DETROIT -- It may be August, but Brad Penny's arm felt like it was May.
The stat line didn't look great, but Penny and several Tigers agreed Thursday's 5-2 loss to the Rangers was perhaps the strongest Penny had looked this season.
"I thought Brad threw the ball outstanding," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "He really popped the ball well. He had a pretty lively fastball. He probably got a little fastball-happy, but he did a great job, threw the ball extremely well. [Rangers starter Alexi Ogando] was just too good for us today."
Penny's fastball was an average of 94.9 mph and topped out at 97.3. He had thrown with high velocity before Thursday, but the location was there this time. Penny threw 111 pitches, his third-highest total this year. He missed most of last season with the Cardinals due to an oblique injury.
"I felt good," Penny said. "That's where I was last year. It's taken me a while to feel stronger, but over the last few outings, I've started to feel a lot stronger than I have."
Unfortunately for Penny, the Rangers were able to find holes and get some bloop hits all day.
With runners on first and second in the second inning, the Rangers' Mitch Moreland grounded to first base and nearly into a triple play. Don Kelly stepped on first base, tagged Mike Napoli in a rundown and threw home, where Nelson Cruz was heading. But Victor Martinez couldn't handle the throw, allowing an unearned run to score on the error.
"I thought we had one," Leyland said of the near triple play. "It would have been a unique one, but it would have been a neat one."
The Rangers hit four straight singles to open up the fourth inning and finished with three runs in the frame.
"To be honest with you, I've been catching Brad for a while, and I don't remember [him having] this kind of a start that he [had] today," Martinez said. "The scoreboard really doesn't say, not even close, how well he pitched today. He had great stuff. His fastball was exploding pretty good with the curveball and slider. The change, split, everything was great."
Not only were an abundance of singles hurting the Tigers, so was Ogando, who picked up his third win against Detroit this season -- the first pitcher outside the American League Central to do that to the Tigers since the Angels' Ervin Santana in 2008.
Ogando allowed three runs in 21 innings against the Tigers this year.
"I feel like every time I've gone out there against them I've had good command of my fastball," Ogando said. "I felt I had good command out there today. I really focused on throwing strikes. You always try to avoid walks, but my concentration on throwing strikes was good today."
Ogando was lights out through six innings, allowing just four hits, two of them to Martinez, and not allowing a runner to get into scoring position.
"He's tough," Martinez said. "It's not just with us, he's been tough around the league. He's been showing that he can pitch."
Penny allowed another run in the top of the seventh when Josh Hamilton, who reached on a seeing-eye single, scored on a Michael Young triple -- the only extra-base hit of the 11 hits that Penny allowed. It was the 15th day game Penny has pitched this year, the most in the Majors.
The Tigers finally got to Ogando in the bottom of the seventh, scoring two runs on RBI singles from Wilson Betemit and Ryan Raburn. But four Rangers relievers, including newly acquired Koji Uehara and Mike Adams -- both of whom the Tigers had homered off earlier in the series -- shut down Detroit the rest of the way.
Penny has allowed at least four earned runs in four of his last five starts, but there was much more optimism following this one.
He has been working with pitching coach Jeff Jones on continuing his arm motion throughout the pitch. Penny said the pair noticed he was stopping his arm during the motion and forcing it to catch up. While the stat sheet didn't show it, Penny was very pleased with how he pitched.
"My line was a lot worse than I threw today," he said. "We want to win every game, but we did beat a good team two out of three. We've got to win series from here on out."
For the Tigers, a 4-3 homestand against two of the best teams in the American League was a positive sign heading into a nine-game road trip.
"We got beat by a good pitcher," Leyland said. "He was just better than we were today. There's not much you can say. We didn't play, bad, Penny didn't pitch bad, Ogando was just better today than we were."
Chris Vannini is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.