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Padres Preview: Clayton Richard vs. Jordan Zimmermann & the Detroit Tigers

Padres go for the series sweep against the Tigers

San Diego Padres v Chicago Cubs
I picked this photo because it kinda looks like Clayton Richard has a baby arm.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Did the offensive floodgates open a little last night, or was that a fluke? After a back-and-forth game that was well played on both sides, unlikely hero Hector Sanchez broke the game open, initiating a five-run eighth inning that was so very nice to see. Dinelson Lamet had another solid start, Phil Maton got into, and subsequently out of, his first “jam,” and then Yates and Stammen slammed the door shut. It kinda felt like the 2010 team until that breakout inning, where the scoring was coming by way of timely hitting from players outside the heart of the lineup and the pitching was the real hero of the game. Now the Padres lead the series 2-0 and have a chance for another home sweep, bringing some sweet justice back to San Diego for those of us who were around for the 1984 postseason.

Clayton Richard will answer the bell today for the Friars. He seems to have found a mid-season groove, where he’s minimizing the damage from his groundball-heavy repertoire, as he’s tied for the lead league in inducing ground plays and is near the league leaders in groundball rate. With a warm, dry day on tap, the ball might be flying at Petco, so the Padres should benefit from keeping the ball on the ground.

Arizona Diamondbacks v Detroit Tigers
This is Jordan Zimmerman’s version of the “funky chicken”
Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

From 2011 through 2015, Jordan Zimmermann was one of the most reliable starters in baseball, posting an ERA no higher than 3.66 in any of those seasons. Whatever magic he had with the Washington Nationals was left in DC, as he’s had a rough go as a Tiger. His 5.25 ERA on the season is backed up by a 5.66 FIP and 5.33 xFIP, suggesting that he hasn’t been lucky or unlucky, he’s just been not-very-good. Looking at his pitch data, it’s evident that he’s thrown his fastball about 10% less often with the Tigers versus his Nationals data, relying on more breaking balls. His fastball has lost a tick or two over that same stretch; he difference between a 94 and 92 could be enough to expose some vulnerability, especially if it also loses what late life it had. For a pitcher who lives in or near the strike zone, a slightly flattened fastball gets turned around quickly, so it makes sense that he might try to hide it behind a veil of breaking stuff.

Zimmermann has shown signs of a turnaround lately, as his last four starts have qualified as “quality starts,” and he’s done it against some pretty good lineups in Boston, Arizona, and Seattle (the White Sox aren’t a good lineup right now). What he’s done through those starts is minimize the longball while keeping the ball on the ground. Ian Kinsler, Jose Iglesias, and Nick Castellanos are all excellent infield defenders, and Miguel Cabrera doesn’t get a fair shake at first either, so if Zimmermann can keep the ball on the ground today, the Padres will have a tall order ahead of them. Much of the offense the last two days has come on the ground, but it sure would be nice to see Wil Myers, Hunter Renfroe, and Austin Hedges do what Hector Sanchez did last night: hit ball hard, hit ball far.

After today’s game, the team gets a rare home day off before opening a three-game series against the Atlanta Braves. It’s a day game, and baseball was meant to be a daytime sport. It’s also military tribute day, so wear some camo and get to the game early to see a rousing pre-game ceremony which will likely be capped by a trilling flyover. Bring your brooms to the park and root for a sweep of the stripes!

Start time: 1:40PM PDT

Radio: 94.9FM, 860AM (Español)
TV: Fox Sports San Diego, Fox Deportes San Diego
Online: MLB.TV