DETROIT -- How tough is Detroit's rotation right now?
There's a pretty good chance that the Tigers will have multiple starting pitchers in the All-Star Game, and none of them are going to be Justin Verlander.
It isn't that Verlander's been having a bad season -- even with a couple tough starts lately, he's 7-4 with a 3.70 ERA -- but he's facing some pretty tough competition on his own team. Doug Fister is 5-3 with 3.27 ERA, Anibal Sanchez is 6-5 with a 2.65 ERA and Max Scherzer is a perfect 8-0 with a 3.24 ERA.
"They might have the best starting pitching in the American League," Joe Maddon said. "It is fun facing that team, because you know they are going to throw a good pitcher at you every game, and you are going to have to work hard to beat them."
The Rays lost two of three in Detroit, and only scored six runs despite coming into the series on a hot streak and not having to face Verlander. Thursday, it was Scherzer who held them to one run on four hits in seven innings. He struck out nine, including Evan Longoria in three straight at-bats.
"When Longo has a game like that, you know the pitcher is having a great game," Maddon said. "He had a great changeup today, and his other pitches have all gotten significantly better over the last couple years."
Scherzer is the first Tiger to start 8-0 since Jeremy Bonderman in 2007, but that doesn't mean he thinks of himself as the staff ace.
"It's unbelievable how much talent we have on this staff," he said. "Anibal is really the best pitcher in the AL right now, Fister is throwing the ball really well and Ver, well, he's Ver. You don't really need to give him too many accolades because of everything he's already accomplished. I'm throwing the ball well and Ricky has stepped up over the past month. Every time one of us goes out there, we believe we can win, and when you get that from five guys, you've got the recipe for a pretty good ball club."
Scherzer won't give himself more praise than "I'm throwing the ball well," but he knows he's helped the Tigers back into first place.
"I'm happy with my consistency," he said. "I'm showing consistency with four pitches, and I feel like that's really what is allowing me to be effective and pitch deep into games. If you can do that over the course of a season, you are going to have success."
Of course, being consistent with pitches isn't much good if you don't know what to do with them. That's where Alex Avila feels Scherzer has taken his big step forward.
"He's matured -- he's now a pitcher with great stuff instead of a thrower with great stuff," Avila said. "He knows now when he might be a little off, and how to make that adjustment to get back into sync. He's always had a great game plan, but there were times that he couldn't stick to it because he was constantly falling behind hitters and having to come to the middle of the plate.
"Now, because of the experience he's gained, he's learned how to get himself back into sync, so he can stick with a plan. With his command and his stuff, that makes it tough on a hitter."
Jim Leyland agrees entirely with his catcher, having seen Scherzer catch himself during Thursday's win.
"He got a little out of sync in the sixth inning -- he walked Zobrist and lost his control for a couple batters -- but he bounced right back," Leyland said. "He's pretty much been status quo every time he's gone out there this season."
So far, that status quo has put Scherzer in range of his first All-Star appearance. You'll never get him to talk about it, though.
"I don't worry about that -- I live start to start," he said. "I face Kansas City next, and my goal is to pitch as well as I can. Everything else takes care of itself."