Justin Verlander is hoping to round into dominating form before October baseball begins.
The former AL MVP has a chance on Wednesday night to move his Detroit Tigers closer to a third straight division title in the third contest of a four-game set with the Seattle Mariners.
Verlander carried a six-start winless stretch (0-3) into his last outing on Friday versus the Kansas City Royals. The right-hander finally secured his first win since Aug. 6, allowing three runs on nine hits over 6 2/3 innings. He also struck out seven without a walk.
Just two seasons removed from his 24-win, 2.40 earned run average campaign in 2011 and a 17-game winner last year, Verlander moved to 13-11 with a 3.66 ERA in 31 starts this season.
"He had good stuff tonight," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said of Verlander. "That's what I've been saying all along. He's a stuff guy and I think he showed that tonight."
The 30-year-old Verlander, who is just two-thirds of an inning shy of hitting the 200 mark for a seventh straight season, is 9-7 with a 3.35 ERA in 16 lifetime meetings with the Mariners. That includes a 2-0 loss on April 18 in Seattle, where he allowed both runs and struck out 12 over seven innings.
Hisashi Iwakuma faced Verlander on that day and did not get a decision despite scattering three hits and a walk over six scoreless innings. It was his first start versus the Tigers and he'll make his third ever appearance against them tonight.
The 32-year-old is 12-6 through 31 starts this year and his 2.87 ERA is fourth best in the AL. However, he has not factored into his last four outings following two straight victories from Aug. 16-21.
Iwakuma has not allowed more than three runs over his six-start unbeaten stretch and last pitched in Friday's 2-1 loss to St. Louis. The righty logged seven scoreless innings of three-hit ball.
Iwakuma will try to get the Mariners on the board in this series after Detroit won its third straight game overall with Tuesday's 6-2 win.
Miguel Cabrera and Don Kelly both homered and Jose Alvarez came into a one- out, bases-loaded situation in the top of the eighth inning, getting Mike Zunino to hit into an inning-ending double play.
The Tigers then tacked on three runs in the bottom of the frame, getting an RBI single from Omar Infante and a two-run base hit by Austin Jackson.
"We need everybody here on our ballclub," said Cabrera, who hit his 44th homer of the season but first since Aug. 26. "I think everybody here stepped up tonight and did their jobs. It's what we need to still win our games, what we need if we go to the playoffs."
Detroit's sixth victory in seven games lowered its magic number to clinch the AL Central to six. The Tigers remained six games ahead of second-place Cleveland after the Indians won on Tuesday.
Raul Ibanez's homer highlighted Seattle's third straight loss and eighth in nine games.
"Our guys have had a lot of fight. We've been giving our opponents everything they can handle. We have a lot of young guys out there fighting. They're learning every day," said Mariners manager Eric Wedge.
It was Ibanez's 28th home run the season, with the 41-year-old matching Barry Bonds for the second-most homers in a season by a player 41 or older. Bonds hit his 28 as a 42-year-old in 2007 and Ibanez is one shy of the record 29 Ted Williams hit in 1960 as a 41-year-old.
Ibanez's 299th career homer wasn't enough as Seattle fell to 66-85 this season.
The Tigers took two of three from the Mariners in Seattle back in April, but were swept in three games in the lone meeting between the clubs last year in Detroit.