DETROIT — The Detroit Tigers didn’t have Miguel Cabrera or Victor Martinez on Wednesday afternoon.
As it turned out, all they needed was Max Scherzer.
Scherzer continued his hot summer, allowing a loaded Dodgers lineup just one run in seven innings. Scherzer is now 3-0 in his last four starts with a 1.61 ERA, and with the exception of his 10-run disaster against Kansas City, he hasn’t let a team score more than two runs against him in over a month.
"I feel like I’m a better pitcher than I was in April, and that’s the important thing," said Scherzer, who will take a 11-3 record into the All-Star break. "You have to keep getting better, and I feel like all of my pitches are coming along right now. I like where I’m at."
The idea of Scherzer getting better isn’t one that will please teams in either league. As it is, he’s 32-6 since the start of last season, he’s struck out more than 10 batters per nine innings in that stretch and allowed less than one homer per nine innings.
"He’s just a great pitcher," said Dee Gordon. "You almost never get a chance to put together a big inning against him, and when you do get something going, he has so many ways to stop you. Every time we had any kind of threat, he made the pitches he needed to get out of trouble."
Scherzer’s only mistake came in the fifth, when he allowed a homer to light-hitting Dodgers rookie Miguel Rojas. The home run, the first of Rojas’s career, was the only run Los Angeles scored in the last 17 innings of Detroit’s sweep. After jumping out to a 5-0 first-inning lead against Justin Verlander on Tuesday, the Dodgers were outscored 18-1.
"It’s only two games, and this is a long season, so we can’t worry too much about this," said Los Angeles manager Don Mattingly. "Yes, we need to take responsibilty for getting better at-bats, but look at the two pitchers we were facing. Scherzer was probably the best pitcher in the American League last season, and Verlander was probably the best pitcher in the American League before Max. Those two deserve a lot of credit for what happened here."
Of course, even with Scherzer on the mound, the Tigers needed to find some offense with Martinez still nursing his sore back and Cabrera getting his first day off of the season. There wasn’t a lot, especially with Zack Greinke on the mound for the Dodgers, but a two-run first inning provided everything they needed.
Austin Jackson tripled and scored when Ian Kinsler followed with a single. Greinke struck out the next two hitters, but Kinsler got to second on a wild pitch and scored on Don Kelly’s two-out base hit. Kelly, playing first base instead of Cabrera, had another hit in the fourth, and was intentionally walked in the eighth.
"Today was just one of those things that happen," Kelly said. "We wanted to get a win without Victor and Miggy, and that started with Max. He gave us a great shot, even against a guy like Greinke, and then Jax gets us rolling by starting the game with that triple."
Greinke was surprised at the depth of Detroit’s offense, even with Cabrera and Martinez on the bench.
"You look at the lineup, and you think you might get a little of a break with their two best hitters getting the day off," he said. "But I made some not-good pitches in the first inning, and they took advantage of that, and then for the rest of the game, I was making some of my best pitches and every guy out there was finding a way to do something with them.
"That’s a really good offensive team, to do that without those two guys."