By JEFF MEZYDLO
(AP) -- Justin Verlander is pitching like the reigning Cy Young Award winner he is for the Detroit Tigers.
His teammates hope their ace can continue his recent dominance and help the Tigers avoid being swept by the AL Central-leading Cleveland Indians on Thursday at Progressive Field.
After giving up a solo homer and one other hit in seven innings of a 3-1 win at Oakland on May 13, Verlander (5-1, 2.14 ERA) lost a no-hit bid with one out in the ninth on Josh Harrison's single in Friday's 6-0 win over Pittsburgh.
"With him, anytime like the fifth, sixth inning, with his stuff, you think (a no-hitter) could happen," Detroit catcher Alex Avila said. "His stuff was better (Friday) than it was last year during his no-hitter (at Toronto on May 7)."
Though Verlander fell short of his third career no-hitter, he struck out 12 for his second complete game and third straight winning start.
"He has tunnel vision like no one I've ever seen," manager Jim Leyland told the Tigers' official website. "I mean, he does everything with a purpose. He has a plan every single day when he walks in the door, and nothing is going to stop him."
The Indians have had a hard time of late trying to get anything going versus Verlander, who is 9-1 with a 2.89 ERA in his last 12 starts against them. He went 3-0 with a 2.86 ERA versus Cleveland in 2011, striking out 30 and allowing just eight hits in 22 innings.
Detroit (20-23) hopes Verlander's success continues against the Indians, who won the first two of this set after dropping the previous 10 between the division rivals.
The favorite to win a second straight Central title, Detroit has lost 20 of 31 since opening the season 9-3. The Tigers went 2 for 12 with runners in scoring position in Wednesday's 4-2 loss.
"It's been kind of tough," Verlander said. "It's been back and forth. We've never really gotten on a roll. We win one, we lose one, we win one, we lose one. But obviously this team is capable of going on a long winning streak, and that's what we need to start doing."
Cleveland slugger Travis Hafner hit a two-run homer and second baseman Jason Kipnis scored the go-ahead run on Prince Fielder's throwing error in the eighth Wednesday, as Cleveland (25-18) won for the seventh time in nine games.
"There's lots of games left, but you feel it," said Kipnis, batting .423 (11 for 26) in six career home games versus Detroit.
Scheduled Cleveland starter Justin Masterson (1-3, 5.04) will again try to find a way to solve the Tigers. The right-hander is 0-4 with a 5.79 ERA in seven starts versus Detroit, including 0-2 with a 6.12 ERA in five at Progressive Field.
Masterson, however, allowed two runs in seven innings while not factoring in Friday's 3-2 loss to Miami - his fourth quality start in his last five.
"It should lead us in the right direction," Masterson told the Indians' official website. "It's not going to be perfect, but it's going to be on the right track and give our team a chance."
Miguel Cabrera, who had two hits Wednesday, is 7 for 15 with a homer against Masterson. He's batting .467 (14 for 30) in his last seven games versus Cleveland.
Updated May 24, 2012