Injuries, division rivals providing early test for Tigers

Justin Verlander hasn't appeared in a single game. Victor Martinez has hit only one home run, and Anibal Sanchez has allowed 11.

All things considered, the Detroit Tigers are off to a solid start - but they're still waiting for significant contributions from some of their biggest stars.

''I know it's a good team,'' manager Brad Ausmus said. ''You hope over 162 games, the fact that it's a good team bubbles to the surface.''

After four consecutive division titles, the Tigers are facing a strong test from the AL Central. Detroit had the fourth-best record in the American League entering Tuesday night's game at Oakland, but that 26-20 mark was good for only third place.

The Tigers have played pretty well despite some early adversity, but to win another division crown, they may need more production from some of their best players.

Verlander has been out all season with a triceps strain. His return may not be too far off, but once he's healthy, the 32-year-old right-hander still has to show he can bounce back from an off year in 2014, when his ERA rose to 4.54.

He threw a 4 1/3-inning simulated game Tuesday afternoon and hopes the next step is a rehab start as long as he feels good a day later.

''All in all very pleased. I'm very optimistic I'm going to feel great tomorrow,'' Verlander said in Oakland.

He paused for the national anthem and had a few teammates doing the wave in the empty ballpark. David Price even posted live updates on Twitter, only a few hours before his start against the Athletics.

''Vers final line for sim game...4.1 ip 3 hits (all 1bs) 1 BB 9ks 0 runs...I don't use the term domination lightly and he DOMINATED!!!'' Price wrote.

Verlander said he threw about 68-70 pitches and mixed in all of his offspeed repertoire. He rested 10 minutes before his last inning to simulate a longer wait.

''It was a lot of fun. We treated it about as real as you can,'' Verlander said. ''The guys in the stands tried to get the wave going. The fans weren't very receptive to it.''

Miguel Cabrera was back in the lineup Tuesday after a day off for Monday afternoon's 4-0 loss.

Sanchez is trying to work through one of his roughest stretches since he was traded to Detroit in 2012. The right-hander is 3-5 with a 6.12 ERA, and he has allowed 11 homers after giving up only four last season.

''I am keeping my face up and continue to work. I want to turn this around at some point,'' he said. ''I want to do everything to help the team win. I need everyone trusting in what I can do on the mound.''

Martinez also has had a hard time so far in 2015. After offseason knee surgery, the slugging designated hitter is batting .216 and recently went on the disabled list.

The Tigers remain comfortably above .500 because Cabrera and Price have been as impressive as usual. They've also gotten contributions from further down the roster. Newcomer Alfredo Simon has pitched well. The beleaguered bullpen has been serviceable.

Detroit has added more speed on the bases over the past couple years, and the Tigers now look like a sharper team defensively.

If they played in a different division, they might be receiving plaudits for the way they've kept winning despite their injury problems, but in the Central, they've slipped behind first-place Kansas City, which entered Tuesday with the AL's best record.

Even Minnesota, thought to be rebuilding under a new manager, passed Detroit for second place.

With the Royals and Twins applying pressure, the Tigers have not had much margin for error in the division race. So their most recent homestand, in which they lost two of three to Milwaukee and split a four-game series with Houston, was viewed as a letdown.

Detroit won the first two games against AL West-leading Houston before losing two in a row to the Astros. The Tigers blew a 7-3 lead in Sunday's loss.

''If we had won today, it might have been a decent homestand,'' Ausmus said Sunday. ''But as it is, it is a disappointing homestand.''

Since starting the season 11-2, the Tigers have lost more games than they've won, and at least so far, the bar has been raised by a couple division rivals. So when winnable games slip away, the frustration is palpable.

''We're capable of winning every game we play,'' third baseman Nick Castellanos said. ''Obviously, that's not going to happen, but there's no excuse why we can't win a series against the Brewers, and then we should have won the series against Houston.''

---

AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley contributed to this report.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.