After an offensive onslaught in the middle innings Wednesday helped the Tigers halt their four-game losing streak, they will rely on their ace Thursday with hopes of starting a winning streak against the Pirates.
To do so, right-hander Max Scherzer will need better luck. Two quality starts -- in which he allowed three runs in 15 innings -- have gone for naught in his recent outings as the Tigers suffered one-run losses and Scherzer took a loss and no decision.
Scherzer allowed one run over eight innings in his last start before the Tigers eventually lost in extra-innings.
"I saved everything there for the end. I knew that [eighth] inning was going to be tough, especially when you're going down to the third time through [the lineup]," Scherzer said afterward. "They've seen your stuff, they've gotten to see what your offspeed looks like. Those can be the toughest times. That's where I empty the tank and let everything fly."
In losing seven of nine games prior to Wednesday's win, the Tigers have fallen to second in the American League Central, a half-game behind the surging Royals. Scherzer, meanwhile, has been surging since late June, posting quality starts in eight of nine outings while tossing seven or more innings seven times.
His counterpart Thursday knows well about rebounding. Francisco Liriano, who won the 2013 National League Comeback Player of the Year award, is currently rebounding from a less-than-stellar first half.
After the left-hander posted a 4.72 ERA in 15 first-half starts, he has a 1.69 ERA in five starts out of the break. Liriano has four straight quality starts, going seven innings while allowing two runs in a loss last time out on Saturday against the Padres.
"He's done it before," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "It's not like all of a sudden we're seeing something we hadn't seen before. He's finding his rhythm, he's got confidence out there, repeating the delivery. His fastball command, really is again, getting back to what it was last year."
The Pirates will need Liriano as they attempt to catch first-place Milwaukee in the National League Central. Pittsburgh has surged to second in the division, sitting 1 1/2 games behind the Brewers and a half-game ahead of third-place St. Louis.
Pirates: Hurdle focused in on stolen bases
The Tigers finally controlled the Pirates' running game Wednesday, but swiping bases has become a focal point nonetheless.
The Pirates, ranked third in the National League in steals, had picked up a stolen base in eight straight games before they came away empty-handed Wednesday. That has been a key for manager Clint Hurdle.
"We have a club that we need to utilize all the skills we do have. We have some usable speed," Hurdle said. "We've seen guys move up on dirt balls, balls that get blocked by the catcher, or extra bases on balls that guys read in the outfield. More than anything else, it's a mindset. Our guys have been encouraged to play to win, to look for those 'free 90s' as we call them."
Tigers: Whelan optioned to Triple-A Toledo
To make room for starter Buck Farmer on the 25-man roster, Detroit optioned right-hander Kevin Whelan to Triple-A Toledo on Wednesday, two days after purchasing his contract.
Whelan gave up back-to-back home runs in his 1 1/3 innings in Pittsburgh. It was his first Major League appearance since 2011, and his first outing for the Tigers, the team that drafted him in 2005.
Since Whelan still had a Minor League option, the 30-year-old remains on the 40-man roster, and would be eligible to return by the end of August.
• Scherzer has faced only two Pirates hitters at least 10 times and has had success. Russell Martin is hitting .158 (3-for-19) against the right-hander while Jayson Nix (0-for-11) is still without a hit against him, striking out nine times.
• The Tigers as a team are hitting .353 against Liriano. Leading the way against the left-hander are Victor Martinez (.481) and Miguel Cabrera (.310). The two have combined to go 22-for-56 with three homers against Liriano.
Alex Halsted is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.