It’s easily the most frightening play in baseball. Jordan Zimmermann left his last start against the Cleveland Indians after taking a hard line drive back to the mound off his face, close to where he had previously broken his jaw on a similar play in college. The play itself was frightening — Jason Kipnis looked uneasy as Zimmermann was down on the ground — and Zimmermann is lucky he was able to walk off under his own power, let alone pass the concussion tests administered shortly after he left the ballpark.
Not only that, but Zimmermann will take the mound again just eight days later. He will face a Baltimore Orioles lineup on Thursday that has struggled to produce runs. They rank sixth-worst in the majors with just 58 runs scored, and are in the bottom four on a per-game basis. They are one of five clubs with a wRC+ of 75 or below, meaning they have been 25 percent below league average as a team on the year. Their .288 on-base percentage is second-worst among AL clubs, and only two AL teams have a lower isolated power (ISO).
This should bode well for Zimmermann, but matchups haven’t particularly mattered for him so far this year. He has sparkling fielding independent numbers through his first three starts, but has allowed 10 runs on 15 hits through just 11 innings. Opponents are making hard contact over 37 percent of the time against him this year, not far off of the rate he allowed during his disastrous 2017 season. They have managed an even higher line drive rate so far as well, although he has generated lots of pop ups in the early going as well.
Baltimore Orioles (5-13) at Detroit Tigers (6-9)
Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Camden Chat
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB Network, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Alex Cobb (0-1, 17.18 ERA) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (0-0, 8.18 ERA)
Game 16 Pitching Matchup
It turns out spring training might actually be useful. Alex Cobb waited all winter for a contract, but no one picked up the phone until the Orioles came calling in late March. Cobb signed a three-year deal on March 21, and was pitching in a major league game for the O’s less than a month later. This normally wouldn’t be a huge deal, but Cobb didn’t appear in any other official game action between those dates. He didn’t make a single appearance in Grapefruit League play, and didn’t start in any minor league games before his first start. While Cobb says he was ready after throwing bullpen sessions and simulated games, sometimes there’s no substitute for game action.
That seemed clear during Cobb’s debut, when he was roughed up by the Boston Red Sox for eight runs (seven earned) on 10 hits in 3 2⁄3 innings.
Obviously, Cobb won’t be this bad all season long. He has a career 3.57 ERA, and was able to comfortably throw 179 1⁄3 innings last year in his full-season return from Tommy John surgery. His strikeout touch wasn’t quite what it was pre-injury, but he got much better on that front as the year went on. Cobb struck out 20 percent of hitters in the second half last year, a tick above his career rate of 19.5 percent. He averaged nearly six innings per start down the stretch too, and struck out a batter per inning in August and September.
Cobb’s velocity also has returned to pre-surgery levels. His four-seam fastball averaged 92.3 miles per hour last year, just a hair off of the 93.0 mph it averaged in 2015. It also improved throughout the year, topping out at 92.8 mph in August. He didn’t throw his splitter nearly as much, instead opting to mix in his curveball as his primary off-speed pitch. While one start isn’t much of a sample to go on, Cobb used both the splitter and the curve roughly 20 percent of the time in his matchup with Boston last weekend.
Key matchup: Cobb vs. Tigers hitters
This one seems obvious, but this matchup has been very one-sided in the past. Cobb has made six starts against the Tigers in his career, and has allowed a 2.41 ERA in 37 1⁄3 innings. Not only is he averaging nearly 6 1⁄3 innings per start against them, he has limited them to a .254/.333/.331 line. He has not allowed a single homer to a Tigers hitter in 163 plate appearances, and has 31 strikeouts to 13 walks. While most of the players that have struggled against Cobb in the past are gone, the hitters that remain have not fared well. Miguel Cabrera is just 3-for-15 against Cobb in 20 plate appearances, while all four of Victor Martinez’s hits have been singles. Nick Castellanos and Leonys Martin are hitless in 11 combined at-bats.
Cobb dominates the Tigers again and the O’s stop their losing streak.