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Tigers vs. White Sox Preview: Jordan Zimmermann returns from injury

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Zimmermann’s return helps fill a void in the Tigers’ rotation, but for how long?

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

It has been over a month since Jordan Zimmermann threw a pitch for the Detroit Tigers. He was surprisingly placed on the disabled list in early May with a shoulder impingement injury, and has been rehabbing ever since. The Tigers have hardly missed a beat in his absence, going 20-19 while he was on the shelf. The starting rotation has been a strength as well; Blaine Hardy stepped into Zimmermann’s role and has been one of the best starters in baseball.

Now, with both Zimmermann and Francisco Liriano set to return, the Tigers have to sort out their starting rotation. Hardy would normally be the obvious candidate to get bumped, but he has (in our eyes) earned a spot in the rotation. He has worked at least six innings in each of his last four starts, and has excellent numbers as a starter this year. Ditto Matthew Boyd, Michael Fulmer, and even Mike Fiers, who has a 3.55 ERA in his last eight starts — the Tigers are 7-1 in those games.

Zimmermann, in particular, makes things complicated because of his...well, complicated history in a Tigers uniform. He has looked better at times this year, but is still sporting a 4.88 ERA despite sparkling strikeout and walk numbers. Zimmermann will surely get a permanent spot in the rotation — remember, Victor Martinez is still hitting cleanup — but will he be able to keep delivering wins like Hardy, Fiers, and the others?

That last sentence would have been unfathomable just a few years ago. Baseball is weird, y’all.

Detroit Tigers (34-37) at Chicago White Sox (24-44)

Time/Place: 2:10 p.m., Guaranteed Rate Field
SB Nation site: South Side Sox
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Jordan Zimmermann (2-0, 4.88 ERA) vs. RHP Lucas Giolito (4-7, 7.09 ERA)

Game 72 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Zimmermann 31.1 23.7 6.7 3.98 0.6
Giolito 66.0 11.1 14.1 6.24 -0.5

If Lucas Giolito is eventually going to turn into the monster many projected him to be when he was drafted, he has a long way to go. The 23-year-old righthander has been awful this season, with a 7.09 ERA through his first 13 starts. His peripherals aren’t much better, with a paltry 11.1 percent strikeout rate and more walks than strikeouts. His fastball, once projected to be an elite pitch, sits in the low 90s and tops out around 95 mph. Opponents are slugging .520 against it, including nine home runs already.

The worst part is that we haven’t even seen flashes of his lofty potential this year. Giolito’s best start of the season, according to Game Score, was a 6 13 inning outing against the St. Louis Cardinals in early May. He gave up three runs on four hits, and struck out seven. He has had better starts by ERA, including a six inning win over the Twins on June 5, but that start against the Cardinals is one of just two outings this season where Giolito had more than three strikeouts.

Key matchup: Zimmermann vs. maintaining the strikeout numbers he had earlier this season

While Zimmermann’s ERA is still ugly, his improved strikeout and swinging strike numbers had some fans (myself included) optimistic that he could actually provide some positive value for the Tigers throughout the regular season. His 23.7 percent strikeout rate this season is a career high, but it’s worth wondering whether he will have the same zip on his fastball and slider after missing over a month with a shoulder injury.

His opponent should help, at least. The White Sox have the second-highest strikeout rate in baseball as a team, at over 25 percent. Their 7.3 percent walk rate isn’t great either, and while they can hit a few homers, they offer a relatively soft landing for Zimmermann’s first start off the DL.


The Tigers make it two in a row over the Sox.

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