Tampa Bay Rays (67-69) at Detroit Tigers (62-74)
Time/Place: 1:08 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: DRaysBay
Pitching Matchup: LHP Drew Smyly (2-2, 3.11 ERA) vs. LHP Randy Wolf (0-3, 6.11 ERA)
The Rays have turned Drew Smyly into some sort of monster since he arrived in Tampa last August. In 14 starts with the Rays, Smyly has a 2.32 ERA, is allowing less than one baserunner per inning, and has struck out over a batter per inning. Unfortunately, those 14 starts have been overshadowed by some worrisome shoulder issues. He was shut down last September with shoulder inflammation, then suffered a shoulder labrum injury in May. He avoided season-ending surgery, but missed three months of action before returning in mid-August.
When he has been on the mound, Smyly has been a different pitcher than the one we saw in Detroit. His fastball velocity hasn't been any better, but opponents are whiffing on that pitch over 10 percent of the time, up from a seven percent clip with the Tigers. He has used his fastball differently with Tampa, throwing it at the top the strike zone and daring hitters to elevate it. They have on occasion -- he has given up 11 home runs in 85 2/3 innings with the Rays -- but he is also getting a lot of hitters to chase the high heat with two strikes; his fastball whiff rate jumps to 16.5 percent in two-strike counts.
Randy Wolf's last start was a healthy dose of reality for a pitcher who was outperforming his peripherals by a fairly wide margin. Wolf gave up eight runs on eight hits, including a pair of long home runs, and failed to make it out of the fourth inning. His command wasn't as sharp as in his first two starts, when he only walked two batters in 14 innings. Against the Royals, he walked three of the final eight batters he faced, and left the ball up in the strike zone far too often against one of the better offenses in the American League.
J.D. Martinez home run watch: 35
If he hits five home runs in the next 26 games, J.D. Martinez will join a rather exclusive club. Only six Tigers players have ever hit 40 home runs in a season, and all of the names are familiar to longtime Tigers fans. The last Tiger to hit 40 dingers was Miguel Cabrera in 2012 and 2013, naturally. Before that, we have to look all the way back to 1990 and 1991 when Cecil Fielder accomplished the feat in back-to-back seasons. Darrell Evans, Rocky Colavito, Norm Cash, and Hank Greenberg (four times) are the others in the Tigers' 40-homer club.
Smyly has been on a roll lately -- he struck out 10 batters in seven shutout innings in his last start -- but on paper, this matchup is all Tigers. The righty-heavy Tigers' lineup is batting .282/.350/.453 against left-handed pitching this season, and has an .803 OPS against lefty starters. Meanwhile, Smyly has continued to struggle against right-handed hitters at times. His .250 batting average and .295 on-base percentage allowed are better than when he was with the Tigers, but Smyly has allowed a .225 ISO to righties this year, including seven home runs.
Smyly guts out a quality start to beat his former team.
Editor's Note: SB Nation's partner FanDuel is running a $1,000,000 fantasy football league for week 1. It's $5 to enter and first place wins $100,000. Click here to join.