Justin Verlander and Ubaldo Jimenez have already become quite familiar with each other this season.
They’ll renew acquaintances again Friday night as Verlander and the Detroit Tigers host Jimenez and the Cleveland Indians in the opener of a three-game series.
Detroit (32-26) hopes Verlander can continue the recent dominance by the team’s starting pitchers, while Cleveland (30-29) gets a chance to end its struggles and chip into the Tigers’ 2 1/2-game lead in the AL Central.
Tigers starters have gone at least six innings in each of the last 13 games while allowing more than three runs once, posting a 2.49 ERA and 114 strikeouts over 94 innings – though the team is 6-7 over that span.
Detroit received another quality outing Thursday from Max Scherzer, who yielded one run across seven innings in a 5-2 home victory over Tampa Bay.
“We feed off each other, but we’ve also pushed the bar so dang high,” Scherzer said. “Everybody wants to try to match that.”
The Tigers won three of the season’s first five meetings against Cleveland, with Jimenez earning the win after holding them to one run and three hits in six innings as the Indians beat Verlander 7-6 on May 11. Verlander allowed four runs and walked a season-high five over five innings.
Jimenez (4-3, 4.83 ERA) and Verlander (7-4, 3.70) were hit hard in an 11-7 Detroit win May 22 that saw the pair give up 11 runs and 17 hits over nine innings, with the Tigers’ right-hander emerging with the victory and Jimenez suffering the loss.
Both have recovered for two solid outings since. Verlander notched two wins while giving up six runs and striking out 18 over 14 innings and Jimenez has been even stingier, surrendering two runs and eight hits over his last 15 innings.
“Right now, he knows he can pitch in the zone and get outs,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona told the team’s official website after Jimenez went eight innings in a 5-0 win over the Rays on Saturday.
The Indians could use another strong outing from Jimenez, having dropped four in a row after a three-game sweep at Yankee Stadium. They fell 6-4 on Wednesday for their eight straight road defeat.
Cleveland’s 4-12 stretch follows an 18-4 surge that saw it take a brief hold of first place.
“It’s kind of a down time for us right now,” said Nick Swisher, who is 1 for 24 over the last seven games. “But I feel like we were in every ballgame. Just kind of one hit here or there turns things around. So, I feel like we’re kind of on the doorstep right now. We just need to break through it.”
Miguel Cabrera, who went 3 for 4 on Thursday and drove in his major league-leading 66th run, has hit safely in 25 of his last 28 games against the Indians with 12 home runs, 35 RBIs and an OPS of 1.187. He’s 14 for 40 (.350) when facing Jimenez.
Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder comes in on an 11-game hitting streak in which he’s batting .356, while Cleveland left fielder Michael Brantley is 13 for 29 off of Verlander — his most at-bats against any pitcher.
Jimenez has seen mixed results in eight starts against Detroit since the beginning of last season, going 3-3 with a 4.37 ERA.
Verlander has struggled throughout his career versus the Indians, posting a 4.68 ERA while amassing a 15-14 record in 32 starts. Those are his most starts and losses against any team, and the ERA is his highest versus any club he’s faced more than twice.
The Tigers have won 29 of the last 38 meetings in Detroit, though they’ve dropped three of the last four series there.