Tigers vs. Giants preview: Drew Hutchison has a tall task against Carlos Rodon

Bless You Boys

Speaking of teams whose 2022 season hasn’t gone as planned, the Tigers will welcome in the San Francisco Giants for the first of two on Tuesday evening. Last year, the Giants appeared on the verge of another classic campaign where they’d come from nowhere to win another title. However, it wasn’t an even year and 2022 hasn’t proved the Giants year either.

They did erupt after four straight sub-.500 seasons to win 107 games in 2021 and steal the extremely tough National League West division from the Los Angeles Dodgers by a game. The Dodgers then took them out in the divisional round of the playoffs, but the stage appeared set for a run as a consistent contender. Instead, the Giants come to Detroit a game under .500 and in desperate need of a lengthy winning streak to make up a 6.5 game deficit in the wild card hunt.

Of course, with a pair of monsters like the Dodgers and Padres in your division, it’s a much tougher task from year-to-year than trying to compete in the American League Central. Kris Bryant departed for Colorado, while veterans like Evan Longoria, Brandon Belt, and Brandon Crawford’s seasons have been blunted by injuries. Add in a flawed bullpen, and in that division it was enough to leave them in the dust of the division leading Dodgers.

Make no mistake though, the Giants are still a talented club. The rotation is still one of the better ones in the game, and the Tigers are going to get a stern dose of it facing Carlos Rodon and Logan Webb back-to-back. On the other hand, the Tigers cannot deal with right-handed pitching at all this season, so their chances could be worse despite the quality of southpaws they’re dealing with here. Certainly we’re long into “evaluating players for next year” mode, but it would be nice to see them play more like a competent major league squad over the final 38 games.

Detroit Tigers (47-76) vs. San Francisco Giants (60-61)

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

SB Nation Site: McCovey Chronicles

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

Pitching Matchup: RHP Drew Hutchison (1-6, 4.23 ERA) vs. LHP Carlos Rodon (11-6, 2.89 ERA)

Game 124 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP FIP K% BB% HR/9 fWAR
Pitcher IP FIP K% BB% HR/9 fWAR
Hutchison 66.0 4.14 14.6 10.1 0.68 0.6
Rodon 140.1 2.34 31.7 7.3 0.58 4.7

Last offseason, when hope was at its peak, we really liked the idea of adding an expensive ace on a short term deal, assuming the Tigers were serious about trying to compete. Certainly that interest was mostly focused on absolute legend Justin Verlander, but Carlos Rodon also looked like a pretty great high risk, high reward bet that wouldn’t require a long-term deal. As it turned out, either would have been completely wasted on a historically bad offense.

Instead, the Giants landed Rodon for a two-year, $44M deal that looks like a pretty epic bargain right now. The ongoing concerns about the hard-throwing lefty’s shoulder that hurt his free agent value were misplaced, at least for now, and the Tigers will be dealing with one of the top starting pitchers in the game in this one. Currently Rodon should probably be favored for the NL Cy Young award.

The power lefty’s approach isn’t very complicated, as Tigers fans will remember from his days tormenting them with the Chicago White Sox. Hitters will see little but fastballs and sliders, the former a screaming fourseamer with excellent ride and plane, delivered at an average velocity just under 96 mph. Rodon is very good at mixing both pitches to different parts of the plate, and tends to throw a high volume of first pitch strikes without much fear of ambush. The stuff is just that good.

On the Tigers side we have Drew Hutchison, another exhibit among many over the past two seasons that illustrate Chris Fetter and Juan Nieves’ talents as pitching coaches. Despite mediocre stuff and a history of shaky command, Hutchison has performed acceptably in his limited role for parts of two seasons now. A whole combination of factors have combined to make a pitcher who hadn’t played regularly in the big leagues since 2015 into a pretty acceptable depth starter.

His stuff has improved notably during his time bouncing up and down the Tigers’ organization over the past two seasons. That’s certainly a good sign, though the repertoire remains rather weak overall for a major league starter. Probably most important is the better separation between his fourseam fastball and lesser used sinker. The former has gained ride during his time in the Tigers’ organization, and both the slider and sinker have more depth as well. The result has been a two year stretch without allowing many home runs, making his low strikeout, high WHIP approach manageable if untrustworthy.

The Tigers have helped him out with their pairing of good pitch selection and defensive positioning. Whatever the exact equation between A.J. Hinch, Chris Fetter, and the analytics department, the results overall have been good, and Hutchison has certainly been a beneficiary as well. The catchers certainly share some credit as well. There are some potential signs that this isn’t all just good luck with double play balls.

However, there’s still a lot of good fortune in the brew. There’s a reason the Tigers have been able to release him and bring him back multiple times without competition. The extreme lack of strikeouts leaves Hutchison dependent on good batted ball luck, and it’s hard to believe he can continue to bob and weave his way through the constant traffic of a 1.47 WHIP on the basepaths much longer. On the plus side, he’s done a good job preventing home runs for two seasons now, and that’s starting to feel like a stickier trend for him at this point. Part of that is likely based in his refusal to miss over the heart of the plate, even if he issues extra walks in trying to avoid extra base damage.

Whether the Giants are the team to really exploit his weaknesses remains to be seen. They are winners of six of their last 10, but overall the team hasn’t really been clicking offensively, especially against right-handers. Hutchison has a good shot at putting up a decent outing, and while the Tigers will probably struggle with Rodon, the bullpen matchup in a tight game is pretty favorable.

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