Robbie Ray is looking for a victory to prove he belongs among a Detroit Tigers rotation stacked with big names.
Minnesota could be just the place for it to happen.
The rookie takes the mound Friday night in the opener of a four-game series against the Twins with the Tigers hoping to continue their sustained road dominance in the series (7 p.m. pregame, 8:10 first pitch on FOX Sports Detroit).
Detroit (68-57), winner of 21 of 30 in Minnesota since Sept. 2, 2010, heads to Target Field after winning two of three on the road against Tampa Bay.
David Price set the Tigers up for a sweep against his old club, but they were unable to get anything going in Thursday’s 1-0 loss.
Detroit pitching limited Tampa Bay to a run and four hits in the final two games, a stingy streak Ray now hopes to continue.
Ray (1-3, 5.33 ERA) has lost three straight starts, including both since returning to the rotation on Aug. 12. In Sunday’s 8-1 loss to Seattle, the left-hander gave up four runs with seven hits in five innings. The 22-year-old is being asked to fill in with Anibal Sanchez and Justin Verlander injured.
"We’re kind of in a bind with Sanchie hurt and Ver missing a start, and we’re asking Robbie to compete in a pennant race," manager Brad Ausmus said. "That’s a tall order. It’s not always going to come up roses for a young pitcher in that situation."
His one start against the Twins was certainly his most effective. In his second big league outing, Ray limited them to four hits in six scoreless innings of a 4-3 home loss on May 11.
What’s happened since, though, could be of greater concern. In three outings straddling a 13-start stint with Triple-A Toledo, Ray has allowed 14 earned runs with a .373 opponents’ batting average in 13 1-3 innings.
Minnesota (56-70), however, hasn’t been the most hot-hitting of opponents lately. The club salvaged Thursday’s finale against Cleveland with a 4-1 victory, but is just 2-5 on an 11-game homestand while batting .224 – including a .182 average with runners in scoring position.
What offense it has produced has often come from a pair of youngsters. Kennys Vargas went 3 for 4 on Thursday with his fourth home run, and Minnesota’s designated hitter has driven in 17 runs in 19 games since debuting on Aug. 1. Oswaldo Arcia has also produced this month with six home runs and 17 RBIs in 15 games since Aug. 2.
The overall offensive struggles could mean more pressure for Tommy Milone, who entered his first Twins start with numbers indicating he may be a rotation headliner for the rest of the season. His performance was quite a step back.
Milone (6-4, 3.99) lasted just 1 1-3 innings in his Minnesota debut, surrendering seven runs and four hits with two walks and a hit batter in Sunday’s 12-6 loss to Kansas City.
It was the shortest outing of his career, but the fix might be as simple as a dry ball or a meeting with Detroit.
"The weather was not conducive to pitching in that inning," manager Ron Gardenhire told MLB’s official website. "It was raining pretty hard. He tried to pitch through it, but it was pretty much a mess. I don’t think he had a feel for the ball."
The left-hander is 3-0 with a 2.31 ERA in four starts against the Tigers.
Milone might not have to face Miguel Cabrera at 100 percent. The two-time reigning AL MVP closed the Tampa Bay series at DH after re-aggravating a right ankle injury sliding at home plate Wednesday night.