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DET@HOU: Scherzer fans 13 over seven dominant frames

Rays manager Joe Maddon acknowledges that his team has always had difficulty facing Detroit pitching.

Never are those woes more glaring than when Tampa Bay faces Max Scherzer, who will get the nod at Comerica Park on Thursday in the series opener between the Tigers and Rays.

In fact, only one current member of the Rays -- James Loney -- maintains a batting average above .200 against Scherzer, who has returned to form lately after a volatile stretch in May and June. Loney has five hits in 20 at-bats against the right-hander.

"We've actually done well pitching against them," Maddon said. "But we have not done well hitting against them. They have really good pitching."

The other six Tampa Bay batters who have seen Scherzer before are hitting a combined .129 against him.

In Scherzer's last start, a no-decision against Houston, a meeting with pitching coach Jeff Jones early in the game helped Scherzer out. Deciding which pitch to throw in certain situations has given even the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner some pause.

"There's times when you think you should throw your best fastball and times you think you should throw offspeed," Scherzer said. "There's different scenarios with different hitters when you should throw each pitch. There's times when we think I should throw a fastball in certain situations. We can all be right, but there's something there that says we should be throwing an offspeed pitch because we didn't think of this detail."

If Tigers slugger Victor Martinez isn't healthy in time for Thursday's series opener, J.D. Martinez will again be in the lineup. The Tigers' Player of the Month for June has hit double-digit home runs for Detroit and Triple-A Toledo this season -- a feat that hasn't been accomplished since Rays outfielder Matt Joyce did it with the Tigers' organization in 2008.

Unlike Joyce, who hit nine homers in Detroit by the 2008 All-Star break, Martinez got to double digits at both stops by the midway point.

On the mound for Tampa Bay will be Erik Bedard, who is 1-0 with a 2.50 ERA at Comerica Park. The southpaw is coming off his longest outing of the season vs. the Orioles, in which he lasted seven innings and allowed three runs.

"I just threw more strikes," Bedard said. "They were really aggressive and they were swinging early so I was getting ahead and was just throwing good pitches when I needed to. That ball-to-strike ratio that I threw that game is probably not going to happen again. For me, it's pretty rare. I'm going to try to do it every game, but I don't know if I can actually do that."

Rays: Kiermaier becoming a reliable option in right field
As the Rays have started their push to get back into the AL East race, winning seven of their last eight, they've done so with some emerging young players.

Since beginning to play regular right field in mid-May, Kevin Kiermaier, a 31st-round Draft pick in 2010, has been everything the Rays have hoped for -- especially in the last week. On Tuesday night, he saw his six-game hitting streak end, during which he hit .385 with three home runs and six RBIs.

"We've always known he's a good outfielder and he throws well," said manager Joe Maddon. "But it's probably the offensive side of the game that we've been hyper-critical with, but he's worked on everything. He's a good bunter too. I believe it's not a flash in the pan -- I believe he's for real and I believe he's going to keep getting better, because he's so driven."

Tigers: Ausmus reflects on season's first half
Thursday's game will mark the official beginning to the Tigers' second half of the season.

Manager Brad Ausmus, in his first season at the helm, reflected before Wednesday's win over the A's on a whirlwind first three months, noting the year is going faster than an average season felt as a player.

"We've had a little bit of a roller coaster in the first half," Ausmus said. "Extreme up, extreme down. I'm hoping we're climbing up again."

Detroit began the season with a 27-12 mark before winning only nine out of its next 29 games. Since that rough stretch, the Tigers have won 11 of 13 to reclaim the AL Central lead from the Royals. After 81 games, their 47-34 record is second best in the AL.

Worth noting
• This is the first meeting of the season between these two teams. They split the six games they played in 2013.

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