Happy Independence Day folks. Hope our American readership has a good time today, and doesn’t manage to lose any digits to any tomfoolery, or accidentally fire a rocket into someone’s boat at a lake party. Not that we’ve ever witnessed such extravagances in person...
With great freedoms, come great responsibilities. We’ll leave it at that and hope you all have fun.
Since a now distant past in which the Detroit Tigers ruled the AL Central, no division rival has had their number like Cleveland has. This Fourth of July, the Tigers welcome the Cleveland Guardians into Comerica Park with a doubleheader to kick off a four-game set. Considering their long record of tormenting the Tigers, it’s hard to feel good coming off a home series dropped to the Kansas City Royals over the weekend. Right now, the Guardians are hot on the heels of the first-place Minnesota Twins and coming into Comerica hungry to feast on the weak.
The first of two will have some added intrigue in the form of Garrett Hill’s major league debut. The Tigers’ organization has made a nice habit of finding quality pitching talent far outside the high rounds of the major league draft in recent years. Hill certainly qualifies, drafted in the 26th round of the 2018 draft out of San Diego State. The right-hander had a decent slider and changeup considering how far he fell, and average command, but with an undersized frame and fastball, he just wasn’t on anyone’s radar apparently.
Hill’s professional debut went well, and he was very effective in his first full season with the then Low-A West Michigan Whitecaps in 2019. Still, he was viewed almost exclusively like a future spot starter at best, and probably just a decent organizational arm to fill out rotation’s in the system. An org guy.
Instead, like fellow late-rounder Beau Brieske, Hill built himself up during the lost 2020 season and emerged by late 2021 as a legitimate pitching prospect with the Erie SeaWolves. He’s made for a pretty impressive story of perseverance and development and while expectations should be pretty modest, Hill has a solid shot at keeping the Tigers in this one despite a modest prospect pedigree until very recently. He’s having a bit of a breakout, and we’re pretty curious to see how his stuff plays against major league hitters. The ceiling is still that of a backend starter at best right now, but he hasn’t stopped surprising us yet.
Hill’s addition comes with several roster moves, as the Tigers moved Matt Manning to the 60-day injured list. That’s just procedure, as Manning has already missed that much time. Rony Garcia was the bigger blow, hitting the injured list with some arm inflammation just as he’d gotten on a solid little roll in his transition from middle relief to starting. Such is the 2022 Tigers season.
Meanwhile, Alex Faedo is recalled from Toledo to start in game two. His initial demotion was also just a procedural move as the rookie right-hander won’t miss his regular turn in the Tigers’ rotation.
Detroit Tigers (30-47) vs. Cleveland Guardians (40-36)
Time/Place: 1:10 p.m, Comerica Park
SB Nation Site: Covering the Corner
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.tv, Tigers Radio Network
Game 1 Pitching Matchup: RHP Garrett Hill (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. RHP Zach Plesac (2-5, 3.86 ERA)
Game 2 Pitching Matchup: RHP Alex Faedo (1-4, 4.84 ERA) vs. TBD
Game 78-79 Pitching Matchups
The first thing to know about Hill is that he’s not an overpowering guy and will probably sit around 92-93 mph in this one. Standing 6-foot-0 he’s not an imposing presence. However, his angle to the plate helps his fastball play up and when he’s commanding it well, he’ll get more whiffs and weak contact than you might expect. There’s also a bit of deception as Hill has a lot of late acceleration in his arm stroke, and hitters are often tied up by fastballs inside considering his limited velocity.
Hill backs it with a solid slider-changeup combination that again is not particularly overpowering in terms of movement, but tends to play up due to his ability to mix pitches with command. The change is either a pure splitter or more of a split-change, tumbling in around 82 mph with good separation from the heater. Still not 100 percent sure on the grip. He’ll also take a little off with a curveball that looks a lot like the slider but with much more depth.
If Hill can keep the emotions in check and trust his stuff, he’s pretty fun to watch pitch. He tends to get plenty of ground balls and rack up some strikeouts in a hurry. If he’s struggling to spot the full pitch mix? He’s liable to get hit up even if he’s able to keep the ball on the ground.
Plesac is a pretty similar pitcher, but one with a pretty good track record of frustrating hitters by spotting his stuff and being unpredictable. The fastball is only 92 mph but a little sneaky, and Plesac thrives on throwing his slider, changeup, and the occasional curveball in any count with good location. He doesn’t strike many guys out, but he gets a lot of weak fly balls in the air and should enjoy pitching in Comerica Park with a pretty good defensive unit behind him.
After his home run on Sunday, and in light of Jonathan Schoop’s disastrous season at the plate so far, look for Kody Clemens to get the start at second base. Victor Reyes and Willi Castro have both handled Plesac well, obviously these are very small samples, and it makes sense to get speed into the lineup. We could see a Castro, Greene, Reyes outfield with Grossman DH-ing, with Miguel Cabrera sitting until game two. Plesac is the type of guy you need to manufacture runs against because he rarely falls apart for a big inning.
The second game will feature Alex Faedo against a spot starter. The 26-year-old rookie has struggled over his last three starts as the Tigers look to limit his innings coming off Tommy John surgery. He continues to battle, but rough starts recently have started to feature more balls leaving the yard. He’s going to need to command his fastball better and keep the Guardians in the middle of the park to have success. The strikeouts still aren’t in evidence.
The Tigers are in a stretch to close the first half in which they lost a series to Kansas City, and now play the Guardians, White Sox, Royals again, and then the Guardians again heading into the All-Star break. Their record at this point doesn’t mean much of anything, but if this team wants to salvage anything heading into the break, it better happen fast. A rough two-week stretch could see them buried at the bottom of the Central this season for good.