Texas Rangers (61-58) at Detroit Tigers (58-61)
Time/Place: 7:08 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Lone Star Ball
Pitching Matchup: LHP Martin Perez (1-2, 5.29 ERA) vs. RHP Alfredo Simon (10-7, 4.84 ERA)
When Martin Perez made his season debut on July 17, the Rangers probably were not expecting to be in the thick of the American League playoff race. However, he has given them some surprising longevity in his return from Tommy John surgery. The 24-year-old lefthander has worked at least six innings in four of his six starts, including an 8-1/3 inning performance against the San Francisco Giants, his lone win of the season. Perez's numbers are largely skewed by a single bad outing against the New York Yankees, in which he gave up eight runs in an inning of work.
Perez's 12.1 percent strikeout rate in 2015 is exceedingly low, but that isn't his game. Perez has a fastball that averages 93 miles per hour and can touch 95, but he primarily relies on a high ground ball rate to get outs. In 2013, his lone full season in the majors, Perez induced a 48.1 percent ground ball rate. He was higher than that in eight starts before his surgery in 2014, and is up to 62.5 percent in a small sample of innings this season. His 28.2 percent career fly ball rate ranks among the lowest in baseball since his debut in 2012, and is largely thanks to his refusal to pitch up in the strike zone.
Alfredo Simon has a few more innings under his belt this year than Perez does -- okay, 96, to be exact -- and despite a similar sinker-heavy approach to pitching, he does not have the same gaudy ground ball rate Perez does. Among other things, Simon has struggled with his fastball command this year, resulting in his highest walk rate since 2010. Simon's 34.3 percent fly ball rate is much higher than his 30.8 percent rate in 2014, but the results are rather predictable. When he leaves the ball up, it gets smoked. When he keeps it down, he induces a heavy ground ball rate and, generally, works deeper into games.
Hitter to fear: Adrian Beltre (.400/.400/1.000 in 5 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Elvis Andrus (.000/.000/.000 in 5 plate appearances)
Neither of tonight's starting pitchers have seen much of the opposing side. Martin Perez missed 14 months after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2014, and only has 40 career starts under his belt. Simon, meanwhile, spent three years in the National League, where he pitched a grand total of three innings in relief against the Rangers. His lone start against Texas came all the way back in 2009, and he only pitched 1 1/3 innings. Two players from that Rangers lineup will be available in tonight's game: Josh Hamilton and Ian Kinsler.
For the second series in a row, the Tigers are facing off against a red-hot ball club. The Rangers lost Perez's season debut on July 17, dropping to 42-47 on the season. They were seven games behind the Los Angeles Angels on that date, and 6 1/2 games out of the AL wild card. Since then, they have won 19 of 30 games, climbing to within a game of the second AL wild card slot. Offense has been the name of the game, as they have scored 5.4 runs per game in the second half. The Tigers should get their licks in too, as the Rangers have allowed just as many runs as they have scored since the All-Star break.
The Tigers fall into an early hole and can't quite finish off the comeback.
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