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Game 124 Preview: Boston Red Sox at Detroit Tigers

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Justin Verlander takes the mound trying to earn a series split from the Red Sox.

Minnesota Twins v Boston Red Sox Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Boston Red Sox (69-53) at Detroit Tigers (64-59)

Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Over the Monster
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Henry Owens (0-0, 5.11 ERA) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (12-7, 3.44 ERA)

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Owens 12.1 15.3 22.0 8.26 -0.3
Verlander 167.1 26.2 6.5 3.67 3.5

The Tigers may have caught a break late Saturday night. Lefthander Eduardo Rodriguez, who pitched a solid game against the Tigers in July and has been coming on strong of late, was scratched from his scheduled Sunday start due to a hamstring injury. In his place will be 24-year-old lefty Henry Owens, a consensus top-50 prospect as recently as 2015. Owens was Boston’s first-round pick in 2011, and he rocketed through their farm system, reaching Triple-A Pawtucket in 2014 (a quick progression for a high school arm).

Owens made his major league debut in 2015 but struggled, allowing a 4.57 ERA and 4.28 FIP in 63 innings. He had trouble with his command at times, something he battled in his time in the minors. Owen walked four batters in four separate outings, including a win over the Tigers at Comerica Park on August 9. His outings varied between solid (he held the Tigers to one run in that win, for instance) and disastrous (he gave up seven runs in three different starts).

With Rodriguez injured in spring training, Owens had a shot to make the major league team out of camp, but was ultimately sent down to the minors. He has struggled a bit at Triple-A Pawtucket this year, allowing a 4.66 FIP in 119 13 innings. These struggles are largely related to his walk rate, which has skyrocketed to over five batters per nine innings. There isn’t any recent success to call on, either; his walk rate is still that high since July 1.

Owens isn’t the type of pitcher you would expect to have such iffy command. His fastball has averaged just 89 miles per hour in 75 13 career major league innings, and has topped out at 93.4 mph. Owens also relies heavily on a changeup in the high 70s, a pitch that has been easily his best in limited major league action. He mixes in a breaking ball roughly 15 percent of the time, with a looping, low-70s curveball the preferred offering to his low-80s slider.

Hitter to fear: David Ortiz (.324/.410/.628 in 39 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Dustin Pedroia (.083/.120/.083 in 25 plate appearances)

Even great pitchers have struggled against the mighty Red Sox lineup over the years, but Justin Verlander has been able to hold them in check. He has a 3.05 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 14 career meetings with the Sox, including an excellent six-inning performance earlier this season. His strikeout rate against Boston is lower than career norms — they have always been good about spoiling pitches and driving up pitch counts — but he has still managed a 2.89 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Verlander has done particularly well against the current Red Sox roster; David Ortiz is the only current Boston player that has homered off Verlander.

Outlook

Sunday’s game appears to be a matchup between a stoppable force and a movable object. Owens has struggled in his first cracks at the major league level, but the Tigers offense has all but disappeared since Cameron Maybin, Nick Castellanos, and Jose Iglesias hit the disabled list. They are scoring just 3.22 runs per game in August and haven’t put up more than four runs on this current homestand. In theory, a lefty with command issues should be the perfect remedy for their offensive ails. We’ll see if that becomes reality on Sunday afternoon.

Prediction

The bullpen nearly gives it away but the Tigers hang on for a much-needed win.