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Game 40 Preview: Milwaukee Brewers at Detroit Tigers

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After a poor offensive effort in last night's loss to the Brewers, the Tigers will look to get back on track today against hard-throwing righthander Jimmy Nelson.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Milwaukee Brewers (14-25) at Detroit Tigers (23-16)

Time/Place: 7:08 p.m., Comerica Park

SB Nation blog: Brew Crew Ball

Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TVTigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: RHP Jimmy Nelson (1-4, 4.22 ERA) vs. RHP Anibal Sanchez (3-4, 4.76 ERA)

Pitcher GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP FIP SIERA fWAR
Nelson 7 42.2 8.02 2.95 1.27 1.15 4.32 3.74 0.4
Sanchez 8 51.0 8.12 2.29 1.06 1.20 3.70 3.76 0.9

A big, sturdy right-handed pitcher from the University of Alabama, Jimmy Nelson is everything that the Tigers hope 2014 second round draft pick Spencer Turnbull becomes. Nelson has a few inches and several pounds on the Tigers' prospect, but the two come from a similar mold. Why should the Tigers be excited? While Nelson isn't an ace-level talent, he has all the makings of a solid mid-rotation workhorse. Tipping the scales at six-foot-six and 245 pounds, Nelson has the kind of build teams expect out of a pitcher expected to shoulder a 200-inning workload.

Nelson has a fastball that averages 94-95 miles per hour and can touch 96-97. He complements that fastball, usually a heavy two-seamer, with a biting slider that induces plenty of swings and misses. After garnering whiffs 21.2 percent of the time last season, the slider's whiff rate is up to 28.2 percent in 2015. He has seen a similar jump in strikeout rate, improving to 22.4 percent in his first full season in the majors. Nelson bulldozed his way through the minor leagues, striking out over a batter per inning in 2013 and 2014. He hasn't quite reached those numbers at the major league level yet, but he has the potential to do so as he refines his arsenal.

One thing that Nelson needs to do is figure out a third pitch in order to keep left-handed hitters at bay. Lefties are hitting .270/.347/.508 off him this season in spite of the recent advent of a curveball. A low-80s offering, Nelson has tried mixing in the curveball nearly 30 percent of the time to lefties this season after using it sparingly in 2014. The problem? They have largely ignored it, swinging just 28.6 percent of the time. Left-handed batters have only put eight of Nelson's curveballs in play all season long, resulting in four hits.

Anibal Sanchez has made eight starts for the Tigers this season, and his splits are quite eye-opening. No, I'm not talking about platoon splits or day-night splits. Sanchez has made three starts against the Minnesota Twins this season, and is 2-1 with a 1.66 ERA and 7.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Against any other team, Sanchez is 1-3 with a 7.06 ERA and 2.50 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Early season losses to the Pirates and White Sox have skewed his numbers somewhat, but there have been issues in every non-Twins outing Sanchez has had this season. He held the New York Yankees to one run in 6 1/3 innings on April 23, but walked four batters. He held the Kansas City Royals to just four hits in 7 1/3 innings on May 3, but fell apart in the later innings and nearly blew a six-run lead.

While he has gotten his home run troubles under control -- he has given up one long ball in his last five starts -- the unsightly ERA and pedestrian peripherals against teams outside the state of Minnesota is something to keep an eye on.

Hitter to fear: Gerardo Parra (.571/.571/.714 in 14 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Aramis Ramirez (.222/.222/.444 in 9 plate appearances)

Anibal Sanchez has a 2-1 record in seven career starts against the Brewers, but holds a 5.30 ERA in 37 1/3 innings. However, most of the hitters that played for the Brewers in his National League heyday are long gone. There are only three players on the current Milwaukee roster with more than three plate appearances against Sanchez, and one -- outfielder Gerardo Parra -- has spent most of his career with another franchise. Parra has fared well against Sanchez, though, with eight hits in 14 at-bats.

Outlook

The Tigers have seen several pitchers like Jimmy Nelson this season and the results have not been pretty. Gerrit Cole, who has more upside and a more advanced arsenal than Nelson, held the Tigers to one run in six innings. Kyle Gibson, who has the same heavy sinker without as much velocity, went seven innings while allowing one run. Lance Lynn has a similar two-pitch approach as Nelson, and just beat the Tigers on Sunday night. It seems that the arm-side run of a heavy two-seam fastball is one of the more effective ways of keeping this Tigers offense in check in the early season, and Nelson has the type of arsenal that has given the Tigers fits this year. Will tonight be any different? The numbers don't suggest any reason to think so, but I have a feeling that we will see a more focused effort from the middle of the Tigers' lineup this evening.

Prediction

The offense bounces back and the Tigers cruise back into the win column.

★★★

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