DETROIT (AP) - After three games against the Tigers, Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon had high praise for Detroit's starting staff.
``That might be the best rotation in the American League,' Maddon said.
Max Scherzer struck out nine in seven innings to remain unbeaten, and the Rays lost 5-2 to the Tigers on Thursday. Tampa Bay dropped two of three to Detroit - the Rays have won only one series at Comerica Park in the last nine seasons.
Roberto Hernandez (3-6) allowed four runs in 5 1-3 innings, including a two-run homer by Detroit's Victor Martinez. Evan Longoria struck out three times against Scherzer.
``When Longo has that kind of game, you know the pitcher must be doing something right,' Maddon said.
Scherzer (8-0) allowed a run and four hits, walking two. Joaquin Benoit allowed a run in the eighth, and Jose Valverde pitched a perfect ninth for his seventh save in nine chances.
Martinez went deep in the fourth for his fourth home run of the year, giving Detroit a 2-0 lead. Miguel Cabrera drove in a run the following inning with a single - his major league-leading 66th RBI.
The Rays were outscored 15-6 in the series, their offense held mostly in check by Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister.
``We feed off each other, but we've also pushed the bar so dang high,' Scherzer said. ``Everybody wants to try to match that.'
Martinez has struggled a bit with the bat since returning from a knee injury that caused him to miss all of 2012. But there was no doubt about his drive to right in the fourth, which cleared the wall with plenty of room to spare.
Don Kelly led off the Detroit fifth with a single, advanced to second on a groundout and eventually scored on Cabrera's bloop single to right-center.
Cabrera finished with three hits, and Prince Fielder had two to extend his hitting streak to 11 games.
Hernandez pitched 8 2-3 innings without an earned run in a win at Miami in his previous start, but he ran into trouble in the middle innings against Detroit.
``I thought he pitched a great game,' Rays catcher Jose Molina said. ``He only made one big mistake, but Victor hit that one out of the park. Otherwise, he had good stuff, and he gave us a chance to win the game.'
After Tampa Bay scored in the sixth on an RBI single by James Loney, Hernandez allowed a leadoff double by Jhonny Peralta in the bottom half and a one-out single by Omar Infante. Pinch-hitter Avisail Garcia hit a sacrifice fly off reliever Jake McGee to make it 4-1.
Cabrera singled and stole second in the seventh and scored on a single by Martinez. Tampa Bay got a run back in the eighth on an RBI infield single by Loney.
Hernandez allowed 10 hits and a walk. He struck out six.
NOTES: Scherzer struck out Yunel Escobar with his 100th and final pitch - it was also the right-hander's 100th strikeout of the year. ... Cabrera's seventh-inning hit was an infield single - his hard grounder up the middle hit McGee, and the left-hander came out of the game with a left shin contusion. Maddon said he should be available to pitch Friday. ... Kelly came running in to make a nice diving catch in the fourth on Loney's flyball to shallow center. ... Tampa Bay OF Kelly Johnson sat out a second straight game because of back trouble. Maddon doesn't expect the injury to linger. ``It's just a little bit of back stiffness,' Maddon said. ``Once we get by that, we'll be fine.' Johnson was available to pinch-hit. ... The Rays return home and send RHP Chris Archer (0-1) to the mound Friday night against Baltimore RHP Jason Hammel (7-3).
The Associated Press News Service
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