After struggling through a rough patch, Justin Verlander appears to have found his form with October fast approaching.
Looking to build on his first win in over a month, Verlander tries to move the Detroit Tigers closer to their third straight AL Central title Wednesday night against the hapless Seattle Mariners.
Verlander (13-11, 3.66 ERA) had gone 0-3 with a 4.17 ERA during a six-start stretch before bouncing back Friday against Kansas City. The 2011 MVP and Cy Young Award winner yielded three runs and struck out seven without a walk over 6 2-3 innings in a 6-3 victory.
"It seems like the whole year has been tinkering," he said. "I feel like I'm pretty doggone close. I think my stuff's been a lot better. Tonight I made a little bit of an adjustment with my grip on my curveball and that seemed to be working really well for me."
The Tigers (88-63) would like to see Verlander recapture his 2011 form and have him and Max Scherzer at the top of a very potent rotation for the postseason. They are six games ahead of second-place Cleveland in the division with 11 to go.
Having won six of seven by a combined 29-11 score, the Tigers stayed hot in Tuesday's 6-2 victory. Miguel Cabrera and Don Kelly both homered and Austin Jackson added two hits and two RBIs. Detroit was without closer Joaquin Benoit and reliever Drew Smyly, who were both given the night off.
"We need everybody here on our ballclub," said Cabrera, who leads the majors with 134 RBIs. "I think everybody here stepped up tonight and did their jobs. It's what we need to still win our games, what we need if we go to the playoffs."
Detroit has limited the Mariners (66-85) to nine runs in taking four of five in the season series. Seattle has also dropped eight of nine overall, including three in a row by a 22-6 margin.
While the Mariners are 2-8 on the road this month, scheduled starter Hisashi Iwakuma (12-6, 2.87) has strung together 17 consecutive scoreless innings away from home. The All-Star right-hander is 3-0 with a 1.55 ERA in his last six outings in opposing stadiums.
Iwakuma threw seven innings of three-hit ball in Friday's 2-1, 10-inning loss at St. Louis.
"Iwakuma has been nasty all year," Cardinals' starter Adam Wainwright told MLB's official website. "He has good stuff, a very deceptive delivery and keeps guys off balance."
With a team-leading 203 2-3 innings, Iwakuma has joined Hideo Nomo, Hiroki Kuroda and Daisuke Matsuzaka as the only Japanese pitchers to exceed 200 in a season.
"I'm very happy about that because this is one of my goals, to stay healthy and stay in the rotation for a long time," he said through translator Antony Suzuki.
In his lone start versus Detroit, Iwakuma allowed three hits in six innings opposite Verlander but didn't factor in the decision of a 2-0 win April 18. Verlander surrendered both runs and struck out 12 in seven innings in that game, dropping to 3-6 with a 3.68 ERA in his last nine starts in the series.
Verlander, though, is 5-2 with a 2.23 ERA in seven career home outings versus Seattle.
Raul Ibanez is 3 for 29 in their matchups, and Michael Saunders is 2 for 14. Ibanez, who hit his team-leading 28th homer Tuesday, is 6 for his last 38 against the Tigers.
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