Well it’s deja vu all over again. Wednesday night’s matchup in Baltimore is a re-run of their July 30 meeting in Detroit. Things didn’t do so well for the Tigers in that one. Instead, they lost 4-3 as tonight’s starter, Tarik Skubal, allowed three home runs, four earned runs total in the losing effort.
Three home runs seems to be a theme from the young Tigers starters recently, and not a pleasant one. Casey Mize was rocked for three long balls in last night’s victory. They won anyway, but whether this is partly pitch selection or just execution, it’s a problem the Tigers pitching coaches need to find answer for quickly.
Notable in Skubal’s last meeting with the Orioles was the pitches hit for homers. Pedro Severino got him for a solo shot on a slider away that stayed up too much, but the other two were fastballs in the center of the plate, one a sinker down, the other a fourseamer middle-middle. Avoiding the few mistake pitches that tend to spoil an outing for him remains Skubal’s ongoing challenge. In a launching pad like Camden Yards that is even more important.
The home runs remain frustrating, as the issue is the key to Skubal taking the next step. While his strikeout to walk ratio remains solid, and he retains a reasonable 1.31 WHIP, giving up two home runs per nine innings will never allow for sustainable success. When he has his changeup working, it really helps keep opposing lineups off balance. So, hopefully the pitching plan, the changeup, and Skubal’s command are on point tonight as the Tigers really should handle the Orioles, even on the road.
Complicating matters is the status of Akil Baddoo and Derek Hill. The pair of Tigers outfielders collided near full speed in last night’s contest, and both are day-to-day, with IL stints seeming likely. Hopefully by game time we’ll know more about their condition, and whether the Tigers will be making roster moves to temporarily replace one or both of them.
Detroit Tigers (54-60) at Baltimore Orioles (38-72)
Time/Place: 7:05 p.m., Camden Yards
SB Nation site: Camden Chat
Pitching Matchup: LHP Tarik Skubal (7-10, 4.32 ERA) vs. RHP Matt Harvey (6-10, 6.13 ERA)
Skubal’s foe is once again a rejuvenated Matt Harvey. The former New York Mets ace is many years and many surgeries removed from his early prime, but he’s certainly started to figure it out even to be a decent starting pitcher even with his now diminished stuff. He kept the Tigers honest by pitching aggressively inside last time out, spinning 6 1⁄3 innings of shutout ball with no walks and five strikeouts.
Once a high fourseamer pitcher with superb velo and life, Harvey now has pedestrian velocity, averaging 93.4 mph on his fastballs this season. The big change in his repertoire has come from throwing a lot more sinkers. He made the change with the Royals last season, and while he’s gone back to mixing in more fourseamers as the primary offering, he’s thrown 20.6 percent sinkers this year, to 35.7 fourseamers. That little wrinkle is making him harder to square up and keeping the ball in the park more often than in his wilderness years from 2017-2020.
Beyond that, it’s a pretty standard mix of slider, curveball, and changeup. The stuff is nothing special, as noted in Harvey’s meager strikeout rates. The 1.53 WHIP tells you there is typically plenty of traffic on the basepaths. The Tigers need to be ready for Harvey to work aggressively to both sides of the plate, and cash in their opportunities after failing to do so in their last meeting. The stuff is mediocre, but he’s doing a great job being unpredictable and spotting his complete pitch mix.
Harvey left his last start with a minor knee issue that has apparently resolved itself quickly. After a disastrous first half, he’s completely turned his season around since the break, but we’re still only talking about a month of success after years of disaster. Hopefully we see more of the usual Matt Harvey in this one, and the Tigers can take advantage.
Key Matchup: Grossman and Schoop vs. Harvey
Pretty simple. Without Baddoo and Hill, production at those spots in the lineup is going to crater. The Tigers just don’t have the depth to replace them with effective options. They’re also going to miss that speed on the basepaths. In such circumstances, you need your veterans to carry the load.
Robbie Grossman and Jonathan Schoop have been really good all year, particularly when called on in big spots. The Tigers could use some early offense against Harvey to break the spell. Harvey still looks terrible out there, whatever his recent numbers may suggest. If the Tigers punch him in the mouth early, he won’t last long, and the Tigers can force another long game for the Orioles bullpen, helping them in Thursday’s matchup as well.