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Game 54 Preview: Chicago White Sox at Detroit Tigers

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Jordan Zimmermann returns to the starting rotation as the Tigers face the White Sox for the first time in 2016.

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

When Jordan Zimmermann reached for his groin after throwing a pitch against the Tampa Bay Rays on May 22, all of Tiger-dom held its collective breath. Without Zimmermann, an already-shaky rotation was doomed, and the Tigers were sure to fall out of the playoff picture.

Okay, so maybe things weren't that dramatic in your household, but losing a front-line starter was one thing this Tigers team could not afford if they hoped to stay competitive this season.

However, the Tigers were able to stay afloat during Zimmermann's absence. Sure, the team went 4-6 while he was out, but it was no fault of the starting pitching. Nearly everyone picked up the slack, with Justin Verlander continuing to dominate, Michael Fulmer doing his best Verlander impression, and Mike Pelfrey even chipping in some not-horrible innings. Now, with a capable Matt Boyd presumably replacing Anibal Sanchez and Zimmermann returning, a once-fallible unit looks much more solid than it did two weeks ago.

Will it continue? We can only hope. Friday's game is in sure hands, though, with Zimmermann returning to face the White Sox.

Chicago White Sox (29-25) at Detroit Tigers (25-28)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: South Side Sox
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TVTigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Carlos Rodon (2-4, 4.24 ERA) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (7-2, 2.52 ERA)

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Rodon 57.1 21.2 8.2 4.20 0.8
Zimmermann 60.2 16.3 4.5 3.63 1.3

Like many a young starting pitcher, Carlos Rodon has shown a dizzying mix of electrifying potential and maddening inconsistency in his first 33 big league starts. Even this year, his second in the majors, Rodon hasn't quite put it all together yet -- a tall order for a 23-year-old, to be sure. The inconsistency can show itself from start to start, or even in the same game. For instance, Rodon threw six shutout innings against the Minnesota Twins in April... but walked five. He didn't make it out of the first inning in his next start, giving up five runs on six hits against the Los Angeles Angels. After that, he struck out seven in 6 2/3 frames against the AL West-leading Texas Rangers.

Let's go back to that Angels start, though. If we Porcello* out that game, Rodon's overall numbers start to look much better. His ERA drops from 4.24 to 3.47, and his WHIP lowers from 1.48 to 1.35. His strikeout-to-walk ratio improves a bit as well. While you can make his statistics say just about anything if you cherrypick the right outing(s), it's worth noting that Rodon has gone five innings in every start outside of this one against the Angels, and six or more in all but one other outing.

What I'm trying to say is that Rodon is very good, even if his ERA tries to say otherwise. He's not without his faults, though. He has been somewhat homer-prone, and it's not entirely stadium-related -- though he has pitched better on the road than at tiny U.S. Cellular Field. Righties are hitting a healthy .300/.366/.447 against him, including seven of the eight home runs he has allowed this season. His command has also been an issue against righties, with 19 of the 21 walks he has issued coming against right-handed batters. His 18.7 percent strikeout rate against righties is below the league average as well.

*Porcello (v.): To remove certain pieces of data from a particular set in order to make said data look much favorable for the point the author is trying to make.

Hitter to fear: Jimmy Rollins (.229/.270/.400 in 37 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Austin Jackson (.143/.143/.143 in 7 plate appearances)

It seems odd that a batter with a .229 average would be the "hitter to fail," but the fact is that Zimmermann hasn't faced these White Sox hitters very often in his career. Rollins is the only Chicago hitter to have faced Zimmermann more than eight times, and one of two to homer off him. His eight hits against Zimmermann are more than the rest of the current White Sox roster combined. That does not include Jose Abreu, Brett Lawrie, or Adam Eaton, though, as Zimmermann has never faced those three likely starters.

On the other side, the Tigers fared well against Rodon in their lone meeting last season. Rodon gave up eight hits and three walks in just five innings, allowing four runs. Ian Kinsler and J.D. Martinez homered off of the then-rookie lefthander, while Victor Martinez and Nick Castellanos added extra-base hits. However, as was the case so often with the 2015 Tigers, all that offense still wasn't enough to pull out a win.

Outlook

Normally, a young lefthander that the Tigers have had success against in the past would be cause for celebration. However, the Tigers are still having a mystifying amount of trouble with left-handed pitchers this season. Lefty starters are limiting them to a dismal .634 OPS, while their right-handed hitters are batting just .243/.311/.399 against southpaws. That .710 OPS is more than 100 points lower than what Tigers' right-handed hitters posted last season, and the first time that group has been below the .800 mark since 2013. However, Rodon's sharp platoon splits may be the recipe they need to break out of that funk.

Prediction

Zimmermann picks up where he left off and the Tigers win the first game of the series.

★★★

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