Detroit Tigers: Observations from Opening Weekend 2018
By Rob Low
The first weekend of the 2018 season is in the books, with the Detroit Tigers getting swept by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Who performed well and who did not during the season’s first series?
The Detroit Tigers are 0-3 after their Opening Weekend series against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Three games is a tiny sample size, especially in a 162-game season, but let’s take a look at who looked good and who did not.
Jordan Zimmermann looked better-ish
When Jordan Zimmermann gave up a double to the first batter he faced on Friday, many fans had the same reaction: “Here we go again…” However, Zimmermann bounced back nicely, retiring the next 10 Pirates in a row.
The righty ran into trouble in the fourth, giving up three runs and the lead, but posted decent enough numbers for the day. Zimmermann went six innings, giving up four runs on six hits, with one walk and eight strikeouts.
The most encouraging thing about Zimmermann’s outing was the eight strikeouts. Zimmmermann fanned a third of the 24 batters he faced.
During his days with the Nationals, Zimmermann was mostly a 7.0-8.0 K/9 pitcher. In his first two years with Detroit, he’s been under 6.0. An improvement in strikeout rate should correlate to better results long-term.
The veteran was a little unlucky too, giving up four of his six hits in the three-run fourth. If Zimmermann scatters those six hits instead, his day would’ve looked much better.
Jeimer Candelario looks comfortable in the two-hole
As Andy Patton noted over the weekend, Jeimer Candelario is the best option for the Tigers in the two-hole. Candelario got his season started by going just 1-for-4 on Friday, but drew three walks.
He also saw an average of 4.57 pitches per plate appearance. For context, former Tiger Curtis Granderson led all qualified hitters with 4.52 last year.
As a whole the Tigers showed good patience, drawing 17 walks. Candelario led the way, drawing four free passes.
Candelario’s ability to get on in front of Miguel Cabrera, Nicholas Castellanos, and Victor Martinez is crucial to help a lineup looking to improve this year.
Michael Fulmer bounced back from a slow start
Fulmer walked the first batter he faced, and three batters into his season, he’d already given up a run. The Tigers ace was noticeably struggling with his control early, but settled in nicely.
Over his final seven innings of the afternoon, Fulmer yielded just four base runners, and kept Pittsburgh off the board. Unfortunately, Detroit gave him no run support, and he took the loss.
Fulmer had been working on his slider during the offseason and into spring training, and the pitch was very effective. Hopefully Sunday’s start isn’t a sign of things to come, where he pitches well in a losing effort.
The bullpen is still a big problem
The first relief inning of the year went to Warwick Saupold on Friday afternoon. Saupold retired the Pirates in order, but things quickly went south after that.
After Saupold, Drew VerHagen allowed both of the batters he faced to reach, with both coming around to score against Daniel Stumpf.
Shane Greene had a pair of uninspiring outings. On Friday, the closer gave up three runs and four base runners in two-thirds of an inning.
Greene was fortunate not to give up any runs on Sunday, allowing three more to reach in an inning. He got bailed out by a runner caught stealing, and a nice play by Miguel Cabrera that kept the Pirates from scoring at least one, probably two runs.
Alex Wilson gave the Detroit Tigers some solid frames in extra innings on Friday, but got tired and fell apart in the 13th. With two down, he gave up back-to-back singles before Gregory Polanco took him deep to give Pittsburgh the lead for good.
Buck Farmer was the last member of the bullpen to make his season debut, coming on in game two of the double dip. His first inning was dominant, as he struck out the side.
The next inning was the polar opposite. In a 3-3 game, Farmer yielded five runs on four hits and a walk. Detroit never recovered from that inning, and the Pirates completed the sweep.
Mother Nature was a bit of a buzzkill
The Detroit Tigers had Opening Day rained out on Thursday, then had another game postponed on Saturday, forcing Sunday’s doubleheader. While a sellout was announced for the make up of Opening Day on Friday, Comerica Park did not look anywhere near full.
Sunday’s attendance was unsurprisingly very low as well. With temperatures in the mid-30s for game one, not too many folks were in attendance for Michael Fulmer’s season debut. The fact that it was Easter Sunday didn’t help matters either.
The crowds may not have been much better if the weather had been better, but it certainly didn’t help. As the weather improves, hopefully the attendance will too.