After failing to impress with their new-look rotation, the Detroit Tigers will attempt to get back on track this weekend when they begin a three-game series with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Despite running out three former Cy Young Award winners -- including David Price in his Detroit debut -- and a 13-game winner in Rick Porcello during a four-game set with the New York Yankees, the Tigers lost three of four as they managed just six runs in the series.
Porcello took the 1-0 loss in Thursday's finale despite scattering nine hits over seven innings of one-run ball. His offense did little to help, going 0- for-4 with runners in scoring position one game after an 0-for-7 showing in such situations in Wednesday's setback.
"Our guys pitched great, but as well as we pitched and played defense, our offense didn't match up," Tigers catcher Alex Avila remarked.
Detroit saw its lead atop the American League Central over the Kansas City Royals trimmed to 2 1/2 games and will pin its hopes tonight on Anibal Sanchez.
The right-hander has split his last six starts, going 3-3 with a 4.93 earned run average, but is coming off a dominating 4-0 win over Colorado on Sunday. Sanchez hurled seven scoreless innings of two-hit ball while striking out a season-high 12 batters without issuing a walk.
Sanchez became the first Tigers pitcher to fan 12 or more without a walk since Max Scherzer on June 17, 2012 against the Rockies.
"He used his fastball perfectly," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "He threw it in, he threw it out and as a result, all of his other pitches were much more effective."
The 30-year-old Sanchez is 8-5 on the year with a 3.37 ERA and did not get a decision versus Toronto on June 3 despite seven scoreless innings. He also gave up just two hits in that one, striking out five to no walks.
Sanchez is 2-2 in his career with a 4.20 ERA versus Toronto, which counters with its own former Cy Young winner in R.A. Dickey.
However, the knuckleball specialist is just 9-11 with a 4.03 ERA this year after getting denied a third straight winning start on Saturday. Dickey instead lost an 8-2 decision in Houston, charged with five runs on nine hits over seven-plus innings.
The 39-year-old righty is 6-2 with a save and 3.84 ERA in 16 previous meetings, including nine starts, versus Detroit. That includes a win on June 4 as he yielded two runs -- on solo homers to Miguel Cabrera and Ian Kinsler -- seven hits and four walks over just five innings.
Toronto was looking to gain ground on AL East-leading Baltimore to kick off the week, but lost two of three to the Orioles. That left the Blue Jays five games out of first place.
The Jays were bested 2-1 in Thursday's rubber match, with Anthony Gose homering and J.A. Happ giving up a two-run blast to Caleb Joseph in the fourth inning that was the difference in the club's fifth loss in six games.
Happ yielded five hits and struck out a career-high 12 over eight innings.
"Our lineup is what it is right now," said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. "Some nights you're going to get that big hit, some nights you're not."
On the same day that Toronto placed third baseman Brett Lawrie on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left oblique, designated hitter Melky Cabrera was hit on the right elbow by a pitch in the first inning on Thursday. He tried to remain in the game, but exited in the third and is day-to-day after x-rays came back negative.
The Blue Jays swept a three-game series in Detroit from June 3-5 after losing five of seven to the Tigers a season ago.