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Tigers vs. Royals Preview: Daniel Norris aims to deliver doubleheader sweep for Detroit

Norris will make his first start of the season on Friday evening.

MLB: Spring Training-Detroit Tigers at Atlanta Braves Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that was fun! The Tigers couldn’t get much going offensively in the first game of Friday’s doubleheader against the Kansas City Royals, but JaCoby Jones made some guy on Twitter look really dumb when he lined a fastball into the bullpen for a walk-off home run. He celebrated by cursing on live TV and telling Fox Sports Detroit’s Trevor Thompson that he was hungry.

These are your 2018 Detroit Tigers.

The Tigers will be hoping to double the fun in Friday’s nightcap against Kansas City. The game will feature lefthander Daniel Norris, who is making his first start of the 2018 season. Norris looked solid during spring training, but was passed over by veterans Francisco Liriano and Mike Fiers, with some help from Mother Nature during the first week of the season. Unfortunately, Norris has made the decision look like a wise one in a rough start to the year. While he has nine strikeouts to three walks in 6 13 innings, he has also given up five runs on eight hits. Four of those runs came in his last outing, a 64-pitch effort against the Cleveland Indians.

This is too small of a sample to work off of for now, but it’s possible Norris’ last outing could partially be blamed on fatigue. He was on his third inning of work when pitching through the Cleveland Indians lineup for a second time, and has only made two appearances in the team’s first 17 games this season. Any arm strength or endurance he built up during spring training has probably waned by this point, leaving him vulnerable to get rocked the second and third times through the order.

This is just a theory, though. We have seen Norris struggle with bad innings in the past, and that very much could be the reason the Tribe were able to take advantage of his mistakes. Still, with a mostly rested bullpen, look for manager Ron Gardenhire to have a short leash on Norris if he runs into trouble in the nightcap.

Kansas City Royals (3-14) at Detroit Tigers (8-9)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Royals Review
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Jakob Junis (2-1, 1.93 ERA) vs. LHP Daniel Norris (0-1, 7.11 ERA)

Game 18 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Junis 18.2 21.9 5.5 4.61 0.1
Norris 6.1 30.0 10.0 1.71 0.1

Thanks to a last minute switch pulled by Royals manager Ned Yost, Junis will actually be starting the second game of Friday’s doubleheader. While that’s unfortunate for this morning’s preview — not to mention an exciting Junis-Fulmer matchup — it makes for an easy second preview. Here’s what we had to say about Junis earlier.

While Junis won’t maintain a 1.93 ERA for the entire season, advanced metrics like what he has done so far. His 4.48 xFIP is rather modest, but he might be able to maintain a better-than-average home run rate given his home ballpark and history of limiting homers in the minor leagues. More complicated formulas like SIERA think he has been even better. He was a statistical darling in the minor leagues last year, posting a 30 percent strikeout rate with a 5.2 percent walk rate in 71 innings. His swinging strike rate has taken a step forward already in 2018, although opposing hitters aren’t chasing outside of the zone as often as one might like.

Junis’ arsenal certainly doesn’t scream “budding ace,” but he has the raw stuff to be a useful mid-rotation arm going forward. He mostly relies on his four-seam fastball, which sits in the lower 90s, and a mid-80s slider. He has thrown those two pitches nearly 75 percent of the time this year, and over 80 percent of the time against right-handed hitters. Righties see the slider 60 percent of the time (!) when Junis is ahead in the count, a big reason why they managed a paltry .316 weighted on-base average (wOBA) against him last year. Lefties fared a bit better, with a .274 average and .335 on-base percentage. Junis has mixed in the occasional curveball and changeup to them, but still throws the slider over 20 percent of the time, and nearly 40 percent of the time when ahead in the count.

Key matchup: Junis vs. as many lefties as Ron Gardenhire can throw at him

As I mentioned in our earlier preview, Junis seems like the type of pitcher that will struggle with left-handed hitters in a larger sample of innings. He diversifies his arsenal more against lefty hitters, but as his usage against righties shows, he clearly prefers his slider to either the changeup or curveball. He still tries to wedge the slider in against lefties when possible, and it hasn’t burned him yet. Look for the Tigers to wedge as many left-handed hitters into their evening lineup as possible, including Mike Gerber, Niko Goodrum, and Victor Reyes. With Leonys Martin and Jeimer Candelario also in the mix, that could give the Tigers five lefties — and Victor Martinez as a potential sixth — to combat Junis’ slider-heavy repertoire.


Junis rolls and the Royals take game two.

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