(Sports Network) - Venezuelan righty Anibal Sanchez can keep Detroit in the thick of the American League Central Division race tonight when the Tigers host the Kansas City Royals in game two of a four-game series at Comerica Park.
The Tigers enter the game in second place in the Central, where they trail the White Sox by a game in the regular season's final week. Chicago maintained its lead Monday night with a 5-4 defeat of the Cleveland Indians.
Meanwhile, Detroit defeated the Royals, 6-2, in the series opener behind a Prince Fielder home run and eight innings from starter Justin Verlander.
Andy Dirks knocked in two runs for the Tigers.
Verlander (16-8) gave up two runs on nine hits while striking out eight for Detroit, which snapped a two-game skid. The right-hander improved to 12-7 in 23 career starts against Kansas City.
"It's not like every game's a must-win," Verlander said, "but it's getting close to that point. It's a lot of pressure on us, but I think this team thrives under pressure. And if we start winning a few of these ballgames that switches everything and puts the pressure on the White Sox."
Alex Gordon hit a solo homer for the Royals, who have lost two straight since a four-game winning streak. Billy Butler went 3-for-4 with an RBI.
Luke Hochevar (8-15) allowed six runs - five earned - on 12 hits over 7 1/3 innings. He fell to 1-6 over his last 10 starts.
The Tigers won seven of the first 11 games between the teams in 2012, though Kansas City swept a three-game set at Kauffman Stadium from Aug. 28-30. Detroit won the 2011 season series, 11-7.
Meanwhile, Sanchez opened the season with 19 starts for the Miami Marlins, then came to Detroit and has since started 10 games and won three of nine decisions.
He made his lone career appearance against the Royals on Aug. 29 in Kansas City and gave up a run on seven hits in seven innings of a tough-luck 1-0 loss.
In four outings since, Sanchez is 1-2 while allowing 13 runs and 24 hits in 25 1/3 innings.
In 180 1/3 combined innings with two teams this season, he's posted a 4.14 earned run average and struck out 153 batters with 46 walks.
Sanchez is opposed by veteran lefty Bruce Chen, who was on the winning side of the aforementioned Aug. 29 game at Kauffman Stadium.
The 35-year-old Panamanian native tossed eight scoreless innings and allowed just four hits in the game, which dropped his ERA at the time from 5.41 to 5.13.
Chen has won once in four starts since, earning a 3-0 decision over the White Sox after 6 2/3 innings of five-hit ball with four strikeouts.
He's 5-5 in 16 career meetings with the Tigers.