DETROIT -- Justin Verlander has found his groove. Now, the Detroit Tigers need their closer to settle down.
Verlander recorded his fourth consecutive victory, and Victor Martinez homered for the second straight game as the Tigers handed the Cleveland Indians their fifth consecutive loss, 7-5, at Comerica Park on Friday.
The Tigers stretched their American League Central Division lead to 3 1/2 games over the Indians.
Verlander (8-4) gave up three runs in seven innings and struck out six. Jose Valverde, who imploded late last season, nearly squandered Verlander's performance during a non-save situation by giving up solo homers to Jason Giambi and Drew Stubbs in the ninth. The crowd of 39,008 didn't exhale until Valverde got Nick Swisher to ground out with a runner on for the final out.
Valverde gave up four runs while blowing a save and a game in Baltimore on Sunday, then worked a perfect inning for a save against Tampa Bay on Thursday. The rollercoaster ride took another scary dip on Friday.
"We know that we need him and he knows that we need him," Tigers catcher Brayan Pena said. "I don't think it's going to be any problem. It was just one of those days where the breaking ball wasn't working the way he wanted it to work. Other than that, he's going to be fine."
Valverde felt he made some quality pitches.
"You've got to give some credit to the hitters," he said. "The one Giambi hit, that's the pitch that I wanted. When they hit it out, there's nothing you can do. You've got to be ready for the next hitter."
Martinez supplied three hits and scored three runs, and Torii Hunter added three hits. Verlander survived a three-run fifth to notch the team's 13th quality start in the last 14 games.
"He was very, very calm, and when he needed to make some tough pitches, he did," Pena said. "He was feeling pretty good and keeping the ball down. He had that one tough inning, but he was able to bounce back and get out of that. It's going to get better and better each time he goes out there."
Jason Kipnis contributed a two-run double for Cleveland, which lost its ninth straight road game. Losing pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez (4-4) lasted just three-plus innings, his second shortest outing this season. Swisher had a rough night, committing two errors at first as well as making the last out.
Manager Terry Francona was pleased with his team's belated comeback.
"This team is so special in my mind already," he said. "I always believe. I don't think that's going to change. We're going to figure this out. In the meantime, you hate to lose. It's so personal, but we'll figure it out."
The Tigers grabbed a 3-0 lead in the second inning when Martinez hit his third homer in 20 career at-bats against Jimenez, drilling a 3-1 pitch into the right-field stands.
Swisher's first error helped the Tigers load the bases with two out in the second inning, and Hunter drove in the second run with an infield hit. Miguel Cabrera then walked for his major-league leading 67th RBI before Prince Fielder flied out.
Jimenez gave up three consecutive hits in the fourth, when the Tigers stretched their lead to 5-0, and was removed.
"He pitched away from some contact in that (second) inning," Francona said. "Saying that, we gave them some extra opportunities, and against that lineup, that made it very difficult. He wasn't quite aggressive enough inside to open up the plate. When he does, his offspeed pitches are so much more effective."
Verlander allowed five hits in the fifth as Cleveland cut Detroit's advantage to 5-3. The Indians loaded the bases with the aid of two infield singles before Michael Bourn singled to left, bringing in the first run. Kipnis' ensuing drive near the right-field wall bounced off Hunter's glove for a double, scoring two more runs. Verlander settled down and retired the next two batters.
The Tigers tacked on an unearned run in the fifth. Pena's RBI single in the seventh made it 7-3 and those runs proved valuable during Valverde's wild ninth.
NOTES: Cleveland's injured closer Chris Perez and his wife Melanie were charged with misdemeanor counts of drug possession on Friday. The charges came after law enforcement officials were tipped off by postal inspectors about suspicious packages addressed to Perez's home and arranged a delivery Tuesday under surveillance. Francona said he has spoken about the incident with Perez, who is on the 15-day disabled list with right shoulder soreness, but wouldn't elaborate. "Out of respect for the process, I'm not allowed to talk about it," Francona said. "We'll let it sort itself out." ... Fielder has appeared in 402 consecutive games, the majors' longest active streak. ... The Tigers have stolen 19 bases, the fewest in the American League. ... Cleveland is 16-17 all-time in games started by Verlander.