For most players, the All-Star break is a necessary break. The MLB season is a real grind — more on that later — and a four day reprieve is a huge benefit for players who are both mentally and physically exhausted. The select few that have to participate in All-Star festivities don’t get the same break, but most embrace the honor and make the most of their time in the limelight.
Then there are players like Jordan Zimmermann, who are hitting their stride just as we reach a long break in action. Zimmermann was electric in his last start, limiting the Texas Rangers to just one run in eight innings while striking out 12. It was his second consecutive start of seven innings or more, and a continuation of his dominant run since coming off the disabled list. In his last four outings, Zimmermann has a 1.80 ERA with 24 strikeouts and one walk in 25 innings.
As the stats bear out, Zimmermann’s improved command has been the key to his success. His stuff appears a bit firmer than before — though his velocity is still down compared to previous years — but his ability to spot both his fastball and slider have helped him keep hitters off balance. It will be interesting to see if the long layoff through the All-Star break affects him, especially with a Wednesday appearance; no matter when the Tigers send him back to the mound, he will be going over a week between starts.
Detroit Tigers (40-54) at Tampa Bay Rays (47-44)
Time/Place: 12:10 p.m., Tropicana Field
SB Nation site: DRaysBay
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Jordan Zimmermann (4-0, 3.51 ERA) vs. RHP Hunter Wood (0-0, 2.00 ERA)
Game 95 Pitching Matchup
The Tigers will get another look at Tampa Bay’s bullpening strategy on Wednesday, which worked so well in their last meeting. First up for the Rays will be righthander Hunter Wood, a former 29th round pick out of Howard College in Texas. Wood rose through the minor league ranks relatively quickly (especially for a 29th round pick) and made his big league debut in 2017. He only made one appearance, but has gotten a longer look so far this season. Through nine innings across four appearances, he has allowed two runs on five hits.
Despite his lack of pedigree, Wood has big league stuff. His fastball has averaged 94 miles per hour this season, and he uses it almost 60 percent of the time. His primary off-speed pitch is a cutter, which sits in the high 80s. He has mixed in a slow curveball as well, which sits around 75 mph. The cutter and curveball have helped him maintain relatively even platoon splits over the past couple years, though neither generates many swings and misses. FanGraphs named him the No. 24 prospect in Tampa’s system prior to the 2017 season, and their observations mirror what the stats show so far.
Twiggy and bearded, Wood mitigates what might otherwise be a concerning lack of height with a vertical arm angle that creates downhill plane on his average, 91-94 mph fastball. He locates it down and to both sides of the plate consistently. His best secondary pitch is a mid-80s cutter with late movement and varied length and velo. He also works this pitch consistently his glove side, just off the plate, but he can back door it to lefties, as well. Wood’s repertoire sputters out after that. He has a below-average changeup and a big, loopy 66-70 mph curveball that is a neat little trick pitch but perhaps not a legitimate third offering.
Key matchup: The Tigers vs. being really, really tired
Baseball isn’t exactly the most physically demanding game in the world, but Major League Baseball’s 162-game schedule is a serious grind. From playing everyday to late night travel between cities, it’s no wonder players negotiated for extra off days in the most recent collective bargaining agreement. This is the final game of one of the Tigers’ most grueling stretches of the season; after Wednesday, they will have played 20 games in as many days, many of them on the road. The Tigers have had to travel in between each of the six series they have played as well, and it comes at the end of the first half of the season.
Between all that travel and the injuries the team has suffered this year, it’s no wonder the Tigers are limping to the finish line. They are just 4-15 in this current stretch of games, and once again facing a Rays bullpen that has put up the best ERA in baseball over the past two months. Just getting through this one without any injuries before a well-deserved off day on Thursday might be enough for Detroit.
Zimmermann falls victim to one bad inning in another Tigers loss.