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Tigers vs. Rays preview: Casey Mize looks to block out Rays

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This should be a battle of the bullpens, with short outings from both starting pitchers, but the Tigers should have an early advantage.

Oakland Athletics v Detroit Tigers Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images

Once again, the Detroit Tigers seem to get up for series against the better teams in the game. After Friday night’s convincing victory, they hold a 31-30 record against teams with a winning record, which is pretty encouraging. They’ll look to secure another series victory on Saturday night, and they should have the advantage in the pitching matchup.

After a rough 2020 debut, Casey Mize has come back with the kind of season we’ve expected since he was drafted first overall in 2018. However, he hasn’t done it in the ways we expected. His splitter just hasn’t been effective very often this year, and as a result he’s really not striking out many hitters. He’s also been a little vulnerable to home runs, relying on his ability to get weak contact on the ground to produce an above average strand rate. That’s not really a recipe for sustainable success, but Mize has made it work, holding a 3.51 ERA through 26 starts.

Of course, Mize isn’t really working as a full-fledged starter at this point. The Tigers are trying to keep his outings short to ensure that he doesn’t burn out and get injured down the stretch. He may only be good for three or four innings tonight. Ideally, he’ll hold the Rays down long enough for the offense to build a lead against a fairly vulnerable looking Chris Archer. By the fourth or fifth inning this will become a battle of bullpens.

Detroit Tigers (67-75) vs. Tampa Bay Rays (88-53)

Time/Place: 6:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: DRays Bay
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Casey Mize (7-7, 3.51 ERA) vs. RHP Chris Archer (1-1, 5.28 ERA)

Game 143 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP FIP K% BB% HR/9 fWAR
Pitcher IP FIP K% BB% HR/9 fWAR
Mize 138.1 4.87 18.9 7.05 1.5 1.1
Archer 15.1 4.59 27.9 10.3 1.76 0.1

It’s difficult to get a bead on Chris Archer right now. Only four starts into his comeback from thoracic outlet surgery, he looks very much the pitcher he’s always been, but his command has been a little shaky, as one would expect.

Archer’s approach is still based around his best pitch, the slider that has been his main weapon throughout his career. However, his fourseam fastball is now averaging just 92 mph, several ticks lower than his pre-surgery marks. He still gets pretty good riding action on the heater, and will draw some whiffs, but particularly as he’s still working his way back in terms of command, the fastball is pretty vulnerable to getting crushed.

So far his barrel percentage overall is 14.3 percent, a pretty abysmal number almost two and a half times worse than his career average mark. He’s also looking like an extreme fly ball pitcher now, with 53 percent of balls hit in the air so far this year. Both those numbers reflect the weakness of a fastball that has a whopping .400 ISO against.

In Archer’s favor is the fact that his slider still looks excellent. Archer has always had the ability to add and subtract velocity and vary the shape of the slider, and that ability seems undiminished. As a result he’s got a 27.9 strikeout rate, which is very good.

Archer won’t use the changeup very often, so he’s basically a two pitch pitcher. The Tigers will probably strike out a fair bit in this one, and Comerica Park, with Kevin Kiermaier patrolling center field, may be a better fit for Archer than it is for Casey Mize, but this is still a pretty vulnerable pitcher. With the Rays vaunted bullpen game always lurking, the Tigers would be advised to get to Archer before he gets into a groove and then turns it over to one of the most effective relief corps in the game.

Key Matchup: Bullpen vs. bullpen

The Tigers had Thursday off, so overall their best relievers should all be available tonight. None of Kyle Funkhouser, Michael Fulmer, and Jose Cisnero went more than an inning on Friday night, and Gregory Soto will be available on two days rest. For at least four innings, the Tigers’ pen should be able to go toe-to-toe with the Rays. The trick may be bridging those middle innings after Mize comes out of the game. The Tigers may need Drew Hutchison or Jose Ureña to give them some quality work, and that is where they’ll be most vulnerable to a Rays’ offensive outburst.