The Pirates entered the season as a team the Tigers -- heavy favorites in the American League Central -- would figure to handle, but entering Friday's Interleague series, both teams could well have the same record. Detroit is 18-20, while the Pirates are 18-20 after gaining a split of their two-game set with Washington on Thursday.
The first game of three between Pittsburgh and Detroit is set for 7:05 p.m. ET on Friday at Comerica Park.
"We've just got to keep fighting our [tails] off to fight what's going on, inconsistency and a couple nagging injuries now," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "That's what makes you a good team. That's what makes us the team we are. We have to just fight through that stuff, keep grinding it out. That's what it's all about."
The Tigers may be without Austin Jackson on Friday, as the outfielder deals with an abdominal strain. He's scheduled to get treatment Friday afternoon, and if he can't play, Don Kelly will likely start in center against the team of his childhood. Kelly went to Point Park University in Pittsburgh and was born in Pennsylvania.
Kelly would also be playing against family: Pittsburgh second baseman Neil Walker is his brother-in-law.
The last time the Pirates played at Comerica Park a couple years ago, Kelly's mother-in-law bought a Pirates T-shirt and a Tigers T-shirt, cut them in half and sewed them together for Kelly's young son, Brett. He has joked that they don't get to root for the Pirates this series, though they can root for Uncle Neil to have a good game.
Tigers closer Jose Valverde, who has a back strain, may not be available Friday. If he is not, Joaquin Benoit would likely close.
Needing a designated hitter in the AL city, lefty-hitting Garrett Jones is the obvious candidate to DH for the Pirates against right-handers Justin Verlander (Friday) and Max Scherzer (Sunday). With southpaw Drew Smyly slated for the middle game, Josh Harrison will likely slot in.
Pirates: Morton faces Tigers for first time
Charlie Morton has spent all of his five Major League seasons in the National League, and Friday's scheduled start marks his first meeting with Detroit.
The right-hander, who is going on six days of rest, beat the Astros in his most recent outing on Saturday. In the 5-2 victory, he went six innings and allowed two runs (one earned) while giving up seven hits and a walk.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said before Thursday's game with the Nationals that pitcher Jeff Karstens was doing well after throwing 20 pitches on Wednesday. Karstens has been on the disabled list since April 18 with shoulder inflammation.
"He feels good today," Hurdle said. "We'll go with the bullpen [session] tomorrow in Detroit, and then we'll evaluate that and see how he feels Saturday, and then [put] the next step in place."
Tigers: Verlander expected to be OK
Verlander remains scheduled to start Friday after leaving his last outing on Sunday in Oakland because of a callus on his right thumb.
"I wouldn't say it's been bothering me, I've just been cognizant of it," Verlander said. "I don't know why it's something that's never happened to me before, but it seems like maybe every start kind of wears it down a little bit. This is the first one, really, where it's kind of blown up on me, where I've had any physical issue with it. I've been able to deal with it fine. I'm not worried about it going forward."
Verlander is 15-2 with a 2.94 ERA lifetime during Interleague Play. He went 3-0 last year.
The Tigers on Thursday recalled right-hander pitcher Brayan Villarreal from Triple-A Toledo. He posted a 1.29 ERA over 14 innings with the Mud Hens, recording one save and striking out 22.
Andrew McCutchen's first-inning homer Thursday extended his hitting streak to six games. McCutchen added another solo shot in the sixth in the Pirates' 5-3 win over the Nationals.