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Detroit vs. Kansas City Preview: Fulmer takes the mound as Tigers try to win one against KC

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The Tigers have already dropped the first two of four to KC and hope to salvage the series behind Michael Fulmer.

Detroit Tigers v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

I do not want to brag, but I pretty much called Saturday’s game in my previous preview as Detroit Tigers ace Matthew Boyd faced off against Kansas City Royals phenom Brady Singer in a pitchers duel that resulted in a 2-1 loss for the good guys. There was little doubt that it would be a low-scoring affair, but as I also noted, it was imperative that the offense found a way to hit Singer hard — and only Willi Castro was able to do that with his lone solo home run.

After wasting yet another high-quality outing from Boyd, the Tigers will try again on Sunday when they send Michael Fulmer to the mound for his third start of the season opposite of KC’s grizzled veteran Danny Duffy, who has been pretty close to lights-out so far in 2021. If Detroit has any chance at salvaging a split in the four-game series, they will need to come strong Sunday both on the mound and in the batter’s box. Here is a look at what to expect on the mound.

Detroit Tigers (7-14) vs. Kansas City Royals (12-7)

Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park Park
SB Nation site: Royals Review
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Michael Fulmer (1-1, 3.94 ERA) vs. LHP Danny Duffy (2-1, 0.50 ERA)

Game 22 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Fulmer 16 24.6 3.3 4.03 0.2
Duffy 18 26 8.2 2.71 0.6

Most Tigers fans are already familiar with Michael Fulmer, whose career in Detroit has been quite a rollercoaster ride from that initial meteoric ascent. Now, after losing 2019 to Tommy John surgery and a COVID-ravaged 2020 that stunted his progress, it looks like Fulmy is back on track. After two games started and five total appearances in 2021, the 28-year-old right-hander has looked absolutely solid both in his traditional numbers and his peripherals.

The 2016 AL Rookie of the Year earned holds in his first two outings before throwing four innings to close out a loss against Cleveland in what may have been his best performance yet, striking out five and allowing just two hits and one earned run on a solo home run. In his two subsequent starts, he has thrown five and four innings, respectively, and has seen his ERA increase as he has surrendered more runs of late. His pitch count reached a high of 78 in his five-inning win but has otherwise remained under 70, which is likely his current ceiling as he continues to stretch out.

Taking the bump for the Royals is Danny Duffy, a hard-throwing lefty who features five pitches in his arsenal: a four-seamer fastball, slider, changeup, sinker and curveball, which he uses respectively. The four-seamer, which he relies on 45 percent of the time, has averaged 93.8 mph this season while his slider — which has been his putaway pitch at 33 percent — averages 83.9 mph, providing nice velocity separation between his two primary offerings.

Digging in deeper, Duffy has found a bit of success behind his four-seamer so far, pounding the strike zone with a pitch that ranks in the 63rd percentile in velocity and 55th percentile in spin, according to Baseball Savant. He also ranks in the 68th percentile in whiff rate — attributable largely to his slider — as well as in the 64th percentile in barrel percentage and 59th percentile in walks. His main black eyes are his maximum exit velocity (24th) and hard-hit percentage (26th) percentiles. Add it all up and you have a solid starting pitcher with a few blemishes but otherwise perfectly capable of handling a major league lineup.

Key matchup: The Tigers’ offense vs... itself?

I know I’m beginning to sound like a broken record but it is a fundamental rule of baseball that if you cannot score runs you are not going to win. Right now, the bats are not just ice cold, they simply are not getting it done fundamentally. My esteemed former colleague Kenon Carter provided yet another gem Friday on Twitter that illustrates the frustrations the offense is dealing with.

So, the Tigers are seeing a lot of strikes and nearly a third of the time, they are fouling them off. On the surface, the foul ball numbers are not that discouraging, but it sounds like opposing pitchers are unafraid of Tigers hitters, which is a major problem if they are not producing positive results at the end of their at-bats. Coming into Saturday’s game, Detroit ranks last in on-base percentage (.274), 26th in team batting average (.212) and have scored the third-fewest runs (66) — though its slugging percentage does rank at a more modest 19th (.374) and the team still ranks 12th in home runs (24). Without shutout-level talent on the mound, the Motor City Kitties are not going to see much success at this rate.