Pirates-Tigers Preview

For all the offseason hype they received after adding one of the

game’s premier power hitters to a team that was already one of

baseball’s best, the Detroit Tigers enter interleague play with the

same record as the Pittsburgh Pirates.

They didn’t fare well against the NL last season with one

exception – Justin Verlander, who looks to continue his interleague

dominance Friday night when the Pirates visit Comerica Park for the

first of three.

Many were ready to hand the AL Central to the Tigers (18-20)

after they signed Prince Fielder, and considering they won the

division by 15 games last year with a similar roster, those

predictions seemed appropriate.

Instead, Detroit finds itself four games back of first-place

Cleveland – though that’s not an unfamiliar spot. The Tigers

trailed the Indians by five on May 20, 2011, the day they began

interleague play against Pittsburgh (18-20).

No one seemed too eager to look at the bright side after

suffering a two-game sweep to the MLB-worst Twins with Thursday’s

4-3 defeat, though.

“The only thing that has been consistent for this team is the

inconsistency, and that’s mind-boggling to me,” manager Jim

Leyland said. “We just aren’t putting together the combinations

that we need to win.”

Leyland stopped short of using one popular word to describe his

club, which hasn’t won back-to-back games since April 15-18.

“I don’t think the team’s disappointing,” he told the Tigers’

official website. “I think the performance, all of us, everybody,

has been disappointing right now. But I love the team. I think it’s

a good team. I think it’s going to come out. “

It usually does when Verlander (4-1, 2.47 ERA) takes the hill,

particularly in interleague play. Verlander is 15-2 with a 2.94 ERA

in 20 starts versus the NL, going 3-0 with a 0.75 ERA in four

outings last year.

Detroit went 4-11 in interleague last season when giving the

ball to anyone other than Verlander, including two losses in

Pittsburgh.

The reigning AL MVP won his fourth straight decision Sunday in

Oakland, limiting the A’s to a solo homer and one other hit over

seven innings of a 3-1 victory. He did discover a tiny blister on

his right thumb, but didn’t seem too concerned.

“I wouldn’t say it’s been bothering me, I’ve just been cognizant

of it,” Verlander said. “… I’ve been able to deal with it fine.

I’m not worried about it going forward.”

There hasn’t been much that’s been able to slow him down as he

seeks a 51st consecutive start of at least six innings. Only Bob

Gibson, Steve Carlton and Catfish Hunter have gone 50, with

Carlton’s 69 from 1979-82 the last streak longer than

Verlander’s.

Verlander went seven innings in his only career start versus

Pittsburgh, a 6-2 home win June 11, 2010.

That Pirates team finished averaged an NL-low 3.62 runs, and

this one is averaging a major league-worst 2.92. But Pittsburgh had

a solid night at the plate Thursday in Washington, getting two

homers from Andrew McCutchen and recording double-digit hits for

the first time in 13 games in a 5-3 win.

“He’s one of those special players that can do everything,”

Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “He’s fun to

watch.”

McCutchen is certainly doing all he can to keep the Pirates’

offense afloat. The center fielder is hitting .486 with five homers

and a 1.479 OPS over his last 10 games, and he has a .500 on-base

percentage in nine games versus Detroit.

Charlie Morton (2-3, 4.05) will oppose Verlander hoping to solve

his road woes. He’s 1-4 with a 6.55 ERA in his last seven starts

away from PNC Park, where he held Houston to one earned run over

six innings Saturday in a 5-2 victory.

The right-hander may not have to worry about facing the Tigers’

leadoff hitter in his first look at them. Austin Jackson missed

Thursday’s loss with an abdominal strain and is day to day.

Closer Jose Valverde (back strain) may also be unavailable.