Jordan Zimmermann has not been the same pitcher lately. After a blistering start to the 2016 season, Zimmermann has tailed off in a big way over the course of his last five starts, allowing a 6.60 ERA and 1.40 WHIP. He was battered by the Minnesota Twins, beaten by the Toronto Blue Jays, and bruised by the Chicago White Sox; in those three starts alone, Zimmermann ceded 21 runs (18 earned) on 27 hits. Luckily, the Tigers offense turned two of those games into wins.
This rough stretch may be coming to an end, though. Zimmermann induced 12 whiffs on 107 pitches in his last start, a healthy 11.2 percent clip. This swing-and-miss stuff was absent in his previous three outings, when opponents only swung and missed at a combined 17 of 274 pitches. While he allowed six runs (four earned) on eight hits, his stuff looked sharper than in previous weeks, even if he only finished with three strikeouts.
Zimmermann had that swing and miss stuff in his last start against the Royals on April 20. He induced 17 whiffs on 105 pitches and finished with eight strikeouts, his second-highest total of the season. Now, almost two months later, the defending World Series champs get their shot at the Tigers' ace as they hope to take three of four in the series. Can Zimmermann and the Tigers earn a much-needed split?
Detroit Tigers (34-34) at Kansas City Royals (37-31)
Time/Place: 2:15 p.m., Kauffman Stadium
SB Nation blog: Royals Review
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Jordan Zimmermann (9-3, 3.46 ERA) vs. RHP Chris Young (2-6, 6.15 ERA)
After a 2015 season in which Chris Young posted a 3.06 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 123 1/3 innings, the 37-year-old Young has fallen apart. He has allowed a 6.15 ERA and 7.45 FIP through 45 1/3 innings, and opponents are hitting a healthy .280 with a .342 on-base percentage against him. He has allowed a league-high 18 (!) home runs, which is already more than his entire 2015 total (16). This has resulted in a whopping .626 slugging percentage against him.
Oddly, Young's strikeout rate has increased dramatically since 2015. He is fanning nearly 23 percent of hitters this year after a 16.6 percent strikeout rate last year, and his walk rate has only increased slightly. Opponents are swinging and missing at 10.4 percent of the pitches he throws. As such, his peripheral numbers aren't so bad; he has a 4.36 SIERA and 4.90 xFIP, numbers the Royals would gladly take right now.
These numbers probably don't mean a thing in this matchup. Young has owned the Tigers in his career, holding them to a .169 batting average and .522 OPS in 42 career innings. He is 4-0 with a 1.71 ERA and 0.86 WHIP, and has a 3.45 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Only three of the eight current Tigers that have faced Young more than five times are hitting above .200, and one is Jordan Zimmermann. Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, and Nick Castellanos are all under the Mendoza line -- Miggy has a .432 OPS -- while Victor Martinez is an even 3-for-15.
Long story short: runs are going to be at a premium for the Tigers.
Hitter to fear: Salvador Perez (1.000/1.000/1.500 in 3 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Alcides Escobar (.167/.167/.167 in 6 plate appearances)
Unless the Tigers magically conquer their demons against Chris Young, this game comes down to whether Jordan Zimmermann can avoid the pitfalls that have plagued him in his last few starts. He has not been sharp lately, with his strikeout rate way down in the teens. While we tried to poke a hole in the Royals' aversion to strikeouts, they have looked awfully pesky so far in this series, and will be putting plenty of balls in play. If Zimmermann can keep the contact quiet, the Tigers could be in good shape.
Young dominates the Tigers offense again.
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