Detroit Tigers (54-59) at Kansas City Royals (68-44)
Time/Place: 8:10 p.m., Kauffman Stadium
SB Nation blog: Royals Review
Pitching Matchup: LHP Daniel Norris (2-2, 4.24 ERA) vs. RHP Edinson Volquez (11-6, 3.11 ERA)
Many people questioned the Royals' decision to sign Edinson Volquez as James Shields' replacement last offseason. Coming off a season where his ERA outperformed his FIP by more than a full run, Volquez was viewed by many as a serious regression candidate, especially once he left the cozy pitching environment cultivated by Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage.
Instead, Volquez is a perfect example of the Royals' blueprint for pitching success. He is throwing fewer innings this season, averaging just over six frames per start. Fourteen of his 23 outings have gone six innings or fewer, yet he has only allowed four runs on six different occasions this season (and he hasn't given up more than five). Manager Ned Yost has kept a short leash on Volquez, opting to use the Royals' vaunted bullpen before Volquez has to work through the lineup too many times. The formula appears to be working, as the Royals are 16-7 in Volquez's starts this season.
To his credit, Volquez has fared well when allowed to work deeper into the game. Seven of his 11 wins have come in starts of seven innings or longer, and he has not allowed more than one run in any of those games. However, Yost may be playing with fire here. Opponents are batting .279/.358/.386 off Volquez the third time through the lineup, far better than the .637 and .606 OPS he has allowed the first and second times through the order, respectively.
We saw the other side of Daniel Norris in his second start with the Tigers, as he was rocked for five runs on nine hits against the Boston Red Sox. Norris didn't walk a batter, but struggled with his command as he left fastball after fastball out over the plate. An over-reliance on his heater may have done him in, as six of the nine hits Norris allowed came on the fastball. He threw the fastball 54 times in just 83 pitches, including 12 of 19 times to open an at-bat. Norris' secondary stuff lags behind the fastball development-wise, but he will need to rely on his changeup and breaking ball more if he is going to keep big league hitters off balance.
Tigers hitter to fear: Ian Kinsler (.444/.444/.444 in 9 plate appearances)
Tigers hitter to fail: Victor Martinez (.000/.000/.000 in 11 plate appearances)
Volquez drew the short end of the straw in his first matchup with the Tigers this season, losing a 2-1 nailbiter against David Price. The former Tigers lefthander threw a complete game, allowing just five hits. Volquez also held the Tigers to five hits, but walked three and only lasted six innings. Detroit has roughed him up in their previous meetings, scoring 10 runs in three games. Ian Kinsler and Anthony Gose are the only active Tigers batters with multiple career hits against Volquez, though.
With little to play for now in 2015, one of the most important facets of these last two months will be how the Tigers' young players develop and adjust at the major league level. This not only means Norris, but others, such as catcher James McCann. The 25-year-old backstop has caught both of Norris' starts so far, and has called for the fastball nearly two-thirds of the time. McCann's ability to throw out baserunners is impeccable, but he has shown room for improvement in other areas, namely his game calling. For tonight, it will be interesting to see if McCann looks to establish the fastball again early, or if he calls for more offspeed pitches against the aggressive Royals lineup.
Norris rebounds but the Tigers offense stays quiet in another loss.
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