DETROIT -- While the Detroit Tigers have had trouble producing the big inning in recent weeks, Justin Verlander has had trouble preventing it.
Verlander blanked Kansas City through four innings on Monday night, then gave up four runs in the fifth, the last three on a bases-loaded double by nemesis Billy Butler, now hitting .434 lifetime against him.
It was the fourth start in the last seven starts that Verlander has allowed at least four earned runs in an inning. In that same span, the Tigers have seldom gotten four in an inning (they did score six in the ninth tonight in a futile rally that included a J.D. Martinez grand slam).
Verlander's evening ruptured in the sixth when former Tiger Omar Infante drilled a letters-high pitch over the fence in left-center for a three-run homer.
Kansas City beat the first-place Tigers, 11-8, and moved within a half-game of them in the AL Central. The Royals have won eight straight, averaging seven runs per game. If the Royals make it nine straight Tuesday, they'll knock the Tigers out of first place for the first time this season.
The continental divide in Verlander's season:
His first eight starts: seven quality starts, 2.67 ERA.
His seven starts since: one quality start, 7.83 ERA.
And the most striking aspect of his cool spell is how often he gives up the big inning, often after he's pitched well for many of the early innings. (In this streak there was also a five-run inning against Texas in which two of the runs were unearned and a decisive inning against Toronto in which he gave up back-to-back homers).
Leading up to this start, Verlander didn't hint at any physical problems and said he's adjusting his mechanics.
Brad Ausmus hasn't made many dramatic statements as Tigers manager, but he didn't deny he wished to see improvement from Verlander. Asked this afternoon how big of a start this was for Verlander, Ausmus said, "It's an important start. In his last few starts he's given up a few runs. I fully expect him to bounce back."
That hope lasted until the fifth.
Hunter exits: Rightfielder Torii Hunter departed the game in the fourth. The club said he had suffered a cramp in his right hamstring and that his status was "day to day."
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