Coming off another impressive performance last weekend, the Detroit Tigers’ Max Scherzer appears to be at the top of his game.
So do the AL Central rival Cleveland Indians, who could become all the more formidable with Michael Bourn back atop their lineup.
Looking to win a fourth consecutive start and stay unbeaten, Scherzer tries to slow down the surging Indians in the opener of this three-game set Friday night at Comerica Park.
Second in the majors with 12.36 strikeouts per nine innings, Scherzer (4-0, 3.43 ERA) allowed one run, a season-low three hits and struck out eight in as many innings Saturday in a 17-2 rout at Houston.
“I thought I did some good things,” he said. “I thought my curveball tonight was even better. It was competitive every time I threw it. … Right now I feel like I am in a good groove of attacking the zone.”
The hard-throwing right-hander now tries to build on that outing at home, where he’s won all three of his starts despite a 6.23 ERA. While Scherzer is 4-1 over his last six meetings against the Indians (18-14), beating them again could prove difficult.
Having won 10 of 11 by a 76-26 margin, Cleveland is clicking on all cylinders. The Indians, hitting .319 with 24 homers over that stretch, have also posted a 2.34 ERA – significantly lower than their season mark of 3.83.
Jason Kipnis, Mark Reynolds and Nick Swisher all went deep and Scott Kazmir threw six strong innings as the Indians completed a four-game sweep of Oakland with Thursday’s 9-2 victory.
“Our starting pitching is giving us a chance to win,” manager Terry Francona said. “We have a very good bullpen. We’re playing well defensively. A lot of guys are contributing offensively. That’s a good way to play baseball.”
Kipnis and Reynolds have combined for eight homers and 21 RBIs during the team’s run. Swisher is just 5 for 22 over the last six days, but three of those hits have left the yard.
The Indians also figure to get a boost from Bourn, who was activated from the disabled list Thursday after missing nearly a month due to a finger laceration. The two-time All-Star was batting .333 with two homers and seven runs through his first 10 games.
Division-leading Detroit (19-13) had won nine of 10 before suffering a rain-shortened two-game sweep at Washington. Matt Tuiasosopo hit a pinch-hit three-run homer, but the Tigers couldn’t overcome a disappointing showing from Doug Fister in Thursday’s 5-4 loss.
Detroit will try to bounce back against Indians starter Corey Kluber (2-1, 3.06). After throwing seven innings of two-run ball to beat Kansas City in his first start April 28, Kluber gave up three runs, five hits and a career-worst four walks over 5 2-3 innings Sunday in a 4-2 loss to Minnesota.
The right-hander went 1-1 with a 4.91 ERA in two starts versus Detroit last year. Miguel Cabrera is 3 for 6 against him.
Scherzer, meanwhile, has fared well against Carlos Santana (2 for 20), Kipnis (2 for 10) and Reynolds (0 for 5). Among the major league leaders with a .358 average, Santana should be back in the lineup following Thursday’s routine day off.
Ryan Raburn, who spent his entire career with the Tigers organization before signing with Cleveland this offseason, faces his former team for the first time.
“I’m pretty excited,” he told MLB’s official website. “It’s going to be fun. I’m a little nervous, but excited to be on the other side for once.”
The Indians are 8-28 in Detroit since the start of 2009.