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Tigers at Athletics Preview: Detroit looks to bounce back behind José Ureña

The Tigers dropped the first of their west coast tangle against the A’s and hope to preserve a chance at a series win.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Cleveland Indians Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, after a decent stretch of warm weather and sunny skies in the metro Detroit and Ann Arbor area, I was greeted to sleet and miserable grey clouds outside my window. Perhaps if the Tigers had been at Comerica Park, they would’ve recreated some of their Opening Day magic after seeing a few snowflakes fly through the air. But no, they were in Oakland, California, and they walked twelve batters instead. (Even worse, Wilson Ramos and Akil Baddoo both went 0-for-4, dropping their individual OPS numbers to 1.043 and 1.172, respectively.)

Today, the Tigers will turn to José Ureña, who has not notched a win in a major league game since June 1, 2019, to right the ship and start a new winning streak. As flawed as the win is as a metric, that is not an encouraging statistic. On the bright side, Oakland will also send a pitcher who has not consistently pitched well since the middle of 2019 to the mound in Frankie Montas.

Detroit Tigers (6-7) at Oakland Athletics (6-7)

Time/Place: 9:40 p.m., Oakland Coliseum

SB Nation Site: Athletics Nation

Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, 97.1 The Ticket

Pitching Matchup: RHP José Ureña (0-2, 8.22 ERA) vs. Frankie Montas (1-1, 8.31 ERA)

Game 14 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Ureña 7.2 24.3 24.3 6 0
Montas 8.2 20.9 9.3 5.79 -0.1

José Ureña’s second start of the season on Sunday versus Cleveland was much better than his first start versus Minnesota, in which he allowed six runs (five earned) in just three innings of work. Facing off against Zach Plesac, Ureña allowed only three hits over 4.2 innings of work. His five walks allowed, however, did help Cleveland to plate two against him en route to a 5-2 victory (the Tigers bullpen gave up three runs of their own). The Tigers may be in for another long day of issuing free passes to Oakland hitters, as Ureña has walked nearly a quarter of the batters he has faced this season. Nine walks in your first two starts isn’t a good thing even if you have pitched deep into ballgames; Ureña, meanwhile, issued nine walks in 7.2 innings.

On the mound for Oakland is Frankie Montas. Montas began 2019 with an absolutely sensational 96 innings of work before being suspended 80 games for PED use. Before his suspension, Montas was a lock to be an All-Star, as he sported an impressive 2.70 ERA, 2.90 FIP, and was approaching 3.0 fWAR through 16 starts (he would lower his ERA to 2.63 and raise his FIP to 3.00 after one final start in late September following his suspension). He wasn’t quite Vida Blue for Oakland (his 9-2 record after June 20 surely wasn’t on pace to match Blue’s 17 wins before the All-Star Break in 1971), but he was absolutely an Oakland Athletics starting pitcher having a brilliant campaign leading up to the All-Star Break.

Montas took a significant step back in 2020, posting a 5.60 ERA, 4.74 FIP, and 0.5 fWAR in 11 starts of work in 2020. He allowed nearly one full home run more per nine innings, and while his strikeout rate still sat above 25 percent, his walk rate rose from 5.8 to 9.7 percent. These trends are still continuing in the wrong direction for Montas through two games this season; the strikeout rate is creeping down toward 20 percent (though in fairness, he is still striking out more than one batter per inning), his walk rate is still hovering above 9 percent, and he is now allowing more than two home runs per nine innings through two starts.

Key Matchup: Tigers Pitching vs. Patient Oakland Bats

It feels like even back in the days of the Tigers and the Athletics facing off in the American League Divisional Series every year, Oakland would implement a strategy of taking as many pitches as possible from Detroit pitchers. While a generational pitcher such as Justin Verlander can overcome this, a recently-graduated prospect struggling to stabilize his spin rate in Tarik Skubal fell victim to Oakland’s discipline on Thursday (the Tigers bullpen did, as well, but they are falling victim to major league hitters in general this season). The Tigers may issue a handful of walks again today, but the onus is on José Ureña and the bullpen to strand these runners and limit Oakland’s ability to string together rallies today. From there, hopefully hot hitters such as Wilson Ramos and Akil Baddoo will bounce back from poor performances yesterday.