Pirates-Tigers Preview

It was not that long ago that Justin Verlander was considered the best pitcher in the game, but his star has diminished over the past couple of seasons with injuries limiting him in this one.

In his return from an ailing back, Verlander will get a close look at the potential heir to that crown when the Detroit Tigers face Gerrit Cole and the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday night.

The AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner in 2011, Verlander is 28-25 with a 4.05 ERA in 68 starts since the beginning of 2013. The right-hander went on the disabled list for the first time in his career April 8 because of a strained right triceps and in his second start gave up six runs and 10 hits in 6 2-3 innings of a 7-2 loss to the New York Yankees on June 19.

Verlander (0-1, 6.17 ERA) then skipped his next one because of stiffness in his back.

"When you're coming back, there are sometimes some hurdles you've got to get over," Verlander said. "I was pretty close (to getting back into pitching shape) after my last start. My back just tightened up pretty good."

While Verlander hopes to stay healthy, Cole (11-3, 2.16) will try to regain his stellar form following another difficult outing against Cincinnati on Wednesday. The major league wins leader gave up five runs in 4 2-3 innings in a 5-2 loss.

"He's a human being," manager Clint Hurdle told MLB's official website. "He's going to do everything he can to get outs and to win games and pitch well, and sometimes it doesn't work."

Cole is 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA in three starts against the Reds and has a 1.33 ERA versus every other team, including Detroit. The right-hander was charged with one run in six-plus innings in a 5-4 win April 13, his only matchup against the Tigers.

That was Detroit's only loss in its first 10 games and the Tigers (39-36) closed out the series in Pittsburgh with back-to-back wins. They've won eight of the past 10 matchups at Comerica Park.

The Tigers enter this series having batted .306 in their last seven games while producing 46 runs. They had just two hits in seven scoreless innings Sunday against the Chicago White Sox then rallied for a 5-4 victory with James McCann providing the game-ending homer.

Cole will look to contain the Tigers, owners of one of the majors' best averages (.275), while adding to his success on the road. He's 6-1 with a 1.32 ERA in his last seven starts there.

Pittsburgh (42-33) endured a three-game sweep to Washington in its latest road series following a 7-1 stretch away from home. The Pirates took two of three from Atlanta this weekend after dropping five of six and just missed a sweep with a 2-1 defeat Sunday.

Verlander is 25-3 with a 2.89 ERA in 33 interleague starts but had a string of 14 winning decisions snapped with an 11-6 loss in Pittsburgh on Aug. 11. He gave up five runs in the first inning and left with soreness in his shoulder.

Verlander was 4-0 with a 1.97 ERA in his previous four matchups.

Cole is 6-1 with a 2.81 ERA in eight interleague starts and has won all four on the road while posting a 2.39 ERA.

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