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Tigers vs. Reds Preview: Twin bill of seven inning games will be a first in MLB history

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With more rain in the forecast, the two clubs will attempt to complete the first doubleheader with seven inning games.

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Detroit Tigers Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday, the Detroit Tigers’rescheduling attempt to avoid rain backfired as Mother Nature mocked the foolish plans of mortals. The Friday night decision moved the game to a 1:10 p.m. start time, which surely made sense at that point, but as it happened, the heaviest rain rolled in right through that time of day and washed out their game with the Cincinnati Reds. Such are our attempts to manage nature, particularly in 2020.

It’s hard not to look ahead and wince. The Tigers’ schedule is on tenuous ground for at least the next few days already. With several more positive COVID-19 tests in recent days, the St. Louis Cardinals were shut down this weekend in an effort to cut off the spread. Their series with the Milwaukee Brewers was called off, as was the first game of the Tigers-Cardinals series slated for Monday. They’ll attempt to play two on Tuesday in St. Louis, but that is extremely subject to change right now.

In the meantime, after taking Friday’s game one of a planned three-game set in Detroit, the Tigers will host the Reds on Sunday in the first twin bill in major league history to feature seven inning games. Oh and there’s rain scheduled for much of the day as well.

What could go wrong?

The Tigers are off to a nice little start. It’s only eight games, but in this short season, their record is the rough equivalent of a 14-8 start in a 162 game season. It’s still very early, but the club has been surprisingly fun to watch. The bullpen has looked so good it makes jaded fans uncomfortable. The offense struck out like mad in the opening series against the Reds especially, but they’ve also cashed in on just about any break so far in the young season. Only getting a couple of hits, yet winning because two of them were homers and your bullpen is rock solid, is a difficult strategy to put into play consistently, but those can be the kind of wins that ultimately decide a season.

While they may have been a little lucky so far, they’ve also collectively swung the bats better in the intervening five games. The strikeout rate is back to average levels, and yet the Tigers remain fourth best in isolated power (ISO). There appears to be a solid enough bullpen core to hold leads. If the Tigers can get a little more length from their starters, they may be able to make things interesting.

Rony Garcia will make his second start in game one, while Daniel Norris is set to make his season debut in game two. With the potential for a pair of rain-plagued slobberknockers, it’s hard to offer much in the way of predictions for either pitchers’ outing, but we’ll very much welcome a solid, if relatively brief, outing from Norris.

Garcia acquitted himself reasonably well in his first major league start last Monday against the Kansas City Royals, but was expected to work out the Tigers’ bullpen this year and won’t go more than a few innings. The 22-year-old rookie showed off pretty good control and composure in his debut. His stuff didn’t wow, but a solid three-pitch mix, a bit of funky arm action and the ability to spot his fastball saw him well the first time through the Royals’ lineup. Things started to come unglued quickly beyond that point.

Norris finished his 2019 in a very good place, but that’s so far in the past now it’s difficult to know what to expect. After a pair of injury plagued seasons, the likable lefty was able to stay on the mound for the whole season. As was hoped, the regular work paid dividends and Norris produced roughly league average work, and then closed out the season with a series of three-inning outings in which his velocity and strikeout rate popped in the right directions.

There are certainly reasons for optimism, and his return to the Tigers in whatever role is a nice boost for a staff that has been surprisingly resilient in the early going. However, Norris got COVID-19 in late June, was sick for a while, and then despite feeling healthy, had to wait several weeks until he could produce consecutive negative tests and return to the team. While he was working out and throwing on his own, he’s only been ramping up to game speed for a little over a week now. It may take him an outing or two to get rolling.

Time/Place: 12:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Red Reporter
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching matchup: Game One - RHP Rony Garcia (0-0, 6.00 ERA) vs. RHP Anthony DeSclafani (0-0), Game Two - LHP Daniel Norris (0-0) vs. TBA

DeSclafani has been on the shelf after a 10-day IL stint for a teres major strain so he’s making his season debut. The hard-throwing right-hander has pitched the Reds since 2015 after beginning his career with the Miami Marlins. He’s had some injury issues along the way and never quite put it together for a big season, but he’s developed into a solid performerand posted the best strikeout rate of his career last season. He mixes mid-90’s heat with a hard pair of breaking balls, one of which, the knuckle curve, isn’t particularly effective. The power slider at 89-90 mph is generally his best pitch.

Overall it’s going to be an interesting day for both clubs’ bullpens more than anything. If any of the four starters goes more than 50 pitches it would be a bit of a surprise. Because the games are just seven innings, that may not leave much more work than normal, but the potential for rain delays adds to the possibility for chaos. The bullpens got some rest on Saturday, and the Tigers have an off day on Monday now as well, so Ron Gardenhire is at least free to pull out all the stops.

Key Matchup: Bullpen vs. bullpen

See the prediction below for my actual key to the game. Whoever strikes first in game one is likely to turn to a rested bullpen pretty quickly to lock down the lead. These two lineups have seen a bit of each other now, and whichever group can keep hitters in check is probably going to be the deciding factor.

Tangent to the hot corner

It’s very early, but it has been a brutal start for third baseman Jeimer Candelario. He’s still looking for his first hit after an 0-19 start with two walks, and has a strikeout rate close to 50 percent. The good defense, and the little things Candelario does right, have earned him plenty of goodwill, but the Tigers needed to see major improvements this year. He needs to get something going pretty quickly or find himself without any claim to playing time.

The problem is that there aren’t a lot of great candidates to take over at third. Jordy Mercer or Harold Castro can play there in a pinch, but really the time is nearly ripe for prospect Isaac Paredes to get his first shot if things don’t improve quickly at the position.

That brings us to Dawel Lugo. The 25-year-old infielder hasn’t gotten a start yet, and seems to be simply holding a spot on the 40-man roster. For several seasons there have been no sign of the major steps forward in his discipline and power required to make him a viable big leaguer. If he doesn’t get one of the two starts tomorrow, it’s going to feel like a message to upper management that Gardenhire and his staff see no point playing him.

Look for Lugo to finally get in there on Sunday. With Candelario looking so lost, he can’t do any worse.

Prediction

It’s a bit of a cop-out perhaps, but this feels like a perfect split situation. Both bullpens are reasonably fresh, and whoever scores early is probably going to be quick to their pen in an effort to ensure at least one win.