DETROIT -- Justin Verlander knows that excellence is expected from him every time he takes the mound. A few subpar outings had Detroit Tigers fans worried about him, but Verlander quelled those fears on Monday.
Verlander struck out a season-high 13 in seven innings as the Tigers won for the sixth time in seven games by defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-5 at Comerica Park.
Verlander, who had given up 16 earned runs in 12 2/3 innings during his previous three starts, improved to 20-2 in interleague games and 4-0 lifetime against the Pirates. He reached double digits in strikeouts for just the second time this season.
"I don't mind the bar being set high. I don't mind being one of the faces of baseball," said Verlander, who improved his record to 6-4 while giving up seven hits and three runs. "That's what I always envisioned since I was a little kid, that's where I want to be and I know that comes with more scrutiny. A couple of bad starts and the world's on your shoulder. What's wrong? What's wrong? But that comes with the territory. I'm OK with that. I can deal with that."
Verlander still didn't come away with a feeling that everything was right. He felt that he wasn't sharp with his fastball command but made up for it with his breaking pitches, particularly his curveball.
"That was another step forward with my breaking ball," he said. "(The curve) was the best it's been this year, but that was not really what I was concerned about. I'm concerned with being consistent with my fastball and hitting my spots. It wasn't where I want it, but it was better."
The run support wasn't lacking, as Jhonny Peralta had four hits and drove in three runs, and Victor Martinez added a go-ahead, two-run double. Jose Valverde recorded his sixth save.
Travis Snider had three hits, a run scored and an RBI for the Pirates, who had won six of their last seven. Pittsburgh starter Francisco Liriano (3-1) gave up four runs in five innings and is 1-7 in his last 12 appearances against Detroit.
Tigers reliever Joaquin Benoit gave up two runs in the eighth to allow Pittsburgh to creep within one, but he picked pinch-runner Josh Harrison off second with one out to escape further damage.
Pittsburgh had stolen three bases earlier in the game.
"We're trying to make things happen. We're going to do things that we've got to do to push the envelope," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Our batting average with runners in scoring position isn't extremely high, so maybe we get a guy moving on a pitch, maybe we open up a lane, maybe he scores on an infield out. Unfortunately, it didn't work out. You don't draw it up to get picked off, but you do draw it up to go out there and be aggressive."
The Tigers scored three two-out runs in the fifth to take a 4-1 lead. Martinez smacked a 2-2 pitch from Liriano down the third-base line to drive in Torii Hunter and Prince Fielder. Peralta followed with an opposite-field single to bring home Martinez.
Verlander gave up three extra-base hits in the seventh when the Pirates pulled within one run. Snider's two-out triple knocked in Gaby Sanchez, who led off with a double. Neil Walker followed with a double to bring home Snider, but Verlander responded by striking out Andrew McCutchen.
"We've seen him three times (in the last two seasons), and he's as advertised," Hurdle said. "He's got that other gear. In the sixth, you saw 94 (miles per hour). In the seventh, you saw 95. I just like the way we kept after him."
Peralta gave his team some breathing room in the bottom of the seventh with his fourth single of the game, which brought in Miguel Cabrera. Two batters later, reliever Jose Contreras issued his fourth walk of the inning to Brayan Pena to force in Fielder and make it 6-3.
The Pirates scored twice in the eighth on a Fielder error and a Sanchez double before Benoit's pickoff.
NOTES: The Pirates recalled utility man Harrison and left-handed reliever Mike Zagurski from Triple-A Indianapolis prior to the game. To make room, outfielder Jose Tabata was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a left oblique strain and right-handed reliever Bryan Morris was sent down to Indianapolis. Harrison was batting .279 with one homer and 17 RBIs in 35 Triple A games while Zagurski had a 1-0 record with a 2.14 ERA in 21 innings. Pittsburgh also moved right-hander Jeff Karstens, who has not pitched this season because of a right shoulder injury, from the 15-day DL to the 60-day DL. ... Pittsburgh leadoff hitter Starling Marte was a late scratch from the lineup because of migraine-like symptoms. ... Cabrera, who leads the majors with a .377 average, struck out three times.