DETROIT -- The much-anticipated pitching duel between Justin Verlander and Chris Sale didn't happen Tuesday. The much-expected breakout of Miguel Cabrera did. So did the breakout of Alex Avila.
"That's nice," Cabrera said. "That's what we want to do."
By the time the Tigers were done with the White Sox pitching staff, they had three-hit games from Avila and Cabrera, the latter with three RBIs, and at least one hit from everyone else in the starting lineup. With a five-run third inning, meanwhile, Verlander had more than enough run support for his third consecutive win, cruising for seven innings before the Tigers bullpen survived an Adam Dunn home run for an 8-6 win at Comerica Park.
Bullpen struggles aside, for the first time in a while, it was an example of how this team is supposed to look. It continued the early trend for this Tigers offense: When they don't struggle to score, they tend to score big. The same lineup that has produced two runs or fewer in eight games churned out its seventh game with six runs or more.
"We've had flashes a couple of games in the first couple weeks," Avila said. "We've been playing OK baseball. For the most part these couple weeks, we've been doing a decent job. I don't think we're tapping into our complete potential yet or know just how good we are yet, but on a night like tonight where up and down through the order we put up tough at-bats, it's nice to see.
"Including myself, we've had a few guys struggle recently, but now we're kind of starting to pick it up a little bit."
They picked it up enough that the Tigers hit that six-run mark by the end of the third, all of it off fill-in starter Charlie Leesman. He was summoned from Triple-A Charlotte when Sale, Tuesday's originally scheduled starter, went on the disabled list with a left forearm flexor strain. Leesman was pulled with two outs in the third, having given up nine hits and a walk through 17 hitters.
None might have been as important as the four hits between Cabrera and Avila, two hitters who had been struggling through much of April. While slow starts aren't foreign to Avila, having gone through a deep one last season, they were a surprise for Cabrera coming off three straight batting titles.
Both showed better swings Monday with little to show for it, save for an Avila ninth-inning double to the depths of right-center. They got their rewards Tuesday.
"I thought Alex took some good swings yesterday. I thought Miggy took some great swings yesterday," Verlander said. "I know Miggy was still a little upset yesterday because he didn't have anything to show for it, as we all are. You like to see results. That was just a precursor to today, and hopefully that gets him jump-started. Same with Alex."
Though winds blowing out to left-center carried more than a few drives, including Jose Abreu's first-inning homer to straightaway center, Cabrera's two big hits actually went to right field, where the wind was no help. The way Cabrera was swinging, it was no match, either.
"That's the approach I want to be able to take," Cabrera said.
After hitting two fly balls that died near the warning track Monday night, Cabrera's first hit Tuesday was his classic opposite-field gapper on a line, deep enough to easily earn him an RBI double and score Ian Kinsler from second. It was his first RBI hit since last Wednesday against the Indians.
Cabrera came back up two innings later with Leesman reeling, having endured a 10-pitch battle with Kinsler that ended with a two-run double just inside third base. Leesman tried starting him off with a fastball down and in, but Cabrera powered it to right. The ball hung up in the wind, but had just enough to clear the fence for a two-run home run, just the second homer for the two-time 44-homer slugger, and the third multi-hit game of the season for him.
"A lot of us have said we weren't worried about Miggy," manager Brad Ausmus said. "He looked good again tonight."
By contrast, Ausmus had said repeatedly with urgency that they needed to get Avila going offensively. Ausmus admitted that he nearly sat Avila on Tuesday against the lefty to get right-handed Bryan Holaday a start. The swings he saw from Avila on Monday night convinced him not to do it.
"I thought about not playing him today, but I've said all along we need to get Alex going," Ausmus said. "So if he's swinging the bat well, let's try to get him on a roll if we can. That was the reasoning for putting him back in."
Avila had only one two-hit game previously this season, but enjoyed three-hit and four-hit outbursts during his late tear last September. After escaping an 0-2 hole with a single up the middle with two outs in the second, he chased Leesman in the third with a line drive to left following Nick Castellanos' sacrifice fly.
Avila added an RBI double in the fifth, when he pulled a liner through the infield shift that had confounded him Monday night.
"I think when you're able to put quality at-bats consecutively, you gain a little confidence and then you're able to just repeat it," Avila said. "Like I said yesterday, for the most part, I've been feeling pretty good. I've had some bad at-bats, but for the most part, I've been feeling good. Just a matter of making some solid contact."
That made the job of Verlander (3-1) a little easier. He gave up two runs on eight hits over his seven innings, walking two and striking out seven, before leaving with an 8-2 lead.
By the time left fielder J.D. Martinez found the track of Alexei Ramirez's line drive through the lights for the final out, the tying run was at the plate. Phil Coke struck out the first two batters of the ninth before Marcus Semien's double and Paul Konerko's RBI single brought up Dunn. He fell into an 0-2 hole before Coke threw a slider that dove back over the plate.
"It was like I threw an incidental two-seamer," Coke said. "It was an incident, because he hit that a long way."
By the time closer Joe Nathan was warming up, Ramirez was up after Joba Chamberlain's four-pitch walk to Dayan Viciedo. Chamberlain regrouped for his first save as a Tiger.