By most standards, Justin Verlander's 2013 campaign has been fairly productive.
At 8-5 with a 3.72 ERA, the Detroit ace has been effective. But the baseball world has come to expect dominance from the former Cy Young Award winner and, for the most part, he's fallen short of the lofty expectations.
Verlander, who will start against the Red Sox in the series finale Sunday, showed signs of returning to his former self when he went for seven innings and three runs or fewer in three straight starts to begin the month of June. However, his last start, a five-inning performance in which he gave up five runs, was a reminder of the struggles Verlander went through in May, when he posted a 6.41 ERA in five starts.
"Obviously, you have that stretch of three or four starts where it was pretty frustrating," Verlander said. "You know, I guess I'm always trying to get better, and I feel like I've made adjustments to get to that point. I feel like I've been getting better, better, and better. That's not necessarily going to work toward a perfect game, but you're not going to get better every time.
He added, "It's been a battle so far."
When Verlander takes the mound Sunday, he'll have a chance to seal a series win over the Red Sox, who command the American League's best record at 45-32. The Tigers topped Boston on Saturday night, 10-3, and have won two of three in the series thus far.
To try to salvage a series split, the Red Sox will hand the ball to Felix Doubront, who is coming off the best outing of his career.
Against the Rays on Tuesday, he needed just 93 pitches to throw eight shutout innings. Though his bid for the win was thwarted when Andrew Bailey blew the save in the ninth inning, it was the first time in Doubront's career he lasted beyond the seventh inning.
"This game gives me more confidence," said Doubront after the start. "I needed this. I needed this to get more confident, trust more in my pitches. I'll go the next game and try to do the same and stay on one page, this page. And stay like that. I'm going to get better results and win games and help the team to win."
The performance was the lefty's fifth quality start in his last six outings, dating back to May 21.
Red Sox: Buchholz's return pushed back again
After being scratched from another scheduled start, Clay Buchholz will likely have to complete a Minor League rehab assignment before returning to the Red Sox.
Boston's undefeated ace was scheduled to throw a bullpen session Saturday, but was limited to flat-ground work due to continued neck soreness. The setback means Buchholz won't be able to start Tuesday as was previously hoped.
"Obviously, right now, he's not going to start Tuesday, so basically what we're doing is going as tolerated with throwing," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "It's likely that at some point we're probably going to have to get him out on a rehab assignment, at least one start for now, but there's no time frame for that. We've got to get him on the mound first and build from there."
Buchholz injured his neck when making an awkward throw to first base June 8 against the Angels. He also missed a start in late May when he injured his AC joint, which is located near the shoulder.
Buchholz is 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA this season.
Tigers: Avila to start rehab assignment Sunday
Alex Avila feels well enough to return to the Tigers, but he'll first have to complete a rehab assignment in Triple-A Toledo.
The catcher was hit by a pitch on his left forearm last week and was placed on the 15-day disabled list Monday. The earliest he can return to the Tigers is July 2.
"Swelling is down," Avila said. "A couple of days ago was the first time the swelling went down to where I was actually able to swing the bat a little bit and stuff. Each day it has gotten better and better, and today I feel as good as new."
• Boston is 31-21 (.596) when the opposing starter is right-handed.
• The Tigers have won 58 of the last 82 games at Comerica Park since July 4, 2012. They lead the Major Leagues in wins and with a .707 winning percentage at home during that stretch.
Michael Periatt is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @Michael Periatt. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.