ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. —The Tampa Bay Rays were expecting a tough game against Justin Verlander and that's exactly how it played out.
Verlander became the first 19-game winner in the majors, Alex Avila hit his 15th homer and the AL Central-leading Detroit Tigers beat the Rays 5-2 on Monday night.
"He's just not out there throwing, trying to throw 100 mph," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. "He pitches. He has a definite idea of what he's doing. He's blessed with a very good arm, but he's also a pitcher."
Verlander (19-5) won his seventh consecutive start, giving up one run and three hits in seven innings. The 19 wins match his career high, set in 2009.
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"Do I know where I'm at?" Verlander said. "Of course I do, but I've said time and time again, those things, totals, season stats, are meant to be looked at at the end of the season."
The Tigers took a 2-1 lead in the second when Avila hit a two-run shot off Jeff Niemann (8-5). The All-Star catcher is 25 for 59 (.424) with five homers and 14 RBIs this month.
Niemann, who was 7-0 in his 10 previous start, allowed four runs and six hits over 7 1-3 innings.
Tampa Bay center fielder B.J. Upton left with a right shoulder strain. He got injured right before running into the wall on Delmon Young's eighth-inning double.
"I think I just kind of overextended the right arm," Upton said. "It mostly went numb and it started to hurt a little bit."
Upton's injury is not thought to be serious, but he is expected to sit out Tuesday's game.
Jhonny Peralta made it 4-1 in the eighth on a two-out, two-run single off reliever Juan Cruz. The hit came after Jake McGee, who replaced Niemann with the bases loaded and one out, struck out Avila.
"We thought runs were going to be stingy and they were," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "Tonight, Justin got the better of him (Niemann). He's a real good pitcher on a real good roll right now."
Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde, who gave up a solo homer in the ninth to Evan Longoria, both pitched one inning to complete a six-hitter.
Leyland is not planning to use either Benoit or Valverde on Tuesday.
Don Kelly extended the Tigers' lead to 5-1 on a ninth-inning homer.
Matt Joyce, batting leadoff for just the second time this season, homered in the first against Verlander to put the Rays ahead. Joyce entered 5 for 9, including a homer, against the right-hander.
Verlander got a no-decision in his other start against the Rays this season, allowing six runs and nine hits over six innings of Detroit's 7-6 win on May 24. This time he struck out eight and walked three, improving to 6-1 overall against the Rays.
"There's a reason he was 18-5 coming into the game," Upton said.
Tampa Bay designated hitter Johnny Damon had a one-out double in the sixth, tying Rickey Henderson for 46th place all-time with 510. Damon was stranded at second when Longoria hit a grounder and Ben Zobrist struck out.
Niemann worked out of a two-on — both on walks — and one-out jam during the seventh by getting a foul pop from Kelly and striking out Ramon Santiago.
"It was a well-played game," Maddon said. "They just beat us tonight."
Avila was briefly shaken up after being hit by Upton's foul ball in the second, but remained in the game.