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Tigers vs. Indians Preview: What’s an Aaron Civale anyway?

Civale will make his MLB debut on Saturday against Detroit’s Spencer Turnbull.

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Detroit Tigers v Minnesota Twins - Game One Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The Cleveland Indians have been a problem for Spencer Turnbull in 2019. Through two starts, Turnbull has given up nine runs in nine innings, for a clean (if ugly) 9.00 ERA. While rough outings can happen, Turnbull has given up a whopping 18 hits in those nine frames against the Tribe, including a pair of home runs. He lasted just four innings in a 4-0 loss to Cleveland on April 11, then was knocked around for six runs on 10 hits in an 8-0 loss on June 16.

(And no, the zeroes aren’t great either.)

For whatever reason, Cleveland’s hitters have feasted on Turnbull in a way other clubs have not. His 3.27 ERA would be even lower (2.57, to be exact) if you were to remove those two bad starts against the Indians, and he has allowed just 62 hits in 73 23 innings against all other teams.

I’m not sure whether this will matter or not on Saturday, but both of Turnbull’s rough outings against the Tribe have come at Comerica Park. He has been better on the road this year, with a 2.43 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in seven starts, but like his season-long numbers, those home splits are also skewed by his poor outings against the Indians. It’s not like the Tribe have killed righthanders either; their 87 wRC+ against righties is tied for the eighth-worst in baseball.

They have just had Turnbull’s number this year, for whatever reason. Can he turn it around in Cleveland on Saturday?

Detroit Tigers (26-45) at Cleveland Indians (40-35)

Time/Place: 4:10 p.m., Progressive Field
SB Nation site: Let’s Go Tribe
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, fuboTV, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Spencer Turnbull (3-6, 3.27 ERA) vs. RHP Aaron Civale (1-0, 3.38 ERA in Triple-A)

Game 73 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Turnbull 82.2 21.4 8.6 3.82 1.7
Civale (AAA) 10.2 32.0 8.0 2.97 -

Aaron Civale will make his MLB debut on Saturday in place of righthander Mike Clevinger, who is on the injured list again after spraining his ankle in his last start — his first MLB action since early April. While this is unfortunate luck for Clevinger, it bodes well for both Civale and the Tigers. Civale, Cleveland’s third round pick from the 2016 draft, is a pound-the-zone type of pitcher who does not have high-octane stuff. His fastball was graded below-average (40) by FanGraphs in their latest system update, as it sits anywhere from 88 to 93 miles per hour, and tops out at 94.

Here’s more from FanGraphs:

Civale does not miss many bats because he has limited fastball velocity, but he’s a high-volume strike thrower with excellent secondary stuff, including one of the best curveball spin rates in the minors. He draws from a spacious bag of tricks to get hitters out, and has now had success at the upper levels of the minors with limited velo, so we’re buying that he can make things work as a fifth starter.

Civale sports a pair of solid breaking balls, both of which have flashed plus potential in the minors. They helped him absolutely shred Single-A ball, but he ran into a bit of resistance at Double-A Akron in 2018. Civale gave up a 3.89 ERA with 12 home runs allowed in 106 23 innings. While these numbers aren’t bad — Alex Faedo is giving up more homers per nine innings in Double-A right now — they showed that Civale might start to struggle with more advanced hitters. This hasn’t been the case so far in 2019, but Civale has only logged 41 innings between Double- and Triple-A following a lengthy rehab from a lat injury he suffered last August.

Key matchup: Tigers hitters vs. Civale’s off-speed arsenal

We mentioned on Friday that the Tigers would need to adjust to Trevor Bauer’s off-speed stuff (his cutter, namely) in order to be more effective than they were in a punchless effort on June 16. That happened to a certain extent; three of the 10 hits the Tigers managed off Bauer came on the cutter, while three others came against his curveball. The Tigers also batted his fastball, too — both Tigers home runs came against the heater — as they sent Bauer packing early.

They will need to do the same on Saturday, as there will be even more breaking balls heading there way. Civale’s curveball and slider are his two best pitches; both received above-average grades from FanGraphs, and have flashed plus in the past. He also features a changeup and cutter, which also received better grades from FanGraphs’ team than his four-seam fastball. With less punch on the fastball than what the Tigers saw from Bauer, they can afford to sit more on the off-speed stuff. However, they have not been very good at that — FanGraphs’ pitch values put them among baseball’s worst against both slider and curveballs in 2019.


The Tigers offense leaves Turnbull hanging yet again in another loss.