With a streaking rival on their heels in the AL Central, the Detroit Tigers hope to have discovered another offensive standout to boost their chances of keeping first place.
Rookie Eugenio Suarez will try to help the Tigers avoid seeing their lead dwindle any further Sunday and get a series-clinching win over the Minnesota Twins.
Detroit led Kansas City by seven games on May 18, but that advantage was down to 1 1/2 games Friday after its 17th loss in 24 contests and the Royals' fifth of their six consecutive wins. The Tigers (35-29) kept them from cutting further into the lead with a 12-9 victory over Minnesota (32-34) on Saturday.
Suarez finished a single shy of the cycle and drove in two runs as Detroit registered a season high for runs and hits (19). Ian Kinsler went 3 for 5 with three RBIs and Victor Martinez had a two-run homer among his three hits as Detroit snapped the Twins' three-game win streak.
Suarez has appeared in eight games since being called up and in his first six major league starts, he's batted .421 with three homers, six RBIs and eight runs. He's filling the void left by shortstop Jose Iglesias, out for the season with stress fractures in his shins, after Andrew Romine was ineffective - hitting .210 with a team-high seven errors.
"He's been playing great for us, both on offense and defense," Martinez said of Suarez. "When I came up to the majors, it took me a while to adjust and get into a rhythm, but he has just stepped right up."
With the way he's pitched lately, Rick Porcello (8-4, 4.04 ERA) might need plenty of help from Suarez and the Tigers offense. The right-hander is 1-3 with a 6.65 ERA in his last four starts and has lost back-to-back decisions for the first time since last June.
He gave up six runs and nine hits in five innings Monday in a 6-5 loss to the Chicago White Sox.
Porcello is 2-2 with a 5.74 ERA in his last five starts against Minnesota but got enough support to win his only matchup this season. He allowed four runs in five-plus innings in a 10-6 road victory April 25.
Ricky Nolasco (4-5, 5.70), who has never faced Detroit, will seek to win a third consecutive decision even though he hasn't been particularly impressive of late.
The right-hander has given up eight runs and 13 hits, including three homers, in his last two starts. He yielded four runs in 5 2-3 innings of a 5-4 loss at Toronto on Monday.
Nolasco likely won't have Trevor Plouffe (oblique) or Eduardo Nunez (hamstring) backing him after both were injured Saturday. Manager Ron Gardenhire said Plouffe may head to the disabled list.
"Those two spots (Plouffe and Nunez) we're going to fill, one way or another, it looks like to me," Gardenhire told the team's website.
Kinsler, who snapped a 1-for-20 slump Saturday, is one of three current Tigers to have faced Nolasco with a pair of doubles in three career at-bats.
Josh Willingham, hitless in this series after batting .360 with five homers and 17 RBIs in his previous 15 games, has two hits in his last 10 at-bats versus Porcello but both were home runs. He's 7 for 18 (.389) lifetime against him.