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Detroit at Boston Preview: Michael Fulmer continues his role as ‘next man up’

Fulmer’s fourth start will come against the surprising first-place Red Sox.

Detroit Tigers v Chicago White Sox - Game Two Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

After a merciful off day, the Tigers are in Boston for a three-game set starting Tuesday. The hosts lead the AL East, while Detroit has lost 10 of 11 and has seemingly already hit rock bottom. While the offense has been absolutely terrible, the pitching has given up some ugly scorelines lately as well.

It was not great to see Matthew Boyd leave his last start hurt—he appears to be on track to miss only one start—but it does provide Michael Fulmer with yet another opportunity to start. He began the year out of the bullpen, but Tuesday will be his fourth start of the season. Fulmer’s numbers have been solid in either role (3.75 as a starter, 4.00 ERA as a reliever), although the sample sizes are small.

Speaking of which, the Tigers will hope that Fulmer can go a little deeper in his outings if he continues to serve as the replacement starter. A.J. Hinch hasn’t done him any favors in this regard by shifting his role back and forth. He has pitched over four innings just once, and while his peripherals are fine, taking some innings away from the bullpen is always a plus. The task will not be easy against the Red Sox, but Fulmer will want to take advantage of any chance he gets to start.

Detroit Tigers (8-21) at Boston Red Sox (17-12)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Fenway Park
SB Nation site: Over the Monster
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Michael Fulmer (1-1, 3.86 ERA) vs. RHP Nick Pivetta (3-0, 2.81 ERA)

Game 56 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Mize 57.2 20.1 8.5 4.43 0.6
Keuchel 59.2 12.0 7.2 4.87 0.2

Now 28 years old, is the Nick Pivetta breakout finally here? He had plenty of potential coming through the Philadelphia system (after being traded from Washington for Jonathan Papelbon), but his major league numbers never played that out. Instead he’s been a permanent fixture in “is this the year for Pivetta?” territory, due to his six-five frame, power fastball, and good looking break stuff. However, a trade to Boston last August yielded a strong end to 2020 that seems to have carried into this season.

Pivetta comes in with a shiny 2.81 ERA, but there is a bit of fool’s gold here. His walks are up to nearly 6.0 BB/9, his strikeouts are down at 8.77 K/9, and his soft contact rate sits at just 11.5 percent. However, he is really limiting barrels (4.9 percent) and homers (0.35 HR/9), so his overall numbers look good.

Unfortunately, any regression that he will experience this year is unlikely to come on Tuesday against the Tigers. Corey Kluber looked like his old self against Detroit last time out, and this offense should keep pitchers’ box scores fairly clean. Expect the hot start to continue for Pivetta.

Key matchup: Middle of the lineup vs. being even average

Over the past two weeks, just one Tigers hitter has surpassed 100 wRC+: Niko Goodrum. Everyone else is well below the MLB average, including the core of the batting order. Of course this team is going to struggle to score runs, but players like Jeimer Candelario and Jonathan Schoop cannot be posting 72 wRC+ and 62 wRC+, respectively, over this span. Add in Miguel Cabrera’s 3-for-28 line during this stretch, along with sub-replacement level production from the centerfield position, and it is not hard to see why this offense has been so pathetic.