The Detroit Tigers dropped a heartbreaker Tuesday night after the Kansas City Royals completed a late-inning rally behind some baserunning heroics and fielding boners in a battle for the American League Central cellar. The loss wasted yet another fine start by rookie Spencer Turnbull, as well as exposed a key Tigers’ weakness: the defense.
The boys in the Olde English D look to even the three game series on Wednesday evening in a matchup of two Dans — Dan Duffy, who has been pitching well for the Royals so far this year and Dan Norris, who has finally managed to avoid the injury bug in a much-needed starting role for the Tigers’ depleted pitching staff. And believe it or not, these two bearded, blue-eyed lefties from the south have kindled a friendship over the years. But on this night, they will go head to head in a Battle of the Dans.
For his part, Norris has had a subdued but generally encouraging 2019 season to date. His numbers haven’t impressed, but he has given the Tigers some stability as a backend starter. However, the drop in velocity he’s experienced has proved tougher to push through than one might expect considering the lack of any arm trouble. As a result he’s tried to mix things up, using his curveball and changeup a little more in an effort to keep hitters off balance.
His strikeout rates, which were typically excellent earlier in his time in Detroit, have declined as a function of declining whiffs on the fastball. At the same time, his fastball has become more vulnerable to being clubbed into the seats. On the other hand, he’s done a fine job pounding the zone and limiting walks, which has kept the damage to a minimum. Norris has also been much better with runners on base, but whether that’s just good fortune, or a sign that he needs to maintain that same intensity with the bases empty remains to be seen. He has to find a happier medium between limiting free passes and pumping too many fastballs over the heart of the plate.
Still, after two seasons hampered with groin issues, surgery, and rehab, Norris is on his longest sustained run since the 2016 season. And his maximum velocity continues to creep up as we enter the summer months. This isn’t the Daniel Norris we once hoped for, but perhaps there’s still hope for the 26-year-old to find another gear as the season progresses.
Detroit Tigers (24-39) at Kansas City Royals (21-45)
Time/Place: 8:15 p.m., Kaufmann Stadium
SB Nation site: Royals Review
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, fuboTV, MLB.TV, ESPN+, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Daniel Norris (2-5, 4.60 ERA) vs. LHP Danny Duffy (3-3, 4.68 ERA)
Game 66 Pitching Matchup
Danny Duffy left his last start early after taking a line drive off his leg, but suffered no serious injuries in a 7-5 loss to the Red Sox, his second in a row. His ERA jumped by over a half-run for the second consecutive outing, making for a rather ugly line that doesn’t quite reflect how he has pitched in 2019. Through his first six starts, Duffy posted a 3.12 ERA and a 3.92 FIP, both figures far better than what he managed in 2018. He was limiting home runs, and even starting to regain his strikeout touch, with five strikeouts or more in four of those six outings.
The 2018 Duffy has showed up in his past two outings, however. Duffy has given up 10 runs in his last 7 2⁄3 innings, along with home runs in each of his past three starts. His ERA has jumped to 4.68, while his FIP has risen a bit, to 4.37.
Unfortunately, these up-and-down results might be the norm for Duffy going forward. His walk rate is down compared to last season, but so is his velocity. He is averaging just 92.6 miles per hour with his four-seam fastball this year, the lowest of his career. Opponents are also hitting the ball harder than before, with a higher average exit velocity (89.3 mph) and hard hit rate (38.8 percent) than at any other point in the Statcast era (2015 to present). His expected wOBA (.351) is also higher than what he has actually produced (.339) and isn’t all that far off from what he managed in 2018 (.345).
Key matchup: Me vs. more creative ways of saying “the Tigers need to score runs”
Hey, I might as well call it like I see it. Detroit’s offense is one of the worst in baseball, and as we saw on Tuesday, even has trouble scoring against struggling pitchers like... well, just about anyone on this Royals roster. Jakob Junis carved the Tigers up, as he is wont to do, and Danny Duffy may have similar success in this matchup. The Tigers have been better against left-handed pitching this year, but still rank well below average with a 91 wRC+.
Fortunately, Kansas City is even worse, with a 71 wRC+.
Norris and the Tigers even the series in another boring, low-scoring matchup.