Scherzer dominates Rays for eighth victory
Right-hander allows one run on four hits; V-Mart hits two-run homer
DETROIT -- It was another day, another quality outing by Max Scherzer. This time, however, the offense provided some run support to get Scherzer the eighth win of the season that narrowly evaded him in his last start.
The Tigers' pitcher of the month for May wasted no time in establishing himself as a candidate to win the award in June, throwing seven innings of one-run ball along with nine strikeouts in a 5-2 victory over the Rays in Thursday's three-game series finale.
Scherzer pulled into a tie for the most wins in the American League, has the second-most strikeouts (100) and the 14th-best ERA (3.24). He's allowed just 54 hits in 83 1/3 innings and no more than four in any of his last seven starts.
Since last year's All-Star break, Scherzer is 16-2 with a 2.95 ERA and 210 strikeouts in 173 2/3 innings. Those type of numbers, especially with his hot start this year, has his teammates looking at where Scherzer might be heading for this year's All-Star break -- Citi Field in New York.
"Somebody asked me that the last time we were [home]," catcher Alex Avila said after the game. "I think so. I think he's pitched well enough to get in there. There's still quite a few more games to the break, but 8-0 with a three-something ERA and as many strikeouts as he has, that's pretty good."
On Thursday, Scherzer became only the second Tigers pitcher since Vern Kennedy in 1938 to win his first eight decisions, joining right-hander Jeremy Bonderman, who did it in 2007. Scherzer is one shy of the franchise record, held by Kennedy and George Uhle (1929).
He did it with his typical on-point command and overpowering fastball, mixed in with his dipping changeup, slider and newly-added curveball for lefties -- all of which were working.
Scherzer yielded three hits over his first two innings. He would yield just one more the rest of his outing, and not until he recorded two outs in the sixth inning.
"He's been consistent all year," Avila said. "He's gotten to the point where everybody knows he has great stuff and [he can] command it. When you're able to command it, you can set up hitters and stick to a game plan, rather than just throw like he used to do.
"Now he's a pitcher with really good stuff. It's impressive and I'm glad to be apart of it."
A one-out double by Ben Zobrist in the first was followed by consecutive strikeouts of Matt Joyce and Evan Longoria. A pair of two-out singles in the second were wasted with a Yunel Escobar fly out to center.
After that, Scherzer cruised, retiring nine straight batters and 11 of 13 before James Loney's opposite-field base hit in the sixth drove in the Rays' first run.
"I felt like today I had better fastball location than I've had even in the past," Scherzer said. "I really felt like I was throwing the ball where I wanted it. I felt like that was the reason why I was able to have success today."
By the time Loney plated that run, the Tigers had early established a 3-0 lead against Rays starter Roberto Hernandez, who entered the game 8-6 against Detroit with a 4.03 ERA from his seven years with the Indians.
Hernandez plowed through the first 3 1/3 innings, making the Tigers offense look similar to how it did in Wednesday night's 3-0 shutout loss -- their third time being blanked in eight days -- before a home run derailed him in the fourth.
Prince Fielder ended Hernandez's streak of eight straight batters set down by extending his own hitting streak to 11 games with a single to left. Two pitches later, Victor Martinez gave the Tigers their first runs since the eighth inning of Tuesday's game.
Martinez belted a two-run homer on a 1-0 count into the right-field seats for his fourth home run of the season.
"[Hernandez] is pretty tough, man," Martinez said. "He had a heavy sinker and it's not fun when you've got to face a pitcher like him, a big guy coming right at you. We were just hoping he made a mistakes, and I didn't miss it."
The home run marked the second of four straight hits for the Tigers. Hernandez would record just two more outs in the game.
"After that home run, he just got a little bit quick with everything," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He settled back down OK. He pitched well. He had a nice day for himself. But they pitched really well."
In the fifth, Miguel Cabrera came through with a soft liner to right to score Don Kelly. Martinez added another RBI in the bottom of the seventh, his third of the day, to increase the lead to 5-1.
At that point, Scherzer had put the finishing touches on his latest gem with a 1-2-3 inning, striking out Jose Molina swinging at a changeup and Escobar looking at a 93-mph fastball for his 99th and 100th strikeouts of the year.
He became the first Tigers pitcher to reach the 100-strikeout mark through his team's first 58 games since Mickey Lolich (108) and Joe Coleman (103) in 1972.
He also completed the three-game series in which the three starters -- along with Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister -- gave up a total of five runs on 15 hits with 22 strikeouts in 22 1/3 innings.
"They outpitched us today," Maddon said. "Scherzer was really good. He is very good. They might have the best starting pitching in the American League."