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Tigers vs. Red Sox Preview: Slow-starting Rick Porcello set to face former club

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Jordan Zimmermann will look to bounce back after a trio of rough outings.

World Series - Boston Red Sox v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Three Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Small sample sizes are fun. Baseball is a 162-game marathon that is full of tons of hot and cold streaks, but nothing compares to early-season takeaways where players look destined for MVPs and Cy Youngs. A few Tigers have looked the part already, but with 20 games already in the books, reality is starting to take over.

Just as the team quickly shifted from a .700 winning percentage back to reality, Jordan Zimmermann has been in a free fall over his past three starts. The leader of the Detroit staff opened the season with just one earned run in 13 ⅔ innings, giving hope for the bounce-back season he so desperately needed. Unfortunately, he followed this up with three straight starts of at least four earned runs, with just one of those outings even making it out of the fifth inning.

The issue for Zimmermann has been the long ball, as his recent stretch features 3.29 homers per nine innings. His 14.3 percent strikeout rate is barely higher than his 11.1 percent walk rate, and he has been forcing soft contact on only 10.6 percent of batted balls. None of these numbers are going to do him too many favors. The Boston offense has been scuffling, but Zimmermann could be in for another rough outing if nothing changes.

Detroit Tigers (12-11) at Boston Red Sox (10-15)

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 Jordan Zimmermann (0-3, 4.94 ERA) vs. RHP Rick Porcello (0-3, 8.47 ERA)

Game 24 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Zimmermann 27.1 17.0 7.1 4.98 0.2
Porcello 17.0 16.5 14.3 6.88 -0.2

It is hard to believe that Rick Porcello is entering his fifth season with the Red Sox, but Thursday will be his fourth start against the Tigers since being traded in 2014. The story is well-known by now, but the righthander has looked largely the same in Boston aside from one remarkable season, which earned him a Cy Young.

The one area where he noticeably improved after the trade was in strikeouts: Porcello jumped from 5.49 strikeouts per nine innings with Detroit to 8.08 in Boston. With this has come a slight move away from his heavy ground ball tendencies, which in turn has resulted in more home runs, but ultimately he has been a more effective pitcher with his new team.

Luckily for the Tigers, the 2019 has not started out well for Porcello. Three of his four starts have been less than desirable, and like Zimmermann, his walks (6.88 per nine innings) and home runs (2.12 per nine) have been too high for comfort. His last outing in Tampa was easily his best of the season, but he did still give up a pair of runs in under six innings. Detroit will have a shot at adding to his early woes.

Key matchup: Zimmermann vs. stopping the bleeding

Even though he started Opening Day, no one expected Zimmermann to be a true ace or to carry his hot start throughout the entire season. Nevertheless, he may be just a couple more bad starts away from the unofficial end to his Tigers career, at least in the eyes of the fan base. Zimmermann needs to look competent against a Red Sox offense that is still waking up and show that he still has a little left in the tank. Given Porcello’s struggles, he does not even need to pitch a gem to give Detroit a chance.

Prediction

Both offenses get it going against a pair of subpar starters.