Game 41 Preview: Elvin Rodriguez gets another shot in the bigs

Bless You Boys

The Tigers have been a streaky team as of late, but Sunday’s outing shows they can still swing it against some of the best competition the division can offer. Backing Alex Faedo’s solid outing, the team put up four runs in a much-needed victory against Shane Bieber and the Guardians. For the first time in what feels like ages, the win didn’t come at the expense of a player’s health status.

Detroit’s lack of injury luck with pitchers has been simply astonishing. It’s gotten to the point where any starter in the organization who looks even remotely capable of pitching in the MLB is getting a bite at the apple. Monday evening, that burden falls upon Elvin Rodriguez. The righty made his major league debut in April, which didn’t go so well, but he’s back and slated to take on the Twins for his second start with the Tigers.

Detroit Tigers (14-26) vs. Minnesota Twins (25-16)

Time/Place: 7:40 p.m., Target Field
SB Nation site: Twinkie Town
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Elvin Rodriguez (2-1, 3.57 ERA Triple-A Toledo in) vs. RHP Chris Archer (0-1, 4.10 ERA)

Game 41 Pitching Matchup

Player IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Player IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Rodriguez (Triple-A) 22.2 21.6 13.4 4.61 N/A
Archer 26.1 20.7 12.1 5.83 -0.3

The last time these two teams matched up, the Twins put a wholloping on Detroit. Sweeping the series, they outscored the Tigers 17-5. Despite the thoroughly limp offensive showing from the Old English D in the last series with Minnesota, Chris Archer presents as a rich opportunity to get back on track.

Once upon a time, Archer was the patron saint of sliders. Throwing basically only two pitches, he was able to keep hitters off balance and reaching for air with his bad-boy breaker. At its best, he was throwing it with 4.8 inches more drop than the league-average slider. Nowadays, it’s 1.3 inches below average. Suffice to say, he doesn’t really have that devastating version of the pitch in his back pocket anymore, but he’s still pitching as if he does.

As you’d expect, Archer’s slider is getting squared up this season. It’s been slapped around to the tune of 44 percent hard contact and big xAVG and xSLG figures. Yet, he’s still thrown it more than any other pitch because it can still draw swings and misses. That’s an advantage his fastball, which gets hit more often and just as hard, lacks as a quality. It’s difficult to bet on the Tigers’ offense at this point, but as they’ve heated up a little bit recently, Chris Archer should not present a particularly difficult challenge.

Rodriguez, who will be taking the mound for Detroit, was a projection gamble when the team acquired him from Los Angeles in exchange for Justin Upton. His velo never popped, though, and he’s made his way through the minors as a junkballer. That’s a tough way to make a living in the major leagues. His optimal role is probably in a Tyler Alexander-ish capacity if he can tighten up his command.

Rodriguez will always walk a tightrope with his mediocre fastball, but as FanGraphs pointed out in this self-proclaimed “reckless” article, his curveball has some interesting potential. FanGraphs writer Alex Chamberlain developed a pitch comps tool, which relies on velocity, spin rate, movement, and release points to identify similar pitches thrown by different players. Using that tool, Chamberlain pointed out that Rodriguez’s bender is in favorable company. Similar to the breaking balls utilized by Stephan Strasberg, Charlie Morton, and Marcus Stroman, it could be useful as his out pitch or to keep hitters from siting dead red on the fastball.

Key Matchup: Rodriguez vs. a blowout

This game has all the makings of a light show on both sides of the scorecard. For now, all Rodriguez has to do is keep his head above water. Even if that means giving up a bunch of runs, that’ll be ok if the offense is keeping pace. The Twins are a tough draw for his second MLB appearance and his pitching style doesn’t afford a big margin for error. The Tigers’ depth is being stretched to the breaking point, so if he can rack up five innings without putting the game entirely out of reach, that’s more or less a win in my book. The bats will have to do the rest.

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