By SANTOSH VENKATARAMAN
(AP) -- The Detroit Tigers are slowly starting to win against left-handed starters - but not thanks to Ryan Raburn.
The Tigers are expected to stick with the struggling Raburn in Friday night's opener of a three-game home set with the Kansas City Royals.
In a quirk of scheduling, Detroit (41-42) is in the midst of what will be five straight contests in which the opposing starter is left-handed. The Tigers won the first two of those games - both against Minnesota - to improve to 10-13 on the season versus southpaw starters. They are scheduled to face exclusively left-handed starters this weekend against the Royals (37-44).
Manager Jim Leyland - whose club has a chance Friday to reach .500 for the first time since it was 18-18 on May 15 - continues to start Raburn, who is hitting .173 overall and .169 against left-handers. The second baseman has become a focal point for criticism, with his manager telling the Tigers' official website Wednesday that "if Raburn doesn't help us against left-handers, then we have issues."
Raburn went 0 for 3 off Twins southpaw Scott Diamond in Thursday's 7-3 win.
"In order for us to do what we need to do, Ryan Raburn, not alone, Jhonny Peralta and Delmon Young have to help us out against left-hand pitching more," Leyland said. "That's what I said and you can put that on Twitter, you can put it on eBay, you can do whatever the hell you want with it. But that's what it is."
Peralta is hitting .214 against lefties while Young is at .303.
Prince Fielder hasn't had any such issues, batting .307 against lefties. He greeted southpaw Minnesota reliever Tyler Robertson with a three-run homer to snap an eighth-inning tie Thursday as part of a five-run rally.
Fielder and fellow All-Star Miguel Cabrera each have five RBIs over the last two games. Cabrera ranks among the AL leaders with a .345 average against left-handers.
The Tigers hope to have better success against Jonathan Sanchez (1-4, 6.80 ERA), who has a 1.80 ERA and no decisions in two starts this season versus Detroit while limiting the Tigers to five hits over 10 innings. Fielder has the most experience among Detroit hitters against him, going 6 for 19.
Sanchez's winless drought reached nine starts Saturday as he gave up six runs over 4 1-3 innings of a 7-2 road loss to the Twins. He issued six walks for the second straight outing.
"It's a slump, you know," Sanchez said. "It's not working. I'm not doing anything that's working right now."
Detroit is 4-1 against Kansas City this year, despite the fact Raburn has gone 1 for 14 in those games.
The Tigers will start rookie Drew Smyly (3-3, 4.54), who is 0-2 with a 4.05 ERA in five home starts. The left-hander gave up three runs over five innings Sunday to earn a 5-3 win at Tampa Bay.
His lone start against the Royals was a good one, as he yielded one unearned run over six innings of a 3-1, April 17 victory in which he did not earn a decision.
Catcher Salvador Perez has hit safely in all 11 games he's played for the Royals, going 17 for 40. He had a career-high four hits Thursday in a 9-6 win at Toronto.
Kansas City is 3-5 on an 11-game road trip.
Detroit has dropped five straight Friday night contests.
Updated July 6, 2012