DETROIT – The Detroit Tigers (8-1) are back home Friday after completing a 5-1 road trip and storming out to the best start in MLB through nine games. Detroit took each of its first three series against the Twins, Indians and Pirates, and now welcomes the new-look Chicago White Sox (3-5) into Comerica Park for the first matchup of the season.
Since 2012, when the Tigers edged out the White Sox by three games to take the AL Central crown, Chicago has struggled to remain relevant in the division. After landing 30 games behind the Tigers in 2013, the White Sox improved by 10 games last year to finish a distant fourth in the Central. Detroit has spent each of the last two seasons worrying about the Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals while the White Sox looked up at .500.
In early December, Chicago put an end to its two-year silence, winning the offseason with a series of huge-splash signings that changed the look of the entire roster.
Most notably, Chicago added a legitimate top-of-the-rotation starter to a staff that already features Cy Young candidate Chris Sale. That starter is Jeff Samardzija, who came over to the American League at the 2014 trade deadline after two and a half solid seasons as a starter for the Cubs.
Samardzija spent his first full MLB season pitching out of the Cubs bullpen, a role he thrived in, winning eight games and posting a 2.97 ERA. In 2012, Samardzija moved to the rotation and posted a 3.81 ERA in 28 starts.
Now, after just 16 starts with the Oakland A's, the right-hander joins the White Sox rotation on the South Side of Chicago. So far, he's off to a rocky start. Samardzija lost his Opening Day outing after allowing five runs in six innings to the Royals. Then, he nearly lost to the Twins, allowing four earned in seven innings.
His tour of the AL Central continues Friday against the four-time reigning champs.
Only one Tiger hitter has any experience against Samardzija, who has never pitched against Detroit. J.D. Martinez picked up two hits in six at-bats against the former Cub while playing for the Houston Astros. Martinez singled and tripled in two games against Samardzija, knocking in a total of three runs.
Samardzija will face one of his toughest pitching matchups Friday as David Price takes the mound for Detroit.
First Pitch: 1:08 p.m. on FSD
Unlike Samardzija, Price overpowered the Twins on Opening Day, tossing 8.2 shutout innings and allowing just five hits. He was rolling through another dominant outing against the Indians Saturday before three unearned runs sent him to the showers early.
It was his own throwing mishap that ultimately led to Price's undoing. He induced a perfect double-play ball back to the mound with one out in the 6th inning, but spiked the throw and set up a bases-loaded jam. After a Ryan Raburn sac fly, Jerry Sands ripped a two-run double up the right center field gap to put the Tigers behind for the first time all season. Price hit the showers before he could get through six innings.
On Friday, Price will face a pair of familiar Chicago sluggers in Alexei Ramirez and Jose Abreu. Ramirez is playing his eighth season with the White Sox, picking up over 1,000 hits and exactly 99 home runs. Abreu, on the other hand, burst onto the scene as a rookie last year, blasting 36 home runs and driving in 107. He also batted .317 and scored 80 runs.
The familiar faces in Chicago's lineup stop there. In their flurry of offseason moves, the White Sox added a new No. 2 hitter in Melky Cabrera, a second power threat in Adam LaRoche and even a perennial 20-base stealer in Emilio Bonifacio. The three new White Sox are struggling to get on base, hitting a combined .177 through eight games.
Chicago's starting lineup will look like this on Friday:
Adam Eaton, CF
Melky Cabrera, LF
Jose Abreu, 1B
Avisail Garcia, RF
Adam LaRoche, DH
Alexei Ramirez, SS
Gordon Beckham, 3B
Geovany Soto, C
Emilio Bonifacio, 2B
For Brad Ausmus, the most significant lineup note is that Victor Martinez will start on the bench Friday for a fourth straight game. Martinez was limited to two pinch-hitting appearances against the Pirates due to National League rules that require the pitcher to bat. But the Tigers' slugger looked extremely uncomfortable during a strikeout Tuesday and will sit in favor of Yoenis Cespedes at designated hitter.
Detroit's full lineup for Friday looks like this:
Anthony Gose, CF
Ian Kinsler, 2B
Miguel Cabrera, 1B
J.D. Martinez, RF
Yoenis Cespedes, DH
Nick Castellanos, 3B
Alex Avila, C
Jose Iglesias, SS
Rajai Davis, LF
Anthony Gose and Rajai Davis will start in the same game for the first time, after splitting center field duties through the first nine games.
More afternoon games between the AL Central rivals will follow on Saturday and Sunday as the Tigers look to win their fourth straight series to begin the season.