The last time Justin Verlander's ERA was this poor this late in a season, he was finishing off a disappointing 2008 campaign that marks the worst of his career.
Though his overall 2013 performance hasn't reached those depths quite yet, the Detroit Tigers are hoping their ace can turn things around as they try to hold on to a slim AL Central lead.
Gio Gonzalez, meanwhile, hasn't lost in more than two months, and he'll oppose Verlander as the visiting Washington Nationals look to end Detroit's four-game winning streak Wednesday.
Verlander (10-8, 3.99 ERA) agreed to a five-year extension in March that will pay him $28 million per season from 2015-19. He won the AL MVP and Cy Young Award in 2011 before helping Detroit reach the World Series in October, going 17-8 with a 2.64 ERA in 2012.
The Tigers (60-45) still sit atop the Central despite Verlander's rough stretch over the last couple of months. After going 4-3 with a 1.93 ERA through his first eight starts, he's 6-5 with a 5.21 ERA in 14 outings since May 16.
Verlander gave up seven runs and 11 hits in six innings of a 7-4 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Thursday, and he's in danger of his ERA climbing above 4.00 for the first time since it was 4.50 following the 2011 season opener.
The right-hander, who hasn't had this tough of a season since going 11-17 with a career-worst 4.84 ERA five years ago, chose to take the positives out of his latest start.
"As funny as it sounds, (Thursday) was a step in the right direction," said Verlander, who struck out 11 in eight innings of an 8-3 win over the Nationals in his only start against them June 16, 2010. "I thought my stuff was the best it's been all year. It was just a little erratic."
Gonzalez (7-3, 2.97) has had his better stuff for quite some time, as he's 4-0 with a 2.06 ERA in 10 starts since falling to Baltimore on May 27. He struck out 11 for the second straight start - matching a season best - while allowing three runs in 5 2-3 innings before Bryce Harper's walkoff homer gave Washington a 9-7 win over Pittsburgh on Thursday.
"It's one of those weird lines," Gonzalez said. "You look at it and find out that at the end I had 11 strikeouts. I kid you not, it felt like I had six."
The Nationals (52-55) have won six of Gonzalez's last seven starts. The left-hander gave up one run in seven innings to beat the Tigers 5-3 the last time he faced them Sept. 17, 2011, while with Oakland.
He'll look to help Washington split this two-game interleague series with Detroit, which leads second-place Cleveland by 2 1/2 games and has won eight of nine to move a season-best 15 games above .500.
Alex Avila hit a tiebreaking grand slam off Stephen Strasburg in the sixth inning to give the Tigers a 5-1 victory Tuesday, ending the Nationals' three-game winning streak.
Ryan Zimmerman drove in Harper for Washington's run after it busted out for a season-high 14 in Sunday's win over the New York Mets.
Detroit has won six of the seven all-time meetings with the Washington franchise at Comerica Park.
It's unclear if Miguel Cabrera will play after being listed as day to day with an abdominal strain, according to the team's official website. The injury sidelined him for four games last week, and he appeared to aggravate the problem Tuesday. He left the game in the eighth inning.
If Cabrera can't go, it's possible Jose Iglesias could start at third base in his place in his Tigers debut. Iglesias was acquired from Boston on Tuesday in the three-team trade involving Jake Peavy and could be Detroit's shortstop of the future, maybe sooner rather than later depending on what happens to current starter Jhonny Peralta for his part in MLB's ongoing drug investigation.