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Tigers vs. Mariners Preview: Jordan Zimmermann onstage as the Must-Win 2017 tour continues

Zimmermann is quietly putting together a fine month of June.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Boston Red Sox Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Hopes for a Detroit Tigers resurgence are rapidly waning. With just 19 games left until the All-Star break, the team has had its’ back to the wall for weeks, but has yet to show any signs of punching their way back into the AL Central chase. The key reason for that failing remains the pitching staff. All season long, the rotation around which many based their optimism hasn’t lived up to the billing, apart from Michael Fulmer. However, just as the season appears to be headed off the tracks, the starters have turned things around.

No one has reversed his fortunes more drastically than Jordan Zimmermann. In three starts in June, the right-hander has posted a 2.25 ERA and 3.13 FIP. We’re only talking about 20 innings of work, but the change for the veteran starter has been striking. After a full year in the wilderness, Zimmermann has looked like a new man.

He’s not the Cy Young contender who led the Washington Nationals rotation a few years back. But he also looks nothing like the guy the Tigers saw in April and early May, who couldn’t induce whiffs and was far too home run prone, even in these dinger-happy times. Lately, he’s been a consistent innings-eater, who is stingy with the walks and strikes out enough hitters to comfortably grind out quality starts with regularity. That’s basically what the Tigers hoped for when they acquired him.

The key has been Zimmermann’s slider. While there have been modest improvements in his fastball and curve, the slider has always been the Swiss Army knife in Zimmermann’s toolkit. With it, he induces whiffs, pop-ups or takes a little off to get himself a groundball with runners on base. He rediscovered his old grip late in May, and since then he’s been a far more effective pitcher. His last start, on June 14th, was the real gem, as he spun eight innings of two-run ball against the Tampa Bay Rays. The Tigers desperately need him to continue that success Tuesday night against a solid Mariners’ offense.

Detroit Tigers (32-37) at Seattle Mariners (35-37)

Time/Place: 10:10 p.m., Safeco Park
SB Nation blog: Lookout Landing
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Jordan Zimmermann (5-5, 5.35 ERA) vs. LHP Ariel Miranda (6-3, 4.17 ERA)

Game 70 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Zimmermann 75.2 14.6 6.7 5.77 0.0
Miranda 77.2 19.9 9.2 5.03 0.5

Ariel Miranda is a left-hander that the Tigers have only seen in one inning of relief. The 28 year old is still just getting his feet wet in the majors, and will make his 25th start Wednesday night. Based on his stuff alone, this looks like a pitcher the Tigers’ offense should maul, and so your guess is as good as mine whether he’ll manage to shut them down or not.

Miranda throws a four-seamer at 92 m.p.h. with excellent rising action. Think a lesser Drew Smyly here. He backs that up with a solid slider, and a splitter that has been absolutely destroyed so far this season. Hitters have punished the splitter to the tune of a .414 ISO against. And yet overall, Miranda doesn’t tend to get that hard, even against right-hand heavy lineups. He’s a distinct flyball pitcher, and the Mariners’ outfield, and Safeco’s sea level park factors, make him a good fit.

Miranda’s most obvious weakness is a fairly elevated walk rate, but in June he’s managed to get that back under reasonable control. He throws a good ratio of first pitch strikes, and a heavy diet of fastballs, which should suit the Tigers. When he falls behind he can be a bit too careful and has an inexperienced starter’s tendency to give up the big hit with runners on base. The Tigers need to put him in that spot often. If they avoid leaving the strikezone early in counts, they should be able to do damage on Miranda’s fastball and splitter. However, with that movement profile on his fastball, that splitter will be tough to lay off of if he has command of it.

Outlook

Jordan Zimmermann should have a slight advantage in this matchup, based on recent performances. The park should allow Zimmermann’s flyball profile to play as long as he keeps the ball out of the heart of the plate. Robinson Cano has had good success against Zimm, while for the most part, neither party is very familiar with the other. The question is which version of the Tigers’ offense shows up.

Prediction

Zimmermann tosses another solid game, and the offense gets loose enough for the bullpen to hang on.