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Tigers vs. Orioles Preview: Detroit kicks off homestand against new and improved Wade Miley

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The Tigers kick off a six-game homestand after their long west coast swing.

Baltimore Orioles v Washington Nationals Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images

So far this season, there are 14 qualified pitchers with a strikeout rate of 27 percent or higher. Some of the names on that list — Chris Sale, Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom — are not surprises. Others, like Robbie Ray and Luis Severino, are young, hard-throwing pitchers coming into their own.

Then there’s Wade Miley. The 30-year-old lefthander plodded along for five-plus seasons with below average strikeout rates and just enough deception to manage a career 4.12 ERA in 1035 innings. He has a standard four-pitch mix that has remained relatively unchanged, save for a slight hike in curveball usage over the past few years. All in all, it was a very average profile that always left analysts baffled when he was traded for rather exorbitant packages two years in a row.

Turns out, there may have been a reason for that. Since arriving in Baltimore last July, Miley has racked up 98 strikeouts in 90 23 innings. His ERA was just as inflated last fall, but he currently has a 2.45 ERA with 43 strikeouts in 36 23 frames this spring.

Normally, this would suggest a major overhaul of a pitcher’s repertoire or approach. However, that hasn’t been the case with Miley. He still throws his four-seam fastball in the 91-92 mile per hour range, and has not significantly altered his pitch mix or delivery. Can the Tigers solve the riddle that is the new Wade Miley?

Baltimore Orioles (22-14) at Detroit Tigers (17-17)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Camden Chat
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Wade Miley (1-1, 2.45 ERA)vs. LHP Matt Boyd (2-3, 3.89 ERA)

Game 37 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Miley 36.2 27.6 14.7 3.70 0.6
Boyd 39.1 17.0 11.1 4.31 0.5

Key matchup: Wade Miley vs. the outside corner

If there is any explanation to Miley’s newfound strikeout touch, it’s fastball location. In 2016, Miley used his fastball on both sides of the plate. He busted righties inside quite a bit, but that did not stop them from hitting .301/.351/.491 with 22 home runs against him.

Wade Miley fastballs vs. all hitters 2016

This season, Miley has worked exclusively to his arm side to great effect. He has the aforementioned 2.45 ERA, and has limited opponents to just three home runs in 36 23 innings.

Wade Miley fastballs vs. all hitters 2017

The low-and-away approach has been particularly effective against right-handed hitters, who are batting just .228 and slugging .317 against him in 2017. They are still getting on base at a .358 clip, but largely because they are able to lay off the outside fastball for plenty of walks.

Miley’s ability to locate his fastball in this game will go a long way in determining the outcome. The Tigers have used the opposite field more than any other team in baseball this season, and would feast on anything away and elevated. If Miley can locate on the lower outside corner — or convince Tigers hitters to chase — he should be just fine.

Outlook

For as up-and-down as Matt Boyd has been this season, his outings have generally followed a distinct pattern. He was rocked for five runs in 2 13 innings at Chicago, then held the Minnesota Twins scoreless in his first home start. He only lasted 4 13 innings in a start at Minnesota, then worked back-to-back seven inning outings at Comerica Park in his next two starts.

As one might expect out of a young pitcher with a high fly ball rate, Boyd has fared much better in the spacious confines of Comerica Park. He has a 2.61 ERA and 0.97 WHIP in three home starts this season, and has limited opponents to hitting just .228/.299/.403 at Comerica Park in his career. The Orioles have struggled against left-handed starters this season as well, with a .241 batting average and .300 on-base percentage in 14 games.

Prediction

Boyd gets back to .500 with another strong outing at home.