The last time Justin Verlander entered Rogers Centre to face the Blue Jays, his ERA was at 3.75. He then proceeded to toss his second career no-hitter, before ultimately winning the American League Most Valuable Player Award. He will enter Thursday's start with a 3.77 ERA, and the Tigers are hoping he can regain some of that magic after Detroit's 6-2 win on Wednesday.
"I feel like that start kind of made me the pitcher that I am," Verlander said. "It was really the first time in my career where I had a pitch or two not working great but I was able to find my rhythm with those as the game went along and totally use some other pitches. My slider was huge for me that game. It just kind of felt like that matured me as a pitcher, and I was able to use those lessons moving forward."
Verlander hasn't pitched with his usual dominance this season, but he altered the tilt of his shoulders before his last start. The change in mechanics paid immediate dividends, as Verlander pitched more than seven innings for the first time this year, allowing three runs on nine hits in eight innings against the Rays on Saturday.
"I thought Verlander was really locked in from about the fifth inning on," manager Jim Leyland said. "He was absolutely terrific. I thought that was the best that he's thrown in a long time. As the game went on, his stuff got much, much better."
Esmil Rogers will face off against Verlander in only his seventh start this season after working out of the bullpen. Although he occasionally lost faith in his off-speed pitches in his first few starts, he pitched six scoreless innings against the Red Sox on Saturday, with six strikeouts.
"You've got to attack those guys and come in the zone early," manager John Gibbons said. "That changes everything. It puts them on the defensive a little bit, and then you can come in the zone and expand late when you're ahead late."
While Verlander said he doesn't have any superstitions for throwing a no-hitter in Toronto, that didn't stop him from remembering what he did last time.
"A lot of memories, fond memories, just being able to have my teammates, a lot of the same guys here," Verlander said. "We actually got together at the same place we went to after the no-hitter, some of us. Very cool. A lot of fond memories, like I said, but a different time."
Blue Jays: Encarnacion may return Thursday
After Adam Lind returned to the Blue Jays' lineup for Wednesday's game, Edwin Encarnacion might be able to play on Thursday.
Encarnacion, who leads the team with 23 home runs and 66 RBIs, has been dealing with left hamstring issues since Sunday.
"If you rush that, and you re-injure it or make it worse, then you're shot," Gibbons said on Wednesday. "So buy him that extra day."
• Despite the rocky season for Ricky Romero, general manager Alex Anthopoulos said he has seen some positive signs from the left-hander.
"You're starting to see some of the strikeouts come back, which is important because he's getting ahead and he's able to use his changeup," Anthopoulos said. "From a consistency standpoint, you want to see him have the results he needs to have at that level start after start. So I want to see him do it for a while."
Romero was sent to Triple-A Buffalo in the middle of May after struggling through two starts with the Blue Jays. In his last start in the Minors, he allowed three earned runs on six hits while striking out seven in six innings against Charlotte.
Tigers: Leyland finally happy with bullpen
Through multiple role changes and then a stretch of bad starts that taxed the relievers, Leyland is happier with how the bullpen is coming together.
"I feel pretty comfortable right now with our bullpen," Leyland said. "This is the most comfortable I've felt all year with the bullpen. I think we've finally got it to where it's very workable. I like it."
Leyland is going to end multi-inning roles for right-hander Al Alburquerque and lefty Phil Coke, leaving righty Luke Putkonen and left-hander Darin Downs as the only long relievers.
• Matt Tuiasosopo began his Minor League rehab assignment batting cleanup Wednesday for Triple-A Toledo. Leyland is hoping he will return when he's eligible to come off of the 15-day disabled list on Friday, but Tuiasosopo also has the option of staying with the Mud Hens over the weekend if he feels that he needs more at-bats.
Tuiasosopo was placed on the DL with an intercostal strain that occurred during batting practice on June 20, scratching him against the Red Sox. Avisail Garcia is expected to return to Toledo once Tuiasosopo is back with the team.
• The Tigers have won 18 of their last 28 games against the Blue Jays since Sept. 13, 2009.
• Maicer Izturis is batting .407 against Verlander in his career, the second highest among players with more than 25 at-bats against the right-hander.