DETROIT — Justin Verlander was very encouraged.
The right-hander pitched seven scoreless innings for the Detroit Tigers before Mike Aviles hit a grand slam in the ninth that lifted the Cleveland Indians to a 4-0 win Sunday.
Verlander's winless streak reached five outings, but he held a team without a run for the first time since a seven-inning start on July 14 against Texas.
"I felt really good. Definitely a good sign," he said.
The AL Central leaders had won seven straight against second-place Cleveland. The Tigers won the season series 15-4, a string of success that has helped them build a 7½-game cushion in the division with a month left in the regular season.
"We're done with Cleveland," Verlander said. "We accomplished what we wanted. We separated ourselves a little bit more. We got another game of separation."
Detroit rested banged-up star Miguel Cabrera for the second straight game. Even though Tigers manager Jim Leyland said he doesn't know when Cabrera's strained abdomen will be healthy enough for him to play, he doesn't think it is necessary to sit the slugger for perhaps a week.
"According to the medical people, that thing can heal while playing," Leyland said.
The Tigers were also without center fielder Austin Jackson, a day after he hurt his right shoulder when he hit the wall trying to make a catch in Saturday night's win.
Jackson said he didn't know whether he would be able to play Monday night in Boston.
"We'll see how I feel," he said.
Joe Smith (6-2) got the win in the series finale after giving up one hit and a walk in the eighth, keeping the Tigers scoreless after Danny Salazar's strong start.
Detroit tried to rally in the ninth, but a tough break on the bases proved costly.
Chris Perez gave up a one-out double to Omar Infante, who was hit by Alex Avila's liner for the second out. The right-hander let No. 9 hitter Ramon Santiago extend the inning with a single, and a passed ball put the runners in scoring position before Andy Dirks grounded out to end the game.
Joaquin Benoit (4-1) walked Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley to start the top of the ninth.
Asdrubal Cabrera followed with a sacrifice bunt, putting runners at second and third. The Tigers intentionally walked Jason Kubel to load the bases for Aviles, the No. 8 hitter. Aviles hit two pop flies in foul territory that were almost caught before sending a thigh-high pitch over the left-field fence for his ninth homer.
Leyland said Infante shouldn't have attempted to catch Aviles' foul ball because it would've allowed Cleveland to take a 1-0 lead right after intentionally loading the bases in the hopes of getting an inning-ending double play.
"If you knew they were going to get a grand slam instead of one run, then you'd say catch it," Leyland joked.
Verlander gave up four hits and two walks — both in his shaky first inning — and struck out six, the last of which was Kubel on a 99 mph fastball with a runner on third for the second out of the seventh.
"He couldn't have pitched any better," Leyland said. "He pitched great. We just couldn't get the big hit when we really needed it."Comment on this story
NOTES: The Tigers have given up 21 straight stolen bases and if they allow one more they will tie the longest such streak this season, shared by Houston and Pittsburgh, according to STATS. ... Detroit reliever Bruce Rondon pitched a scoreless eighth. ... The Tigers expanded their roster with OF Nick Castellanos, who made his major league debut as a pinch-hitter in the seventh, RHP Evan Reed and INF Danny Worth. They also recalled RHP Octavio Dotel from his injury rehabilitation assignment but expect a forearm ailment will keep him out for the rest of the season.