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Tigers vs. Athletics Preview: Jordan Zimmermann, Jesse Hahn square off in Oakland

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The Tigers aim for a second west coast victory in as many nights.

Oakland Athletics v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Detroit Tigers (15-13 at Oakland Athletics (12-17)

Time/Place: 9:05 p.m., Oakland Coliseum
SB Nation blog: Athletics Nation
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB Network, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Jordan Zimmermann (3-1, 6.18 ERA) vs. RHP Jesse Hahn (1-2, 2.53 ERA)

Game 29 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Zimmermann 27.2 13.0 7.3 5.43 0.1
Hahn 32.0 20.0 6.9 2.76 0.8

Jesse Hahn has gotten off to an inconsistent start with the Oakland A’s. They acquired him prior to the 2015 season, and he rewarded them with a 3.35 ERA and 3.51 FIP in 96 23 innings. Unfortunately, elbow issues cut his season short; he didn’t pitch in the majors after July 1. Hahn returned in 2016 throwing harder than before, but couldn’t find his form from the year prior. He allowed a 6.49 ERA and six home runs in his first seven starts, and was demoted to the minor leagues. He made a couple of spot starts down the stretch, but finished the season with a 6.02 ERA and 1.64 WHIP in 46 13 innings.

This season, things are going better. Hahn has limited opponents to a 2.53 ERA and 2.75 FIP in 32 innings. He has worked at least six frames in each of his five outings (including a relief appearance, impressively). He is once again throwing harder than before, and is snapping off his lethal curveball at a 20 percent clip. FanGraphs’ Travis Sawchik went into detail on the bender.

Jeff Sullivan wrote last spring that Hahn’s curveball is similar to Adam Wainwright’s. And in Hahn’s small sample of work in 2016, the curveball again featured some of the greatest movement among starting pitchers, ranking 14th in the sport in vertical movement (-8.9 inches), according to Baseball Prospectus PITCHf/x leaderboards. It was in line with his 2015 movement (-8.3).

Hahn’s curveball could give the Tigers problems. According to FanGraphs’ pitch values, the Tigers have been slightly below average as a team against curveballs this season. He has already dominated Detroit in three prior outings, limiting them to a 1.64 ERA and a .469 OPS in 22 innings.

Key matchup: Jordan Zimmermann vs. run support

It would be putting it nicely if we said that Zimmermann has struggled at times this season. The 30-year-old righthander gave up five runs in three consecutive outings, and surrendered double-digit hits in two of those games. However, the Tigers were able to win one of those games, and nearly pulled out another were it not for a botched double play ball down in Tampa.

This is thanks to the Tigers offense, which has provided nine runs of support per game for Zimmermann this season. Yes, the 19-run explosion skews things a bit, but they have put up seven runs on two other occasions, and have scored at least four runs in each of Zimmermann’s five starts. Given how confident Zimmermann has looked with a lead this season — perhaps even too confident at times — one can only hope the Tigers keep putting up runs in bunches with him on the mound.

Outlook

If there’s a pitcher that will benefit from the nighttime marine layer setting in around O.Co Coliseum, it’s Zimmermann. His 48.4 percent fly ball rate is the eighth-highest among pitchers who have worked at least 20 innings this season, and he has been victimized by the home run ball at times. The A’s have some sluggers that can make any ballpark look small — let’s avoid Khris Davis, please — but their power numbers as a team are near league average. If one or two of those would-be home runs turn into lazy fly outs, the Tigers would walk away with their second west coast win in as many days.

Prediction

The Tigers struggle to score but squeak out a late win.