It seemed like Jordan Zimmermann was getting better, you know. Prior to his last start against the Cleveland Indians, Zimmermann had worked eight strong innings against the Kansas City Royals and looked every bit the starter that the Tigers saw through April and the early part of May. He was roughed up a bit in the outing prior, but had induced 12 swings and misses in 107 pitches, a positive indicator of future success.
It's safe to say that his outing against the Indians six days ago was anything but a success. Zimmermann was tagged for seven runs on nine hits, a start that, sadly, wasn't even the worst one offered by a Tigers starter over the weekend. Zimmermann threw 89 pitches but garnered only six swings and misses, a Pelfrey-esque 6.7 percent rate.
This has been Zimmermann's main issue thus far in his transition to the American League. Aside from a handful of outings against whiff-happy teams -- all of whom are in the AL Central, luckily -- he has not generated many swings and misses. This puts him at the mercy of the Tigers' defense, which has taken a big step back compared to 2015.
Fortunately, Zimmermann is making things as easy as he can. He has upped his ground ball rate to nearly 45 percent this season, and his pop-up rate has reached a career high at 16.4 percent. His 17.1 percent line drive rate is a bit low and should correct at some point, but consistently low walk and home run rates help him limit the damage.
Of course, this might not matter in this matchup. The Rays have the highest swinging strike rate in baseball, and Zimmermann had a solid outing against them in May before leaving with a groin injury. Can he repeat that start (sans injury, of course) in Tampa?
Detroit Tigers (40-38) at Tampa Bay Rays (33-44)
Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Tropicana Field
SB Nation blog: DRaysBay
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Jordan Zimmermann (9-4, 3.81 ERA) vs. RHP Jake Odorizzi (3-3, 3.93 ERA)
While the Kansas City Royals probably don't regret the trade that brought James Shields and Wade Davis to Kauffman Stadium, they definitely wouldn't mind having Jake Odorizzi in their rotation right now. The former Royals farmhand has been an excellent mid-rotation starter in four years with the Rays, posting a 3.79 ERA and 3.84 FIP in 456 1/3 innings. His numbers are slightly worse this season due to an elevated home run rate, but his 2.96 strikeout-to-walk ratio is nearly identical to his career average.
Even more relevant to the Royals' hypothetical interest is the fact that Odorizzi has owned the Tigers so far in his young career. In three meetings, the 26-year-old righthander has limited the Tigers to a 1.93 ERA and .637 OPS, and has won two of those three matchups. Tigers hitters have fanned 21 times and drawn four walks. They have a .276 on-base percentage, which might look good to Mike Aviles but is pretty awful for anyone else. Fortunately, us Tigers fans only have to watch this occur once or twice per year.
Against other teams, Odorizzi has been allowing more home runs than usual. While a jump in home runs per fly ball allowed (HR/FB) from under 10 percent to nearly 14 percent would normally be considered unsustainable, Odorizzi has allowed more hard contact than usual this season. According to FanGraphs, opponents are hitting the ball hard 35.9 percent of the time, the 11th highest rate in baseball among qualified pitchers. This isn't a perfect measure -- Bartolo Colon and his 2.86 ERA are second on this list -- but hard contact is often not a good thing for a pitcher to allow.
Hitter to fear: Evan Longoria (.200/.238/.700 in 21 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Logan Forsythe (.000/.143/.000 in 7 plate appearances)
Two weeks ago, the swingin' Rays were hovering around .500 and staying afloat in the AL East race in spite of poor seasons from their top starting pitchers. Then, they lost 11 consecutive games and fell from a 5 1/2 game deficit to 13 1/2 games back. The Rays' offense was nonexistent during that stretch, scoring just 29 runs in those 11 games. While they are a much more dangerous lineup than that -- it's important to note that 10 of the 11 losses came against current division leaders -- they can still be contained. If the Tigers can get to Odorizzi, they should have a chance at a win.
The Tigers break through late and win a low-scoring game.
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