Tigers vs. Red Sox preview: Casey Mize hunts a series win

Bless You Boys

With the Tigers victory over Boston on Tuesday night, they now sit just 2.5 games behind the Cleveland Indians for second place in the AL Central. Heady stuff for a team that has been the American League’s worst for over a half decade. Of course, the Tigers still have just the 11th best record in the American League. We’re still a long way from the goal.

Instead, we have short term goals to focus on. Goals like seeing the team’s three rookie starting pitchers develop and hopefully finish the season strong. As the final third of the season begins, the focus tonight will be on starting pitcher Casey Mize.

While Mize holds a fine 3.41 ERA, and continues to show outstanding command, there are some real lingering question marks around his performance. The young righthander just isn’t striking hitters out. Getting weak contact is all well and good, but it doesn’t tend to last when you’re allowing more contact than most starting pitchers in the game.

The real issue is Mize’s inability to get whiffs with his splitter. The pitch, typically graded his best offering until this season, has been AWOL all year. Instead, he’s been reduced to a two pitch starting pitcher, while is an uncomfortable place to be when neither of those two pitches is particularly great. That Mize has been able to make it work is a testament to the advanced command that made him such a promising collegiate pitcher, the game planning of pitching coach Chris Fetter, and Mize’s understanding of how to set hitters up.

For the time being, this is enough, but those peripherals forecast regression in his results, and the Boston Red Sox have the offense to force the issue. Let’s hope Mize has the good stuff tonight, and can find another wrinkle to keep a powerful offense in check.

Detroit Tigers (52-57) vs. Boston Red Sox (63-45)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park

SB Nation Site: Over the Monster

Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: RHP Casey Mize (6-5, 3.41 ERA) vs. Eduardo Rodriguez (7-6, 5.60 ERA)

Game 110 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP FIP K% BB% HR/9 fWAR
Pitcher IP FIP K% BB% HR/9 fWAR
Mize 111.0 4.55 19.4 6.7 1.30 1.2
Rodriguez 99.2 3.46 27.9 6.5 1.26 2.1

Veteran lefty Eduardo Rodriguez is having a season in stark contrast to Mize’s. While his strikeout rate, walks, and home run numbers are all quite good, he’s struggled badly with runners on base. His strand rate (LOB) is just 64 percent, against a career average of 73.7 percent. Whether there’s some bad luck in that, or whether Rodriguez is having a tough time out of the stretch, is tough to judge without watching him this season.

There are a few indicators that suggest he’s being hit a little harder than usual. Rodriguez’s barreled ball percentage is a little higher than normal, as is his line drive rate. There may be some minor loss of stuff involved, possibly due to the crackdown on foreign substances. Still, he’s racking up plenty of whiffs and strikeouts overall, and throwing a ton of first pitch strikes (65.1 percent) in the process. The safe assumption is that he’s pitching much better than his ERA indicates.

Rodriguez has lost a half tick of velocity on his fastball this year, and has responded by using in less, while favoring a slow slider in the low 80’s a little more. Like many lefties, he uses a cutter to help keep righthanders honest against his fastball, and throws his quality changeup about a quarter of the time. The velocity separation between heater and changeup is only 6-7 miles per hour, but Rodriguez has always sold the pitch well with his arm speed, and gets pretty good depth and fade on the offering. As a result, his numbers this season are actually better against righthanded hitters, and that has been true his entire career.

Key Matchup: Tigers vs. the changeup

As a team, the Tigers actually have the 8th best wOBA against changeups in the game, so it is within their capabilities to neutralize that pitch. What will be interesting, is whether AJ Hinch decides to leave Akil Baddoo in, knowing that lefties have hit Rodriguez better over the years, and that his changeup—his best pitch—isn’t effective against them. Do you trust Rodriguez career splits? Or the Tigers’ hitters career splits, which are much more traditional?

We’ll see how the lineup shakes out, but one thing is certain. The path to beating Eduardo Rodriguez is to recognize and lay off his changeup. The Tigers have shown pretty good ability to do that this season, and if they manage it again they’ll be able to keep traffic on the bases and pressure on Rodriguez. That’s a recipe for success tonight.

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