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Game 25 Preview: Detroit Tigers at Cleveland Indians

Justin Verlander looks for revenge against Cleveland's Josh Tomlin, who beat him in a low-scoring matchup on April 22.

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

It must be a strange feeling for pitchers, losing the fastball that once made you so successful at the major league level. Justin Verlander lost that fastball for a season in 2014, allowing a .283 batting average and .454 slugging average while inducing swings and misses just 7.4 percent of the time. While the batting numbers weren't all that out of line -- opponents are hitting .262 with a .420 slugging average against it since 2007 -- the whiff rate was. Without the same zip on his go-to pitch, Verlander wasn't the same pitcher.

Luckily, he rediscovered the heater in 2015. Coinciding with a return to full health, Verlander induced swings and misses on 10 percent of the fastballs he threw last season, which was on par with his 2012 and 2013 seasons. Opponents hit .233 off the fastball, and .229 overall. The rest of the world didn't necessarily see it, but those paying attention saw that Verlander and his fastball were back.

The whiffs have continued for Verlander this season. Opponents are swinging and missing on his fastball 10.9 percent of the time, which would be his highest whiff rate since 2009. However, they have still been able to square it up at times, slugging .606 in 66 at-bats ending with the fastball. Five of the six home runs Verlander has allowed this season have come on the heater, including both homers he allowed to Cleveland in their matchup on April 22.

Though it seems backwards, his offspeed pitches might be to blame. Verlander is missing the strike zone more often with his other pitches, forcing him to come back into the zone with his fastball. Can he sharpen up at least one of those pitches tonight?

Detroit Tigers (14-10) at Cleveland Indians (10-12)

Time/Place: 6:10 p.m., Progressive Field
SB Nation blog: Let's Go Tribe
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TVTigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Justin Verlander (2-2, 5.46 ERA) vs. RHP Josh Tomlin (3-0, 3.18 ERA)

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Verlander 29.2 25.0 8.1 4.62 0.3
Tomlin 17.0 16.4 3.0 3.66 0.2

Whatever it is that got into Indians starter Josh Tomlin -- our friends at Let's Go Tribe aren't exactly sure either -- other MLB teams just can't seem to figure it out. The Tigers flailed away at Tomlin's low-90s offerings in a matchup on April 22, scoring a run on four hits in 6 2/3 innings. He has won all three of his starts this season, limiting opponents to a single run and less than a hit per inning in two of them.

We finally saw some chinks in the armor in his last start, though. Tomlin allowed five runs (four earned) on six hits in 5 1/3 innings against the Minnesota Twins, a line much closer to his career norms. He only struck out one hitter in that start, indicating that his gaudy strikeout rate from 2015 may have been a mirage.

While three starts is a very small sample, we may be able to predict why Tomlin struggled a bit more in his last start. So far this season, he is throwing his cutter 34.2 percent of the time, up from 27.4 percent of the time in 2015. There's a good reason for this: opponents hit .191 with a .441 slugging average off his cutter last season, much lower than the .271 average and .549 slugging average off his four-seam fastball. He even induced five whiffs on 27 cutters thrown in his start against the Tigers on April 27, though it did result in three of their four hits.

However, after consistently burying his cutter low and outside of the strike zone in 2015, he's catching a lot more plate this season.

Josh Tomlin cutter

Opponents are hitting .344 with a .563 slugging average off the cutter this season, well above the .150 average and .400 slugging average they have on his four-seam fastball.

Hitter to fear: Carlos Santana (.232/.313/.643 in 64 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Jason Kipnis (.089/.204/.111 in 54 plate appearances)

The hitters to fear and fail held true to form in Verlander's last appearance against the Indians. Carlos Santana hit a solo home run and a double -- the homer was Santana's seventh off Verlander -- while Jason Kipnis flied out three times. Meanwhile, the Indians have another pest in their lineup that was not around two weeks ago: left fielder Michael Brantley. Verlander has mostly been able to keep the Tiger-killing Brantley in check, though he is batting .290 in 65 plate appearances.

Outlook

The Tigers and Indians have trended in opposite directions since the Tribe's three-game sweep at Comerica Park in April, and early season skids against Cleveland haven't stopped the Tigers before. Verlander has struggled at Progressive Field in the past, but has rediscovered his fastball in 2016. The Indians had trouble laying off the high heat last time, and will likely look to force Verlander to his offspeed stuff early on. If his slider or curveball are working, it could be another long night for the Indians offense.

Prediction

The offense pulls Verlander out of an early deficit and the Tigers win their sixth straight.

★★★

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