DETROIT It seems fitting now that the Tigers are playing a baseball version of the old "Whack-a-Mole" game. They get one problem fixed and another one pops up.
That's the way it was in Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park.
In front of a sellout crowd of 42,404, Max Scherzer found his more popular "blue-eye" style of pitching, giving up just one run on four hits while walking none and striking out nine in seven innings.
It was a delightful bounce-back game from Scherzer's last outing, in which he allowed three runs on seven hits while walking a career-high seven and striking out four in 4 23 innings in New York.
"I think he was on a mission today," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "I think he probably knew he needed to step it up, he wanted to step it up. Hes a smart guy. He figured it out.
"He was aggressive, pounded the strike zone, had a little extra on his fastball when he needed it today."
Leyland and pitching coach Jeff Jones had shown Scherzer the video of the way he pitched in 2010 after the All-Star break, when he went 6-5 with a 2.47 ERA. Scherzer didn't need to watch long to figure out the fix he needed to make.
"When I was going to the plate, my hands were breaking low and my front side was flying open," Scherzer said. "I made the mechanical change of breaking my hands higher, and I did countless reps of trying to get that to feel natural over the course of these five days."
Scherzer lowered his ERA from 7.77 to 6.32 in the process.
"He is so good, man, especially when he's pounding the strike zone like he did," White Sox designated hitter Adam Dunn said. "He definitely shut us down, for sure."
Meanwhile, the offense appeared to give Scherzer just enough support when they scored two runs in the second inning, mostly on balls that barely made it out of the infield. Andy Dirks and Austin Jackson had the RBIs against White Sox starter Gavin Floyd.
Floyd didn't walk anyone either, so that was all the Tigers could muster in seven innings, despite seven hits.
"He's a tough pitcher," said Alex Avila, who got one of the seven. "He's got nasty stuff and he's always been tough on us. He threw a great game, kept them in it."
Joaquin Benoit came on in the eighth, having struggled of late, going 0-1 with a 6.23 ERA in his last five outings. But that was one of the moles the Tigers managed to keep down as Benoit threw a perfect eighth, striking out two.
But there's always another mole ready to pop up once you whack one down, and it was Jose Valverde's turn.
Valverde fell behind Alejandro De Aza, who singled to lead off the ninth. De Aza stole second and took third on Alexei Ramirez's sacrifice.
As it turned out, De Aza didn't need to worry as Dunn came up and hit a 1-0 four-seam fastball 422 feet to right field. The blast put the White Sox up 3-2 and proved to be the game-winner.
"Everybody knows Adam Dunn is a good hitter," Valverde said. "I miss a little bit and he got it. Nothing I can do, know what I mean? I do my job yesterday. I don't do it today. Be ready for tomorrow."
Although Valverde is now 2-1 with a 6.17 ERA, Leyland is not ready to hit the panic button.
"Hes just not real sharp right now," Leyland said. "His pitches he wasnt real firm today. He just threw that pitch in probably the really only bad, bad spot you could throw it. Down a little bit, and over the plate, it looked like, right into the groove of the swing.
"Well get him going. Hes a true professional. Hell get going."
The Tigers are getting Doug Fister back for Monday's start in Seattle. Last year when they got Fister at the trading deadline, it helped put them on a nice roll.
They know what they'll get from Justin Verlander and rookie Drew Smyly has been better than expected. If Rick Porcello and Scherzer can continue to pitch as they have in their most recent starts and Fister stays healthy, things could be looking up and the moles could be under control.
"(That's) the rotation that we wanted out of spring training," Avila said. "Five guys going out there, knowing that we're going to get a chance every time. That's the way to get everything going."