Kansas City Royals (18-10) at Detroit Tigers (18-11)
Time/Place: 7:08 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Royals Review
Pitching Matchup: RHP Yordano Ventura (2-2, 4.94 ERA) vs. LHP David Price (3-1, 2.93 ERA)
Yordano Ventura's 2015 season has been as well-documented as any pitcher in baseball, and for good reason. Three of Ventura's first four starts of the year were marred by run-ins with opponents, culminating in the brawl between the Royals and Chicago White Sox. Ventura was suspended for seven games for his role in instigating the brawl -- though we're still unsure if Adam Eaton said something to Ventura beforehand -- but he made one more start before dropping his appeal immediately prior to the last Tigers-Royals series.
Lost amid all the talk about Ventura's involvement in these disagreements are some rather pedestrian numbers. Ventura has allowed a 4.94 ERA and 5.00 FIP this year, and has worked through the sixth inning just twice so far. His walk rate is nearly identical to 2014, but he has only struck out 20 batters in 27 1/3 innings, a 17.7 percent strikeout rate. This is well below last season's 20.3 percent strikeout rate, which was only league average. This is far below what many expected out of Ventura, whose four-seam fastball averaged 98 miles per hour last year.
One reason for Ventura's low strikeout rate is his subpar offspeed pitches. He throws a curveball, changeup, and cutter, but all three pitches lag significantly behind his 80-grade fastball. The curveball is his best secondary offering, and was probably his most effective pitch in 2014. Opposing batters hit just .163 off the curve last year and whiffed on one-third of all swings, a rather high number. However, neither the curveball nor the changeup delivered an overall whiff rate in the 20 percent range, which you would like to see from a pitcher with Ventura's raw capability. The lack of a slider -- a power pitcher's staple, usually -- hurts him in this regard, and may ultimately limit his overall upside.
David Price's last start came against these same Royals on May 2, and he delivered in a big way. The Tigers were coming off a pair of losses, and while there are no must-win games in early May, a four-game sweep would have been a tough pill to swallow. Price put an end to that talk, though, holding the Royals to just one run on five hits in a complete game victory. He was even more efficient than usual, needing just 106 pitches to finish off the Royals. The stat of the night: of the 31 batters Price faced, only two went to a three-ball count.
Hitter to fear: Lorenzo Cain (.286/.286/.714 in 7 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Alex Gordon (.000/.000/.000 in 10 plate appearances)
Price's win on May 2 was only his fourth career start against the Royals, and first in a Tigers uniform. His small sample of innings has been incredibly dominant, though. Royals batters are hitting just .157/.180/.194 off Price, who has a 1.16 ERA and 0.65 WHIP in 31 innings. Lorenzo Cain's home run on Saturday is the only one Price has allowed to a Royals hitter, while he, Salvador Perez, and Kendrys Morales are the only players with multiple hits off Price.
Despite a lack of fireworks in his last start, all eyes will be on Ventura this afternoon, especially if a fastball hums too far inside to one of the Tigers' power hitters. This isn't a slight on Ventura -- he probably doesn't deserve all of the blame he has gotten this year, though his temper has been an issue -- but it is the reality he will deal with for the rest of the year. That said, I don't foresee much action tonight, neither from Ventura nor either offense. Price has gotten back on track after his snowy disaster against the New York Yankees, and Ventura is capable of shutting down any offense in baseball on any given night.
Just like last time, Price makes do with lackluster run support to deliver a Tigers victory.
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