Minnesota Twins (19-15) at Detroit Tigers (20-14)
Time/Place: 1:08 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Twinkie Town
Pitching Matchup: RHP Mike Pelfrey (3-0, 2.62 ERA) vs. RHP Anibal Sanchez (2-4, 5.44 ERA)
Many fans who watched Mike Pelfrey's stellar seven-inning performance against the Tigers on April 28 were critical of the Tigers' offense. Pelfrey, who had a 5.56 ERA in a Twins uniform heading into the 2015 season, only had eight strikeouts to seven walks heading into that game. His .250 BABIP was a sign of regression, but that regression didn't come against the Tigers. Pelfrey held Detroit to two runs on just three hits, striking out seven.
The regression hasn't come since then, either. Pelfrey failed to get out of the fourth inning in his start against the Chicago White Sox on May 3, but only allowed two runs in a 13-3 Twins victory. He wasn't injured either, as he started again five days later against the Cleveland Indians. The result? Seven strong innings and his third win of the season.
There were signs that things were looking up for Pelfrey, though. I noted one of them in the game preview for his first appearance against the Tigers this season.
In his first three starts, Pelfrey's two-seam fastball has averaged 94.3 miles per hour, up from 92.2 miles per hour in 2014. This velocity is also higher than he was throwing in his mid-20s, so it will be worth keeping an eye on. Pelfrey is also generating ground balls at a 61.1 percent clip, well above his career rate of 47.9 percent. All of his pitches are helping contribute to the high ground ball rate, but Pelfrey has been throwing his splitter much more often in 2015. If his change in pitch selection is real (and not just a product of the small sample we're viewing), his rise in ground ball rate could be legitimate.
In short, nothing has changed. The two-seamer has slowed slightly, but is still at 93.5 miles per hour. The ground ball rate is still a healthy 58.3 percent. Splitter usage is still at an all-time high, and is the one pitch generating a respectable percentage of swings and misses. We're only three starts deeper into this version of Mike Pelfrey, but the changes appear to be legitimate.
Meanwhile, Anibal Sanchez is trending in the opposite direction. After a few solid starts, the Kansas City Royals jumped all over Sanchez in his last start, scoring six runs (five earned) on nine hits. The Royals teed off on Sanchez's frequent first-pitch fastballs, including Alcides Escobar's leadoff home run that put the Tigers in an early 1-0 hole.
There doesn't seem to be an easy fix for Sanchez's problems, either. Opposing batters are hitting .258 or better on Sanchez's fastball, curveball, and changeup, and slugging .455 on his slider. Only his cutter -- a pitch he throws 2.9 percent of the time, probably a different form of his slider -- has held hitters in check so far this season. Oddly, his 9.6 percent swinging strike rate is nearly identical to his career norms.
Tigers hitter to fear: Yoenis Cespedes (.500/.500/.750 in 8 plate appearances)
Tigers hitter to fail: Miguel Cabrera (.217/.400/.217 in 30 plate appearances)
Pelfrey has been slightly better than normal against the Tigers in his career, but his last start against them had a fairly significant impact on his overall numbers. He is 3-3 with a 3.98 ERA and 1.45 WHIP in seven career starts against the Tigers. The Tigers did most of their damage against him in 2013, when they hit .265/.336/.434 in five games against him. The current roster has hit for almost no power against Pelfrey, though. No current Tiger has homered off him, and Yoenis Cespedes is the only Tigers hitter with multiple extra base hits.
Are you sick of the AL Central yet? Today's game is the Tigers' 35th of the season and their 28th against AL Central competition. All things considered, they are sitting in a comfortable position with a 17-10 record against the division despite all of the injuries and underperformance this roster has seen. The Tigers' next six series will be against non-divisional opponents, including a pair of interleague sets against the Cardinals and Brewers. The Tigers' bats have typically heated up around this time of year, so it will be interesting to see how the offense evolves as they get away from the familiarity of the Central.
Today, however, they are facing a rejuvenated starter who has put together some solid numbers despite a low strikeout rate. Pelfrey is pounding the lower half of the strike zone and generating plenty of ground balls, something the Tigers have struggled with a lot in this series. Unless something big changes, expect more feeble swings from the Detroit bats today.
Pelfrey continues his hot start and the Twins win their second in a row.
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