The final month of the season has always been one to remember for Justin Verlander, but in a mostly forgettable year for the veteran righty, will he end on a similar high note?
The answer to that question could determine the Tigers' fate. The script will begin to play out Wednesday as the 31-year-old former Cy Young Award winner opens his September in Cleveland.
Detroit rallied in the ninth to beat Cleveland, 4-2, on Tuesday night keeping the pressure on the Royals, who maintained their half-game lead in the American League Central. The Indians are 5 1/2 games back. In the race for the second AL Wild Card, Detroit leads Cleveland by five games, with Seattle 1 1/2 games back.
For Verlander, Wednesday will be his first start since the recent celebrity cloud-hack frenzy.
"I'm not going to comment on my personal life," Verlander said Tuesday. "I never have and I never plan on it. I keep my personal life personal. I don't want to take any focus away from this team and what we're trying to accomplish."
Verlander admitted his throwing shoulder is "kind of fatigued," but says he's maintaining focus easily.
"Baseball is my life, and I'm more at home here than anywhere else in the world," he said. "I'm always able to focus on that, especially when I'm on the mound, doing what I've done my whole life."
Cleveland will look to Danny Salazar as it tries to insert itself into the thick of the AL playoff picture. The second-year right-hander has been much improved since rejoining the Indians after a stint with Triple-A Columbus.
Since July 22, Salazar's first start back from the Minors, his ERA is just 2.84. He isn't necessarily pitching deep into games -- more often than not, his outings have been five innings or shorter -- but he's been a significant boost to the rotation.
That was certainly the case in his last start, when he defeated the Royals despite only going five innings because of a rain delay. He allowed just four hits, though, and no runs crossed the plate, pleasing his manager.
"I think Danny was really good," Terry Francona said afterward. "He was really aggressive with his fastball, and you could tell he had confidence in it, and even in the tempo in his delivery, which is something [pitching coach] Mickey [Callaway] kind of harps on him about, was really good from start to finish."
Tigers: Club searches for healthiest option at first
Miguel Cabrera has served as the designated hitter for the past two games, which enables him to rest his sore right ankle.
The alternative at first base, Victor Martinez, might not be a much better solution.
Martinez, 35, has chronic left knee problems, and manager Brad Ausmus admitted it's going to be a "balancing act" for the rest of the season.
"The idea is to control Miggy's discomfort as much as possible," Ausmus said. "Beyond that, there isn't much more I can say."
Indians: Aviles still out
Mike Aviles was out of the lineup Tuesday a day after suffering whiplash on a hard diving catch in the first inning against Detroit. The utility man passed initial concussion tests, but was still feeling lingering effects Tuesday night. His return does not seem imminent.
"He's passed all the concussion tests, which is good," Francona said. "He still doesn't feel great. He's got the whiplash symptoms, so we'll keep him around here [Tuesday] to let the doc look at him again and then kind of go from there."
• Detroit catcher Alex Avila left Tuesday night's game after being struck in the mask by a foul ball during the sixth inning.
Matt Slovin is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.