Since early May, Gio Gonzalez and Justin Verlander have been headed in opposite directions.
The two will square off on Wednesday afternoon at Comerica Park as the Nationals and Tigers finish their two-game set. Detroit will be gunning for its fifth straight victory and a season split with Washington, which came to town as winners of three in a row but lost the series opener, 5-1, on Tuesday.
Early this year, Verlander looked to be in his typical Cy Young Award form, while Gonzalez struggled on the heels of a career-best season. But over the past few months, that dynamic has flipped.
Since the beginning of May, Gonzalez has a 2.20 ERA over 15 starts. Since May 16, Verlander owns a 5.21 mark over 14 outings.
Gonzalez (7-3, 2.97) has notched 11 strikeouts in each of his past two games, a season high for punchouts. His outing on Thursday snapped a string of nine straight quality starts, but Gonzalez still held the Pirates to three runs through 5 2/3 innings, despite eight hits and four walks.
"Today was just one of those weird games," Gonzalez said afterward. "You just have to learn to go with it and try to keep them down as much as possible."
Verlander (10-8, 3.99) already has given up 61 earned runs this season, only nine fewer than in all of 2012 and six fewer than in '11. That includes five runs or more in three of his past four starts, with a 5.96 ERA and a 13-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio over that span.
The right-hander has been working on his mechanics with pitching coach Jeff Jones and said he was encouraged by his outing against the White Sox on Thursday, despite seven runs in six innings. Still, it's been a trying period for the six-time All-Star.
"It's testing me a lot," Verlander said. "These are things you learn from as you go through your career. Every year is not going to be easy. The last two years came easy for me. This year is coming extremely difficult for me."
Nationals: Rendon in a funk
Rookie second baseman Anthony Rendon has been caught in a significant slump of late. The 23-year-old went 0-for-3 with a walk on Tuesday, making him 3-for-40 with no extra-base hits and two free passes in his past 10 contests.
Rendon's average has dropped from .301 to .256 since July 14, and he has two RBIs since July 7. Manager Davey Johnson has been batting him exclusively in the No. 2 spot in the lineup.
• Pitching coach Steve McCatty has been hospitalized in Washington since before Sunday's game due to an irregular heartbeat and high blood pressure, but the club expects him to be released on Wednesday. The plan is for McCatty to rejoin the club for the start of the team's series in Milwaukee on Friday, leaving Johnson to double as pitching coach for the Detroit series.
Tigers: Veras back in familiar role
Jose Veras saved 19 games this season as the Astros' closer, but after Monday's trade to the Tigers, he'll return to being a setup man. Joaquin Benoit will continue closing for Detroit, and lefty Drew Smyly also will be in the mix as a setup man.
"I don't think about a spot. I don't mind," said Veras, a eight-year veteran now with his seventh team. "I just focus to get my job, to get my three [outs]. No matter what situation, I have to do what I have to do, take care of that part, and let the other guys take care of the rest. I was a setup man for five years, and then this was my first time as a closer. And then I came here and I said I'm available in any moment you need me."
Veras notched a 2.93 ERA over 43 innings with Houston, racking up 44 strikeouts. He made his Tigers debut in Tuesday's eighth inning, retiring the side in order.
• Gonzalez last faced the Tigers in 2011, when he gave up one run in 13 innings over two starts. In his only career outing at Comerica Park, with the A's in '08, he surrendered nine runs (eight earned) over 1 2/3 innings.
• Verlander's only start against the Nationals came in 2010, when he struck out 11 and walked none while giving up three runs in eight innings.
• Third baseman Miguel Cabrera left Tuesday's game after seven innings, and manager Jim Leyland said afterward that Cabrera tweaked an abdominal muscle while charging a grounder in the fifth. Leyland did not know the severity of the injury. Cabrera missed four games last week with an abdominal issue.