The way the Detroit Tigers have been hitting bodes well for Justin Verlander in a matchup with a longtime nemesis.
Struggling offensively, the Cleveland Indians hope a return home and an opponent they swept last month allows them to get back on track.
Verlander tries to pitch Detroit to a sixth consecutive victory and end an eight-start win drought against Cleveland when the AL Central opponents open a three-game series Tuesday night.
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Shut down by the Indians in three straight losses April 22-24, the Tigers enter Progressive Field averaging 7 runs and batting .328 during a season-high winning streak. They recorded 14 hits in Sunday’s 6-5 comeback win at Minnesota to complete a three-game sweep.
”We had it in us, we knew it, even when we were going through that stretch where we were losing,” said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who delivered a tiebreaking RBI double in the eighth inning Sunday. ”We just weren’t putting the ball in play. We knew we were better than that.”
Nick Castellanos forged a 5-all tie with a three-run homer in the sixth and Victor Martinez and Justin Upton had three hits to help Detroit (14-10) move to 9-4 on the road.
Martinez went 9 for 13 in the series and is 16 for 31 with three home runs and nine RBIs in an eight-game stretch. Upton was 7 for 13 in Minnesota and Miguel Cabrera is batting .387 with three homers during a seven-game hitting streak.
The Tigers’ bats weren’t remotely as hot in the previous series against Cleveland, as they hit .140 while scoring five runs. They were held to four hits through 6 2/3 innings by Josh Tomlin in a 2-1 loss April 22 that gave Verlander an 0-5 mark and 4.83 ERA in his last eight meetings with the Indians.
Verlander (2-2, 5.46 ERA) yielded four hits and struck out 10 in seven innings but surrendered homers to Carlos Santana and Marlon Byrd. He’s 18-19 with a 4.83 ERA in 44 career starts against Cleveland – his lone losing record versus an AL Central team – and last beat the Indians on April 17, 2014.
The 2011 AL MVP received more support in Wednesday’s 9-4 win over Oakland in which he surrendered three runs in 6 1/3 innings.
Cleveland (10-12) scored 18 runs in its sweep of the Tigers but just five against surprising Philadelphia, which limited the Indians to four hits in Sunday’s 2-1 victory that capped a three-game sweep.
The Indians have played six consecutive one-run games since the Detroit series and lost five, falling to 4-7 in such contests.
”We’ve had close games all year,” manager Terry Francona said. ”We talk about being one run better. In this series, that’s what they did.”
Cleveland has consistently succeeded in Tomlin’s starts since the right-hander returned from shoulder surgery in August. He’s 10-1 with a 3.07 ERA over his past 12 outings and has held hitters to a .195 average in that period.
Tomlin (3-0, 3.18), who threw a four-hitter in an 8-1 win at Detroit on Sept. 4, won his third straight start Wednesday against the Twins despite allowing four runs in 5 1/3 innings.
He’s held Martinez to 2 for 16 in their matchups, though Saltalamacchia is 4 for 5 with a home run off him.
Santana has seven homers in 56 at-bats against Verlander and had a solo shot Sunday.
Detroit is expected to activate James McCann from the disabled list Tuesday. The catcher has been sidelined since April 11 by a right ankle sprain.