Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander throws against the Los Angeles Angels during the first inning. ASSOCIATED PRESS
ANAHEIM, Calif. — All season long, Matt Shoemaker has been jockeying for a permanent spot in the Los Angeles Angels’ rotation after making the opening-day roster as a reliever. After what he’s accomplished against some of the top pitchers in the majors, his starting status appears to be secure.
Shoemaker combined with two relievers on a four-hitter, and Efren Navarro connected off Justin Verlander for his first major league homer to help the Angels beat the Detroit Tigers 4-0 Saturday night.
Shoemaker (8-3) threw just 78 pitches through seven innings, allowing three hits and no walks while striking out five against a lineup that came in leading the AL in batting average, hits, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. The only hits off the right-hander were Ian Kinsler’s first-inning double and singles by Eugenio Suarez and Austin Jackson.
Verlander (9-9) allowed three runs and six hits in seven innings with four strikeouts and a walk. The 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner was the latest in a series of All-Stars that Shoemaker has more than held his own against this year — including Cliff Lee, David Price, James Shields, Chris Sale and Yu Darvish. The rookie is 4-0 in those starts with a 2.27 ERA.
“It’s definitely a confidence builder. It’s a blessing and a lot of fun,” Shoemaker said. “But I try not to focus on who the opposing pitcher is — just the hitters that I’m facing.”
Kevin Jepsen pitched a perfect eighth and Jason Grilli got the last three outs. Jepsen has allowed only one earned run over his last 31 2-3 innings and 35 appearances.
The AL Central leaders were shut out for the fifth time this season, and their division lead over Kansas City was reduced to five games.
Tigers manager Brad Ausmus received an automatic ejection from plate umpire Cory Blaser in the third after he came out of the dugout to argue a call at first base that was reversed after a video review.
Navarro found the seats above the 18-foot wall in right-center on a 1-1 pitch from Verlander, who has given up at least one homer in 10 of his last 12 starts. Navarro also singled home the go-ahead run Friday night against Drew Smyly in a 2-1 victory after the Tigers’ lefty struck out eight of his first 10 batters and 11 overall.
Navarro’s homer came in his 79th big league at-bat. He drove in another run during the Angels’ two-run sixth as Albert Pujols scored on the rookie’s grounder to shortstop. C.J. Cron followed with a double that scored Howie Kendrick.
“For the most part I was executing OK,” Verlander said. “Early on I didn’t feel great, but then I kind of started to find my rhythm. The one pitch I regret was hanging a curveball (to Cron), and he was able to hit it down the line. If I had executed better, then it’s only a two-run lead and we’ve got a chance to come back. It’s a big difference between two runs and three.”
Angels first-time All-Star Erick Aybar started in the cleanup spot for the first time in his nine-year career, going 2 for 3 with a sacrifice bunt. Left fielder Josh Hamilton sat out because of a sore left knee.
Aybar came in with 51 RBIs, the most among AL shortstops, and was 9 for 27 in his career against Verlander.
“He’s a good ballplayer,” Verlander said. “He’s tough to strike out and he puts the ball in play a lot. He can do the little things — move guys over and put a bunt down when he needs to.”
Nine-time Gold Glove winner Torii Hunter robbed Mike Trout of a hit in the first with a tumbling, shoestring catch in short right field. But Hunter’s fielding error in the eighth allowed Aybar to take an extra base on a single, and he scored on Kendrick’s double against Joakim Soria — making his Tigers debut following Wednesday night’s trade from Texas.
NOTES: Verlander, third on the Tigers’ career strikeout list behind Mickey Lolich and Jack Morris, has 28 double-digit strikeout games in his big league career — but none this year in 22 starts. This is the deepest he’s gone into a season without one since 2006, his first year as a full-time starter in the majors, when he made 30 starts and had no more than eight Ks in any of them. ... The Angels optioned RHP Fernando Salas to Triple-A Salt Lake and recalled OF J.B. Shuck from their Pacific Coast League club. Shuck last played for the Angels on May 2 before getting sent down. ... Verlander was the second overall selection in the 2004 draft behind San Diego Padres pick Matt Bush, who never played in the big leagues. Three of the top seven selections in that draft have pitched no-hitters, including Homer Bailey (two) and Philip Humber (perfect game).