Houston Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander throws to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first inning on October 31, 2017 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Photo by Lori Shepler/UPI | License Photo
DETROIT -- Justin Verlander can expect a warm welcome Monday night when he pitches against his former team, the Detroit Tigers, for the second time in his career and first time in Comerica Park.
Verlander (14-9, 2.73 ERA) remains a popular figure in Detroit even after the Tigers dealt him away at the waiver trade deadline last year. It was a trade he agreed to only at the last minute as his desire to pitch for a championship team overcame his reluctance to leave the franchise where he made his bones as a major league pitcher.
"I am sure he had this series marked on his calendar for a while," Detroit catcher James McCann told reporters. "Regardless of what we did to him last time. You know he's going to want to come out and pitch well, coming back to Comerica.
He has faced his ex-team just once so far and it didn't go so well for him.
Detroit visited Houston earlier this year and pounded the ace of the World Series champions for four home runs among six hits good for six runs (one unearned) on July 15. Verlander took the loss but struck out 12 in six innings and didn't walk a batter.
Since his first appearance against Detroit, Verlander is 5-4 with a 3.93 ERA in his last nine starts.
The Astros head to Detroit after losing 6-5 at Boston on Sunday night on a walk-off single by Red Sox pinch-hitter Mitch Moreland. Houston is 89-54 and 2 1/2 games ahead of Oakland in the AL West while Detroit (59-84) is riding out the rest of the season, though it is 6-3 in its last nine games.
"It will be a completely different animal the first time I go back to Comerica," Verlander said in July.
He will be opposed by left-hander Francisco Liriano, who at this time a year ago was pitching for the Astros.
Liriano (4-9, 4.90) faced Houston in the other series against the Astros but did not figure in the decision during a start in which worked three innings, giving up a run on one hit with three walks and three strikeouts.
Liriano picked up his first win since April 28 on Tuesday against the Chicago White Sox when he allowed three runs, on seven hits in 5.0 innings.
For his career, Liriano is 2-1 with a 4.37 ERA over four starts against the Astros.
Rookie left fielder Christin Stewart can expect to get his first major league at-bat against Verlander after being called up to Detroit on Sunday when his team (Toledo) was eliminated by Durham from the International League playoffs. He hit .264 with 23 home runs and 77 RBI for the Mud Hens.
"That's one of the things we've been waiting for," said manager Ron Gardenhire of the Tigers. "He's going to play a lot this month. He's going to get a lot of swings. He's part of the future.
"I want him playing [left field]. I don't want him DHing."
Also called up from Toledo by Detroit were veteran Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who will give the Tigers a third catcher, plus right-handed reliever Zac Reininger.
Another pitcher or two will be called up by Detroit soon but Gardenhire declined to identify them because they haven't been told yet. He said another infielder might be brought up if shortstop Jose Iglesias is unable to return from an abdominal strain.
At least one of the pitchers is joining the rotation, the manager said, and Detroit will be going to a six-man rotation at that point.
"I'll tell those guys to keep doing what you've been doing," Gardenhire said. "There's a reason you've been called up here."