DETROIT – The Detroit Tigers have generally gotten the better of Francisco Liriano throughout his career, while Justin Verlander has stifled the Pittsburgh Pirates.
But Liriano has been dominant thus far in his tenure with Pittsburgh. Conversely, Verlander would like to recapture his own usual dominance.
The two face each other Monday as the Pirates visit the Tigers in the opener of a four-game series.
The Pirates (31-19) agreed on a deal with Liriano (3-0, 1.00 ERA) in December, but a broken right arm suffered in a freak accident delayed his debut for the club until May 11. The left-hander has been tough on opponents since, yielding two runs over 18 innings while striking out 25.
Liriano struggled historically against the Tigers, going 5-7 with a 5.93 ERA. But he was nearly untouchable his last time out, fanning nine in seven innings of a 1-0 win over the Cubs on Wednesday.
Poor command has sometimes plagued Liriano during his career, but his walk rate of 3.0 per nine innings is his lowest since 2010 when he won AL Comeback Player of the Year with Minnesota.
“I think I work hard in the offseason, location-wise with my fastball and everything is working so far,” Liriano said. “Pitching is all about location so when you can locate your pitches, you have better results.”
Liriano isn’t the only pitcher rolling lately for the Pirates, whose pitchers own a 2.25 ERA over the last 13 contests. Pittsburgh claimed its 13th victory in 15 games Sunday with a 5-4 win at Milwaukee, improving to a season-best 12 games above .500.
“We are getting a little bit better,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “We did some good things today, and we probably complicated the game for ourselves a couple different times as well. But we were able to play through it. We got on top and we stayed on top.”
Verlander (5-4, 3.66) will try to follow the act of Max Scherzer, who improved to 7-0 in Detroit’s 6-1 victory over Minnesota on Sunday, the fifth win in six games for the Tigers (28-20).
In three career starts against Pittsburgh, Verlander is 3-0 with a 1.44 ERA and two complete games. But he’s sputtered in his last three outings, yielding 17 runs over 12 2-3 innings.
He gave up five runs and 10 hits in five innings of an 11-7 victory at Cleveland on Wednesday, though he had to wait through a 62-minute rain delay to record his final two outs.
Verlander admitted to working too quickly in the fifth, trying to close out the inning before play was halted, but he surrendered a three-run homer.
“I kind of rushed a little bit and ended up trying to get some quick outs, because I knew (the rain) was coming,” he told the team’s official website. “Made some bad pitches, got hurt.”
Andrew McCutchen was 2 for 5 Sunday and is 17 for 39 (.436) over his last nine games, but is 2 for 11 off Verlander. Russell Martin is 5 for 12 versus the right-hander.
Victor Martinez is 11 for 24 with five doubles against Liriano, while Miguel Cabrera is 9 for 26 with eight walks.
The Pirates are 5-10 all-time in Detroit but have won six of eight in the series in Pittsburgh, where the teams will play Wednesday and Thursday.
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