It wouldn't have been the most outrageous prediction in the world, really. Rookie righthander Michael Fulmer came into this season with a lot of hype after dominating the Double-A Eastern League in 2015. The question surrounding him making his major league debut in 2016 wasn't so much "if," but "when?" Several of our writers predicted he would be the team's Rookie of the Year, and he seems well on his way to winning that imaginary honor.
I don't know if anyone would have predicted he would be the rotation's stopper, though. Jordan Zimmermann and Justin Verlander have ran into some bad luck in their previous two starts, making Fulmer the last Tigers starter to win a game. In fact, since his debut on April 29, Fulmer has half of the Tigers' wins.
If Fulmer is to pull the Tigers off the mat once again, he is going to need some help. The Tigers' offense has been nonexistent lately, and they are facing one of the Orioles' toughest starters in Kevin Gausman. Can the Tigers avoid the sweep today? Or will this be their 12th loss in their past 13 games?
Detroit Tigers (15-21) at Baltimore Orioles (23-12)
Time/Place: 1:35 p.m., Oriole Park at Camden Yards
SB Nation blog: Camden Chat
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Michael Fulmer (2-1, 6.00 ERA) vs. RHP Kevin Gausman (0-1, 2.16 ERA)
I don't know if any pitcher has been jerked around his own organization more unfairly over the past five years than Kevin Gausman. Once rated the No. 10 prospect in all of baseball by Baseball Prospectus, Gausman has been shuttled between the rotation, bullpen, and minor leagues as the Orioles gave starts to players like Bud Norris, Freddy Garcia, and Scott Feldman. Gausman has made 69 career appearances at the major league level, but only 46 starts. While the results have occasionally been rough, that is no way to treat a pitcher with his potential.
However, those days appear to be over. After recovering from an injury in spring training, Gausman has made four starts with a 2.16 ERA and 4.60 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He has limited opponents to a 0.80 WHIP and has a 3.00 FIP, second-best among Orioles starters. He has the best raw stuff of any pitcher in their rotation, with a fastball that averages 95 miles per hour and can get as high as 99 mph. He relied on his splitter as a primary offspeed pitch in previous years, but has upped his curveball, slider, and changeup usage in 2016. None of them are used all that often -- he still throws his fastball two-thirds of the time -- but he is a bit more unpredictable in two-strike counts now.
More important than his pitch arsenal, however, is his improved command. Gausman has walked just 5.3 percent of the batters he has faced this year, down from 8.0 percent two years ago. This is partially due to a first-pitch strike rate of 60.0 percent, up from 54.9 percent last season. He is also getting opponents to swing outside the strike zone more than ever, resulting in a 10.9 percent swinging strike rate.
Tigers hitter to fear: Ian Kinsler (.333/.333/.444 in 9 plate appearances)
Tigers hitter to fail: Victor Martinez (.111/.111/.222 in 9 plate appearances)
The Tigers have faced Gausman three times in his young career, and the hard-throwing righthander has gotten the better of them twice. Five of the eight runs they have scored against him came in one outing, a Tigers victory that helped propel them to a 27-12 start in 2014. The other two starts were pure dominance from Gausman, who limited them to three runs on nine hits in 13 innings with 10 strikeouts and zero walks. The Tigers' current roster is batting .213/.229/.340 with 11 strikeouts in 49 plate appearances, which seems appropriate given how they have performed lately.
Based on what we have seen over the past few weeks -- notably, Max Scherzer's 20-strikeout performance on Wednesday -- facing a strikeout pitcher with a high-octane fastball like Gausman appears to be a very bad matchup for the Tigers' offense. Their team strikeout rate has climbed to 24.2 percent, the second-highest in the American League. Meanwhile, the Orioles' offense lead the major leagues with 54 home runs and are facing a young righthander who has been prone to the long ball in his young career. Yes, the Tigers could break out at any point, but the numbers don't like their chances today.
The Orioles keep on rolling and sweep the four-game series.
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