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Tigers vs. Mets Preview: Sure, let’s try this Ryan Carpenter thing again

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Carpenter has struggled in his brief time in the majors, to put it lightly.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

To say that Ryan Carpenter has not adapted to life in the major leagues very well would be a huge understatement. The 28-year-old lefthander, once a darling of Chris Mitchell’s KATOH projection system after he struck out over a batter per inning in the Pacific Coast League, has allowed nearly a run per inning in his eight career appearances at the big league level. He has given up 14 runs (13 earned) in two starts for the Tigers in 2019. Sixty one of the 154 batters he has faced in his MLB career have reached base.

The Tigers will turn to Carpenter again on Saturday against the New York Mets.

Though we often preach patience when evaluating players in their first taste of big league action — the jury is still out on Dawel Lugo, for instance — Carpenter has shown little to be excited about in his 31 13 frames at the MLB level. He has allowed 50 (!) hits during that span, and has not displayed the same strikeout touch he showed with Triple-A Albuquerque back in 2017.

There isn’t even the same “hey, this might work out” feeling that we get with Gregory Soto. While the young Dominican also has a four-digit ERA to his name in 2019, at least he offers something — and by that we mean a fastball that touches 97 miles per hour — to dream on. Soto has shown in his last few starts that he can handle an MLB lineup the first time through the order. Meanwhile, opponents are hitting .386/.413/.702 against Carpenter the first time down the lineup.

We said on Friday that baseball was weird, and that turned out to be true in a 9-8 Tigers win. But Carpenter hasn’t even offered that sort of giddy, “this might be crazy enough to work” optimism yet.

Here’s hoping we are wrong.

Detroit Tigers (19-29) at New York Mets (24-26)

Time/Place: 4:10 p.m., Citi Field
SB Nation site: Amazin’ Avenue
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, fuboTV, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Ryan Carpenter (0-2, 13.00 ERA) vs. LHP Jason Vargas (1-2, 5.92 ERA)

Game 50 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Carpenter 9.0 14.9 8.5 8.64 -0.2
Vargas 24.1 17.9 10.7 5.72 0.0

The last time I truly remember watching Jason Vargas pitch was way back in 2014. The Tigers were heading into a pivotal September series in Kansas City with a slim division lead over the Royals. They had just lost two of three on the road against the lowly Minnesota Twins, and were just a game ahead before a weekend showdown. They got to Vargas early and often in the series opener, scoring five runs on nine hits before he was pulled in the fourth inning. Detroit took two of three from the Royals in that series, and went on to win their fourth consecutive division title.

Vargas stayed in Kansas City for three more seasons after that, but I don’t remember any of it. He made the All-Star team in 2017, and signed an ill-advised two-year deal with the Mets that winter. He has rewarded them with a 6.32 ERA in 126 23 innings.

As you might expect from a pitcher approaching his late 30s with a history of arm injuries, Vargas’ raw stuff has declined quite a bit from his heyday (and it wasn’t particularly great at that point either). His fastball sits in the mid-80s now, with less separation from his changeup than ever before. He has cut his curveball usage considerably, relying almost exclusively on the fastball-changeup combo in 2019. Opponents have feasted, batting .271/.355/.531 against him this season. Righties have drawn 11 walks in 88 plate appearances, a 12.5 percent clip.

This especially bodes well for a Tigers lineup that has seen a fair amount of Vargas before. Miguel Cabrera, Nicholas Castellanos, and Gordon Beckham have all faced him at least 17 times, and have a combined five doubles and four home runs in 65 plate appearances.

Key matchup: Both starters vs. logging innings

Carpenter has naturally struggled to work deep into games in his MLB career, but has completed five frames on three separate occasions across his seven starts. The Mets hit lefties well, which isn’t a good look for him, but he has been able to record a few outs after withstanding the initial barrage — even if it tanks his ERA in the process.

Vargas has also struggled to get through the lineup a few times this season. He has made it through five innings in just two of his six starts this year, and is coming off a hamstring injury that kept him on the shelf for three weeks. His pitch count may be a bit limited in this one.

Prediction

Carpenter gets rocked again and the Mets even the series.