Tigers vs. Orioles Preview: Detroit tries for the series split behind Tyler Alexander

Bless You Boys

A couple of days ago we were talking about the Detroit Tigers’ three-game winning streak after taking the final two of three from the Minnesota Twins and winning the first of four against the Baltimore Orioles. Unfortunately, the boys in the Olde English D failed to keep the streak alive, resulting in a two-game skid entering Sunday. A win today would both snap the schneid and salvage a series split; a loss would just further exacerbate an already festering wound.

Game 4 features a pair of pitchers that were once minor league teammates in the Tigers organization facing off for the first time as opponents. Both have been serviceable in their roles for their respective teams, though the Orioles’ hurler has been a bit better albeit in a much smaller sample. Here is how the two stack up against each other.

Detroit Tigers (50-57) vs. Baltimore Orioles (37-66)

Time/Place: 1:10 p.m. EDT, Comerica Park
SB Nation Site: Camden Chat
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Tyler Alexander (1-1, 4.80 ERA) vs. RHP Spenser Watkins (2-1, 3.10 ERA)

Game 108 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Alexander 50.2 19.3 5.4 4.85 0.1
Watkins 20.1 16.1 10.3 4.53 0.3

Tyler Alexander has been something of an all-purpose tool on A.J. Hinch’s pitching staff, serving as a starter — though more technically, his role has been the of the “opener” — middle reliever and even closing out games. In more recent days, his focus has shifted exclusively to the opener role as the injury bug depleted the starting rotation. The results? Well, the experiment has not gone all that well so far.

The 27-year-old got his first start on May 31 in which he tossed an inning of shutout ball allowing a hit and striking out two, while his second opening appearance on June 10 also went pretty well, stretching out to 2 23 innings of one-run ball allowing three hits — including a home run — and a walk while striking out two. Things have gone south in his three July starts, putting up a 6.55 ERA over 11 innings pitched, allowing 13 hits and three home runs while walking two and striking out seven. His worst outing of the season was his most recent, in which he surrendered five runs on six hits over four innings giving up two dingers while walking one and striking out two. The soft-tossing lefty has been trending in the wrong direction and will hopefully make some adjustments.

On the mound opposite of Alexander is former Tigers farmhand Spencer Watkins, a 30th round pick from Western Oregon University in 2014. After six years in Detroit’s developmental system, he was released by the team and signed by Baltimore as a free agent. So far in his major league debut campaign, he has been a pleasant surprise for his new franchise, putting up respectable traditional numbers for the American League East Division bottom-dwellers.

The 28-year-old has a four-pitch arsenal that features a 90 mph four-seamer that he uses over half the time at 52 percent, along with an 86 mph cutter that sees 29 percent usage, a 78 mph curveball at 16 percent and a rarely used 85 mph changeup at four percent, according to Baseball Savant. His sample size is still rather small so Savant’s comparison to other players is a bit scant, but he ranks in the 59th percentile in fastball spin as well as the 61st percentile in maximum exit velocity. There is nothing particularly remarkable or outstanding about the rookie righthander’s repertoire but he seems to be getting the job done.

Key Matchup: Tigers offense vs. Watkins

One of the reasons for the last two losses is a lack of runs for the Tigers — obviously, the objective is to score more runs than the opponent, but scoring just three and two runs the past two games, respectively, has not gotten the job done. It should be expected that Alexander is going to allow a few Baltimore batters to cross home plate so the bats are going to have to get it goin’. Watkins’ previous outing against the Miami Marlins was an ugly one, giving up four runs on nine hits along with a pair of dingers, a walk and two strikeouts over four innings. If the same pitcher shows up at Comerica Park on Sunday, we could be in for a series split for the Motor City Kitties.

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