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Tigers vs. Indians Preview: Can Mike Fiers keep rolling against the Tribe?

Fiers has dominated Cleveland so far this year, but how long will it last?

Detroit Tigers v Chicago White Sox Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

Remember when Tigers fans were convinced that lefthander Bruce Chen completely owned them? Sure, Chen had a few nice starts — one 1-0 Tigers loss back in 2012 particularly stings — but the Tigers actually hit the 17-year MLB veteran pretty hard. In 22 career appearances against Detroit, Chen was 6-9 with a 5.42 ERA.

Those thoughts don’t build out of nothing, though. Chen did dominate the Tigers at times, and one wonders if Cleveland Indians fans might start to think similar thoughts about Mike Fiers. While the 33-year-old Fiers has relatively pedestrian numbers this year — numbers that are ripe for regression, at that — he has completely owned the Tribe. Through two starts, Fiers has allowed just two runs on eight hits. Total. He has 13 strikeouts to just two walks across 13 innings, and has completely stymied the Cleveland offense.

This isn’t a new phenomenon either. Prior to this season, Fiers had made four starts against the Tribe, and most went well. In 22 13 innings, he limited Cleveland to seven runs (six earned) on 21 hits. That’s a 2.42 ERA, albeit one with weaker strikeout and walk numbers that he has posted against the Indians this season.

Can he keep rolling on Friday night?

Detroit Tigers (36-39) at Cleveland Indians (40-33)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Progressive Field
SB Nation site: Let’s Go Tribe
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Mike Fiers (5-3, 4.09 ERA) vs. RHP Shane Bieber (1-0, 3.97 ERA)

Game 76 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Fiers 72.2 17.3 4.8 4.89 0.5
Bieber 11.1 25.5 3.9 3.62 0.2

If it feels like the Indians are pulling potential mid-rotation starters out of thin air lately, it’s because they are. Mike Clevinger was almost an afterthought when the Cleveland rotation was (and still is) spearheaded by the likes of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar, but the former fourth round pick is now, dare we say, looking like an All-Star.

The next pitcher to fit that mold for the Tribe is righthander Shane Bieber. He too was a fourth round pick by the Indians, selected in the 2016 draft out of UC Santa Barbara. Bieber also sits in the low-to-mid 90s with his fastball, and has reached as high as 95.5 mph this season. He has a more diverse pitch mix than Clevinger, but still throws the slider heavily against right-handed hitters. His changeup and curveball are also solid, and he can throw all four pitches for strikes.

And man, does he throw a lot of strikes. Through 11 13 MLB innings, Bieber has walked just two hitters. This gives him a 3.9 percent walk rate, an excellent figure if maintained for any length of time. But amazingly, this is a decent increase from what he produced in the minors; in 173 13 innings in the minor leagues last season, Bieber walked just 10 hitters. He had a microscopic 0.8 percent walk rate in 31 frames at Double-A this season, and paired that with almost a strikeout per inning.

Sounds like someone we should have known more about, right? Don’t worry, Cleveland fans overlooked him too.

Most likely the culprit is low velocity, because Bieber sits in the mid-90s at best on a good day and even that “spike” in velocity came about recently. But he also has four quality pitches to work with — a fastball, curveball, slider, and changeup. He spun all that into just 10 walks in the entire 2017 minor league season, and then people started to take notice.

Now that he’s in the 93-95 mph range, look out.

Key matchup: Bieber vs. left-handed hitters

For as good as Bieber has been in the minor leagues — he also limits home runs very well — he has displayed fairly significant platoon splits. Lefties have an OPS against nearly 300 points higher than righties this season, and are absolutely teeing off on him in a small sample of innings at the major league level. Meanwhile, the Tigers’ right-handed heavy lineup isn’t so stacked in that direction anymore. With switch hitters Jeimer Candelario, Victor Martinez, and now Niko Goodrum hitting higher in the order, the Tigers could actually have four lefties among their first five batters. This might be a good chance to give Victor Reyes another start too, providing even more left-handed hitting against Cleveland’s rookie righty.

Prediction

Fiers makes it three in a row over the Tribe.

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