Max Scherzer looks to tame the surging Cleveland Indians on Friday when the Detroit Tigers welcome their American League Central rivals to Comerica Park for the opener of a three-game set.
Scherzer has won each of his last three outings and is unbeaten through six starts this season. The right hander's latest victory came at Houston on Saturday, as he held the Astros to one run on three hits in eight innings. The Tigers went on to win that game, 17-2.
"He was very good, obviously, but I've seen him as good or better than that," manager Jim Leyland said, noting that a big lead tends to change a pitcher's focus level.
Scherzer also fanned eight batters, and he is averaging an impressive 12.4 strikeouts per nine innings after leading the AL in that category last season.
He'll go to work against a Cleveland lineup that is hitting a collective .319 with 24 home runs over the last 11 games. The Indians have won 10 of those 11 games and are coming off a four-game sweep over Oakland, a team they had not beaten in eight previous meetings entering the series.
They completed the sweep with a 9-2 victory on Thursday behind home runs by Jason Kipnis, Mark Reynolds and Nick Swisher. Starter Scott Kazmir threw six solid innings.
The Tribe enter the weekend series just one game back of Detroit for the top spot in the AL Central.
Toeing the rubber for Cleveland is Corey Kluber, who was responsible for the team's only loss during the 11-game stretch. He gave up three runs in 5 2/3 innings against the Twins on Sunday, but the offense had a rare off night as the Indians fell, 4-2. Kluber is 2-1 with a 3.06 ERA in four outings this season (two starts).
Ryan Raburn, who was released by the Tigers after batting .171 last season, faces his former team for the first time. The 32-year-old outfielder has certainly been a welcome addition to the Tribe's lineup, particularly in the wake of an injury to center fielder Michael Bourn. Raburn is hitting .329 with four home runs and 11 RBI in 21 games.
"I'm pretty excited," Raburn said. "I'll be anxious to see some of those guys I haven't seen in a while. It's going to be fun. I'm a little nervous, but excited to be on the other side for once."
Meanwhile, Bourn was activated from the disabled list on Thursday and is expected to start in center.
Detroit holds a slim lead in the division thanks to a recent stretch of nine wins in 10 games.
However, the Tigers are coming off a two-game sweep at Washington. Starter Doug Fister got the hook after giving up five runs (four earned) in three innings during Thursday's eventual 5-4 loss. Matt Tuiasosopo hit a pinch-hit three-run homer, but the damage had already been done.