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Game 48 Preview: Detroit Tigers at Oakland Athletics

Matt Boyd makes his first start of the season against Oakland's Jesse Hahn.

Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Tigers will be faced with some important decisions in the coming weeks, nearly all of which surround their starting rotation. Anibal Sanchez and Mike Pelfrey have posted subpar numbers this season -- which is putting it nicely, to be honest -- while young arms like Shane Greene and Daniel Norris offer a bit more promise. Add in back-to-back gems from rookie Michael Fulmer, and the cries for substantial rotation changes have escalated to a dull roar.

Matt Boyd can make them deafening. The 25-year-old lefthander has been recalled to make his first major league start of the season on Saturday, replacing the injured Jordan Zimmermann for an afternoon. Boyd has posted stellar numbers in Triple-A Toledo this year, holding opponents to a 2.06 ERA and 3.15 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 48 innings. He was excellent in the minors last season too, with a 4.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 19 minor league starts.

There's a big difference between the minors and the majors, though, and Boyd learned that the hard way in 2015. After a stellar Tigers debut in which he tossed seven shutout innings, he posted a 7.42 ERA in his next 10 appearances. There were bright spots, to be sure -- and facing the eventual World Series champs four times in two months can't be healthy -- but the overall numbers were a big reason why the Tigers sought out two starting pitchers last offseason.

All of Boyd's question marks won't be answered in one start, nor will the Tigers' rotation be saved by a dominant performance. Boyd looked awful good in his first start last year, and things went south quickly after. However, with another year of experience under his belt and a struggling lineup opposite him, this is a winnable matchup for the young lefty.

Detroit Tigers (24-23) at Oakland Athletics (20-29)

Time/Place: 4:05 p.m., O.Co Coliseum
SB Nation blog: Athletics Nation
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TVTigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Matt Boyd (1-3, 2.06 ERA in Triple-A) vs. RHP Jesse Hahn (1-2, 4.07 ERA)

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Boyd (AAA) 48.0 20.9 6.6 3.16 -
Hahn 24.1 8.9 6.9 5.88 -0.2

As is their way under Billy Beane, the Athletics acquired righthander Jesse Hahn after the 2014 season when dealing away a more valuable trade chip, catcher Derek Norris. While Norris was still making close to the major league minimum at the time, selling high off of Norris' surprising All-Star season made sense. Hahn made the A's look like geniuses when he posted a 3.35 ERA and 3.51 FIP in 96 2/3 innings in the first half of 2015. Between Hahn and hard-throwing righthander R.J. Alvarez, the trade looked like a steal at the time.

Things went south, though. Hahn suffered an elbow injury in early July and did not throw another pitch for the rest of the season. He avoided surgery, which is more than can be said for Alvarez (he had bone chips removed from his elbow during the offseason). While the injury wasn't the Athletics' death knell -- they finished with an AL-worst 68-94 record last season -- losing a pitcher for that amount of time is never a good thing.

The injury bug bit again during spring training, as Hahn battled a blister on his throwing hand. He was optioned to Triple-A Nashville to open the season, but was recalled for a spot start on April 30 against the Houston Astros. Despite throwing 6 2/3 shutout innings, Hahn was optioned a week later, but returned for a May 17 tilt against the Rangers. Things haven't been quite so rosy since then, as he has allowed seven runs on 16 hits in his last two starts.

It's a bit early to start worrying about Hahn's putrid 8.9 percent strikeout rate, as he has only pitched 24 1/3 major league innings this season. His true talent level sits somewhere between the 22.9 percent rate he posted with the Padres in 2014 and last season's 15.8 percent clip. If anything, we may see a slight improvement on last year's numbers thanks to an early uptick in velocity. He is throwing his four-seam fastball a bit more often this year, which has topped out at 96.8 miles per hour on the radar gun.

Jesse Hahn velocity

The biggest change to Hahn's approach is that he has scrapped his slider, and is focusing almost exclusively on his curveball as a secondary pitch. The curve has been a weapon for him throughout his career, as opponents are batting just .229 against it. They also pound that pitch into the ground over twice as often as hitting it into the air, which has generally helped him limit the home run ball.

Outlook

Michael Fulmer and Matt Boyd are two very different pitchers, which could bode well if you buy into the idea that hitters struggle when seeing a different look the next day. However, many of the weaknesses that Fulmer exploited may actually turn into strengths when facing Boyd. The A's post some of their best numbers against left-handed starters and fly ball pitchers, in large part thanks to lefty-mashing sluggers like Danny Valencia and Khris Davis. Plus, the ball carries much better at O.Co Coliseum during the day, which may not bode well for the home run issues Boyd had in 2015.

Prediction

The A's even the series with a close win.

★★★

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