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Tigers vs. Cleveland Preview: Can Detroit hand Zach Plesac a second straight loss?

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Julio Teheran and the Tigers defeated Plesac and the Cleveland Baseball Team 5-2 on Saturday.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

One week ago, the Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland Baseball Team squared off on in an Opening Weekend series. The Tigers, despite their woes against Cleveland over the past few years, emerged victorious, eeking out two close games by a total margin of four runs, and losing one game by six runs (on the bright side, it wasn’t as bad as their nine-run loss on Monday). As they begin a tough 10-game road trip that will take them to Houston and Oakland before they return, it would help to get off to a good start on turf closer to home.

Today the Tigers will look to replicate last Saturday’s victory, in which Julio Teheran and Zach Plesac dueled early on before the Tigers scored three seventh inning runs off of reliever Nick Wittgren to seize control. There are a few ways that Detroit could replicate their success—perhaps Akil Baddoo continues his magical start to the season (although he didn’t play during last Saturday’s game), or maybe Robbie Grossman starts walking during every single at-bat again. But for the Tigers to outlast Plesac for the second time in the week, Julio Teheran and the Tigers bullpen will have to be sharp against a beatable Cleveland lineup.

Detroit Tigers (3-3) @ Cleveland Baseball Team (2-3)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m. EDT, Progressive Field
SB Nation site: Covering the Corner
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Julio Teheran (1-0, 1.80 ERA) vs. RHP Zach Plesac (0-1, 3.00 ERA)

Game 7 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Teheran 5 15 15 6.42 0
Plesac 6 15.4 7.7 2.89 0.2

Despite Zach Plesac pitching an inning longer than Julio Teheran on Saturday, and despite the fact that both his strikeout and walk rates were better than Teheran’s leaving the game, Plesac took the loss and Teheran took the win in that game. While Teheran may have received the win, his peripheral statistics are not looking too pretty after his first start. With that said, of course, they are much better than his 2020 statistics:

Game 7 Pitching Matchup (2020 Stats)

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Teheran 31.1 13.4 10.7 8.62 -0.9
Plesac 55.1 27.7 2.9 3.39 1.5

As Adam Dubbin wrote for us last week, Teheran has a long track record of success in the major leagues, mostly during his time with the Atlanta Braves, but his four-seam fastball dipped to an all-time low 89.2 miles per hour in 2020 and things fell apart quickly. Last Saturday, Teheran’s average four-seam fastball velocity jumped back up to 90.9 miles per hour, his highest average velocity since 2017. And it wasn’t just his fastball that gained velocity. Teheran’s sinker sat at an average of 90 miles per hour (up from 88.7 in 2020), his slider jumped from 80.9 to 81.9 miles per hour, and his changeup dropped from 82 to 81 miles per hour. Although Teheran did not throw a single curveball on Saturday, the new velocities on his arsenal were encouraging across the board. When a pitcher with good command gets a power boost to his repertoire, positive results typically follow.

Plesac, meanwhile, looked just as sharp during his Saturday outing as he did in 2020 once he settled in after allowing two runs in the first inning. His typically good strikeout rate was off in that game, and the Tigers are vulnerable to more swing and miss than average. Plesac’s fourseam, slider, changeup combination is tough to deal with once he’s in a groove, so the game plan once again is to try and produce traffic on the basepaths, and ideally, to do early damage. If he cruises early on this good be a tough go for the Tigers’ offense.

While Plesac did not receive any AL Cy Young award votes in 2020, his 1.5 fWAR in 55.1 innings pitched matched the fWAR of notable pitchers such as Gerrit Cole, Max Fried, and Zac Gallen, all while making 3-4 fewer starts than those three pitchers. Leave it to the Cleveland Pitching Factory to produce another top-end arm.

Key Matchup: The Tigers Bullpen vs. Cleveland Hitters

The easy reaction in picking a “key matchup” for this game would be the Tigers bats vs. Zach Plesac in the first inning, but Plesac actually has a 1.80 first inning ERA across his entire career. Instead, the Tigers will likely need their bullpen to stabilize after miserable performances on Sunday and Monday. Despite the encouraging signs from Julio Teheran’s arsenal on Saturday, Teheran and the Tigers will underdogs in Friday night’s matchup. Teheran has not pitched six innings in a regular-season game since September 7, 2019, and while the improvement in his velocity suggests he could pull that feat off any day now, this still means that the Tigers will need at least three strong innings from their bullpen in today’s outing. Expect a tight, relatively low scoring contest.