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Tigers vs. Angels Preview: Buck Farmer gets his shot

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A brilliant first outing earned him a chance to capture the final spot in the rotation.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Houston Astros Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, the Detroit Tigers finally put together their first sustained run since the first two weeks of the 2017 season, winning five of six games. They came out Tuesday night looking to finally start climb above the .500 mark, and stumbled instead. With only six weeks or so remaining until the front office has to decide on the season’s viability, probably no team in baseball is under more pressure at this point than the Tigers. They need to rack up a lot of series wins between now and then. Wednesday night, they’ll turn to Buck Farmer to keep them in this three-game series against the Los Angeles Angels.

Of course, as things stand, Farmer may be as reliable as anyone not named Michael Fulmer. The young right-hander has been excellent for the Toledo Mud Hens this season, compiling a 3.23 FIP across 60 23 innings of work. His 22.1 percent strikeout rate, and a walk rate under five percent, bode well for his transition to facing major league lineups. Back on May 27, in his lone spot start on the year, Fulmer dominated the heavily right-handed Chicago White Sox lineup, punching out eleven in 6 13 scoreless innings of work. Without Mike Trout to worry about, the current Los Angeles Angels lineup presents quite a comparable challenge.

Los Angeles Angels (30-31) at Detroit Tigers (28-29)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park

SB Nation blog: Halos Heaven

Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: RHP Buck Farmer (1-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. RHP Alex Meyer (2-2, 4.91 ERA)

Game 58 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Meyer 29.1 24.4 15.3 4.46 0.2
Farmer 6.1 47.8 8.7 0.53 0.4

Just last season, Alex Meyer looked like a bust. A long internship in the Minnesota Twins’ farm system had resulted in only a handful of major league appearances. At no time was he able to translate his late-blooming success in the upper minors into quality starting pitching at the major league level. When the Twins dealt him to the Angels for veteran journeyman Hector Santiago, it seemed a reasonable deal.

However, a year later and the Angels may have finally unlocked Meyer’s true potential. After converting to pitching from the stretch, the gangly right-hander has finally gotten his high octane fastball under better control. Paired with a sharp, late breaking curveball, Meyer has continued to battle the walks this season, but has also looked very good in several outings. Most recently, he shut down his former club, spinning six innings of one run ball against the Twins on June 1st.

It was a similar performance to the one the Tigers themselves endured back in mid-May against Meyer. Heavy doses of a hard-tailing fastball that averages 96 m.p.h. had the Tigers jumping at pitches out of the zone and flailing at one of the harder curveballs in the game. The quality of Meyer’s raw stuff is augmented by his height and arm length, giving him a uniquely difficult arm slot to pick up on, along with natural downward plane out of a low three-quarters arm slot. His control is still his weakness, but it takes patience to exploit Meyer.

Key matchup: The Tigers’ patience vs. Alex Meyer’s sketchy command

Ideally, the way to get to Meyer is to see a lot of pitches. He rarely throws a changeup, so despite the quality of his primary offerings, there are only two of them. With his control issues, seeing a lot of pitches usually results in free baserunners. It also gives hitters the repetitions to adjust to his limited arsenal and unique release point. He may be tough early, but if the Tigers can run up his pitch count and get good long looks at him the first time through the order, they should be able to get a bead on him as the game progresses.

Currently, the Tigers’ lineup ranks third in baseball in terms of walk percentage. They’ve shown the patience necessary to wait Meyer out, and despite the Tigers heavily right-handed lineup, they have the bats to do damage to Meyer’s running fastball. Despite his height, the pitch doesn’t typically have great depth. Look for the big bats to hunt that tailing fastball on the outer edges of the plate. Based on how Jesse Chavez pitched them last night, the Angels will again do everything in their power to stay away and keep the Tigers’ sluggers from pulling the baseball in the air. This is a lineup highly capable of taking Meyer the opposite way, and hopefully, over the right-field wall.

Outlook

The Tigers’ offense has shown a lot more life recently, and particularly on a warm night at Comerica Park, expect them to do some damage against Meyer. The real question is whether Farmer can handle the Angels’ lineup the way he dealt with the White Sox in his last outing. Farmer’s fastball and changeup have always been solid pitches, but the improved bite he’s shown on his slider will be the key to help him shut down the Angels’ bats. His command has taken a leap this season as well, and a quality outing seems in the cards for Farmer tonight.

Prediction

The Tigers eventually get to Meyer and Farmer and the bullpen hang on to win a close one, evening the series.