Verlander aims to continue success versus red-hot Pirates

It hasn't been vintage Justin Verlander over the former MVP's last few starts. A meeting with Pittsburgh could be just what Detroit's ace needs.

Verlander nearly tossed a no-hitter the last time he faced the Pirates at home and will look to continue his success against the club in the opener of a two-game series for the Tigers.

The right-hander has won all three of his career starts versus the Pirates, logging a 1.44 earned run average while yielding four runs over 25 innings with 22 strikeouts. He tossed a pair of complete games versus Pittsburgh last season, including a one-hit shutout at home on May 18, when Verlander carried a no-hitter into the ninth inning. He walked two and struck out 12 in the dominating performance.

Verlander was in normal form through his first seven starts of 2013, going 4-2 with a 1.55 ERA. However, he is just 1-2 over his last three appearances while posting an 11.37 ERA.

The 30-year-old avoided a third straight loss on Wednesday in Cleveland despite allowing five runs and a season-high 10 hits over five innings. He had to wait through a 62-minute rain delay to record the final two outs of his appearance and struck out nine.

Though his ERA rose to 3.66, he still called the outing a step forward.

The start of Francisco Liriano's National League career with Pittsburgh can't have gone much better, but the left-hander figures to face a big test today against Detroit.

A long-time hurler for the Minnesota Twins who spent last season with the Chicago White Sox, Liriano is just 5-7 with a 5.93 ERA in 23 career meetings with the Tigers, including 16 starts. He faced them four times a season ago, making one start and three relief appearances, and posted an 0-1 record and 11.05 ERA.

The 29-year-old has been dominant for the Pirates since making his season debut on May 11 following an offseason right arm injury. He has won all three starts while allowing two runs and 14 hits over 18 innings with 25 strikeouts and only six walks.

In a 1-0 win over the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday, Liriano scattered two hits and a walk over seven innings while fanning nine.

Liriano has helped lead the Pirates to their best May in 14 years. Pittsburgh is 16-7 this month, the first time it has won more than 15 games in May since going 17-12 in 1999.

The Pirates have won 10 of their past 12 and picked up a series win over the Milwaukee Brewers with Sunday's 5-4 win.

Pedro Alvarez hit a two-run double as part of a three-run third inning and Starling Marte drove in a key run in the sixth inning. Jordy Mercer had three hits in the win, including a run-scoring triple.

"We're getting a little bit better," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "We got on top and we stayed on top. Good way to finish this series, and to win this series."

The Pirates' current hot streak has pulled them to within 1 1/2 games of the St. Louis Cardinals for first place in the NL Central. They are now set to play their next four games against another division leader in the Detroit Tigers, who own a 1 1/2-game edge for the top spot in the AL Central.

Following this two-game set in Detroit, the clubs will play back-to-back games in Pittsburgh starting on Wednesday.

The Tigers and Pirates split six meetings a season ago, with each team winning two of three at home.

Detroit has won five of its past six and got another strong outing on Sunday from Max Scherzer. He struck out six over six innings of one-run ball, keying a 6-1 win over the Minnesota Twins.

Scherzer became the first Tiger since Jeremy Bonderman in 2007 to begin a season 7-0 and he hasn't lost in his last 14 appearances dating back to last season.

"He was a little sluggish," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said of Scherzer. "But he gathered himself and ended up pitching really good. He didn't give up many hits."

Avisail Garcia provided a pinch-hit, three-run triple in the sixth, while Torii Hunter added a solo homer for the Tigers. Prince Fielder and Alex Avila each knocked in a run in the triumph.