Shields ready for Verlander, unbeaten Tigers

April 11, 2012

Tune into Sun Sports at 12:30 p.m. to watch the Tampa Bay Rays take on the Detroit Tigers.

The Detroit Tigers are off to their best start in six years.

Handing the ball to Justin Verlander gives them a great chance to extend it.

The reigning AL Cy Young Award winner and MVP looks to dominate his second start of the season just as he did his first when the Tigers host the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday.

After sweeping the visiting Boston Red Sox last weekend - winning twice in its final at-bat - Detroit (4-0) scored three runs in the eighth inning Tuesday to open this three-game series with a 5-2 victory.

Newcomer Prince Fielder delivered the go-ahead RBI single in the eighth to score AL player of the week Miguel Cabrera, who doubled to open the inning.

"It all starts with Miggy - he's unbelievable," said Fielder, 6 for 15 with two homers and four RBIs. "When he gets it going, it kind of trickles down to everyone else."

Cabrera is 6 for 13 with three homers and eight RBIs for the Tigers, whose win over Tampa Bay (3-1) made them the AL's lone undefeated team. Leadoff man Austin Jackson also has made a big impact, homering Tuesday and batting a team-high .563 with seven runs, three RBIs and four walks.

The defending Central champions, batting .329 and scoring 7.8 runs per game, are off to their best start since 2006 when they opened 5-0 en route to their last World Series appearance. They've won their first four home games for the first time since beginning 5-0 at Tiger Stadium in 1993.

Verlander (0-0, 0.00 ERA), who finished 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA in 2011, struck out seven and yielded two hits over eight scoreless innings of Thursday's 3-2 season-opening win over Boston.

The right-hander was denied the victory when Jose Valverde blew his first save since Sept. 2, 2010.

"A lot of pitches on the outside corner were perfect pitches," Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said of Verlander. "We knew he was good and he's still good if anyone is wondering."

It was the first time in 33 career starts before May 1 that Verlander lasted more than seven innings without giving up a run. He is 9-14 with a 4.52 ERA in 31 April starts.

"Long way to go, but it's good to get that first one under your belt and have it be a good one," Verlander said.

The Tigers ace is 6-1 versus the Rays but had his worst start of 2011 against them, allowing season highs of six runs and nine hits in a 7-6 home victory May 24. He didn't win that game but did get a victory in Tampa on Aug. 22 with seven strong innings.

James Shields (0-0, 10.80) will try to help Tampa Bay end its five-game skid at Comerica Park in his first start versus the Tigers since 2010. He's 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA in three starts at Detroit.

The right-hander is looking to rebound from a rough season debut Friday, allowing six runs and nine hits in five innings of a 7-6 season-opening victory over the New York Yankees.

"It just wasn't going my way," Shields said.

Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta is 8 for 16 with three homers against Shields, while Cabrera is 8 for 19 with a home run off the right-hander.

Fielder will face Shields for the first time.

Rays left fielder Matt Joyce, a former Tiger, is 6 for 11 with a double and two homers off Verlander.

Detroit has won eight of nine in this series after losing the previous six.