Detroit Tigers (6-1) at Pittsburgh Pirates (3-4)
Time/Place: 7:05 p.m., PNC Park
SB Nation blog: Bucs Dugout
Pitching Matchup: RHP Shane Greene (1-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. RHP A.J. Burnett (0-0, 3.38 ERA)
After years of watching home runs fly over his head in the launchpad ballparks of the AL East, A.J. Burnett accepted a trade to the Pittsburgh Pirates weeks before the 2012 season. It was here that Burnett had two of the most successful campaigns of his career, allowing a combined 3.41 ERA and 1.23 WHIP in 393 1/3 innings. Burnett led the National League in strikeouts per nine innings in 2013 and induced ground balls at a 57 percent clip. He allowed 29 home runs as a Pirate, or two fewer than his final season with the New York Yankees. Burnett signed with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2014 and topped the 210-inning mark for the first time since 2008, but he also had a league-worst 8-18 record and a 4.59 ERA.
Burnett earned himself an extra $5 million on his contract option with the Phillies for his 2014 performance, but he decided to leave that money on the table and re-sign with the Pirates last December. The 38-year-old has shown plenty of disdain for the Pirates' aggressive shifting ways in the past, but seems to have rededicated his faith to the Church of Searage after a season spent with the backward-thinking Phillies. Burnett's ground ball rate dipped down to 50 percent last season, his lowest rate since his days with the Yankees and Blue Jays. He also walked more batters, induced fewer swings outside of the strike zone, and gave up 20 home runs. If his first start in 2015 is any indication -- he struck out seven and walked one in 5 1/3 innings against the Cincinnati Reds -- Burnett could enjoy a second renaissance in the Steel City.
Shane Greene was extremely impressive in his Tigers debut, tossing eight innings after a three-hour rain delay against the Minnesota Twins. Greene pounded the strike zone, throwing first-pitch strikes to 22 of the 28 batters he faced. Greene went to an 0-2 count on eight batters, including five of the first 10 he faced. This fastball-heavy approach worked against the Twins' patient offense, allowing Greene to get to his underrated secondary stuff, including this nasty cutter.
The one knock to Greene's outing -- aside from allowing the first run of the season, even if it was unearned -- is that Greene struggled to maintain his fastball velocity into the later innings. He did this to a lesser extent against the Tigers last season, and was pitching in cool weather after a long rain delay. This will be something to keep an eye on today, especially if Greene pitches well and works deep into the game.
Tigers hitter to fear: Victor Martinez (.276/.432/.552 in 37 plate appearances)
Tigers hitter to fail: Miguel Cabrera (.200/.231/.400 in 26 plate appearances)
It's not often that you refer to Miguel Cabrera as a "hitter to fail," but Cabrera has not had much success against Burnett in his career. The Tigers' slugger has just five hits in 25 at-bats and has struck out three times. However, Cabrera got the best of Burnett in their last meeting, homering in a game at PNC Park. Ian Kinsler and Alex Avila are both hitting under .200 against Burnett, while J.D. Martinez is hitless in 10 at-bats. Rajai Davis has bucked his usual platoon splits and collected four hits (including two doubles and a triple) in nine career at-bats against Burnett.
The Pirates offense showed off their impressive power yesterday, homering three times off of starter Anibal Sanchez. Greene didn't prove to be particularly adept at limiting home runs last season, and his aggressive, zone-pounding approach may be a detriment against the Pirates. Two of their home runs came on the first pitch of an at-bat, and Corey Hart's pinch-hit home run was on a 1-0 count. The Pirates ranked in the lower half of MLB teams with a 46 percent swing rate in 2014, but have come out hacking with a 49.6 percent swing rate this year, seventh-highest in baseball. If Greene can get through the first few innings unscathed, the Tigers could be in business.
Greene outduels Burnett and the Tigers get back in the win column.
- Rajai Davis, CF
- Ian Kinsler, 2B
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B
- J.D. Martinez, RF
- Yoenis Cespedes, LF
- Nick Castellanos, 3B
- Alex Avila, C
- Jose Iglesias, SS
- Shane Greene, P
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