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News » Tigers-Rays Preview 2009-09-04

Tigers-Rays Preview 2009-09-04

Tigers-Rays Preview 2009-09-04Detroit's trouble at the plate in road games has been one of the team's few weaknesses. Justin Verlander, though, certainly can't complain about the support he's been getting away from Comerica Park.

After increasing their AL Central lead with another impressive homestand, the Tigers look to help Verlander earn his fourth straight road victory and move into a tie for the major league lead in wins Friday night in a matchup with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Detroit (72-61), opening a six-game road trip, is coming off a 5-2 homestand that included a split of a four-game set with Tampa Bay (72-61). The Tigers finished that stretch with a three-game sweep of Cleveland, winning the finale 4-3 on Thursday to take a five-game lead over idle Minnesota in the division.

Catcher Gerald Laird said Wednesday that it feels like Detroit is now in "the driver's seat," but manager Jim Leyland doesn't want his team to get complacent.

"I don't like comments like that," Leyland said following the team's latest victory. "There's no reason for them. Our players should feel good about themselves and what they've done, but there's no need to talk. Just go out there and keep doing it."

One reason for Leyland's words of caution is the team's poor play on the road. Detroit has lost four straight at Tampa Bay and dropped 23 of 33 road games overall, scoring three runs or fewer in 20 of those contests.

Verlander (15-7, 3.38 ERA), however, has gotten an average of 10.9 runs to work with in winning his last three starts on the road, posting a 3.05 ERA during that span.

Verlander will open this three-game series with a chance to move into a tie with New York's CC Sabathia and St. Louis' Adam Wainwright for the major league lead in wins. Wainwright will face Pittsburgh on Friday night.

The right-hander earned a win against Tampa Bay in his last outing, giving up three runs in eight innings of Detroit's 4-3 victory Sunday. He's 3-0 with a 4.20 ERA in five starts against the Rays.

Tampa Bay will counter with Jeff Niemann (12-5, 3.80), who matched up with Verlander on Sunday. He allowed two runs in seven innings in his first start against the Tigers.

The right-hander has posted a 0.74 ERA in winning his last three starts at Tropicana Field and is 5-2 with a 2.67 ERA in eight starts there this season.

Tampa Bay could use another strong performance from Niemann after David Price struggled in a 6-3 loss to Boston on Thursday night. The Rays, who lost two of three against the Red Sox to fall six games behind the AL wild-card leader, have a 5.50 ERA over their last four contests.

"Disappointing, yeah, but we're fortunate enough to ... still be in a race for the playoffs," Tampa Bay third baseman Evan Longoria said. "The focus is come to the ballpark tomorrow and win that day."

The Rays, though, might be without center fielder B.J. Upton for two or three games after he hurt his left ankle tracking down a flay ball Thursday.

"I just rolled it," Upton said, batting a career-low .238. "When I'm able to play, I'm back out there."

Ben Zobrist, who would likely take Upton's spot in center field, 1 for 9 with four strikeouts against Verlander.

The season series between Detroit and Tampa Bay is tied 2-2.

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Added: September 4, 2009

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