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Game 11 Preview: Tigers need their bats to show up against Luis Severino

The offense is floundering and the pitching matchups aren’t getting easier.

Boston Red Sox v New York Yankees Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

Luis Severino hasn’t been able stay on the mound for more than 12 innings since 2018, but he’s back this year fully healthy, with all the fire and fury of an apocalyptic horseman. In two starts, his fastball velocity has averaged 97.6 miles per hour. Combined with a changeup that has been a weapon throughout his career and two breaking balls he can flip into the strike zone when needed, hitters haven’t been able to keep him at bay.

For Yankees fans, he will undoubtedly be the attraction to this game. Honestly, I couldn’t blame any Tigers fan for being privately excited to watch him throw. Severino has some of the nastiest stuff on the planet when he’s right. If the Tigers struggle against him, it could hardly fit in the same basket as the embarrassments they’ve occasionally had against no-name soft-tossers in the not so distant past. On the other hand, the Tigers need to get it together at the plate in general, or this series is going to be rough.

New York Yankees (6-5) vs. Detroit Tigers (4-6)

Time/Place: 6:40 p.m., Comerica Park
Nation site: Pinstripe Alley
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Luis Severino (1-0, 2.25 ERA) vs. LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (0-1, 5.87 ERA)

Game 11 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Severino 8 31.40% 5.70% 3.1 0.2
Rodriguez 7.2 18.40% 13.30% 4.92 0

The Yanks’ fireballer has struck out 11 opposing batters in 8 innings, resulting in a rate usually reserved for the best closers and one that isn’t likely to dip in this game. The collective strikeout rate of Detroit’s hitters eclipses all but six teams, most of them among the very worst offenses in the game. Though the biggest swinger of them all — Javy Báez — landed himself on the IL and will be unavailable during this game. Willi Castro, who was called up to play in his stead, has also struggled to make contact against major league stuff and won’t do much to buttress the Tigers’ lineup in that regard either.

If there’s hope to be found here, it’s in the fact that there are hitters throughout Detroit’s lineup who have been murder on righties this season. You’d think Austin Meadows’ immense 179 wRC+ leads the pack by a wide margin, but Eric Haase isn’t too far behind with a 175 wRC+ mark of his own. In fact, Haase’s numbers are even more impressive when considering this: his batting average on balls in play in that sample is a measly .200, whereas Meadows’ .467 is inflated far past the point of sustainability.

Not to be outdone, Spencer Torkelson has quickly put his rough start in the rearview. He’s made pitchers suffer when they don’t challenge him in the zone, extracting a ton of pitches per at-bat and walking 14.3% of the time against right-handers. Severino, on the other hand, is only throwing 39.9 percent of his pitches in the zone. Small sample size disclaimers apply, but that’s far below his career norms. He’ll have to plan wisely before facing off against the Tigers’ prized first baseman.

Key Matchup: Eduardo Rodriguez vs. sloppiness

The readiness and polish Eduardo Rodriguez showed during spring training has thus far not carried over into games that matter and opposing lineups have slapped him around during his first two starts. To me, the most startling number so far is his average exit velocity. Up ten miles per hour from his average last season, hitters are launching the ball at 95.2 mph against him. The only hitters with an average north of 95 mph last season were Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Vlad Guerrero Jr., the home run leader.

If he can reclaim his cutter, many of the problems Rodriguez had in his first two games will vanish like a startled phantom. The cutter has been his signature pitch when he’s on, but it has been largely inert this year. Hitters are reaching out of the zone for it less than ever before and he’s missing outside with it more often than not. It would behoove him to start getting ahead of hitters, which is usually a strength. The nine plate appearances against Rodriguez this season which have ended with a cutter have resulted in a .429/.714/.533 line. That’s not great, Bob.

The best way for the Tigers to get a leg up on this game is for their hitters to pummel Severino and get to the Yankees’ bullpen. More realistically, Rodriguez may able to take advantage of a New York offense that has been struggling to gain traction and right his own ship. If he’s able to do that, the Tigers only need to put a few runs on the board to give themselves a puncher’s chance in this one.