Detroit Tigers (15-9) at Kansas City Royals (16-7)
Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Kauffman Stadium
SB Nation blog: Royals Review
Pitching Matchup: LHP David Price (2-1, 3.48 ERA) vs. RHP Edinson Volquez (2-2, 1.91 ERA)
Royals fans were both displeased and bemused when the club agreed to a two-year deal with righthander Edinson Volquez in December. Volquez was coming off a solid season with the Pittsburgh Pirates, but his 4.15 FIP and declining strikeout rate left many questioning how productive he would be for the Royals in 2015. While his solid April was a positive sign -- his strikeout rate has perked up some -- there are still reasons to question the 31-year-old righthander.
Volquez has walked five batters in 28 1/3 innings so far this season, a 4.6 percent rate. While pitcher walk rates tend to stabilize fairly quickly, Volquez's best full season walk rate is 8.8 percent, nearly double his current rate. He has walked 4.41 batters per nine innings throughout his career. Odds are that Volquez's walk rate will regress at some point, as his pitch location hasn't changed drastically compared to previous years. He is still leaving his two-seam fastball up in the strike zone too often, and has benefitted from a .228 BABIP and 3.8 percent home run to fly ball ratio.
There are signs that some of this could be legitimate, though. Volquez has a whiff rate of 11.8 percent so far this season, which would be his highest since 2010. This seems like a big jump, especially compared to his 8.3 percent whiff rate in 2014, but Volquez's pitch selection has changed slightly. He is throwing more changeups to both right and left-handed hitters with two strikes, something he hasn't done since his heyday with the Cincinnati Reds when his whiff rate was consistently above 10 percent. If he can continue pounding the strike zone early in the count -- he is throwing first-pitch strikes 68.8 percent of the time this year -- then this mini-renaissance might be for real.
David Price has also been using his changeup more this season than in previous years, but this is standard operating procedure for Tigers pitchers under pitching coach Jeff Jones. Price and Anibal Sanchez both saw significant upticks in changeup usage after arriving in Detroit via trade. Sanchez's numbers speak for themselves, and Price has been dominant against everyone except the New York Yankees.
Things haven't been all sunshine and rainbows for Price in 2015, though. He is walking 7.6 percent of the batters he has faced, his highest walk rate since 2010. This has resulted in an unimpressive (for him) 2.90 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 64.8 percent strand rate, the lowest of his career.
Hitter to fear: Omar Infante (.333/.333/1.333 in 3 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Alex Gordon (.000/.000/.000 in 6 plate appearances)
Price has dominated the Royals in small doses, holding them to a 1.23 ERA in three career starts. Royals batters are hitting just .156/.188/.169 against him in 80 plate appearances. That said, Price has not faced the Royals since 2012, when they were a 90-loss team. The good news for the Tigers is that this Royals team has a lot of the same components as that 2012 club. The bad news is that those components are now in their primes and have improved considerably. Only Kendrys Morales has faced Price more than six times. He is 4 for 14 with a walk and three strikeouts.
Losing two games to the Royals at the start of this series is far from the end of the world, but it would be nice to see David Price come out and be the stopper that the Tigers were hoping he would be when they traded for him last July. Price got shelled in his only other start after a Tigers loss this season, but tonight's game won't be played in blizzard-like conditions. I noted yesterday that the Royals have fared well against lefties in 2015, but they haven't had to face many lefties as good as Price. They managed just two runs off Chris Sale in seven innings on April 23.
Price gets back on track and the Tigers win a nailbiter.
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