New York Yankees (6-6) at Detroit Tigers (10-2)
Time/Place: 7:08 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Pinstripe Alley
Pitching Matchup: LHP CC Sabathia (0-2, 5.68 ERA) vs. RHP Alfredo Simon (2-0, 2.03 ERA)
CC Sabathia's last two starts at Comerica Park could not have been more different. His most recent outing was back in April of 2013, and he threw seven shutout innings while his offense jumped on Justin Verlander in a 7-0 Yankees victory. The start prior came in Game 4 of the 2012 ALCS. Sabathia was lit up for six runs on 11 hits in just 3 2/3 innings as the Tigers completed their four-game sweep of the Yankees with an exclamation point. That would be the final game the Tigers would win in 2012.
We are now more than two years removed from Sabathia's last appearance at Comerica Park, an eternity in today's game. Sabathia has lost weight, gained weight, and endured two of the worst seasons of his career. He underwent knee surgery last July and focused on using his offspeed pitches more in spring training. The results weren't pretty, leaving Yankees fans concerned about what Sabathia would offer in 2015.
He only pitched ten total innings, but he managed to give up nine earned runs off of 14 hits. Three of those hits were home runs. One positive is that he only walked three batters while striking out nine, but overall it was a poor spring. All that the Yankees can do at this point is hope that he is able to turn it around in the regular season, since the rotation needs him.
So far, the results aren't much better. Sabathia has allowed nine runs (eight earned) on 15 hits in 12 2/3 innings and the Yankees have lost both of his starts. He was knocked around for a big inning in Toronto, while the Baltimore Orioles tacked on four runs in four different innings against him in their 4-3 victory. Sabathia's 15:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio is encouraging, and he has been victimized by a .389 BABIP despite just a 10.8 percent line drive rate thus far. It will take longer for his batted ball profile to stabilize, but early signs indicate that his high ERA may be largely due to bad luck.
Alfredo Simon's numbers are the mirror opposite of Sabathia's so far. Simon has only struck out five hitters in 13 1/3 innings, but has limited opponents to just three earned runs. He is currently getting by with a .220 BABIP, in part thanks to a fly ball rate well above his career norms. There is no real trend forming from Simon's numbers so far, other than he has some sort of hold over the Pittsburgh Pirates (they have a .590 OPS against him in his career). Even the pitches that have been put in play against Simon aren't revealing much of a trend.
As a pitcher that limits all three true outcomes -- strikeouts, walks, and home runs -- as well as Simon, he is heavily reliant on his defense for outs. If he can continue to induce weak contact, he will be effective.
Hitter to fear: Mark Teixeira (.429/.429/.714 in 14 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Garrett Jones (.111/.200/.111 in 10 plate appearances)
Simon only has 24 career innings against the Yankees, but he is 0-3 with a 5.25 ERA. While most of those innings came in Simon's years with the Baltimore Orioles, he did make one start at Yankee Stadium while pitching for the Reds in 2014. The final line: five innings pitched, five hits, four runs allowed (two earned), and a 7-1 Reds loss. The current Yankees roster has had plenty of success against him in the past, hitting .313/.387/.469 with a pair of home runs. Mark Teixeira has one of those homers, and has six hits in 14 at-bats. Jacoby Ellsbury has also fared well, collecting four hits in nine at-bats.
Tonight will be Sabathia's 37th career start against the Tigers, but they may as well be facing a brand new pitcher for the first time. Sabathia no longer features a mid-90s fastball, instead averaging in the high 80s. He is more reliant on his changeup and slider than ever before, and the velocity on those pitches has tailed off as well. He has had no trouble racking up strikeouts so far, but tonight he faces an all-righty lineup with one of the lowest strikeout rates in baseball. They have been quite aggressive, however, and Sabathia is living below the strike zone like never before. If the Tigers can't stay disciplined at the plate, they could be in for a long evening.
One potential mini-battle to watch tonight: will the Tigers' speedsters attempt any bunts? Sabathia has not been moving off the mound well this season and could be an easy target if hitters aren't getting on base early on.
The Tigers pick up their 11th win of the season in a shootout.
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