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Strong Play Propels Tigers To Top Of AL Central

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Jim Leyland manager of the Detroit Tigers. ( File Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Jim Leyland manager of the Detroit Tigers. ( File Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

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COLORADO - Strong play over the last 1 1/2 months has propelled the Detroit Tigers to the top of the AL Central. Maintaining that lead could be tough if they can’t improve on their recent interleague road record.

The Tigers hope to do so when they open an interleague set with the Colorado Rockies on Friday night.

Detroit (38-31) is 26-14 since May 3, and took two of three at home against Cleveland this week to grab a one-game division lead over the Indians.

“I’m definitely excited that we’re playing well,” Tigers catcher Alex Avila said. “We’re just trying to keep that up.”

However, manager Jim Leyland understands it’s early.

“We’ve got a little something going,” he said. “But it’s such a long grind. I don’t get carried away.”

That may be because the Tigers lost two of three at Pittsburgh in their first interleague action last month, and are 7-14 on the road against NL opponents since last winning an interleague road series at San Diego in 2008.

The Tigers hope the momentum they’ve built while winning 13 of 18 will help end their struggles at Coors Field, where they are 2-7 all-time.

“It’s always exciting when you win,” said Victor Martinez, who had two RBIs in a 6-2 win over Cleveland on Thursday. “It doesn’t matter if it’s April, May, June, August or September.”

Martinez has hit .462 with eight RBIs in his last seven games, and is 4 for 10 at Coors.

Rick Porcello (6-4, 3.61 ERA) makes his first start in Colorado. He allowed one run in six innings of a 4-3 home win over the Rockies on May 22, 2009. The right-hander has thrived against NL opponents, going 5-1 with a 2.30 ERA in seven career starts.

Porcello is 2-1 with a 2.75 ERA in his last three outings overall. He suffered the defeat Sunday, giving up three runs in seven innings of a 7-3 loss to Seattle.

He will try to contain a Colorado club that gets its first taste of interleague play in 2011. The Rockies (33-35) are 48-30 versus AL opponents during the past five regular seasons.

“I don’t know. It usually seems the time of the year we get hot. It kind of works out,” Aaron Cook, the scheduled starter for Sunday, told the Rockies’ official website. “We hope to continue that trend, continue to play well and put some more W’s on the board.”

Colorado tries for a third consecutive win after taking the final two of a three-game set with San Diego. That series saw the emergence of rookie left fielder Charlie Blackmon, who went 7 for 12 with three RBIs. He’s batting .343 in nine games since being called up from the minors.

Carlos Gonzalez is batting .425 during a nine-game hitting streak, but just .208 (5 for 24) lifetime versus Detroit.

Despite battling back stiffness in his last start, Colorado’s Jason Hammel (3-6, 3.65) will take the mound for the series opener, again trying for his first win since April 30.

Hammel is 0-5 with a 3.91 ERA over his last eight starts, but has a 2.25 ERA in the last two. He allowed three runs and walked four in five innings before leaving with the back issue in an 11-7 loss to Los Angeles on Saturday.

The right-hander gave up one run in six innings of a 3-1 win at Detroit on May 24, 2009, to improve to 1-0 with a 5.40 ERA in two starts against the Tigers.
Copyright 2011 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.

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