Justin Verlander's quest for his first Major League hit is back on, albeit a little early this year. So, too, is the National League's quest to beat him.
At the plate, Verlander is 0-for-26 with nine sacrifice bunts and 15 strikeouts. On the mound, he heads into Saturday's matchup against the Padres with a 21-2 record and a 2.56 ERA for his career against the National League, including a 10-game winning streak since 2010. He beat the Padres here in 2008 with 10 strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings.
Looking to keep Verlander out of the hit column will be Padres starter Ian Kennedy. Kennedy has gone 1-1 with a 3.27 ERA in his first two starts. Unlike Verlander, Kennedy has struggled in Interleague games. In 12 outings he's just 3-8 with a 5.84 ERA. If San Diego's starter can come close to Andrew Cashner's one-hit shutout from Friday, fans at Petco Park will be going home happy.
While Kennedy's struggled in Interleague play, the Padres' right-hander delivered a solid start against the Marlins on Sunday, allowing just one run over six innings. Kennedy and the Padres hope he can produce a similar performance since Verlander has dominated against NL opponents.
Even in the midst of Verlander's mechanical issues last season, he more than held his own against the Senior Circuit, going 2-0 with a 1.89 ERA in three starts. His no-decision came despite six scoreless innings in Miami on Sept. 29, the day Henderson Alvarez no-hit the Tigers. NL opponents hit just .206 off Verlander with 29 strikeouts over 19 innings.
With a Padres lineup that has been struggling for offense for much of the season's first couple weeks, Verlander at least has a setup to continue that success. The only Padre who has faced Verlander extensively is former Oakland Athletic Seth Smith, and he's 3-for-21 with a home run, six walks and seven strikeouts off him.
Verlander's Interleague success has been sustained enough that his one frustration against the National League has been his own lack of hitting. For someone who prides himself for a decent approach at the plate, and who has had some well-struck line drives, he remains hitless for his big league career. With 26 hitless at-bats, Verlander enters Saturday with the second-longest hitless streak to begin a career in Tigers history. Fred Gladding spent the first seven years of his pitching career in a Tigers uniform, but went 0-for-40 as a hitter.
Verlander probably never heard of Gladding, but he's well-aware of his own streak. His quest for a base hit has been an annual conversation when Interleague Play begins. This year, it begins early enough that he was taking his cuts in the batting cage in Spring Training.
It's reached the point where he might be superstitious about it. He didn't want to talk about it when asked Friday. His teammates, by contrast, have had their fun with it.
"I'm pulling for Ver to get a hit," Rick Porcello said this week, "because it's driving him crazy and I'm tired of hearing about it."
Tigers: Cabrera trying to work on swing
Even two-time defending MVPs and three-time reigning batting champions go through slumps. By pure numbers, 8-for-32 is far from an anchor in a season, even for Miguel Cabrera, who had an 0-for-22 slump in April a couple years ago. Still, with a 2-for-16 performance over his last four games, even he sensed something's not right.
"I'm feeling good, but my swing is not right," Cabrera said. "In BP and when I work in the cage, I feel normal. When I come into the game, I see how I pull a lot of balls to third base and shortstop."
It's not intentional, he said, and it's not health related. He feels fine, and his movement in the field at third base reinforces that. It's a combination of mechanics and timing, he believes, possibly related to habits he developed playing through his injuries down the stretch last year.
"Sometimes you have bad habits," he said. "I don't know if I took that from last year when I got injured, but I feel good. My mechanics are not very good, but hopefully I can keep working, trying to swing more consistently."
Padres: Headley not concerned about sore right knee
Third baseman Chase Headley said before Friday's game that he's dealing with soreness in his right knee, but nothing out of the ordinary. He backed it up by with a two-run home run and an RBI double Friday night, slugging himself out of a .125 start.
"It's not any more of an issue than what you deal with throughout the year," he said. "You've always got something that doesn't feel very good."
Headley's home run was the 34th of his career at Petco Park, tying him with Khalil Greene and Will Venable for second in Padres history behind Adrian Gonzalez.
• Tigers right fielder Torii Hunter is hoping to return to the Tigers' lineup Saturday after missing the past couple games with a bruised left knee. He missed Friday's game as a precaution, but took batting practice and felt fine.
• Padres center fielder Cameron Maybin is scheduled to continue his rehab assignment this weekend for Triple-A El Paso. He ruptured the biceps muscle in his left arm diving a ball in early March.