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Tigers vs. Red Sox Preview: Spencer Turnbull needs some run support, you guys

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No American League starter has received less run support so far than the Tigers’ young righthander.

Kansas City Royals v Detroit Tigers Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Remember when we used to bemoan the idea that Justin Verlander didn’t get much run support from the Tigers offense? There was some evidence to support this at times. He ranked among the lowest qualified starters in the American League in run support in 2016, at four runs per game. The 2015 season was even worse, with Verlander sitting third-lowest in the league at 3.3 runs per game.

But he has nothing on Spencer Turnbull right now. The Tigers’ young righthander has received a scant 1.8 runs per game so far this year, which is dead last in the AL by a fair margin. The Tigers have been shut out twice in his four starts, and only scored two runs in his last outing — a game that only saw him allow one unearned run across six strong innings. Amazingly, the Tigers won one of his starts; they scored five runs (!) in a slim victory over the Kansas City Royals in the home opener.

And that’s it, really. Turnbull has been excellent so far, but has gotten no help whatsoever from his offense. He could feasibly be 3-0 with even some modest support, and has done well to keep the Tigers in each of the four games he has started in 2019.

The only question mark? Turnbull hasn’t faced a lineup quite like Boston’s this year. Currently struggling or not, the Sox have a lot of firepower on their roster, and have made life difficult on many a young and inexperienced starter in the past. Can Turnbull keep his strong start going on Tuesday?

Detroit Tigers (11-10) at Boston Red Sox (9-14)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Fenway Park
SB Nation site: Over the Monster
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Spencer Turnbull (0-2, 3.43 ERA) vs. RHP Hector Velazquez (0-1, 2.84 ERA)

Game 22 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Turnbull 16.1 26.7 7.8 3.19 0.5
Velazquez 12.2 19.6 7.8 3.72 0.2

Hector Velazquez is something of a late bloomer in the baseball world. He spent seven years pitching in the Mexican League, putting up solid if unspectacular numbers along the way. His final year there warranted some attention, however, as he managed a 2.41 ERA and career-best 6.47 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 216 23 innings caught Boston’s eye, and they signed him in February 2017. That performance continued through the 2017 season, as Velazquez put up great numbers at Triple-A Pawtucket. He also managed a solid 2.92 ERA in 24 23 innings with the Red Sox, much of it in mop-up or swingman duty.

Last season, Velazquez spent most of the year with the Red Sox in that same swingman role. He made 47 appearances, including eight starts, and managed a 3.18 ERA in 85 innings. His peripheral numbers weren’t quite as shiny — his 4.15 FIP was nearly a full run higher than the ERA — but his early numbers at the MLB levels suggest that he has a knack for avoiding hard contact and limiting home runs. His 2019 numbers are similar so far, though the batted ball profile is a bit unsustainable right now.

Velazquez doesn’t have overpowering stuff. His four-seam fastball velocity has ticked up a bit in 2019, but is still only at 92.6 miles per hour so far, and tops out at 95 mph. His favorite off-speed pitch is a splitter that he seems to have developed (or rediscovered) over the past year-plus with Boston; after hardly throwing it at all in 2017, he used it at an 18.2 percent clip last season. This year, he is throwing the splitter a whopping 35.8 percent of the time. It’s not much of an out pitch — opponents have only whiffed on it about 14 percent of the time in his career — but lifting it is damn near impossible. Opposing hitters have pounded Velazquez’s splitter into the ground over 65 percent of the time in his MLB career.

Key matchup: Tigers offense vs. scoring runs

There’s not much more to say here. Even if Turnbull pitches well, you have to score some runs to win. Get Turnbull his first career win, you guys.

Prediction

The offense hangs Turnbull out to dry and the Tigers drop the nightcap of their doubleheader.