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Tigers vs. Reds Preview: Yup, Mike Fiers is still here

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Many expected the Tigers to be scrambling for a starter today. That isn’t happening. Hopefully they win.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Normally, I wait to write these previews until the last(ish) minute. Eleventh hour pitching changes are the worst, and writing 800-odd words about someone who won’t play in the game isn’t fun. Today’s preview was slightly different, in that we were wondering if said starting pitcher would even be on the team for this game.

But it’s August 1, and Mike Fiers is still here.

It’s a bit frustrating to know how exactly the Tigers got to this point, but we’ve made peace with Monday’s events. Fiers appears to be more valuable to the Tigers than to other teams, and that’s OK — especially if you’re invested in this team actually winning games.

And if we’re talking about winning games, especially against this Reds team, there might not be a better pitcher to have on the mound than Fiers. He continues to pound the strike zone, and has lowered his ERA to 3.54 on the season (and 3.10 since our oft-cherrypicked date of May 8). The Reds, meanwhile, have been a more pedestrian outfit against right-handed pitchers, and one of their better performers against righties is now out for the season.

Cincinnati Reds (48-59) at Detroit Tigers (46-62)

Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Red Reporter
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Sal Romano (6-8, 5.04 ERA) vs. RHP Mike Fiers (7-6, 3.54 ERA)

Game 109 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Romano 110.2 16.2 8.6 5.27 0.2
Fiers 117.0 17.4 5.3 4.71 1.1

Romano, a 24-year-old righthander drafted in the 23rd round back in 2011, hasn’t had the most promising season. The Tigers saw the very best of him back on June 19, when he tossed seven scoreless innings with six strikeouts, but results have been mixed (at best) since then. He was roughed up for five runs in five innings in his next start, and gave up 15 total runs in his next four outings. The Reds shuttled him to the bullpen for a game prior to the All-Star break, but his first start of the second half went fairly well.

Overall, Romano is still the same pitcher we outlined prior to his last matchup with the Tigers. He has a big fastball — FanGraphs graded it as a double-plus pitch this spring — but that velocity doesn’t translate into whiffs. Romano’s secondaries lag behind as well, though the slider has flashed potential as a put-away pitch. He is at his best when the fastball lives at the bottom of the strike zone, generating plenty of weak contact and ground balls. That hasn’t always happened this year, though; Romano’s walk and home run rates are both higher than Reds fans would like.

Key matchup: Romano vs. getting outs on the road

Romano has some of the weirder home-road splits that I’ve seen. His ERA is a bit higher away from Great American Ballpark — no surprise there — and opponents are hitting him a little harder in road appearances. He has given up more home runs at home, but that is likely a product of the ballpark and volume of innings (he has thrown 22 more frames at home this year).

Then there are the strikeouts. Romano’s road strikeout rate is less than half of what it is at home, resulting in a paltry 1.27 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 44 13 innings. That he has only allowed a 5.48 ERA in those innings with a Pelfreyian strikeout rate of 9.8 percent is actually somewhat impressive, in a weird way. These awful numbers may not matter much against this Tigers offense — we saw what Homer Bailey was able to do on Tuesday evening — but the Tigers have remained surprisingly plucky at home this summer.

Prediction

Fiers keeps rolling and the Tigers sweep the two-game series.

Gameday reading