Atlanta Braves left-hander Paul Maholm knew his shutout streak would eventually end. Surprisingly, facing the Detroit Tigers could help him put more zeros up on the scoreboard.
Maholm goes for a team-high fourth victory Friday night when the NL East-leading Braves and struggling Tigers meet for the first time in three seasons.
Opening his first full season with Atlanta (15-6), Maholm (3-1, 1.03 ERA) worked 25 1-3 scoreless innings before giving up three runs in the sixth of Saturday's 3-1 loss at Pittsburgh. His shutout streak was the longest by a starter to open a season since Luis Tiant (27 innings) in 1966.
"I never really thought about the streak because I knew I was going to give up some runs at some point,' said Maholm, tied with Mike Minor and reliever Eric O'Flaherty for the team lead in wins.
That wouldn't be the first time an opposing pitcher thought that heading into a start at Comerica Park. The Tigers (10-10) are batting .319 and averaging 6.3 runs at home. However, the defending AL champs are hitting .207 with 14 total runs during a 1-5 skid. Half of those runs crossed in a 7-5 victory over Kansas City on Wednesday when Detroit snapped a four-game skid.
The Tigers had five hits - a season-low at home - in Thursday's 8-3, 10-inning loss to the Royals.
Detroit will now try to avoid falling below .500 for the first time since it way 1-2 as it opens interleague play. It went 11-7 against the NL in 2012, including 6-3 at home.
The Tigers hosted the Braves once before, winning two of three in 2004. Detroit dropped two of three at Turner Field in 2010, but still owns a 9-6 edge in the series.
While there isn't much history between these clubs, scheduled starter Anibal Sanchez (2-1, 1.75) has faced the Braves 17 times, tied for his second-most appearances against any opponent. The veteran right-hander did not enjoy much success in those matchups while with the Marlins, going 4-11 with a 5.42 ERA. He has a 7.92 ERA in losing his last five starts versus Atlanta.
Sanchez hasn't surrendered a homer in 25 2-3 innings after lasting 6 2-3 in last Friday's 8-1 loss at the Los Angeles Angels, but keeping the ball in the park could be a test against an Atlanta team that leads the majors with 35 homers.
Braves slugger Justin Upton, the majors' leader with 11 home runs, is 4 for 13 with a homer off Sanchez and a .333 hitter in nine games against Tigers pitching.
Miguel Cabrera, batting .405 during a nine-game hitting streak, is a .319 hitter against Atlanta. He's 4 for 13 off Maholm.
Teammate Prince Fielder is 7 for 51 (.137) with 15 strikeouts in that matchup.
If Maholm runs into any problems, manager Fredi Gonzalez will have no problem turning to closer Craig Kimbrel, who blew his first save of the season in Wednesday's 6-5, 12-inning loss at Colorado, or a relieving corps that owns a MLB-best 1.60 ERA.
"There will be no residue the next time he goes out there,' Gonzalez said of Kimbrel.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland hopes the same is true with his bullpen after it imploded Thursday. A day after Jose Valverde worked a perfect ninth in his season debut, Bruce Rondon blew a save in his major league debut, Phil Coke walked in the go-ahead run in the 10th inning and Darin Downs surrendered a grand slam to Alex Gordon.
"We would have liked to get (Rondon) an easier spot, but if you are here, you have to pitch, and we were short," said Leyland, who was without Valverde and Al Alburquerque after both pitched the previous night.
The Associated Press News Service
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