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Rays ready to face Tigers ace Verlander

Every time Justin Verlander takes the hill for the Tigers, he gets an opponent's best shot. On Wednesday against the Rays, he'll get arguably their best pitcher, too.

Tampa Bay, off to a 3-1 start after dropping the series opener on Tuesday in Detroit, is in the Motor City for a three-game set that will continue Wednesday at Comerica Park.

James Shields will be on the hill for the Rays, looking to improve on his last outing, in which he allowed nine hits and six earned runs in five innings in a no-decision against the visiting Yankees on Opening Day. It snapped the righty's Major League-best streak of 11 straight starts of seven innings of more.

"I'm looking forward to just getting back out there," Shields said. "Obviously my last outing wasn't the way I wanted it to go. If we won the game, that's all that really matters. I feel really good right now. I had a really good bullpen session with [pitching coach Jim Hickey] and worked on a few kinks that were going on in the game. Now we're ready to go."

Verlander was exceptional against the Red Sox on Opening Day, but he suffered the same fate of a no-decision despite pitching eight scoreless innings.

It could be a good sign for the defending American League MVP and Cy Young Award winner, who has suffered from slow starts in his career. The right-hander is 9-14 with a 4.56 ERA in his career in March and April. But you won't catch the Rays resting on their laurels.

"He's obviously, arguably, the best pitcher in baseball," first baseman Carlos Pena said. "Cy Young Award winner, MVP, so we all know the accolades. When you step into the box, we know why. He's special. He's not one dimensional, and that makes him even better. He's got incredible talent, which is evident. But again, he's not one dimensional. He can do many things. He can be many different kinds of pitchers at once."

Detroit has won eight of the club's last nine games against Tampa Bay, dating back to Aug. 11, 2010. In those eight wins, Tigers pitchers have a 2.06 ERA (19 earned runs in 82 2/3 innings).

Detroit's four-game winning streak to start the season is the club's best start since it went 5-0 to start the 2006 season. The Tigers advanced to the World Series that year.

Rays: Pena back in Motown
• Pena, who played for the Tigers from 2002-05, has played 234 career games at Comerica Park, second only to the games he's played at Tropicana Field. He's a career .239 hitter in Detroit, with 38 home runs and 122 RBIs.

The slugger was 1-for-3 in the series opener Tuesday.

• The Tigers feature a formidable ace on the hill, but Shields is more concerned about their powerful lineup.

"I'm more concerned about the hitters than what Verlander's doing to our hitters," he said. "It's going to be a tough battle."

• Shields is 2-0 in three career starts at Comerica Park, and he is 4-0 with a 3.74 ERA against the Tigers overall.

Tigers: Jackson a spark at top of the lineup
• It took Austin Jackson just four games to reach nine hits on the season -- with a solo homer to tie Tuesday's game with two outs in the seventh inning -- after it took him 11 contests to reach the nine-hit mark last year.

Jackson, who made some adjustments to shorten his stride at the plate, is hitting .563 with two doubles, a triple, a home run, three RBIs, four walks and seven runs in four games this year.

• Second baseman Ramon Santiago was a late scratch from the Tigers' lineup on Tuesday due to an illness that has been going around the clubhouse. He was replaced by Danny Worth, who went 0-for-4.

Worth noting
• Miguel Cabrera already has as many intentional walks ahead of Prince Fielder (two) through four games as National League MVP Award winner Ryan Braun did last season ahead of Fielder with the Brewers.

• The Tigers have won 53 of the 104 games all-time between the two teams.

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