Detroit Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander may have come into Friday night with a 2-3 record and a 5.40 ERA. But he is still Justin Verlander.
He is still a six-time All Star. He is still a former MVP and Cy Young Award winner. He still knows how to pitch – he had a 3.38 ERA in 20 starts last year – and he can still dominate on occasion.
And don’t forget Verlander’s done well against the Orioles over the years, a 9-3 record and 3.89 ERA in 16 starts; he was 7-0 with a 2.84 ERA in 57 innings at Camden Yards before Friday.
So this was a premium matchup for Chris Tillman, and the Orioles’ right-hander stepped up in a 1-0 victory. He threw seven scoreless innings, allowed just five hits and two walks and struck out seven.
“Any time you get to face a guy like that having an outing like he did, it’s fun to come out with a win,” Tillman said. “I feel like I pitch against that guy every time we face them, and he’s tough. He’s real tough on us, and he’s one of the best for a reason.”
Due to bouts with inconsistency, Tillman doesn’t profile as a true major league ace. But he is as close to an ace as the Orioles have. And he is going to get those matchups on occasion. So it’s a really good sign when he goes toe-to-toe with a Verlander, and comes out on top.
“You go in the game you know that you’re going to have to have a well-pitched game to be in it. And Chris did,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “They were pitchers as much as throwers. Be a lot more enjoyable if you knew how it was going to turn out so you could sit back and enjoy watching two pitchers really good at their trade.”
Tillman is now 5-1 with a 2.58 ERA in eight starts this season. He’s again looking like the guy who pitched so well in 2013 and 2014 for the Orioles and not the one that struggled through injury and ineffectiveness last year.
“We saw that some last year, OK?” Showalter said. “I’ve said that a bunch of times. It’s not like he just wasn’t good every time out. But Chris has got a good feel right now.”
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Tillman’s current run is that he is keeping the ball in the park. He hasn’t allowed a home run in his last 42 2/3 innings, the longest such streak of his career. He’s given up just one homer in 2016; last year he served up 20.
“I feel good right now,” Tillman said. “I think mechanically I’m in a good place and I’m able to execute all my pitches when I need to, not necessarily throwing fastballs in a fastball count, but I’m able to throw some other things that I’m not used to doing.
“It’s fun right now, and I’ll try to keep it going.”