For as badly as Tigers starter Mike Pelfrey was torched in the media after his last start, I thought it was actually one of his stronger outings of the season. He didn't allow much hard contact -- he was mere inches away from a 1-2-3 first inning on a slow-rolling Joe Mauer ground ball, for instance -- and his splitter was as sharp as we have seen it during the 2016 season.
Instead, manager Brad Ausmus and general manager Al Avila had to field questions about Pelfrey's job security just five starts after he was signed to a two-year, $16 million deal. Quibble all you want about the length of the contract, but dumping a veteran pitcher before most of his peripheral statistics have had a chance to stabilize seems rather hasty, especially when one of the Tigers' starting pitchers can't keep his finger attached.
This isn't to say that Pelfrey has been all that good. He is allowing a 25.5 percent line drive rate, and his 40 percent hard contact rate is a big reason why he has a .370 BABIP. That's not unsustainable, that's just bad pitching. However, he has cut down on the walks over his last two outings, and is still inducing a very high ground ball rate. If he can get a little more luck this time around -- maybe that slow grounder into the hole finds Ian Kinsler's glove this time -- then he might just pick up his first win of the year.
Texas Rangers (16-14) at Detroit Tigers (14-14)
Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Lone Star Ball
Media: Fox Sports 1, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP A.J. Griffin (3-0, 2.32 ERA) vs. RHP Mike Pelfrey (0-4, 5.68 ERA)
Last we saw of A.J. Griffin, he was giving up home runs left and right as a member of the Oakland Athletics. He coughed up two in his last start against the Tigers, an A's victory on August 26, 2013 at Comerica Park. Griffin allowed an MLB-worst 36 home runs that season, but still managed a 3.83 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 200 innings.
Then, the Tommy John bug bit. Griffin had surgery on April 30, 2014, and missed just over 13 months. He made four starts in the A's farm system in June 2015, but suffered a shoulder injury while with Triple-A Nashville. The shoulder strain was originally expected to be a minor setback, but he didn't pitch another inning for the rest of the season. The Rangers came calling during the offseason and signed Griffin to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training. Finally healthy, Griffin struck out 19 hitters while allowing just two walks in 18 spring training innings. Not bothered by the six home runs and 6.00 ERA during that stretch, the Rangers awarded him a spot in their starting rotation.
While this seems like an unlikely comeback story, Griffin looks like the same pitcher he has always been in his first five starts. Always one to mix his pitches well, Griffin is relying heavily on his cutter and big, looping curveball against right-handed hitters. Opponents are hitting just .074 against the curve in a limited sample, while his fastball and cutter have also been effective. His changeup has been battered a bit (.357 average in 14 at-bats) but it is also generating a 17 percent whiff rate. Griffin is striking out hitters at a league average rate with a slightly above average walk rate, but seems to be getting a bit lucky with a home run rate roughly one-third of his career average.
Hitter to fear: Prince Fielder (.355/.400/.710 in 35 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Mitch Moreland (.167/.167/.500 in 12 plate appearances)
Pitching to the Texas Rangers has not been an easy task over the past decade (if not longer). Pelfrey, like many a pitcher, has been roughed up by the Rangers lineup to the tune of a 5.32 ERA and .783 OPS in four career meetings. Of the six Texas hitters that have faced him at least nine times, four of them are hitting .286 or better. Even today's "hitter to fail" has homered off Pelfrey in the past, one of six dingers the Rangers' current roster has in 103 combined plate appearances (pitchers excluded).
The Tigers have already faced a pitcher with a similar profile to Griffin's -- a right-handed strike-thrower with a high-80s fastball, cutter, and slow curveball -- twice this season and it hasn't gone well. Josh Tomlin has dominated the Tigers in two separate meetings thus far, and the similarities between the two (besides the hair) are striking. Griffin loves to throw that curveball to righties when he gets ahead in the count, and the Tigers have not shown the ability to stay back on that type of pitch so far this year.
Plus, Mike Pelfrey is pitching. Runs will be hard to come by.
Griffin cruises through seven innings and the Rangers win.
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