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Game 62 Preview: Detroit Tigers at New York Yankees

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Michael Fulmer brings an impressive scoreless streak into the series finale.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

When Michael Fulmer made his first start with the Tigers in the end of April, many believed he would soon return back to Triple-A Toledo. That idea is all but a distant memory now, as he has been arguably the best starter on the team over the past three weeks. Fulmer enters Sunday’s matchup riding a 22 1/3 scoreless-inning streak and has not allowed a run in his past three starts.

Fulmer’s first four appearances of the season were about what one might expect for a rookie starter. He featured a 6.52 ERA and 1.97 WHIP while not going longer than five innings. However, things have changed drastically since then, as Fulmer allowed just one run over 28 1/3 innings during his last four starts.

Much has been made of Fulmer’s changeup, which has turned from an occasionally-used third pitch into a legitimate asset. He has featured it on 12 percent of his pitches while allowing just a .158 average against it with whiffs on over 20 percent of opponents’ swings. During his last four starts he has raised this usage to almost 18 percent of all pitches while lowering his batting average against it to just .067. Meanwhile, his slider continues to be filthy and has kept batters hitting under .100 against it.

Of the eight starts made by Fulmer, the Tigers have won seven of them. In fact, Saturday was the first time since May 1 that the Tigers won a road game not started by Fulmer. There are sure to be some bumps along the way, but Fulmer is doing exactly what teams dream about when sliding their top prospect into the rotation.

Detroit Tigers (31-30) at New York Yankees (31-31)

Time/Place: 2:05 p.m., Yankee Stadium
SB Nation blog: Pinstripe Alley
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB Network, MLB.TVTigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Michael Fulmer (6-1, 2.83 ERA) vs. RHP Michael Pineda (3-6, 6.14 ERA)

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Fulmer 47.2 25.1 8.2 3.50 0.9
Pineda 66.0 23.8 5.7 4.29 0.7

The Tigers faced Michael Pineda just ten days ago in Detroit and put up seven hits but just one run against him in 5 2/3 innings. He did not receive a decision in that outing, but the Yankees barely held on for the win despite a late surge by the Tigers against the New York bullpen.

While it was not a dominant performance in Detroit, the Yankees need Pineda to continue making these types of starts going forward. His ERA is almost two runs higher than his total last season, and he is currently on pace for a career-high FIP by a sizable margin. While his .371 BABIP may be part of the problem, the bigger issue is his 1.64 HR/9 rate. Combining these with an uptick in walks has resulted in a mostly mediocre opening to 2016 for Pineda.

There have been some terrible starts by Pineda already this year, including four outings of at least six earned runs. However, his last two appearances show that he might be moving in the right direction. His most recent start against the Angels was the first time he completed seven innings, and his outing against the Tigers was his lowest run total of the year. Whether or not he can sustain this momentum remains to be seen, but there is some hope from the New York faithful that he may be returning to last year’s form.

Tigers hitter to fear: Miguel Cabrera (.571/.667/.714 in 9 plate appearances)
Tigers hitter to fail: Ian Kinsler (.111/.111/.111 in 9 plate appearances)

Most Tigers only have a handful of appearances against Pineda. Miguel Cabrera unsurprisingly owns the best numbers on the team, tallying four hits and a .571 batting average. During Pineda’s start ten days ago, Cabrera went 3-for-3 with two singles and a double against the righthander. Ian Kinsler did not make the start that day, but he has struggled in his career against Pineda. Kinsler has just one hit against him while striking out three times in nine at-bats.

Outlook

Though Pineda mostly handled the Tigers during their last matchup, it would be surprising to see a repeat performance. The Tigers recorded hard contact on just 6.7 percent of their batted balls, which is well below both their average and Pineda’s. While he has been better lately, Pineda has been hit hard by some good offenses this season, and the Tigers should be able to join that list. Meanwhile, Fulmer has been dealing in his past three starts, even without his best stuff in his most recent outing. The table appears to be set for a Detroit victory on Sunday.

Prediction

Fulmer’s scoreless streak comes to an end, but he stills comes away with the win.