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Series Preview: Detroit heads to Houston for three-game midweek series

After getting swept in Tampa Bay, Detroit now heads to the other side of the Gulf of Mexico to face Houston.

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Detroit Tigers v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Now that the opening series of the 2023 season is in the rearview mirror the Detroit Tigers now travel across the Gulf of Mexico from Tampa Bay to Houston to take on the defending World Series champion Astros for a three-game midweek set. The weekend sweep at the hands of the Rays was a gut punch for the team and the fanbase alike, and unfortunately, it does not get any easier soon.

While the Tigers are now three games deep into the nascent campaign, their upcoming opponents have already played four, splitting the series with the visiting Chicago White Sox at home. The two squads kept things close as the final margins for those games were no greater than three runs difference while the ‘Stros finished with a plus-1 run differential as — as opposed to the Tigers’ franchise-history low of minus-18 against the Rays.

Take a look below at the upcoming pitching matchups for this week’s series. Note that * indicates that pitcher stats and records are from the 2022 season.

Detroit Tigers (0-3) at Houston Astros (2-2)

Times (EDT): Monday: 8:10 p.m.; Tuesday: 8:10 p.m.; Wednesday 2:10 p.m.
Place: Minute Maid Park, Houston, Texas
SB Nation Site: The Crawfish Boxes
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network

Game 4 Pitching Matchup

Player IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Player IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Boyd * 13.1 24.5 15.1 3.19 0.1
Brown * 20.1 27.5 8.8 1.98 0.6

Game 1: LHP Matthew Boyd (2-0, 1.35 ERA)* vs. RHP Hunter Brown (2-0, 0.89 ERA)*

Matthew Boyd makes his return wearing the Olde English D on Monday night after a brief stint with the Seattle Mariners last season that saw him regain his effectiveness, albeit in a small sample size. The 32-year-old had initially signed with the San Francisco Giants following flexor tendon surgery in 2021 and was on the path to recovery before a trade sent him to the Pacific Northwest.

Last season, his arsenal was comprised of five pitches, headlined by his four-seam fastball (92.6 mph), slider (80.8 mph), changeup (80.6 mph), sinker (90.6 mph) and curveball (72.0 mph), which he employs 32.8%, 32.3%, 18.8%, 14.6% and 1.6% of the time, respectively. Boyd has reportedly been working with a new changeup this spring, which has yielded some positive results so far.

Hunter Brown, a former fifth-round draft pick out of Wayne State in the 2019 MLB draft by the Astros, is now in his second big league season after pitching in seven games last season — two of which were starts in which he earned the win with six-inning efforts. The 24-year-old right-hander takes the mound on Monday representing Houston’s fifth starter, giving the Tigers yet another young, up-and-coming hurler to battle against.

In 2022, the young gun flashed a five-pitch repertoire led by a four-seam fastball (96.6 mph), curveball (83.3 mph), slider (93.2 mph), split-finger (89.2 mph) and sinker (95.3 mph) that he utilized at 52.4%, 31.4%, 13.3%, 2.3% and 0.6% clips, respectively. His fastball velocity ranked in the 89th percentile and his extension in the 71st percentile, according to Baseball Savant’s 2022 MLB Percentile Rankings.

Game 5 Pitching Matchup

Player IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Player IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Manning * 63.0 18.3 7.2 3.78 1.0
Valdez 5.0 18.2 0.0 2.22 0.2

Game 2: RHP Matt Manning (2-3, 3.43 ERA)* vs. LHP Framber Valdez (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

Matt Manning gets the first start of his 2023 campaign on Tuesday night to kick off his third season in the big leagues. The former first-round pick out of high school in the 2016 MLB draft by the Tigers has had a long path to Detroit that has been marred by injury and underperformance, but keep in mind, he is still just 25 years old with plenty of headroom remaining to improve. The general hope for the right-hander is that he rediscovers his strikeout stroke with the fastball, and if he can get those ticks back on the radar gun, his potential may finally be realized.

The third-year hurler got by using a five-pitch arsenal last season that consisted of a four-seam fastball (93.2 mph), slider (83.7 mph), curveball (79.7 mph), changeup (86.2 mph) and sinker (92.8 mph) that saw usage 51.4%, 22.9%, 10.5%, 7.6% and 7.6% of the time, respectively. Here is a look at where he ranked in comparison to his peers in 2022.

Baseball Savant

Framber Valdez gets the nod opposite of Manning for his second start of the young year. The 29-year-old out of the Dominican Republic looked fairly sharp in his season debut against the ChiSox, tossing five scoreless innings while allowing six hits and striking out four without issuing a walk. Unfortunately for the Astros, he was forced to take the no-decision as the team ultimately fell, 3-2.

The southpaw employed a four-pitch array in his opening game that featured his sinker (95.1 mph), curveball (78.8 mph), changeup (89.5 mph) and cutter (81.4 mph) which he uses 55.3%, 28.2%, 10.6% and 5.9% of the time, respectively. Missing from this list from last season is the four-seam fastball (94.1 mph) which was used sparingly prior (3.6%) and appears to have been scrapped.

Game 6 Pitching Matchup

Player IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Player IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Rodriguez 5.1 23.8 9.5 4.90 0.0
Javier 5.0 26.1 4.3 1.42 0.2

Game 3: LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (0-1, 5.06 ERA) vs. RHP Cristian Javier (0-0, 5.40 ERA)

Eduardo Rodriguez gets his second start of the season on Wednesday afternoon after a perfectly mediocre outing to open the schedule in Tampa Bay. In 5 13 innings of work, the 29-year-old from Venezuela allowed three earned runs on three hits — including a home run — while walking two and striking out five en route to a 4-0 loss. Certainly, there was room for improvement last Thursday on the left-hander’s part but when your team is shut out there is little one can do.

So far this season, the eight-year veteran has maintained his five-pitch assortment with his four-seam fastball (92.6 mph) leading the way, followed by a cutter (88.3 mph), change (87.0 mph), sinker (93.0 mph) and slider (84.3 mph), which he employs 34.1%, 28.4%, 26.1%, 8.0% and 3.4% of the time, respectively. The most notable change from last season and his first game this season was the increased use of the changeup in contrast to the decreased use of his sinker.

Cristian Javier also gets his second start of the season on Wednesday following his debut outing which was fairly similar to Rodriguez’s, surrendering three earned runs on eight hits and a walk while striking out six over five frames. The 26-year-old from the Dominican Republic failed to figure in the final decision but his efforts were a substantial part of the Astros’ 6-3 win.

The fourth-year right-hander maintains the same four-pitch arsenal he threw last season, headlined by a four-seam fastball (93.3 mph), followed by a slider (80.0 mph), curveball (76.6 mph) and changeup (83.5 mph) which sees usage 59.8%, 30.5%, 6.1% and 3.7% of the time. These numbers nearly mirror those from last summer as well.

Series Outlook: Tigers really need to win one

After the demoralizing opening series sweep in Tampa Bay, Detroit really needs something more substantive than mere silver linings. It will not be an easy task taking on the defending World Series champions on their home turf, but at some point, the Tigers have to figure how how to gut out a win against superior competition. Otherwise, an 0-6 start will not only exacerbate the current clamor surrounding the team but also will have a deleterious effect on the clubhouse as well.