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Minneapolis — Manager Brad Ausmus has set his rotation for the Tigers’ crucial weekend series against the Royals at Comerica Park — Michael Fulmer Friday, Daniel Norris Saturday, Matt Boyd Sunday. 

Late in September, Tigers fighting for a wild-card spot and putting the ball in the hands of three pitchers who began the year in Triple-A — who’d a thunk it?

“We wouldn’t be here without them,” Ausmus said. “We would not be here if those three guys weren’t pitching the way they have.”

In a very real way, those three young starting pitchers have saved the Tigers season to this point. Three veteran starters — Jordan Zimmermann, Anibal Sanchez and Mike Pelfrey — have been beset either by injury, ineffectiveness or both.

"Yeah, I could have believed it,” Justin Verlander said when asked if he thought in spring training the Tigers would be able to be in the hunt if those three were in the rotation. “But I think I would have thought it would have made it much more difficult.”

As it turned out, it would have been undoable without them. The Tigers are 34-18 when Fulmer, Norris or Boyd starts. The trio’s combined record is 19-13 with a 3.50 ERA.



“It’s a testament to what these guys have done,” Verlander said. “They’ve stepped up huge. All of them. Fulmer gets the headlines because he’s done it all year. But Boyd and Norris, as of late, those guys have been awesome.

“I’m really happy to see those guys step up. Even if we don’t win this year, I think it’s a great sign for this organization’s future how successful those guys have been.”

Verlander was asked how much he and the other veteran pitchers have had to help pull the young guys through the grind of a season.

“Pulling is the wrong word,” he said. “Maybe guiding or steering. But all three of those guys have really been great. They’ve had a lot of questions. Anything that comes up, they are not hesitant to ask me or Zimm or Pelfrey or any of us, knowing we’ve gone through it before.”

Verlander said it was a healthy combination of their self-reliance and willingness to pick the brains of the veterans.

“That’s what you want,” Verlander said. “You have veterans around you who have lots of information. As long as you are not hard-headed and know how to use that information and are open to it, I think it can be very beneficial.”

Verlander will pitch the finale against the Twins Thursday night. He continues to do his best work in crunch time: In three September starts he’s allowed just five runs in 19 innings with 25 strikeouts. In his career, he’s 31-16 with a 3.28 ERA in September and October.

“I enjoy it,” he said. “I enjoy it even more when it’s over and we’ve hopefully won. There’s an added element of pressure, more nerves. And having been through it before, you know how to utilize it.

“I like pitching in big games; I always have.”

Around the horn

Ian Kinsler (concussion) and Victor Martinez (right knee) missed their second straight game Wednesday. Kinsler was still feeling concussion symptoms on Tuesday, so sitting out Wednesday was mandatory. Martinez said the knee felt better Wednesday, but he was still having trouble moving around. Erick Aybar started at second base.

… Kinsler was hoping to get on the field and do some baseball activity (part of the concussion protocol) before the game, but the weather was making that problematic. The tarp was on and lightning and thunderstorms were imminent.

… During a pregame discussion about baserunning instincts, Ausmus said Jeff Bagwell was among the most instinctual baserunners he’d ever played with. As for the Tigers, Ausmus said, “(Toledo manager) Lloyd McClendon said JaCoby Jones is one of the most instinctive baserunners he’s ever seen.” High praise.

… Justin Upton was the designated hitter Wednesday with Tyler Collins starting in left field. He has 32 RBIs in his last 26 games dating to Aug. 21 — that leads the major leagues in that span.

… Former Twins and Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter visited the Tigers’ clubhouse before the game.

Twitter @cmccosky

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