Detroit Tigers (75-62) at Cleveland Indians (70-65)
Time/Place: 7:05 p.m., Progressive Field
SB Nation blog: Let's Go Tribe
Pitching Matchup: LHP Kyle Lobstein (0-0, 3.09 ERA) vs. RHP Carlos Carrasco (6-4, 3.01 ERA)
For a little while, it looked like Carlos Carrasco's 2014 season would be a mirror image of his 2013 campaign. He gave up 18 runs (17 earned) in his first four starts. He put up 23 strikeouts to nine walks in his first 22 innings, but no amount of sparkly peripherals were going to hide that 6.95 ERA. Instead of stashing him in the minors like they did in 2013 season, the Indians stuck him in the bullpen instead. The result? Oh, just a 2.30 ERA and 4.33 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 43 innings spanning late April to early August. He never worked his way into a late innings role -- though did tally a save -- and moved back into the rotation in August.
This time, the Carrasco experiment has been a resounding success. He is 3-0 with a 0.73 ERA in four starts, with 24 strikeouts to just three walks in 24 2/3 innings. He has also allowed only one home run during this stretch, though the home run ball has never really been a problem for him. He has also held opponents to just 11 hits in 24 2/3 innings. This is a monumental turnaround from last season, when he sported a 1.76 WHIP in 46 2/3 big league innings.
So what's the big difference, aside from "everything?" Chad Young of Let's Go Tribe did a lot of the legwork, pointing out several key areas of improvement. Here's one of particular interest:
2) A change in his pitch mix: In April Carrasco threw 56.7% hard pitches (sinker and four-seamer), 28.9% breaking pitches (slider and curve) and 14.4% off-speed pitches (changeup). In August, he is using the hard stuff more (62.8%) and the slower stuff less (26.3% and 10.9% respectively). Within that mix, he is also using his slider (which has always been his most effective pitch) more often. He never uses it much vs. lefties (3% in April, 0% in August), but he's nearly doubled his usage (from 23% to 45%) against right-handed opponents.
His velocity is also up and he's throwing more strikes, which helps too.
Kyle Lobstein has not posted a very impressive stat line through his first two big league outings -- namely, he has five walks to three strikeouts in 11 2/3 innings -- but he was able to hold the New York Yankees to a pair of runs (one earned) on just four hits in six innings in his first career start. It wasn't a particularly stressful day for him either, as he faced just three batters in four of his six innings of work. Lobstein only threw 83 pitches during the outing (49 for strikes), but the bullpen was able to keep the score tied long enough to come away with a victory. Normally, a decision to pull the starter that early would have left some foaming at the mouth, but I thought that Ausmus made the right move to get his rookie out of dodge. If Lobstein can do the same tonight, the Tigers are playing with house money.
Tigers hitter to fear: Torii Hunter (.500/.538/1.250 in 13 plate appearances)
Tigers hitter to fail: Victor Martinez (.182/.182/.364 in 11 plate appearances)
There are bound to be plenty of gaudy stat lines considering Tigers batters have hit .382/.435/.603 against Carrasco in his career. That OPS is slightly better -- though not much, at .917 -- when you only consider players currently on the Tigers' roster. Torii Hunter has done most of the damage, with six hits in 12 at-bats, but Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, and Alex Avila all have an OPS above .900 in eight plate appearances or more.
While it's easy to buy Carrasco's improvements based on the numbers, there are still a couple of questions he needs to answer tonight. First, can he handle the Tigers' lineup? He has allowed an 8.07 ERA in 10 career outings (five starts) against them, and has essentially turned every hitter into Miguel Cabrera. Second, what happens when hits start to fall in? Carrasco has a .169 BABIP during this excellent four start stretch, well below his career average of .311. He may not need to be as sharp as Kluber had to be opposite David Price last night, but a repeat of last season's 12 earned runs in 7 1/3 innings won't cut it if the Tribe want to stay in the playoff hunt.
The Tigers get to Carrasco and the bullpen in the later innings and win their second in a row.
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