:10 p.m., Safeco Field
SB Nation blog: Lookout Landing
Pitching Matchup: RHP Max Scherzer (6-1, 3.00 ERA) vs. LHP Roenis Elias (3-4, 4.02 ERA)
Roenis Elias was unknown by many -- Mariners fans included -- before the season began, but he has drawn interest thanks to the story of his defection from Cuba, which has drawn comparisons to the pseudo-kidnapping of Yasiel Puig. He spent three years in the Mariners' farm system, including a 2013 season where he posted a 3.18 ERA and 3.20 FIP in 130 innings at Double-A Jackson. He impressed the M's by allowing just six earned runs in 22 2/3 innings during Spring Training and won a spot in the rotation.
Overall, things have gone well for the 25 year old southpaw. He has allowed a 4.02 ERA in his first 11 starts, but has shown flashes of potential with some dominant outings. In particular, a 10-strikeout performance at Yankee Stadium on May 1st caught some eyes. He has not struck out more than six batters in any other start this year. His command is a bit of an issue, but this stems from an old habit of changing his arm slot. Naturally, the Mariners are trying to break him of this. That said, he only has a pair of outings with four walks or more, and a 2.19 strikeout-to-walk ratio isn't too bad for an unpolished rookie.
One of the big reasons why the Mariners want him in the big leagues is because of his arsenal. He averages 92-93 miles per hour on his fastball, but can reach back for the mid-90s when necessary. There have been hints at an uptick in velocity when he is able to repeat his delivery, which could mean trouble for hitters. His best pitch is a big, sweeping curveball that comes in at 79-80 miles per hour. As you might imagine, lefties have a difficult time picking it up, a big reason why it has resulted in 11 of the 15 strikeouts he has against them this season. Elias also has a changeup that he primarily saves for right-handed hitters, but it is still a work in progress. Righties are hitting .340 with a .453 slugging average on the changeup this year.
Max Scherzer was dominant in his first nine starts this season, holding opposing teams to an AL-leading 1.93 ERA at the time. His peripheral numbers were not far behind, largely thanks to 73 strikeouts in his first 59 innings of work. His last two starts have been the exact opposite, however. He has allowed 12 runs on 20 hits in 13 innings, with just nine strikeouts to four walks. Naturally, pitch location is to blame.
The chart on the left details Scherzer's pitch location through his first nine starts, while the one on the right is from his last two outings. Clearly, his command has been lacking, and he has been leaving the ball out over the plate. Additionally, both the Indians and Athletics see the platoon advantage in over 70% of their plate appearances, and these games were no different. Scherzer faced just three right-handed hitters between the two combined lineups.
Hitter to fear: Kyle Seager (.429/.429/.429 in 7 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Justin Smoak (.100/.250/.100 in 12 plate appearances)
Scherzer has pitched well against the Mariners in his career -- not surprising given their offensive struggles over the past several seasons -- and this is reflected in the individual matchups. Kyle Seager is 3-for-7 against Scherzer, and the only Mariner with an average above .250. Robinson Cano also has three hits (including a home run) off Scherzer, but it has taken him 20 plate appearances to do so. He has also struck out six times. Overall, Scherzer has held Mariners hitters to a .245/.301/.364 slash line in six starts.
Today ends an absolutely grueling stretch of baseball for the Tigers. Since May 2nd, the Tigers will have played 30 games in 31 days, including 16 of their last 20 on the road. With a win today, they would be 18-12 during this long run, a .600 winning percentage. Sure, things got ugly for a moment, but stretches like this happen during the course of a 162 game season. Today's game is no guarantee, however. The Tigers have only scored four runs in their last four games against a left-handed starter. Elias has held the opposition to two runs or fewer in five of his starts, and his peripheral numbers at Safeco Field are better than his 4.61 home ERS suggests. Righties have a healthy .748 OPS against him, however, and he is averaging fewer than six innings per start.
The offense struggles early, but adjusts in time to cap off the road trip with a W.