Detroit Tigers (14-7) at Minnesota Twins (9-11)
Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Target Field
SB Nation blog: Twinkie Town
Pitching Matchup: RHP Shane Greene (3-1, 3.00 ERA) vs. RHP Phil Hughes (0-4, 4.39 ERA)
Phil Hughes' home run troubles have returned. The move to a more pitcher-friendly ballpark rejuvenated Hughes in 2014, resulting in a 3.52 ERA and the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in MLB history. Hughes was able to keep his home run rate at a respectable level for the first time in his career. He gave up just 16 home runs in 209 2/3 innings, or one every 13 frames. Hughes has already given up six home runs in just 26 2/3 innings this year, or one every 4 1/2 innings. This sky-high rate won't continue, but after a career of giving up close to 1.2 home runs per nine innings, the early numbers indicate that 2014 was a bit of a fluke.
One of the biggest issues Hughes is having so far is with his fastball command. He is still throwing it nearly 75 percent of the time on the first pitch of an at-bat and his first-pitch strike rate is actually rising. However, he is having trouble locating within the strike zone, particularly in the upper half. After peppering batters at letters level in 2014, Hughes hasn't been able to work upstairs in 2015, and many of his pitches are sitting fat in the middle of the strike zone..
Shane Greene was stellar in his first start of the year against the Twins, and anything but in an outing against the Cleveland Indians five days ago. Greene allowed eight runs on nine hits in four innings, which resulted in a 13-1 loss, his first as a Tiger. He wasn't as wild as his previous start, in which he walked four batters, but the Indians were able to take advantage of several pitches up in the strike zone. The Twins, meanwhile, have gotten a lot more aggressive than they were in 2014, so it will be interesting to see how Greene fares in Round 2. The Twins have the second-highest swing rate in baseball on pitches out of the strike zone, so working the periphery of the zone could prove more beneficial than usual for Greene.
Tigers hitter to fear: Miguel Cabrera (.432/.475/.946 in 40 plate appearances)
Tigers hitter to fail: Victor Martinez (.233/.226/.300 in 31 plate appearances)
The Tigers have had problems against Hughes in the past, but Opening Day in Detroit was not one of those instances. The Tigers tagged Hughes for four runs on eight hits, including a pair of home runs. Miguel Cabrera has worn out Hughes in his career, collecting 16 hits (including five home runs) in 37 at-bats. Yoenis Cespedes is hitting .500 in 10 at-bats, including four extra-base hits. The rest of the Tigers' roster has struggled, however, hitting .270 with a .308 on-base percentage as a whole. Hughes has won seven games with a 4.07 ERA in 13 career starts against the Tigers.
A lot of fans were skeptical of Brad Ausmus' decision to start Rajai Davis against Hughes on Opening Day, and the initial explanation we heard for the lineup decision was because Hughes had displayed some reverse splits in 2014. This seemed a bit odd at the time, but those splits have been highly pronounced at the beginning of the season. Righties are smacking him around to the tune of a .349 batting average and 1.007 OPS, while lefties are at .231 and .654, respectively. This isn't a call for Davis to start today -- he is still out nursing his groin injury -- but will be something to watch when Anthony Gose and Alex Avila step to the plate.
Greene gets back on track and the Tigers take the series.
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