Justin Verlander is trying to rebound from his worst performance of the season. Fortunately for the Detroit Tigers, it had no bearing on the standings.
Coming off a loss in the All-Star game, Verlander looks to remain unbeaten against the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday.
Verlander (9-5, 2.58 ERA) is the reigning AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner, and he's among the best pitchers in baseball this year, ranking near the top in ERA, strikeouts (128) and complete games (five).
"He makes everything look easy," catcher Alex Avila said.
That wasn't the case during Tuesday's All-Star game, when Verlander was reached for five runs in the opening inning and was charged with the 8-0 loss.
The hard-throwing right-hander had allowed that many runs over 15 innings of his last two starts for Detroit (45-43), which is in the thick of the AL Central race.
Verlander was outstanding in his latest performance for the Tigers on July 4, tossing a four-hitter with seven strikeouts in a 5-1 win over Minnesota and setting a career high for complete games.
"I flipped what I used to do," he said. "If I went out and had a bad start of a game or a high pitch count, I pitched to contact the last few innings and it would usually go pretty well. So I said to myself, 'Why don't I just do that early in the game?' That way when I need my stuff I can save more pitches and make it deeper into games with more stuff later."
He may be needed to go deep versus Baltimore (46-41) after Detroit used seven relievers in Saturday's see-saw 8-6, 13-inning loss. Joaquin Benoit allowed a two-run walkoff homer to Taylor Teagarden, who was making his Orioles debut after being activated from the 60-day disabled list.
Benoit also was one of four relievers needed in Friday's series-opening win.
Verlander will try to help win this series with another strong performance against the Orioles. He's 6-0 with a 3.05 ERA in nine career starts against them, and 4-0 with a 2.50 ERA in five visits to Baltimore.
Miguel Cabrera has five hits in this series and is batting .525 with six homers and 12 RBIs during an 11-game hitting streak versus the Orioles.
Baltimore is trying to win its second series in nearly a month, and Nick Markakis is making an impact.
He has four hits in this series since being activated from the DL after a broken hamate bone in his right wrist sidelined him May 29.
Markakis is 13 for 27 with five doubles and seven RBIs in his last six meetings with the Tigers, but is 7 for 30 versus Verlander.
The Orioles will counter Detroit's ace with Miguel Gonzalez (1-0, 1.93), who is starting in place of Chris Tillman. Tillman is bothered by back spasms and being pushed back to Monday at Minnesota.
"He can probably pitch (Sunday)," manager Buck Showalter told the team's official website "But it also keeps the ball in Gonzalez's hand instead of waiting another day, just to be on the safe side."
Showalter may be anxious to give the ball to Gonzalez, who was impressive in his first major league start July 6. The rookie right-hander allowed one run and three hits with six strikeouts in seven innings of a 3-2 win at Los Angeles.