The Indians opened the second half of the season with a lot of ground to make up in the American League Central, but a chance to make an immediate dent in their 7 1/2-game deficit with a four-game series against the division-leading Tigers right out of the gate.
They took the first step in emphatic fashion on Friday with a 9-3 come-from-behind victory in the series opener at Comerica Park, and hope to be even closer to Detroit in the standings by the time they leave the Motor City on Sunday night.
The two clubs will meet twice on Saturday in a day-night doubleheader, the first contest of which is a makeup of an April 15 rainout. The Tigers will send right-hander Drew VerHagen to the mound to make his Major League debut in the first game, and he'll be opposed by fellow right-hander Corey Kluber.
VerHagen, Detroit's fourth-round selection in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, went 6-7 with a 3.67 ERA in 19 starts for Triple-A Toledo this season. The sinkerballer allowed just five home runs in 110 1/3 innings.
"I guess keeping the ball in the yard is a big part of the game, so I definitely try to keep the ball in the zone and try to get ground balls, so I guess that just ends up working to my advantage," said VerHagen, ranked by MLB.com as the Tigers' No. 12 prospect.
Kluber, meanwhile, is hoping to continue what he did in the first half of the season. The right-hander posted a 3.01 ERA prior to the All-Star break, and was particularly good over his last five starts, allowing eight earned runs in 35 innings (2.06 ERA). He struck out 34 and walked only six during that span.
"I want to try to do more of the same, as far as being consistent and going out there and giving the team a chance to win," Kluber said. "As far as specific numbers or personal goals, I don't really set those kinds of goals for myself. I'm just really trying to simplify things -- give the team a chance to win and pitch as deep into the ballgame as I can."
For the nightcap, the Indians will give the ball to Zach McAllister after calling up the right-hander from Triple-A Columbus. McAllister struggled through his first 10 starts of the season with Cleveland, posting a 5.89 ERA before going on the disabled list with a low back strain.
After being optioned to Triple-A Columbus upon his return from the DL, McAllister made a start for the Tribe on July 12 against the White Sox, giving up three runs on four hits over seven innings in a 6-2 loss.
McAllister will be opposed by right-hander Max Scherzer. The reigning American League Cy Young Award winner struggled in May and June, posting a 4.48 ERA. But he's had a good July, going 2-0 with a 1.20 ERA in his first two starts of the month, following that up with a scoreless fifth inning with two strikeouts to earn the win for the AL in the All-Star Game.
Indians: Getting defensive
Cleveland ended the first half of the season with a Major League-high 76 errors and committed No. 77 on Friday. As the Indians aim to gain ground in both the AL Central and Wild Card standings in the second half, they know that tidying up their defensive effort will be extremely important.
"We've always said that for us to be the team we want to be, we've got to play clean," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "We've had a lot of periods where we haven't, and we've made it harder to win than we need it to be. You can't just push a button, though, and change that, but that's certainly something that we know we need to get better at."
Tigers: Good timing for V-Mart's return
Victor Martinez missed the final eight games of the first half with a strained lower right side, but he returned to the lineup for Friday's series opener against the Indians, against whom he's had a lot of success in his career.
Martinez is batting .365 (74-for-203) against the Tribe, with 21 doubles, nine homers and 46 RBIs in 55 games. He went 2-for-4 with a run scored on Friday.
"Nobody knows how I'm feeling better than myself," Martinez said on Friday of his return to the lineup. "Now I don't really feel anything [with respect to the injury], so I feel pretty good about it."
• Michael Brantley and Nick Swisher have both had success against Scherzer. Brantley is 12-for-38 (.316) with six doubles, a triple, a homer and nine RBIs against the right-hander. Swisher is 8-for-22 (.364) with two doubles, a triple and two RBIs.
• The Indians have won nine of their last 13 games. Their win against Detroit on Friday was only their seventh in their last 25 games against the Tigers, and only their 13th in their last 48 at Comerica Park.
• Miguel Cabrera, who went 2-for-4 in Friday's series opener, is batting .338 in his career against the Indians, with 26 doubles, 33 home runs and 109 RBIs in 120 games.
Manny Randhawa is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.