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Game 122 Preview: Texas Rangers at Detroit Tigers

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Randy Wolf will make his first major league start in over a full year tonight as the Tigers take on the Rangers.

Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Texas Rangers (62-59) at Detroit Tigers (59-62)

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

SB Nation blog: Lone Star Ball

Media: Fox Sports 1, MLB.TVTigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: RHP Yovani Gallardo (9-9, 3.39 ERA) vs. LHP Randy Wolf (9-2, 2.58 ERA at Triple-A Buffalo)

Pitcher GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP FIP SIERA fWAR
Gallardo 25 143.1 5.84 3.39 0.69 1.35 3.96 4.56 1.9
Wolf (AAA) 23 139.2 6.83 2.58 0.26 1.28 2.96 - -

With the Rangers under .500 as the MLB non-waiver trade deadline approached at the end of July, righthander Yovani Gallardo was one pitcher who many thought would be on the move. A free agent at the end of the season, the 29-year-old Gallardo has put together a solid year, with a 3.39 ERA and 3.96 FIP in 143 1/3 innings. Things have been rough lately, though. He has only worked six innings once in his last eight starts, and he has a 6.30 ERA since the All-Star break. Opposing hitters are batting .320/.390/.520 against him in the second half, and his FIP is an unsightly 5.42.

Gallardo's strikeout rate has dipped considerably since his heyday with the Milwaukee Brewers, but he has continued to effectively work through opposing lineups. He has not changed his approach much -- he works away to lefties and down-and-away to righties -- and his arsenal has nearly identical to the one he utilized in 2010 and 2011, his peak seasons with the Brewers. His velocity has dropped from 93-94 miles per hour to 91-92 miles per hour, and he has added some arm-side run to his fastball, resulting in a slight uptick in ground ball rate. He has been better on the road than at home, with a .292 wOBA allowed and a 3.80 FIP in 13 road starts.

Despite putting up some excellent numbers in Triple-A this season, lefthander Randy Wolf was overlooked by his parent club, the Toronto Blue Jays, when they needed to call up pitching. Sure, he has been facing a bunch of overmatched young kids and organizational fodder, but the former All-Star has shown enough to deserve one last shot at the major leagues. The 39-year-old has made 23 starts, 15 of which went for six innings or longer. He has seven scoreless outings under his belt, and another six with just one run allowed.

When he pitched for the Miami Marlins last season, Wolf relied on a five-pitch mix. He uses a pair of fastballs -- Brooks Baseball classifies them as four- and two-seam fastballs -- that were similar in velocity but very different in movement. One was relatively straight while the other had plenty of arm-side run, similar to his changeup, which sits in the high-70s. Wolf also features a slider and curveball. None of these pitches have been all that effective in his last two stints in the major leagues, but his two-seam fastball and curveball generated the highest ground ball rates.

Hitter to fear: Adrian Beltre (.278/.440/.444 in 25 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Mike Napoli (.000/.167/.000 in 6 plate appearances)

Neither of these pitchers has seen much of the opposition despite a combined 22 years of MLB experience. Gallardo's lone start against the Tigers came back in 2009, when he threw seven strong innings but was beaten by Justin Verlander in a 3-2 Tigers victory*. Wolf, who has five career appearances in an American League uniform, made his lone start against the Rangers that same year, throwing five shutout innings as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers. He has faced Adrian Beltre and Prince Fielder a combined 36 times, but all of those matchups came in 2008 or earlier.

*Of note in that game: a 1-2-3 ninth inning from Fernando Rodney.

Outlook

With the Tigers set to send Wolf, Matt Boyd, and Buck Farmer to the mound on consecutive days, they could use a lengthy outing from the veteran lefthander. Wolf hasn't started a major league game in over a year, but has found a relatively welcoming situation for his return to action. The Rangers have struggled at times against left-handed pitching, with a .247 batting average and .309 on-base percentage, and Wolf's 39.9 percent career fly ball rate will play well in Comerica Park's spacious dimensions. If he can work around the big righties in the Rangers' lineup, the Tigers might be able to pull off a win in his 2015 debut.

Prediction

The Rangers' bats perk up in the middle innings and Gallardo cruises to an easy win.

★★★

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