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Tigers vs. Angels Preview: Let the Ryan Carpenter era begin

Carpenter will make his first start as a full-time(ish) member of the rotation on Thursday.

MLB: Game 2-Pittsburgh Pirates at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Lefthander Ryan Carpenter has already made two spot starts for the Tigers this season, but Thursday will mark his first start as a regular member of their rotation. He may not be here for long, depending on how long it takes Francisco Liriano to recover from his hamstring strain, but his presence will make things interesting for Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire.

In particular, I’m interested to see how long Carpenter lasts in his next couple starts. He has struggled to go deep into games so far, pitching a combined eight innings in his two major league spot starts. He has given up nine runs (eight earned) on 12 hits in those eight frames, and has an 8.31 ERA in three MLB appearances this year.

Assuming things don’t change much, the Tigers will need to find a way to piece together a number of innings at the back end of Thursday’s game against the Angels. Reliever Artie Lewicki could theoretically be used as a piggyback of sorts, but he threw 58 pitches on Tuesday. Louis Coleman threw 30 pitches on Wednesday as well, and probably won’t be asked to work too heavy a load in this game. The rest of the ‘pen is fairly well rested, but not necessarily capable of shouldering the workload Lewicki did the other day.

As a result, expect Gardenhire to ride Carpenter as much as possible. The more innings he can give the Tigers today, the better chance they have of not only winning the series, but entering the weekend with a rested bullpen.

Los Angeles Angels (30-26) at Detroit Tigers (25-30)

Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Halos Heaven
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Andrew Heaney (2-3, 3.09 ERA) vs. LHP Ryan Carpenter (0-1, 8.31 ERA)

Game 56 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Heaney 46.2 26.7 8.9 3.20 1.1
Carpenter 8.2 9.5 7.1 8.42 -0.3

Once a top prospect for the Miami Marlins, Heaney has finally carved out a spot in the Angels rotation after arriving from Miami (with a quick pitstop across town) in December 2014. He looked sharp in 105 23 innings for the Halos in 2015, but missed most of 2016 and 2017 following Tommy John surgery. There’s not much we can take from those six starts, but we can start to draw conclusions from his strong start to 2018. Heaney has discovered a strikeout touch since his surgery, fanning 51 batters in 46 23 frames this year. He has also limited opponents to a 3.08 ERA, and has done nearly all of it by himself; Heaney has only left one runner on base this season in his eight starts, who eventually came around to score.

That Heaney is striking out over a batter per inning is not a surprise. He averages almost 93 miles per hour with his two-seam fastball from the left side, and reaches as high as 95 mph. He mixes in a healthy amount of curveballs and changeups, both of which generate high ground ball rates. The curveball is his out pitch; it induces whiffs over 22 percent of the time, and he uses it roughly 35 percent of the time in two-strike counts (and almost 50 percent of the time against lefties). The changeup isn’t a swing-and-miss pitch, but has rough 8 mph of separation from his fastball.

Key matchup: The Tigers roster vs. Miguel Cabrera’s imminent return

Miguel Cabrera is not expected to be activated for Thursday’s game, but he will likely rejoin the Tigers sometime this weekend. The Tigers already shook up their roster a bit, adding Ronny Rodriguez at the expense of rookie catcher Grayson Greiner. While most expect that utility infielder Pete Kozma will be the one cut when Cabrera returns, it’s possible the Tigers could go in another direction. Adding Rodriguez to the 40-man roster allows the Tigers to freely option him to the minors without any worry for the pesky opt-out clause that was the likely impetus for his call-up in the first place. The Tigers could also jettison JaCoby Jones, who has hit .208/.243/.358 with a 27 percent strikeout rate in May. They may also realize that Jose Iglesias’ hip contusion (a minor injury from Wednesday’s game) is more serious than they initially realized, or finally do something about Victor Reyes. Kozma is still the likely odd man out, but it wouldn’t be too surprising to see them go in another direction.


Heaney holds the Tigers in check and the Angels split the series.

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