Over the past several seasons, a common theme among Tigers' squads was a lack of pitching depth. Typically, they would enter a season with five starters that formed one of the strongest rotations in baseball -- on paper -- but were ill-prepared for inevitable injuries and struggles to the core group. This concept was on full display last season, when the Tigers were forced to call up Buck Farmer essentially straight from Single-A, and culminated in the trade for Randy Wolf in August.
With the early performances of Anibal Sanchez and Mike Pelfrey this season, Tigers' fans have revived the discussion of a lack of pitching depth, but really the complaint has little merit. Tigers' GM Al Avila assembled a squad of major-league caliber pitchers eight-deep last winter. Two have performed well below expectations, two more have spent extended time on the disabled list, and one has proven (apparently) indispensable as a reliever. Still, the rotation has been able to keep its head above water.
Tonight, Daniel Norris returns from an oblique injury suffered while fielding a ground ball in a game over a month ago. With Mike Pelfrey and Jordan Zimmermann both hitting the DL recently and a tight playoff chase looming, the Tigers will need their pitching depth to continue to contribute. If Norris can be effective against major-league hitters, the Tigers' chances at a playoff spot look bright.
Detroit Tigers (61-51) at Seattle Mariners (58-53)
Time/Place: 10:10 p.m., Safeco Field
SB Nation blog: Lookout Landing
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Daniel Norris (1-0, 4.85 ERA) vs. LHP Wade LeBlanc (1-0, 4.31 ERA)
Wade LeBlanc is the prototypical journeyman. A 31-year-old veteran of eight major-league seasons, he is currently playing for for his seventh team -- eighth if you count his brief stint in Japan. He has started 76 games in his career, posting a 4.51 ERA, and has also appeared out of the bullpen 37 times. He has spent time in the minor leagues every season of his professional career, including earlier this year, before the Mariners acquired him from the Blue Jays in late June.
LeBlanc sits in the high-80's with a fourseam/sinker/cutter combo, and yes, he can be described as a crafty lefty. He will lean heavily on a mid-70's changeup against the Tigers' righty-loaded lineup, but he also mixes in a couple breaking pitches to left-handed hitters. He likes to work down in the zone with his sinker early in the count, but look for a fourseamer up and in or a cutter tailing off the plate if he gets to two strikes.
Tigers hitter to fear: Casey McGehee (really?) (.750/.750/1.750 in 4 plate appearances)
Tigers hitter to fail: Justin Upton (.105/.261/.158 in 23 plate appearances)
Today will be LeBlanc's first time facing the Tigers in his career, but he saw plenty of Justin Upton while both resided in the NL West. Upton struggled, going 2-for-23 with four walks, but only struck out five times against the lefty. Casey McGehee, on the other hand, hasn't had any problems squaring up LeBlanc, collecting a home run, a double, a single, and a lineout in four trips to the plate from 2010 to 2014.
When Norris returned from Toledo earlier this season, his first start was against these Mariners, and he didn't fare too well. He held the M's batters to only six hits, and didn't allow any bases on balls, but three of the hits left the park and he only lasted five innings. Only Robinson Cano has faced Norris more than three times, and is 1-for-5 against the Tigers' southpaw.
The Tigers put themselves in a great position by winning four straight series leading up to this one, but there is still little room for error. They're living on the edge of a wild card berth, with today's opponent nipping at their heels. Continuing to win every series will eventually earn them some breathing room, but after dropping the first game on Monday, the Tigers need to win out against LeBlanc and Felix Hernandez to make it five series in a row.
Norris twirls a gem and causes thousands to fan themselves while exclaiming, "Woo!"