Justin Verlander wrapped up his opening month feeling pretty good about the way he has thrown coming off core muscle surgery -- not only pitching his way past injury but also past his history of slow starts. He gets a chance to build on that against a familiar foe.
Verlander's Tigers, meanwhile, have a chance to finish off a 5-0 road trip if they can complete the sweep of the Royals.
A no-decision Tuesday night in Chicago cost Verlander a chance at the first four-win April in his career. A victory on Sunday would give him a 4-1 record in early May for the second time in three seasons.
"I think I'm still trying to find where exactly I'm at with some things," Verlander said. "I thought I was getting a little bit better every start, and then the schedule has been kind of weird. I didn't' feel like [Tuesday's win against the White Sox] was another step forward, but there's nothing I can do about that."
With a four-man rotation and a schedule getting clearer, Verlander comes into this start on four days' rest, a routine in which he has thrived over the years. He's 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA this season in the two starts he has made on that schedule, and 85-38 with a 3.14 ERA in four days' rest over his career.
Verlander is 16-5 with a 2.85 ERA for his career against the Royals, and 9-4 with a 2.77 ERA lifetime at Kauffman Stadium. The latter, however, has become tougher over the last couple years.
Verlander had seven scoreless innings here last June ruined by a Jose Valverde blown save, then took losses in July and September with non-quality starts. His last win in Kansas City was a complete game on April 16, 2012.
Verlander will face a Royals offense struggling mightily this season with the second-worst production in the American League, but he'll renew acquaintances with two Royals who have pummeled him.
Billy Butler's success is well-known; he's a .437 (31-for-71) lifetime hitter against Verlander, including 17-for-32 since 2012. Salvador Perez, however, has quietly owned Verlander since breaking into the league two years ago. His 11-for-24 performance includes six doubles, two of them on Opening Day March 31 at Comerica Park.
Perez, after an enforced night out of the starting lineup, is due back on Sunday. He hit a foul ball that bruised his left leg on Friday night and left the game after the seventh inning. He wanted to play Saturday night but manager Ned Yost, after viewing Perez's black and blue shin and calf area, decided to give him a break.
"He wanted to play but it was more swollen than I anticipated it being. I was thinking about giving him a day off [Sunday] anyway with the quick turnaround," Yost said before Saturday's 9-2 loss. "You start looking for spots so I'm just going to go ahead and do it, and he'll be ready to go tomorrow."
Perez, who received his first Gold Glove Award on Saturday night, did not start just two of the Royals' first 29 games.
Royals: Collins return pending
Left-handed reliever Tim Collins was kept at Triple-A Omaha on an injury rehabilitation assignment over the weekend rather than being recalled when starter Bruce Chen went on the disabled list.
Instead the Royals brought up starting pitcher Aaron Brooks, who was used on Saturday night and gave up six runs in his two-inning Major League debut.
However, with the Kansas City bullpen working overtime on Saturday night, Collins' presence might be needed soon -- perhaps as soon as Sunday afternoon. He didn't pitch as scheduled for Omaha on Saturday night.
Could Collins be back on Sunday?
"It's possible, anything's possible," Yost said after the game. "But, yeah, it's possible."
And, in fact, when the Royals' clubhouse opened on Sunday morning, there was Collins ready to pitch. He was activated from the disabled list and Brooks was returned to Omaha.
Tigers: Avila tries to build momentum
Look for Alex Avila to return to the lineup on Sunday after getting Saturday off against left-hander Danny Duffy. Avila is 2-for-8 with a home run and a double off Jason Vargas, and he's batting 9-for-30 with four doubles, a home run and four RBIs over his last 10 games.
The home run came Friday night off James Shields.
"I broke my rule of sitting a guy after hitting a home run," Ausmus said.
• Vargas is something of a May marvel: He's 13-4 with a 3.16 ERA in 33 career games in the month. Last year with the Angels, he was 5-0 with a 2.30 ERA and was the American League Pitcher of the Month for May.
• Miguel Cabrera has a nine-game hitting streak, during which he's batting .400 (16-for-40).
• Nick Castellanos' three RBIs on Saturday marked his third such game of the season. All three have come on the road, including April 9 at Dodger Stadium and April 25 at Target Field.