Earlier this season, I referred to Justin Verlander as a "one-pitch pitcher." This isn't to say that Verlander had lost anything -- save for a couple ticks on his fastball, which happens in your 30s -- but rather, Verlander had not shown the same crisp offspeed stuff we have come to know from him over the years.
For instance, Verlander generated 28 combined whiffs on his three offspeed pitches through his first six starts of the season. He has induced 15 whiffs on those same three pitches in his last two starts. The slider, in particular, has picked up steam, and it's helping keep opponents off of his fastball. Through Verlander's first six starts, opponents were hitting .279 and .259 off the fastball and slider, respectively. In his last two outings, those averages have dropped to .160 and .118. The whiff rate on Verlander's slider has doubled in that span.
The only problem is that, despite Verlander's heroics, the Tigers are 0-2 in his last two outings. He tossed seven shutout innings against the Texas Rangers, only to see the bullpen implode behind him, then fell victim to a lack of run support in a 1-0 loss to the Orioles. Now that the Tigers' offense appears to have awakened, can Verlander get back in the win column?
Minnesota Twins (10-28) at Detroit Tigers (18-21)
Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Twinkie Town
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Ricky Nolasco (1-1, 4.87 ERA) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (2-4, 4.71 ERA)
Like Phil Hughes on Tuesday, Twins starter Ricky Nolasco was living right the last time he faced the Tigers. He entered that start with a 3.25 ERA and had pitched into the seventh inning in each of his first four starts of the year. It wasn't a stretch to call him Minnesota's best starter at that point. Even through five innings, Nolasco had allowed a pair of runs and looked well on his way to another win.
Then, the wheels fell off. Nolasco allowed a game-tying three-run homer to Nick Castellanos, his final pitch of the afternoon. Nolasco's struggles continued in his next two starts, a pair of road losses to the White Sox and Indians. He allowed 11 runs (nine earned) on 13 hits in those two outings, and coughed up three home runs. Dating back to his last start in April, Nolasco has allowed a 6.75 ERA and six home runs. Opponents are hitting .277/.304/.564 against him during this stretch, number closer to what he allowed in his first two years with the Twins.
Hitter to fear: Joe Mauer (.353/.450/.559 in 80 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Trevor Plouffe (.206/.206/.294 in 34 plate appearances)
Verlander has had his way with the Twins throughout his career, but the current group has turned the tables on him. Joe Mauer's already excellent numbers get even better when Verlander is on the mound, but role players like Eduardo Nunez and Kurt Suzuki have also performed well. Suzuki's .306 batting average is particularly surprising given that he has maintained it for 36 at-bats. So long as Verlander can work around Mauer -- Miguel Sano is 1-for-2 with a walk against him -- he could be OK.
There are plenty of forces working against one another in Wednesday afternoon's matchup, and something has to give. Can the Tigers offense keep rolling, or will their woes with Justin Verlander on the mound continue? Will Verlander stay sharp, or do the Twins continue to chip away at the Tigers' ace? The Tigers' feast-or-famine tendencies in this series are somewhat concerning, but talent should trump everything else in this matchup.
Verlander keeps rolling and the Tigers sweep.
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