Boston Red Sox (49-62) at Detroit Tigers (54-56)
Time/Place: 1:08 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Over the Monster
Pitching Matchup: LHP Henry Owens (0-1, 5.40 ERA) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (1-4, 5.05 ERA)
Red Sox lefthander Henry Owens stands an imposing six feet, six inches tall on the mound, but unlike another 6'6" rookie -- New York Mets demigod Noah Syndergaard -- Owens doesn't rely on a high-90s fastball. Instead, Owens is more Cole Hamels. The lanky Owens averaged 92.5 miles per hour with his fastball in his major league debut and relies heavily on a changeup widely considered to be his best pitch. Owens works from a three-quarter arm slot, which can make his sweeping breaking ball difficult to pick up for left-handed hitters. This includes the Yankees' Jacoby Ellsbury, who flailed at a bender for Owens' first career strikeout on Tuesday.
Despite not having a high-octane arsenal, Owens has still had some of the command issues that most flamethrowers have in the minor leagues. He has walked 56 batters in just 122 1/3 innings at Triple-A Pawtucket this season, an 11.2 percent clip. Both righties and lefties had a sub-.600 OPS against him in 21 starts, and Owens' command difficulties did not manifest themselves in any platoon splits. Yankees righthanders didn't have as much trouble with him in his debut, going 5-for-13 with a walk. Owens gave up a pair of hits his third time through the order before departing, and was charged with a pair of runs when reliever Robbie Ross allowed the runs to score.
After a trio of dominant starts in July, Justin Verlander slid backward a bit in his first August outing. He didn't allow a walk in his third consecutive start, but was tagged for five runs on 10 hits by the Kansas City Royals. His fastball command was iffy once again, with the lethal blow struck by Salvador Perez on a hanging 0-2 heater. He was able to get seven whiffs on 61 fastballs thrown in that outing, but opponents are doing far too much damage when they make contact. Opposing hitters are batting .319 with a .569 slugging average off Verlander's heater this year, including eight of the 10 home runs he has allowed.
Hitter to fear: David Ortiz (.345/.424/.690 in 33 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Ryan Hanigan (.167/.167/.167 in 6 plate appearances)
There has been a lot of turnover in the Red Sox lineup over the past year, and that manifests itself in Verlander's career matchups. Only two active Red Sox hitters have stepped into the batter's box more than six times against Verlander: David Ortiz and former division rival Alejandro De Aza. De Aza has hit a respectable .243 with a .300 on-base percentage, while Ortiz has understandably given Verlander fits. Pablo Sandoval hit those two infamous home runs off Verlander in the 2012 World Series, but is 0-for-3 against him in regular season play. Verlander was solid in his matchup against Boston earlier this year, allowing a run on seven hits in eight innings.
Owens looked better than the box score suggested in his major league debut -- his first run allowed came on a pair of seeing-eye singles -- but he has never faced a lineup of lefty mashers like he will today. His changeup will be a weapon if he can get to it, but he needs to do a better job of commanding the fastball in order to set up his offspeed offerings. The same goes for Verlander as well, but given his deeper arsenal, he may benefit from working backward -- throwing more offspeed pitches to set up his fastball in key spots.
The Tigers get to Owens in the middle innings and survive another bullpen scare for the win.
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