Verlander, Tigers get huge victory

Justin Verlander (11-11) improves to 5-0 in seven career starts at Target Field.

Craig Lassig/Craig Lassig/Associated Press

The Tigers gave up 38 runs in the last two days and took a pair of ugly losses in Minnesota.

It could have been a lot worse.

Justin Verlander returned from a shoulder problem Satirday night. Although he didn’t look like an ace, he gave the Tigers a chance to win — something Robbie Ray and Buck Farmer didn’t do in the previous two games. 

"My shoulder felt good, especially early, but that (Twins) lineup is locked in right now, and they hit some good pitches," said Verlander, who allowed four runs in 5 2/3 innings. "After taking 10 days off, I got fatigued earlier than I normally would, but I gave the team a chance and the guys came through and got us the W."

Eugenio Suarez and Nick Castellanos hit a pair of key two-run singles, and Joe Nathan got out of a rocky ninth inning to give the Tigers an 8-6 victory over the Twins in the nightcap of Saturday’s doubleheader.

Max Scherzer can now give the Tigers a split of the four-game series and a winning road trip by beating Minnesota on Sunday.

"This was a big win because we had already lost once today, and two in one day wouldn’t feel too good," Castellanos said. "Now we’ve got a big game tomorrow.

"It would be awesome to come out and get a split of this series and then go home and take care of business. That’s what we need to do."

The two biggest stars of the game might have been watching from the dugout. Because of the complete games thrown by Rick Porcello and David Price in Tampa, Detroit had a well-rested bullpen in what quickly turned into a 24-hour nightmare.

Manager Brad Ausmus needed eight pitchers, including shortstop Andrew Romine, to get through Friday’s 20-6 loss.

Things got even worse in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader. Like Ray, Farmer couldn’t get out of the second inning — something that could have destroyed the bullpen.

However, Kyle Lobstein stepped up in his major-league debut, saving the relief corps by throwing 100 pitches in a 5 2/3-inning relief outing.

That meant, when Verlander ran out of gas in the sixth inning of the nightcap, Ausmus had Blaine Hardy, Joba Chamberlain and Nathan ready to finish off the game.

"It was great to have Ver back on the mound, and I thought he looked free and easy," said Ausmus. "He hit 95 early in the game, so his velocity was decent, but I think he’d tell you that he got a little tired at the end."

Ausmus knows Verlander well enough to see it was time to bring Hardy into the game with two outs in the sixth inning.

"He wouldn’t be Justin Verlander if he didn’t push back about coming out of a game," Ausmus said. "He never wants to come out, and that’s what makes him great."

The Tigers still trail Kansas City in the AL Central, but the effort on Saturday night means that the gap is only three games. And the Tigers have their ace going on Sunday.

If Scherzer can get them a victory, the Tigers will find themselves in a lot better frame of mind heading home and then can take full advantage of a day off at home before opening a series with the Yankees on Tuesday.

"I would love a win tomorrow," Ausmus said simply.

For now, just getting the split on Saturday felt like a major achievement.

"They scored 20 runs on us yesterday and then they beat us up again in the first day today, so we knew we had to come out and fight tonight," Torii Hunter said. "We weren’t trying to send a message between games, but I told the guys that I know that team over there, and they were going to keep playing hard.

"We had to be aggressive and come out and take the extra bases. I was going first-to-third tonight, no matter what."

Sunday’s game will air on FOX Sports Detroit at 2:10 p.m., with Tigers Live starting at 1.