When he takes the mound at Progressive Field to face the Indians on Saturday, Justin Verlander will find himself in the unfamiliar situation of trying to regain his form.
The six-time All-Star and 2011 Cy Young Award winner has accumulated 47 victories over teams in the American League Central since 2009, the most of any active pitcher, but it's fair to say that Verlander hasn't been Verlander recently. In his three June starts, Verlander has given up 19 earned runs in 18 2/3 innings, moving his ERA up by nearly a full run, to 4.98.
Verlander is 6-7 on the year, and analysis of his slump generally centers on his fastball, which is down an average of two miles per hour from his MVP season in 2011. He's also struggled with his pitch location.
"I think it's a combination," said Tigers manager Brad Ausmus. "I think a lot of it has to do with he's not locating the ball the way he normally does. But my feeling is it'll creep back up."
Verlander will be facing a Cleveland team that's picked up steam lately, winning four of its last six. The Tigers did take the first game of the series by a score of 6-4, gaining a game of separation from third-place Cleveland.
Cleveland manager Terry Francona will send righty Trevor Bauer to counter Verlander. The 23-year-old got the win in his only career start against Detroit, holding the Tigers to two runs over six innings on May 20.
His last time out, Bauer allowed three runs over 6 2/3 to the Angels. Though he didn't have his best stuff, his 119 pitches carried Cleveland to the win.
"He competed his rear end off. I thought he executed a lot of pitches," Francona said of Bauer. "Fastball in. I think he got a real good feel for his curveball. Thought he threw enough sliders to kind of keep off. Think there were some times where he made a few mistakes, that they hit. We score, they score, we score, they score. But then he held them off the scoreboard and stayed out there long enough."
After facing an Angels lineup that's extremely dangerous in the middle, Bauer will try to beat a Tigers' lineup that includes reigning MVP Miguel Cabrera as well as slugger Victor Martinez.
"Victor goes through periods, when he gets hot, it's difficult," Francona said. "I've said it for a few years now. He's the perfect guy behind Miggy, because Miggy is Miggy, and he has that reputation and it's well-deserved. But Victor can hit all pitching and he can hit for power. He puts the bat on the ball when need be and from both sides of the plate."
Indians: Brantley returns to action
Michael Brantley has been out of the starting lineup since sustaining a mild concussion on Monday, but the Tribe's No. 3 hitter may return as soon as Saturday.
Brantley took part in a normal pregame routine on Friday, including hitting on the field and running full-speed on the bases after he was limited to hitting in the cages on Thursday. Brantley then pinch-hit for the Indians in the ninth inning, lifting a single into center field.
Brantley hurt himself during the club's series opener with the Angels when he collided with shortstop John McDonald on a hard slide into second base.
Tigers: Holaday likely to see more time behind plate
Bryan Holaday made his second consecutive start behind the plate for the Tigers on Friday, this time with a right-hander on the mound for the opposing team. The way he's playing, there could be more starts where those came from.
"He's playing well," manager Brad Ausmus said after Holaday's start Thursday against the Royals, his first start in a week. "That's been in the discussion for the past week and a half. A lot of times, it depends on who's pitching for the other team. The short answer is he probably is [going to get more starts], yeah."
So far this season, Holaday has generally had his starts reserved for left-handed opposing pitchers, comprising 10 out of his 15 starts before Friday. He hadn't started consecutive days since April 29-30 in Chicago.
• Since coming off the disabled list, the Tribe's Nick Swisher has had three hits. Two have been game-winning home runs: a walk-off solo shot against Boston last Sunday and a walk-off grand slam on Thursday against the Angels.
• Cleveland has the highest home winning percentage in the Major Leagues, going 23-13 at Progressive Field this season.
• Detroit's J.D. Martinez is riding a 10-game hitting streak, good for the longest in his career.
Caitlin Swieca is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.