DETROIT -- As one of the game's top pitchers, Justin Verlander can accept a little more scrutiny.
He welcomes it, in fact. So there was no grousing from the Detroit ace when he took some heat after three straight ragged starts.
Instead, Verlander went back to work, and on Monday he returned to form a bit, striking out 13 in seven innings to lead the Tigers to a 6-5 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. Detroit's Jhonny Peralta had four hits, and the Tigers held on for their sixth win in seven games.
"I expect the bar to be high," Verlander said. "That's where I set it for myself."
Verlander (6-4) hadn't pitched more than five innings in any of his previous three starts, struggling at times with his location. But he was sharp for the most part against Pittsburgh, allowing three runs and seven hits with two walks.
Verlander set a season high for strikeouts, although he said his fastball control still wasn't quite good enough.
"Better? Yes. Where I want it? No," he said. "You have a couple bad starts, and the world's on your shoulder -- 'What's wrong? What's wrong?' -- but hey, that comes with the territory. I'm OK with that. I can deal with it."
Francisco Liriano (3-1) allowed four runs and eight hits in five innings.
Pittsburgh third baseman Brandon Inge, who played for the Tigers for over a decade, was a late addition to the starting lineup. Outfielder Starling Marte was removed shortly before the game because of migraine-like symptoms, and the ensuing shuffling of the lineup gave Inge his first chance to play at Comerica Park as a member of the visiting team.
Inge fielded Omar Infante's grounder with his bare hand and threw him out in the first inning, but he went 0 for 4 at the plate with three strikeouts. The Pirates had pulled within one in the eighth when Inge came to the plate, but pinch-runner Josh Harrison was picked off second, and Inge struck out looking against Benoit.
Pittsburgh's Neil Walker tripled in the first and scored on a sacrifice fly by McCutchen. Liriano was cruising along until Prince Fielder, Victor Martinez and Peralta opened the Detroit fourth with consecutive singles to tie it at 1.
Liriano allowed no more than a run in each of his first three starts -- the Pirates had to wait for him to return after he broke his right (non-throwing) arm in a freak accident on Christmas Day.
He allowed three runs in the fifth Monday. Martinez came to the plate with two on and two out. His double down the line bounced weirdly off the short fence in foul territory, and both runners came in to score for a 3-1 lead. Martinez then scored on Peralta's double.
Travis Snider hit an RBI triple in the seventh and Walker followed with a double to make it 4-3, but McCutchen struck out swinging on Verlander's final pitch.
The Tigers added two runs in the seventh against Jose Contreras, who retired only one batter while allowing a hit and four walks.
"We battled back against the best pitcher in the game, and then we battled back against one of the best eighth-inning men in the game," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "I just didn't plan for Contreras going out there and walking four guys. We need him to pitch that inning -- we can't use the same guys every day -- and he couldn't do it. That really hurt us."
Benoit gave up a double to Garrett Jones to start the eighth, and Russell Martin's hard grounder got past Fielder at first for an error, allowing a run to score. Gaby Sanchez hit a one-out RBI double to make it 6-5 with Inge coming to the plate, but Harrison was picked off and Inge struck out.
It was Peralta's first four-hit game since June 4, 2010, when he was playing for Cleveland. The Detroit shortstop is now hitting .341 -- 102 points higher than where he finished 2012.
"He's swinging a magic wand right now," Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter said. "He can poke the bat out and get a hit. He can swing hard and get a hit. It's a lot of fun to play the game like that."
Verlander is 20-2 in interleague play. ... Detroit's Miguel Cabrera struck out three times and had his hitting streak snapped at 12 games. ... It started raining around the end of the fifth, but there were no delays. ... Detroit's Rick Porcello (2-2) faces Pittsburgh's Jeanmar Gomez (2-0) on Tuesday night.