Pittsburgh Pirates (5-2) at Detroit Tigers (3-2)
Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Bucs Dugout
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Juan Nicasio (1-0, 1.50 ERA) vs. Anibal Sanchez (1-0, 3.60 ERA)
Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage has developed quite the name for himself, resurrecting the careers of pitchers like Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett, J.A. Happ, Jason Grilli, and Edinson Volquez. And that's just in the past five years.
It's early, but Searage may be able to add one more name to the list in Juan Nicasio. The 29-year-old Dominican righthander has always had great stuff, with a fastball that averages 94 miles per hour and a biting slider. He blew through the Colorado Rockies' farm system early in his career, posting a 4.26 strikeout-to-walk ratio. However, he struggled at the major league level, as pitchers are wont to do at Coors Field. Nicasio posted a 5.03 ERA and 4.39 FIP in four seasons with Colorado, including a 5.38 ERA in 2014.
The Los Angeles Dodgers took a chance on Nicasio's high-octane stuff, trading for him after the 2014 season. Nicasio worked exclusively out of the bullpen last season, compiling a 3.86 ERA and 2.83 FIP in 58 1/3 innings. His walk rate was high, but he struck out 10 batters per nine innings and was worth 0.9 fWAR.
Searage and the Pirates, meanwhile, are looking to move Nicasio back to the rotation. One problem: he was awful against lefties last season, allowing a .969 OPS. His changeup isn't very good either. FanGraphs' Jeff Sullivan identified a potential solution that Nicasio and the Pirates attempted during spring training, which seems to be paying off in spades thus far.
The Pirates know he has a good fastball. They know he has a good slider, and they know he doesn’t really have much of a good change. They’d like for the change to improve, but as long as he’s mostly fastball/slider, he might as well at least mix up location. If Nicasio can establish the inner part, then hitters will have to respect that, and it could effectively give Nicasio an additional pitch.
Meanwhile, righties hit .226/.298/.335 against him last season.
Hitter to fear: Matt Joyce (.278/.278/.722 in 18 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: John Jaso (.063/.286/.063 in 21 plate appearances)
I'm not sure what it is about Matt Joyce killing Tigers pitching but it needs to stop. Joyce has five hits in 18 at-bats against Anibal Sanchez, but four of those five have gone for extra bases. Joyce was also scalding hot against Justin Verlander heading into Monday's game, and added a pair of hits. The rest of the Pirates' current roster has struggled against Sanchez, hitting just .223/.267/.355 in 134 plate appearances.
Today will be one of the first real tests for the Tigers' right-handed heavy lineup. They have already faced a pair of tough righties in Jose Fernandez and Luis Severino, but Nicasio's dramatic platoon splits from 2015 pose a different challenge to a lineup that could potentially feature just three left-handed hitters. Nicasio has also seemingly worked out his command, posting an excellent 4.80 strikeout-to-walk ratio during spring training.
Nicasio's career resurrection continues and the Tigers drop their third straight.