It's too early to worry about Jordan Zimmermann, but I wouldn't blame you if Tuesday's matchup gives you any pause. Since his narrow loss to former Tiger Max Scherzer on May 11, Zimmermann has a 7.04 ERA and .873 OPS against. This stretch is inflated by a pair of rough starts -- not to mention a week missed due to injury -- but it highlights a flaw that we've glossed over for most of the year: Zimmermann's strikeout rate is down, and bad things can happen when the other team puts the ball in play.
The lack of strikeouts is a roster-wide issue, one that prevents this pitching staff from being anything more than average for long stretches. They have a 19.5 percent strikeout rate as a team, the third-lowest total in the American League. While this may not be the best example at the moment, seeing as the Texas Rangers are first on that dubious list and have the best record in the league, it's not the most sustainable way to prevent runs.
Maybe the feeling of dread is just leftover from Monday's debacle, in which the Tigers blew a 7-0 lead on the back of a bullpen as porous as we've seen this year. It was the 18th time the pitching staff has allowed seven runs or more, and the second time the Tigers have scored nine runs in a loss. Losses like that sting, and can have a tangible effect on how the team plays going forward.
This is why the Tigers need the best of Zimmermann on Tuesday. Can he bounce back and take the Tigers with him?
Detroit Tigers (32-31) at Chicago White Sox (32-32)
Time/Place: 8:10 p.m., U.S. Cellular Field
SB Nation blog: South Side Sox
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Jordan Zimmermann (8-3, 3.30 ERA) vs. RHP Miguel Gonzalez (1-1, 3.57 ERA)
Miguel Gonzalez is exactly what the Tigers were frantically searching for when trying to find a capable fifth starter last offseason. Through eight appearances (seven starts), Gonzalez has a 3.57 ERA and peripherals Mike Pelfrey could only dream about. Other than a rough outing in a road start against the Toronto Blue Jays -- a game Chicago won 7-5 -- Gonzalez has kept his team within striking distance in almost every start this year, even if he hasn't been the "innings eater" that teams covet.
We should have expected this, though. Gonzalez was an above average starter for three seasons in Baltimore before a subpar 2015 season and brutal 2016 spring training saw him released just before the start of the regular season. Gonzalez signed with the pitching starved White Sox and made a pair of starts in the minors before the aforementioned spot start against the Blue Jays. He made two more starts in the minors before being recalled on a permanent (for now) basis.
Gonzalez's 3.57 ERA is nearly a full run better than his 4.31 FIP, but this is his M.O. In three of his four seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, he outperformed his FIP by a wide margin (twice by more than a full run). He survived as a fly ball pitcher in a hitter-friendly ballpark, and has largely done the same in 2016. An uptick in cutter usage has increased his ground ball rate and strikeout rate, but he is still fanning hitters at a below average clip. His home run rate may regress slightly, but unless you don't believe in his ability to generate lazy contact, this is the same Miguel Gonzalez that carved out a serviceable career in the Orioles organization from 2012 to 2014.
In other words, he's annoyingly good.
Tigers hitter to fear: Jose Iglesias (.455/.455/.545 in 11 plate appearances)
Tigers hitter to fail: Victor Martinez (.100/.182/.100 in 11 plate appearances)
Mike Aviles is 1-for-12 with a home run against Gonzalez so he will probably be in the lineup for this game.
After previously being lauded as a home run suppressor, Zimmermann has gotten a bit dinger-happy lately. The Tigers' ace has allowed eight home runs this season, all coming within his last seven starts. Four of them came in his two worst starts of the year, unsurprisingly, and he is pitching in another bandbox on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Miguel Gonzalez has figured out how to suppress home runs again, including just one allowed to right-handed hitters this year. This may slow down the Tigers' offense for a little while, but it's hard to bet against the better starting pitcher and offense.
Zimmermann bounces back and the Tigers even the series.
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