(Sports Network) - It's been over a month since the Detroit Tigers last won a game on the road. A matchup against the Tampa Bay Rays and David Price doesn't seem to bode well for the struggling club's chances of ending that drought.
Price will attempt to become the American League's first 14-game winner when he takes the mound this afternoon for the Rays, who'll be aiming for a series sweep of the fading Tigers when these teams square off again at Tropicana Field.
Tampa Bay has taken the first three bouts of this set and dealt Detroit a ninth consecutive road defeat with Wednesday's 7-4 decision. The losing streak is the Tigers' longest in away games since the club dropped 10 in a row from September 16-October 2, 2005.
The Rays, on the other hand, have now won five straight contests and kept pace with the New York Yankees in the race for first place in the AL East as well as the best overall record in baseball. Tampa improved to 62-38 on the year, two games back of the Yankees for the top spot.
Tampa Bay used a 14-hit attack to prevail last night, with Evan Longoria breaking out of an 0-for-18 skid with a 3-for-4 performance at the plate that included a two-run homer. Carlos Pena added an RBI single and ended 2-for-3 on the evening.
The Rays scored five times over the first four innings to help Jeff Niemann (9-3) record his ninth win of the season. The towering right-hander labored through six innings and allowed four runs on eight hits, two of which were homers.
"It's nice to get a win on a night when we probably didn't deserve one," Niemann said. "The defense and offense really helped me out [Wednesday]."
Eddie Bonine (4-1), making his first start of 2010, took the loss for Detroit after being tagged for five runs and eight hits before being removed after 3 1/3 innings.
Detroit has now lost 12 of its last 15 tests and has fallen five games behind front-running Chicago in the AL Central standings. A lack of offense has been one reason for the Tigers' woes, as the team has averaged a mere 2.9 runs per game over that poor stretch.
The Tigers did make a move towards trying to bolster their injury-plagued lineup on Wednesday, acquiring infielder Jhonny Peralta from Cleveland in exchange for minor-league pitcher Giovanni Soto. The 28-year-old is expected to serve as Detroit's third baseman with Brandon Inge likely sidelined for at least another month with a fractured finger.
Tampa Bay will probably sit out two regulars this afternoon, with center fielder B.J. Upton slated to miss a second straight game with a sprained ankle and right fielder Ben Zobrist bothered by a sore back that forced him to leave Wednesday's win after just three innings.
The Rays will have a healthy Price, who enters today's tilt with a glossy 13-5 record and 2.90 earned run average in 19 starts and is presently tied with the New York Yankees' CC Sabathia and Minnesota's Carl Pavano for the AL lead in wins. The 2010 All-Star Game starter has been even more impressive at home, where he boasts a 6-1 mark along with a splendid 2.04 ERA and has held the opposition to a .200 average this season.
The 2007 No. 1 overall pick has won his last three starts at Tropicana Field, but his most recent victory came on the road this past Saturday. Facing the Cleveland Indians, Price allowed three runs and just three hits over seven innings to help the Rays post a 6-3 decision.
Price also performed well in his only previous start against the Tigers, firing 7 1/3 innings of one-run ball to pick up a win at Comerica Park on August 29 of last season.
Detroit will send out another member of that 2007 first-round class in the finale, with youngster Rick Porcello getting the call for the visitors. The Tigers sophomore hasn't achieved nearly the degree of success Price has this season, however, nor has he been able to build off a very promising rookie campaign of 2009.
A 14-game winner as a 20-year-old last season, Porcello has slipped to a 4-8 record and produced a subpar 5.55 ERA in 15 starts thus far in 2010. Those struggles earned the right-hander a brief banishment to the minors in mid- June, but he's pitched better since returning after the All-Star break.
Porcello yielded just one run and walked none over eight strong innings during a no-decision at Cleveland on July 17, then surrendered three runs in six frames in a home defeat to Toronto on Saturday. It was the fourth straight losing decision for the New Jersey native, who hasn't won in the majors since May 23.
Porcello was sharp in his lone career start versus Tampa Bay, permitting just one run through 5 2/3 innings in a win at Comerica Park last August.
Prior to taking the first three games of this series, the Rays had lost in eight of their last 11 meetings with Detroit. The Tigers swept a three-game set in their lone trip to Tropicana Field last season.