The Detroit Tigers are still struggling at the plate, but over the past two weeks the club has finally taken advantage of quality pitching to win a a more respectable number of games. It remains to be seen if they’ve stabilized the ship after a six-week debacle to begin the year, but there may be help on the horizon.
The injuries haven’t stopped piling up, but players like top prospect Riley Greene, reliever Jose Cisnero, and starter Eduardo Rodriguez look to be on track to join the club in June. Outfielder Austin Meadows’ status is more opaque, but he resumed baseball activities this week, hitting in the cage and doing light running, testing things out as he tries to get over a bout with vertigo. Just getting Victor Reyes back would be an improvement over the miserable offensive production from the outfield to date. In short, the team is going to get more interesting to watch as the summer develops, but for reasons that are more relevant to the future than the present.
All the Tigers can really do now is play pest to high flying teams like the Minnesota Twins and try to show the fanbase that there is more potential in this club than it’s looked through the first 46 games.
Until reinforcements do arrive from the injured list, the Tigers are still relying on some young starters who are learning on the fly, including Monday afternoon’s starting pitcher, Beau Brieske. Through six major league starts, the 24-year-old right-hander has done a solid job keeping the Tigers in games, but we’ve also seen some weaknesses that will require further development before Brieske can really become a major league regular.
His opponent, right-hander Dylan Bundy, is a good matchup for Brieske as a veteran adhering to a bend but don’t break philosophy. Bundy doesn’t really have the stuff or command to dominate major league hitters, but he’ll get his share of strikeouts and so far has managed to limit the home run damage this season, which has always been his Achilles heel. The Tigers need to give their young starting pitcher some runs to work with if they’re going to start this five game set—Tuesday is a doubleheader—off on the right foot.
Detroit Tigers (17-29) vs. Minnesota Twins (29-19)
Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation Site: Twinkie Town
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Beau Brieske (0-4, 5.04 ERA) vs. RHP Dylan Bundy (3-2, 4.54 ERA)
Game 47 Pitching Matchup
For Brieske, the challenges haven’t changed. His riding fourseamer will draw some whiffs and weak contact, but a lack of quality secondary stuff continues to make him too predictable. His changeup has been an effective second weapon for him, but Brieske’s slider has just a 9.5 percent whiff rate, which is no good at all. No doubt he and pitching coach Chris Fetter are working on that, but without at least better fastball command, it’s going to be difficult to rack up more whiffs in the meantime. He’s just not giving hitters enough to think about and is still wasting too many pitches.
Last time out, he faced these Twins in Target Field, and while he was extremely inefficient, Brieske did manage to limit them to two runs over four innings of work. The real blemish on the rookie’s card is a six-run shellacking delivered by the Tampa Bay Rays in the Trop two weeks ago. Otherwise, Brieske has been able to limit teams to a couple runs, though he’s only made it six innings once to date. Facing the Twins in back-to-back starts will require some adjustments, so we’ll be looking for some new wrinkles on Monday.
Of course, some of his struggles are just the normal learning curve. It’s worth remembering that Brieske is still only 16 starts removed from A-ball, and was expected to be getting more seasoning and working on his weak points at the Triple-A level. Hopefully the current schooling at the major league level will benefit him in time. Overall, he’s done a nice job and shown excellent composure despite being pressed into early service. He hasn’t really fallen apart for big innings and continues to grind through an outing when he has some trouble.
As for Dylan Bundy, he’s also trying to keep the ball in the park—the weakness throughout his career—and so far this season he’s done a better job of it than any other time in his career. Bundy’s low power 89 mph fourseamer remains surprisingly effective when paired well with his splitter. He has enough command to mix the two and keep hitters off balance while getting ahead in counts, and then tries to expand the zone and use his slider against right-handers.
This is a fairly effective approach as long as he’s spotting the fastball-splitter combination, and typically, Twins’ manager Rocco Baldelli keeps a quick hook ready if things start to go sour in the middle innings. Bundy is pretty vulnerable to left-handed hitters, but while the Tigers could really use Austin Meadows and Riley Greene back about now, they’re rather lacking in this department at the moment.
Key Matchup: Who scores first?
Bundy remains fairly vulnerable overall, but teams don’t tend to get to him until later in his outings when he’s working through a lineup the second or occasionally the third time. Whereas Brieske has tended to get ambushed early on and then has to try and pitch from behind, usually with little to no run support. It would sure be nice to see the Tigers cash in a rally in the early innings, rather than settling for one or none.
Bundy tends to have fairly strong platoon splits, so it’ll be interesting to see if Hinch gets Harold Castro in the lineup again. How could you not at this point? Spencer Torkelson saw three games worth of Twins pitching just one series back, so now would be a good time for a little breakout session at home. We’ll take him to have a strong game.