Max Scherzer’s last start against the Kansas City Royals at Comerica Park was one of the worst of his career. On Tuesday (6 p.m pregame, 7:08 first pitch on FOX Sports Detroit), he can atone for that poor outing and pitch the Detroit Tigers into a tie for first place in the AL Central.
Detroit (79-65) scored six runs in the third inning Monday in the opener of this three-game series and held on for a 9-5 win to pull within one game of the division-leading Royals (79-63).
"You can feel it. You can feel the energy in the crowd," winning pitcher Justin Verlander told MLB’s official website after the 9,000th win in franchise history. "You can feel the energy of our ballclub. This is a big series. . . . I’m not saying this is do or die, but it’s definitely a big series. This is the biggest series of the year coming in, and it’s nice to get off to a good start."
Scherzer (15-5, 3.25 ERA) faced the Royals in Detroit on June 17, and they roughed him up for a career high-tying 10 runs and 10 hits in four innings to hand the right-hander an 11-4 loss during their season-high 10-game winning streak.
That outing came after Scherzer limited the visiting Royals to four hits over eight scoreless innings of a 2-1 win in 10 on April 2. He’s 9-5 with a 3.88 ERA in 19 starts against Kansas City.
Following that June loss, Scherzer went 6-1 with a 1.78 ERA in his next 10 starts. However, he’s 1-1 with a 5.11 ERA in his last four after allowing three runs and throwing a season-high 124 pitches in six innings of an 11-4, 11-inning win at Cleveland on Thursday.
"Absolute physical grind for me," said Scherzer, who is looking to match Los Angeles’ Jeff Weaver for the most wins in the AL. "Didn’t pitch efficiently, fell behind in counts. Battled as hard as I could. Pitched as deep as I could even when my pitch count ran up as high as it did."
Scherzer will again match up with Jason Vargas (11-7, 3.14) after the left-hander gave up one run over seven innings April 2. Vargas is 1-0 with a 1.93 ERA in two starts in Detroit this year, but he allowed seven runs and 11 hits in five innings of a 9-4 home loss to the Tigers on May 4.
Vargas avoided a third straight losing start Wednesday, pitching 6 2-3 scoreless innings to beat Texas 4-1.
He has faced Ian Kinsler the most in his career, and Detroit’s second baseman is 17 for 53 (.321) with two home runs and six doubles in those matchups.
Victor Martinez is batting .433 with six homers and 16 RBIs in his last 17 games, and he’s 4 for 9 against Vargas.
Royals slugger Billy Butler has the second-most at-bats of any player against Scherzer, hitting .264 (14 for 53). Left fielder Alex Gordon is 14 for 34 (.412) with three home runs and four doubles when facing Scherzer, and catcher Salvador Perez is batting .391 (9 for 23) with two homers and two doubles.
This series ends Wednesday night and the teams meet three times in Kansas City from Sept. 19-21 to conclude the season series, which the Tigers lead 10-4.
First baseman Eric Hosmer had three hits Monday for the Royals, who scored twice in the seventh and once in the eighth to make it interesting.
"We battled all the way, tried to chip away. Just couldn’t chip away enough," said Hosmer, who made two errors on the same play that led to two runs for the Tigers in the second.