First-place Tigers turn to Smyly vs. Twins

The Detroit Tigers were supposed to have righty Max Scherzer on the hill Friday when they open a three-game series with the Minnesota Twins at Target Field.

However, he was scratched Thursday because of a lingering shoulder problem and his status for the rest of the year is kind of up in the air, as Scherzer was unsure if he'd be able to make another start in the regular season.

Scherzer, of course, has been one of the best pitchers in baseball down the stretch, winning six of his last seven decisions. His only loss in a span of 10 starts came in his last one on Sunday against the Twins, but he had to exit that one after five innings.

So, instead of Scherzer, the Tigers will rely on lefty Drew Smyly, as they attempt to maintain their lead atop the American League Central.

Smyly pitched the nightcap of the doubleheader against the Twins on Sunday and gave up an unearned run in 4 1/3 innings of his team's 2-1 loss. He is 4-3 on the year with a 4.24 ERA.

He will be pitching for a team that is now two games up in the American League Central after the Tigers' thrilling 5-4 win over Kansas City on Thursday.

Kansas City reliever Kelvin Herrera entered the game with runners on first and second with one out in the ninth, then Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas bobbled a Jhonny Peralta grounder, leaving the bases loaded. Alex Avila followed with a sharp grounder to first, and though KC first baseman Brayan Pena made a diving stop and tagged the bag, pinch-runner Don Kelly scored easily.

"When I hit it I thought it was down the line, and then all of a sudden I see (Pena) dive and catch it," Avila said. "He would have had to go to second or home first to get a force play. Luckily he tagged first, then juggled the ball and couldn't get it out and we were able to get the run."

It made a winner of Joaquin Benoit (5-3), who served up a game-tying homer to Billy Butler in the top of the ninth.

Lost in the hoopla was a historic performance from Detroit starter Doug Fister, who set a new American League record by striking out nine consecutive batters, eclipsing the previous AL mark of eight last accomplished by Blake Stein of the Royals in 2001. The record-setter came when he fanned Butler looking for the second out of the seventh inning.

One batter earlier, he set a new Tigers record with eight after sending Alex Gordon down on strikes, a mark first set by Denny McLain in 1965 and equaled by John Hiller in 1970.

"I didn't really have any idea what was going on," Fister said of the record. "Still, it was a humbling experience. I can't put it into words. It's one of those things I can look back on after the season is over. That's when I'll be able to appreciate it."

Getting the call for Minnesota on Friday will be lefty Scott Diamond, who is 12-8 with a 3.64 ERA. Diamond beat Scherzer and the Tigers on Sunday, limiting them to two runs and four hits in seven innings.

"Diamond went out there and we've said all along that if your starter gives you good innings and keeps it close, you can win ball games," said Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire. "He didn't let up any big innings and stayed ahead of the hitters most of the night."

He is 1-2 in four starts versus Detroit with a 3.08 ERA.

Minnesota enters this series after losing two of three to the New York Yankees, including an 8-2 loss in Wednesday's finale.

Brian Duensing (4-11) replaced Samuel Deduno in the second inning and surrendered six runs on five hits and two walks over an inning of work to take the loss for Minnesota, which has dropped four of its last seven.

Detroit has won eight of 15 matchups with the Twins this season.