Heading into the season, one of the biggest questions surrounding this Detroit Tigers team was their pitching depth. Fans were content with the team’s starting rotation, but wary of any potential injuries. The Tigers’ starting rotation hasn’t performed all that well, but to their credit, they have been healthy. Through the first quarter of the season, the Tigers are only one of two MLB teams that have only needed five starting pitchers.
That changes on Friday, as the Tigers will call up Buck Farmer for the first game of a doubleheader against the Chicago White Sox. Farmer has a pedestrian 1-3 record and 4.12 ERA for Triple-A Toledo this year. When considering this and his subpar results in the major leagues since his initial call-up in 2014, fans might not be all that hyped up about his 2017 debut.
There is reason for optimism, though. While Farmer’s ERA is nothing special, he has taken a major step forward with the Mud Hens so far this season. He has a stellar 3.06 FIP in 54 2⁄3 innings, and is striking out 5.4 batters to every walk. Opponents are hitting .282 against him, but are aided by an unsustainable .357 batting average on balls in play (BABIP).
However, as we saw in the opening game of the Tigers’ last series against the Houston Astros, it takes more than starting pitching to win ballgames. Can the team put together a complete performance against the White Sox on Friday?
Detroit Tigers (22-24) at Chicago White Sox (20-25)
Time/Place: 5:10 p.m., Guaranteed Rate Field
SB Nation blog: South Side Sox
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Game 1 Pitching Matchup: RHP Buck Farmer (1-3, 4.12 ERA in Triple-A) vs. RHP Mike Pelfrey (1-4, 4.85 ERA)
Game 47 Pitching Matchup
Last season, Mike Pelfrey struck out just 10.4 percent of the batters he faced, the lowest rate in any full season of his career. This year, he has fared even worse, fanning just 8.8 percent of all hitters. His 6.5 percent swinging strike rate is among the worst in baseball (minimum 20 innings pitched.
In other words, the Tigers aren’t missing much. Their former teammate has allowed a 4.85 ERA and 5.25 FIP in six starts for the White Sox so far this year, numbers similar to what he produced in his one year with Detroit. He is coming off his best start of the season, a win over the Seattle Mariners six days ago. Surprisingly, it only took him 77 pitches to get through those six frames, a far more efficient start than anything we saw from him last year. It was also only the second time he has made it through the fifth inning of a start this season.
Game 2 Pitching Matchup: LHP Matt Boyd (2-4, 5.36 ERA) vs. RHP Tyler Danish (1-3, 3.15 ERA in Triple-A)
Game 48 Pitching Matchup
Danish is a 22-year-old righthander who was drafted in the second round of the 2013 MLB draft. While that brief profile suggests he could be a solid starter in the making, the reality isn’t quite so sexy. Danish has allowed a 3.15 ERA in the minor leagues this year, but is striking out just 11.8 percent of hitters at Triple-A Charlotte. He was slightly better in 29 1⁄3 innings for the Knights last year, but still isn’t much of a strikeout artist.
Why was such a mediocre prospect drafted so highly? Minor League Ball’s John Sickels shed some light on the issue shortly after Danish was called up briefly last season.
I was aggressive with a Grade B for Tyler Danish last year but his mediocre 2015 season provided ammunition for the skeptics. In 2014 he showed a nasty low-90s sinker, a plus slider, and a solid-average change-up to go with good command, a deceptive delivery, and intense mound presence. He still showed much of that in Double-A: competitiveness, delivery funk, lots of grounders (1.85 GO/AO) and a change-up which improved into the plus range. However, his fastball and slider each lost a step, his velocity down in the 88-90 range and the slider losing enough sharpness that some observers rated it as below average after seeing it as plus in ‘14.
In that cup of coffee with the Sox last year, Danish’s fastball averaged 91.8 miles per hour. He threw that pitch nearly 80 percent of the time while mixing in a slider, cutter, and changeup sporadically. None of those three off-speed pitches traveled above the low-80s, and his slider (more of a curveball, really) sat in the high-70s.
Key matchup: Nick Castellanos vs. the Ausmus spa
Two years ago, the Tigers benched Nick Castellanos for a few games against the New York Yankees. Castellanos responded by hitting .283/.329/.487 over the final few months of the season. He continued his hot hitting in early 2016, producing an .875 OPS and 17 home runs in the first half before a short July skid and a broken hand all but ended his season.
This year, Castellanos got off to a hot start before falling into a major funk. Statheads have been calling for his breakout for weeks, but all the hard contact in the world hasn’t translated to actual production. Manager Brad Ausmus is hoping that another short break will reset Castellanos mentally, same as it did two years ago. This short mental layoff has also worked for others in the past — namely Justin Upton in 2016 — and would do wonders for a Tigers lineup struggling to drive in J.D. Martinez and Justin Upton right now.
A good day at the office would be huge for the Tigers, who have lost their last two series and fallen 4 1⁄2 games out of first place in the division. The White Sox have been struggling recently, though they are still scoring in bunches this month. I’m interested to see how Buck Farmer fares given the improvements he seems to have made in the minors, but Matt Boyd has struggled to navigate the righty-heavy White Sox lineup in the past. The Tigers’ rigorous travel schedule could also play a role here, especially with the early start time. Fans expecting a sweep might be a bit disappointed, but a split is certainly feasible.
The Tigers win the first, but run out of gas in the nightcap to split the doubleheader.