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Tigers vs. Yankees Preview: Tyson Ross gets set for Tigers debut in hostile territory

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Ross will have to deal with a loaded Yankees lineup on Monday. Here’s hoping the veteran is up to the task.

MLB: Spring Training-Philadelphia Phillies at Detroit Tigers Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

If you are anything like me, you have probably read far too deeply into how the Tigers set up their starting rotation to begin the season. Jordan Zimmermann was always going to be the Opening Day starter (despite Ron Gardenhire’s late announcement), but the order after that was open to interpretation. Would Matthew Boyd get the Game 2 start, or would they push him back a day to give him the ball in the team’s home opener on April 4? How would Gardenhire split up his two lefties, if at all? Where would Spencer Turnbull slot in?

If I were to guess, it seems that Gardenhire pushed Tyson Ross back to the team’s fifth game of the season with the Yankees specifically in mind. By starting Ross in the series opener in New York, the Tigers have three veterans pitching against a loaded Yankees lineup in their bandbox of a stadium, which avoided throwing Spencer Turnbull to the wolves. Ross’ history as a ground ball artist helps — fly balls in Yankee Stadium are not good news — and his significant platoon splits should play well against a righty-heavy Yankees lineup.

Of course, this assumes we see a better version of Ross than what we got down in Lakeland. He got better as March went on, but still gave up 15 runs (12 earned) in 21 innings with a paltry 1.78 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He was similarly up-and-down in 149 23 innings with two National League clubs last year, but the Tigers will need the better version — one that limited righties to a .565 OPS in 2018 — if they are to pick up a second straight win on Monday evening.

Detroit Tigers (2-2) at New York Yankees (1-2)

Time/Place: 6:35 p.m., Yankee Stadium
SB Nation site: Pinstripe Alley
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Tyson Ross (8-9, 4.15 ERA) vs. RHP Domingo German (2-6, 5.57 ERA)

Game 5 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Ross 149.2 19.2 9.8 4.39 1.0
German 85.2 27.2 8.8 4.39 0.9

When the Yankees picked up Nathan Eovaldi from the Marlins a few years ago in exchange for third baseman Martin Prado, few people paid attention to the other players included in the deal. Righthander David Phelps had a couple of good years in Miami before moving elsewhere, while Garrett Jones only played in 57 games for the Yankees before he was released.

The fifth player in that deal was Domingo German. While he probably won’t be the best of the bunch when all is said and done, he certainly has a bright future ahead of him. The 26-year-old Dominican made 21 appearances for the Yankees last year, and had the sort of up-and-down results one expects from a pitcher in their first extended look at MLB action. He put up a 2.66 ERA in his first six outings, including a magnificent start against the Cleveland Indians on May 6, but was lit up for a 6.70 ERA in his next eight appearances (all starts). He found his footing in a scoreless relief appearance next time out, then gave up a 7.00 ERA in four August starts.

The Yankees are hoping for a bit more consistency this time around. German may only be in the rotation as a fill-in — and the Yankees may use an opener to help push him deeper into the game — but with how fragile New York’s rotation looks at the moment, he may be called upon to throw a lot of innings this year. He looked sharp during the spring, with 22 strikeouts to just two walks in 15 13 innings, but last year’s home run troubles were still present (three home runs allowed).

Pairing German with an opener (or using him as an opener of sorts) may be New York’s best strategy. German sports a pair of plus offerings in his mid-90s fastball and excellent curveball, but his changeup lags far behind. He still threw it regularly last season, but opponents hit .348 and slugged .580 against it (compared to .182 and .338, respectively, against his curveball). If the Yankees only ask German for four or five innings, he can lean on his two premium pitches and empty the tank a couple times through the lineup before turning things over to New York’s loaded bullpen.

Key matchup: The Yankees vs. their long, long playoff odds

Well, they’re long in Mike Francesa’s eyes.

Actual key matchup: Tigers hitters vs. strikeouts

We might just be able to copy and paste this one for a little while. The Tigers fanned 50 times in their first four games, the second-highest total in baseball. Their 32.9 percent strikeout rate trails only two teams, and their not-so-nice 69.2 percent contact rate is the fourth-lowest among MLB teams.

While this certainly won’t last for 162 games — only two teams had a strikeout rate north of 25 percent last year, and the Tigers were in the middle of the pack at 22.2 percent — it seems to be an issue early on, one that will likely be exacerbated by the hard-throwing German. The 26-year-old righthander was a bit wild and homer-prone last season, but still fanned over 10 batters per nine innings in his first extended action at the MLB level. His high-octane stuff should elicit a few more whiffs from Tigers hitters on Monday evening.

Prediction

The Yankees get to Ross early and win going away.