Scherzer stops Tigers' seven-game skid
Right-hander throws seven strong vs. first-place Texas
DETROIT -- After everything had seemingly gone wrong for the Tigers the past five days, Jim Leyland got it right Tuesday: They needed a great pitching performance to break out of their seven-game losing streak.
He couldn't have imagined that was all it would take to get a 4-1 win over the Rangers that ended the season-worst skid.
"Sometimes what breaks this is a real outstanding pitching performance," Leyland said. "That's what we got tonight."
They got 123 pitches from Max Scherzer and a Ranger, who reached third base with nobody out, stranded. They also had a Gerald Laird home run and a ninth-inning scare from closer Jose Valverde that had Ryan Perry warming up in the bullpen.
Once David Murphy grounded out to second for the final out, they had a little sigh of relief.
"I came to the park today knowing I wanted to end this losing streak," Scherzer said. "It's been seven games, and I started it in Cleveland [last Friday]. I didn't pitch well and I came with the mentality that I was going to end it."
Actually, Scherzer's loss against the Indians was the team's second loss in the streak. The Tigers lost their final game before the All-Star break, but Scherzer's loss was the first of six straight to start the second half. The technicalities, though, aren't as important as the mentality.
Losing streak or not, the Tigers have been needing a starter to step up and control games like this alongside Justin Verlander. Scherzer couldn't do anything about the Tigers' offense, but he could hold down what has been an aggressive Texas lineup and give his team a chance.
Working with a former Ranger behind the plate, Scherzer made this his game from the outset, allowing Laird's two-run homer in the second inning to stand up.
"Quite a night for Max Scherzer," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "He had some tough sink on the ball and had a good changeup. We worked him pretty good, but we couldn't put any runs on the board."
They had their chances, none better than in the fourth inning, when Michael Young led off with a triple to the fence in left-center field to put a runner in scoring position for the heart of the Rangers order. Up came Ian Kinsler, who drove in three runs in each of the first two games of the series.
Scherzer couldn't get him to bite at a pitch on the outside corner, leaving him with a 3-0 count against an All-Star hitter who has 16 RBIs with a runner on third and less than two outs this year. A walk would've put Scherzer back to even, but it would've put a second runner on for MVP candidate Vladimir Guerrero.
"I'm thinking, 'Don't worry about the run. That's going to score,'" Leyland said. "Just get that guy."
Scherzer wasn't thinking about the run at all. His mentality?
"Pitch well. Keep executing," Scherzer said. "I know Kinsler's aggressive. I know he's a good hitter, and I knew that he can execute 3-0."
Kinsler didn't go after the fastball over the plate for 3-1. He went after the next fastball at the belt, but fouled it back to run the count full.
"I was putting good fastballs on him, and he was fouling them off," Scherzer continued. "That's why I decided to go with the changeup out of the zone. If I walk him, I walk him. If not, that's my best pitch at that point. That's Gerald behind the plate knowing that situation, too. We were on the same page with that pitch."
It's one of the secondary pitches Scherzer has executed much better since returning to the Tigers six weeks ago, and it caught Kinsler swinging early for the first out.
By comparison, he needed just three pitches to retire Guerrero, but none of them fastballs. After fouling off a first-pitch changeup, he swung and missed at back-to-back sliders, the second of them darting off the plate as Guerrero tried to reach it.
"He's very aggressive and he can hit anything," Scherzer said. "He hit a bomb off me earlier this year. I know he's very good. I was able to mix it with him. It allowed me to finish with my slider and he finished it out of the zone."
With the sacrifice fly no longer in play, Scherzer escaped the jam altogether with one more pitch: a changeup that Josh Hamilton grounded to first.
"That's the first time I've ever done that, with a man on third and nobody out and strand him," Scherzer said. "I was coming off the mound with a big smile."
Leyland didn't have the same face, but he had the same appreciation.
"He's using his other pitches to go along with that excellent fastball," Leyland said. "The velocity is better. The offspeed pitches are better. The slider is better and the changeup is very good. And he's using them all."
Not until Scherzer's seventh and final inning did he have multiple runners on base, but the Rangers still worked up his pitch count. Scherzer said he could've gone another inning if they needed him, but a clutch RBI single from Magglio Ordonez and a Miguel Cabrera sacrifice fly gave Scherzer a cushion by then. As it was, he became the first Tiger other than Verlander to throw 120 pitches in a game since Edwin Jackson last September.
By contrast, after Phil Coke retired the side in the eighth, it took just seven pitches out of the strike zone from Jose Valverde, walking Kinsler and hitting Guerrero, to get Perry warming. Valverde lost the shutout bid, but regained his command to retire the side from there.
That was plenty.
"The save right now doesn't matter," Valverde said. "I think everybody wants to see the team win."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.