The Tigers’ run of 14 games in 13 days continues on Saturday, as they and the Minnesota Twins will play a doubleheader at Target Field. The twin-billing comes at a bad time for the Tigers, who are still trying to sort out a hobbled starting rotation. Righthander Jordan Zimmermann is still on the shelf for a few weeks, while Tyson Ross is less than two weeks removed from being on the paternity list (not to mention still dealing with all of the wonderful consequences of having a newborn child at home).
With their Triple-A rotation also reeling, the Tigers will call up lefthander Gregory Soto from Double-A Erie as their 26th man on Saturday. Soto, 24, will make his major league debut after a slow rise through the farm system over the past seven years. His best season came in 2017, when he struck out 144 batters in 124 innings across two levels of Single-A ball. He has struggled with control, to put it lightly, having walked more than five batters per nine innings throughout his minor league career.
The talent is certainly there, though. Soto, our No. 23 Tigers prospect heading into this season, can touch the high-90s with his four-seam fastball. He sits a bit lower than that when in the rotation, but between nerves and a strategic approach — the Tigers may just encourage him to air it out for a few innings in this one — we could see some big readings on the radar gun today. Soto also features a low-80s breaking ball and a high-80s changeup, neither of which are very polished at this point. The curveball is the better of the two, and a true swing-and-miss pitch when it is on, but still very much a work in progress.
Soto is also as inexperienced as one can be when making their big league debut. Though he has over 450 minor league innings under his belt, he has made just three starts at the Double-A level. His 13 1⁄3 innings with the SeaWolves are just a touch more than what Buck Farmer had logged with Erie (12 innings) when he made his major league debut in August 2014. Unlike Farmer, however, Soto isn’t in midseason form. He was suspended for 20 games to open the season, and has only been able to make four starts in 2019, the last somewhat abbreviated because of Saturday’s doubleheader.
Oh, and that Spencer Turnbull guy is starting too.
Detroit Tigers (16-19) vs. Minnesota Twins (23-12)
Time/Place: 8:10 p.m., Target Field
SB Nation site: Twinkie Town
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, fuboTV, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Game 36 Pitching Matchup: RHP Spencer Turnbull (2-2, 2.31 ERA) vs. RHP Michael Pineda (2-3, 6.09 ERA)
Game 36 Pitching Matchup
Michael Pineda missed all of 2018 due to Tommy John surgery, and the early 2019 returns have not been great yet. Pineda has already allowed 23 earned runs and seven homers, and has made it through six innings just once — a win over the Tigers on April 13, naturally. He has surrendered at least four runs in each of his four starts since then, and has allowed opponents to hit .314/.356/.547 this season.
To make matters worse, Pineda’s velocity has fallen off considerably. After averaging at least 94.3 miles per hour with his four-seam fastball in both 2016 and 2017, Pineda is sitting at just 92.5 mph this year. He has topped out at 95.3 mph in 2019, down from hitting 97 mph or better in each season from 2011 to 2017. Opponents have hit .311 and slugged .568 off his four-seamer as a result.
Game 37 Pitching Matchup: LHP Gregory Soto (0-1, 2.03 ERA at Double-A) vs. RHP Kohl Stewart (0-1, 7.50 ERA)
Game 37 Pitching Matchup
Righthander Kohl Stewart was one of the players several Tigers fans had their eye on prior to the 2017 Rule 5 draft (the Tigers eventually selected outfielder Victor Reyes). The former fourth overall pick had struggled to move his way up the organizational ladder, and was coming off a 2017 season in which he walked five batters per nine innings and allowed a 4.28 ERA. Still, he was just 22 years old at the time, with a fastball that touched 95 mph and an impressive two-sport background during his high school days.
Stewart finally reached the big leagues in 2018 and was... fine. He posted a 3.68 ERA in 36 2⁄3 innings, but only struck out 24 hitters while walking 18. His fastball sat around 93-94 mph, but his stuff was more “ground ball specialist” than “hard-throwing top-five pick.” He has shown flashes of a strikeout touch in the minors, but many, including former SB Nation contributor John Sickels, see Stewart as more of a back-end starter at this point.
That said, he threw back-to-back six inning starts while allowing just one earned run against the Tigers in September 2018, and Detroit’s lineup hasn’t been much better so far in 2019.
Key matchup: Gregory Soto vs. his pitch count
There are two different ways to look at this particular matchup. The first involves Soto’s control, which is not great. He walked 70 batters in 113 1⁄3 innings last season, and the nerves involved in making one’s major league debut likely won’t help. If he can’t find the strike zone, his pitch count could climb rather quickly.
There’s another angle to this, though. Soto threw 47 pitches on Tuesday, and has not thrown more than 86 in any of his four starts this year. With newly recalled Nick Ramirez also in the fold, the Tigers may encourage Soto to air it out for three or four innings. Our friends at TigsTown noted that Soto’s command has been better when firing bullets, and the Tigers should have enough relievers available to pick up the slack if Soto doesn’t go particularly deep into the game. It might even be worthwhile for them to use an opener — righthander Buck Farmer comes to mind — to help Soto get into the middle innings.
The Twins make it five in a row over the Tigers with a doubleheader sweep.