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Tigers vs. Mariners Preview: Drew VerHagen earned another shot at the rotation

The righty was designated for assignment in May but he’s back and ready for another chance.

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Baltimore Orioles v Detroit Tigers

Envision the perfect plate of nachos.

Fresh from the oven, they’re warm and crispy, topped with beans, onions, tomatoes, jalapeño, pulled pork and melted cheese. The delicious smell filled the room as they were cooking, making the anticipation palpable. The first bite is a tremendous high as the flavors all come together in your mouth for one delightful experience. Every mouthful is a paradisiacal journey that ventures far from reality.

Sadly, nachos have nothing to do with the fact that the Tigers have to play a game tonight. I just thought you deserved to be in be in a good mood before you’re subjected to reading about it.

Detroit Tigers (30-67) at Seattle Mariners (42-63)

Time/Place: 10:10 p.m., T-Mobile Park
SB Nation site: Lookout Landing
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, fuboTV, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Drew VerHagen (1-0, 15.00 ERA) vs. RHP Erik Swanson (1-5, 7.90 ERA)

Game 99 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
VerHagen 6 18.9 % 27.0 % 8.06 -0.2
Wade LeBlanc 76.2 17.60% 6.00% 5.22 0.2

The Tigers announced after Wednesday’s game that left-handed reliever Daniel Stumpf had been optioned to Toledo and catcher Grayson Greiner was placed on the 60-day injured list. That opened up room on both the 25- and 40-man rosters, which Detroit filled with righthander Drew VerHagen. Although he was once considered one of the better prospects in the Tigers’ pipeline, he has struggled mightily to carve out a place for himself since breaking into the major leagues in 2014.

The righty put together his best season to date in 2018. He pitched to the tune of a respectable 3.84 FIP and was worth 0.6 wins above replacement (WAR) in 56 13 innings. It looked like things were coming together for him and he made the team out of spring training, but was unable to continue his successes, and was designated for assignment only a month into the new season.

As frustrating as the Drew VerHagen experience has been, there is still some potential for him have value in the big leagues. His breaking stuff has long seemed to have the potential to stymie opposing offenses if he could locate it with consistency. That came to fruition to a certain extent last year — his slider’s 4.0 pitch value ranked 39th among 121 relievers with a minimum of 50 innings pitched.

Unfortunately, his more hittable fastball has led to problems. It didn’t do too well in 2018 (worth -2.4 pVal) and batters feasted on it in his limited action this season. Add the whole thing together and it really feels like a player who’s about to run out of chances altogether.

Circumstances have collided to afford him another shot at being a difference maker on a team starved for decent pitching performances. If it weren’t for the organization’s nearly nonexistent pitching depth, VerHagen would likely be wearing a different uniform today. Maybe an adjusted pitch mix could be the “one neat trick” he needs to pull it off. Maybe his time with the Mud Hens allowed him to hit the reset button and he’ll come out of it looking like the competent hurler he was last year.

It doesn’t look like a ton has changed since he was demoted, though. His innings in Triple-A yielded a 4.42 ERA and 8.66 strikeouts per nine innings. However, if he can string together a couple innings without being blown out, that’s a win in itself.

Key Matchup: Tigers hitters vs. literally anyone

With Wade LeBlanc likely to shoulder the load for the Mariners pitching staff today after their opener departs, the Tigers have a decent opportunity today against a pitcher who hasn’t been lighting the world on fire. His unremarkable strikeout rate and poor batted ball results should forebode a high-scoring game, but the Tigers’ offense has been more than pitiful as a whole this season, and has been particularly poor for the last week or so. Only scoring a combined 17 runs in their last eight games isn’t a good omen for Thursday’s performance.

LeBlanc has been stronger this season against right-handed batters than lefties. Fortunately, only two regular bats in the Tigers’ lineup — Christin Stewart and Harold Castro — take cuts from the left side against left-handed pitching. Hopefully, Detroit will be able to string together some hits and score a few runs instead of the watching the Mariners do it for them.

Prediction

Two teams play nine innings. There is a score. One team loses.