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Tigers vs. Rays preview: Alex Faedo leads the way as a tough road trip begins

The Tigers will play nine in a row on the road, with one day off along the way.

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MLB: Game Two-Oakland Athletics at Detroit Tigers Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

With their three game sweep of the Baltimore Orioles over the weekend, the Detroit Tigers have at least temporarily stabilized a sinking ship. They’re still pretty far from sailing to any happier destination. The Orioles remain one of the bottom feeders around the game, and the Tigers came into that series dropping four of five to another fellow cellar dweller, the Oakland A’s.

So, while it was a huge relief to see the Tigers hit a little better and rack up some wins, they certainly haven’t turned the tide just yet. They’re currently six games back in the wild card standings, and that’s a fairly deep hole this early on in the season. Heading to Tampa to play one of the top teams in the game, followed by road trips to Cleveland and Minnesota, tough opponents each, may proved a decisive point in the 2022 season for the Tigers.

Interesting to note that despite a lot of teams in the way, they’re only six games back in the wild card chase. It is still pretty early in the season, after all.

If they put together a solid road trip, we’ll start breathing a little easier, particularly if the offense comes around. However, fate is not working in the Tigers favor, as Michael Pineda, Austin Meadows, and Victor Reyes all ended up on the injured list during the Orioles series, adding to an already lengthy list of solid players the club is trying to make do without.

The result has been the early unveiling of the Tigers’ second tier of starting pitching prospects. Joey Wentz struggled badly with his command in his start, but Beau Brieske has held his own quite well so far. Monday night’s starter, Alex Faedo, had a rocky first go around, but responded with a very good outing against the Oakland Athletics last time out. Hopefully he can do it again against the Tampa Bay Rays,

Detroit Tigers (12-23) at Tampa Bay Rays (21-14)

Time/Place: 6:40 p.m., Tropicana Park
SB Nation Site: DRaysBay
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Alex Faedo (1-3, 3.60 ERA) vs. RHP Corey Kluber (1-2, 4.55 ERA)

Game 36 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP FIP K% BB% HR/9 fWAR
Pitcher IP FIP K% BB% HR/9 fWAR
Faedo 10.0 3.72 18.6 7.0 0.90 0.2
Kluber 29.2 3.76 21.6 4.8 1.21 0.3

It’s been really interesting seeing Faedo back after so long an injury absence. Because of the short COVID season in 2020, the right-hander hadn’t thrown a game since September 2019. Despite only a little bit of work so early in his return to action, he looks much like he did in 2019, but with a few differences.

As we saw in his outing against the Athletics, Faedo still has a good slider and the feel to command it to either side of the plate and add and subtract sweep. It remains the key weapon for him, yet the actual movement profile on the pitch doesn’t look like anything special. This may be because he didn’t have much of a feel for it in his first major league start, and is still trying to dial in his mechanics. It was much more effective against the Athletics than the Astros, but that could obviously have more to do with the opponent.

Either way, Faedo has a 42.9 percent whiff rate on the slider through two starts, so it’s working. Meanwhile, he’s also getting a lot of run on both the fourseam fastball and his circle changeup, helping them play up a little more than expected based on his pre-UCL reconstruction stuff. If his command continues to return, he should be able to tie up Rays right-handers inside, and even front door lefties with swing back action on heaters that start at their hands.

This is a tough opponent and to have another good outing, the command will need to be sharp. The slider is rounding into form, but he doesn’t have overpowering stuff. It’s reasonable to expect him to improve as he gets further from surgery and settles into a groove on regular work again. However, it’s also wise to expect some rough patches. He’ll need to be sharp tonight to beat the Rays.

Of course, Corey Kluber isn’t going to overpower anyone at all. The long-time Cleveland ace sits in the high 80’s with his fastball nowadays, and is using his cutter and his curveball at the highest rates of his career to compensate. Both are still quality offerings, and while the loss of velocity has trimmed the Klubot’s margin for error, he still has the command to spot four pitches at will when he’s going well. Last year with the Yankees, command was a bit of an issue as he returned from injury, but so far this season he appears to have more of the old precision back. For a Tigers team that hasn’t even hit fastballs well, it’s really hard to forecast what they’ll look like against Kluber’s diversified and well commanded pitch mix.

So far, the peripherals suggest Kluber has pitched better than his ERA indicates. Expect another tough night for the offense, and this being the Rays, if the Tigers don’t get to Kluber early, you can expect manager Kevin Cash will pivot to the bullpen at the first sign of trouble in the middle innings. The Rays’ pitching staff hasn’t been quite as dominant as you’d expect considering their record. They’ve scored 146 runs, but allowed 147, which is 12 more runs than the Tigers have allowed in the same number of games. Still, to beat the Rays you have to keep the game close because they aren’t easy to mount a big comeback against. So far, neither are the Tigers, but few teams have had to try.

Key Matchup: Faedo vs. himself

Despite Kluber being an easier target than he used to be, we’re not going to predict that the offense gets loose against him. With Austin Meadows out of the lineup as the Tigers return to his old home ballpark, Daz Cameron called up, and numerous hitters still struggling, the lineup isn’t going to be scaring anyone. To win, Faedo is going to have to show his typical composure despite a pesky and patient opponent and throw quality strikes early in counts. As long as he’s regularly getting ahead, the slider will play up and the Tigers should get into the late innings with a chance to win. Hopefully the weekend sweep of the Orioles has given them a little boost of confidence and we’ll start seeing more consistent performances from the offense.