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Tigers' Verlander, Royals' Hammel face off again

DETROIT -- Jason Hammel got off to a rocky start in his first season with the Kansas City Royals. However, Hammel found a groove during the past two months, and he will be facing a very familiar opponent in his start on Monday night.

The Royals right-hander will oppose Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander in the opener of a three-game series at Comerica Park.

Kansas City (50-47), which trails the Cleveland Indians by 1 1/2 games in the American League Central, carries a five-game winning streak to Detroit.

The same two pitchers squared off just five days ago and engaged in a pitchers' duel at Kauffman Stadium. Hammel allowed two hits and a run in the first inning but retired 18 of the final 21 Tigers he faced, including 10 in a row at one point.

Hammel lasted 6 1/3 innings, while Verlander tossed seven innings. Verlander gave up two runs and struck out eight, but both pitchers wound up with no-decisions in Kansas City's 4-3 victory. The Royals won that one with two runs in the bottom of the ninth.

Hammel, 34, is 3-2 with a 3.56 ERA since June 1 after starting the season 1-6 with a 6.18 ERA.

"It all starts with confidence. Confidence is how you stay in this game for a long time," Hammel said. "You don't stay in this game for a long time if you don't have some kind of work ethic and results to prove you are consistent. You've got to be good at what you do in order to stay there. So I was very frustrated the way things were going at the beginning part of the season, but at some point I knew they would turn around."

Hammel won 15 games for the Chicago Cubs last season but didn't find a free agent match until the Royals signed him on Feb. 8. A rotation spot opened up when tragedy struck, as Royals right-hander Yordano Ventura was killed in a vehicle crash in the Dominican Republic on Jan. 22.

Even for a veteran like Hammel, there are adjustments to be made when joining a new club.

"Working with new catchers, me and Salvy (Salvador Perez) and me and Drew (Butera). There are a lot of things of that goes into success," said Hammel, who is 2-2 with a 6.98 ERA in 11 career outings against the Tigers. "Obviously, confidence breeds confidence. The idea of coming in and working hard every day and staying in that routine doesn't mean we're robots and once we figure something out that it's going to be that way every time. We're going to make mistakes."

Verlander's victory total against Kansas City is his highest against any opponent. Overall, he is 23-10 with a 3.18 ERA in 44 starts against the Royals.

As one of several Tigers rumored to be on the trading block, Verlander could be making his last start with the franchise. Verlander, who must give permission to be traded, indicated earlier this month that general manager Al Avila has kept him informed of any developments.

"If there is anything, Al has been very forthcoming with me," Verlander said. "He's said, 'Don't listen to everything that's out there. If anything comes to fruition, I will be the first to talk to you about it.'"

The Tigers (45-52) are coming off a 9-6 win at Minnesota on Sunday, giving them a 4-3 road trip.

"It's a winning road trip," manager Brad Ausmus said. "You still think back to the third game in Kansas City when we had the lead going into the bottom of the ninth and they come back. That would have been a real difference-maker on the road trip. But it was a winning road trip, and we did take the series here (in Minnesota)."