Tasked with putting an end to a four-game losing streak for the Detroit Tigers, ace Justin Verlander takes the hill on Saturday against the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards.
After dropping three of four to the Pirates during the week, the Tigers fell once again in even more disappointing fashion in the opening game of this series with a 7-5 setback against the Orioles.
The Tigers held a 5-3 lead entering the bottom of the ninth inning. Jose Valverde came in to get the save and promptly gave up a home run to Nick Markakis. Adam Jones then reached on an infield single and Chris Davis singled to right. Valverde then got to pop outs from Matt Wieters and J.J. Hardy but let the game go when Chris Dickerson blasted a walk-off home run to give the Orioles the win.
Jones went 3-for-4 with two RBI and three runs scored while also blasting his 11th home run of the season. Davis went 2-for-4 as well for the Orioles, who have won three-straight and four of their last five.
Max Scherzer struck out 10 batters and allowed three runs on three hits in eight innings of work, but Valverde's second blown save of the season kept Scherzer from picking up the win.
Miguel Cabrera went 2-for-4 with a home run and two RBI for the Tigers, who have now lost four-straight. Avisail Garcia also went 2-for-4 with a home run and a pair of runs driven in.
Now it's up to Verlander to stop the bleeding.
Verlander, though, has not performed at the high level expected of him this season. The right-hander is 6-4 with an ERA of 3.68 on the season, which is nowhere near the back-to-back sub-3.00 ERA years he had in the last two campaigns.
In fact Verlander's ERA has him ranked fourth among Tiger starters behind Anibal Sanchez (2,79), Doug Fister (3.28) and Max Scherzer (3.42). Verlander is still striking out batters at an impressive rate with 82 punch-outs this season, seventh most in baseball.
Verlander was in top form in his last start when he struck out a season-high 13 batters in seven innings of work en route to his sixth win of the season as the Tigers defeated Pittsburgh 6-5. Verlander did allow three runs in the start, though, marking the fourth-straight game he has let up at least three runs. In that time Verlander has been tagged for an incredible 19 runs over 19 2/3 innings pitched.
Pitching against Baltimore may be just what Verlander needs. In his career Verlander is a perfect 7-0 against the Orioles in 11 starts with an ERA of 2.85 and 71 strikeouts in 79 total innings.
Getting the unenviable job of opposing Verlander will be Jason Hammel, who gets the start for the Orioles.
If there is one thing Hammel has done this season it is win ball games. Though Hammel's ERA isn't particularly impressive (4.98), he has managed to amass a 7-2 record. Those seven wins have him tied with Clay Bucholz, Yu Darvish and Scherzer for the third-most in the American League.
Run support has been the key for Hammel who has been picked up time and time again by his lineup. In his 11 starts the Orioles have scored at least six runs on nine occasions and have never scored fewer than three.
Hammel didn't really need a ton of runs, though he got them in a 6-2 win, his last time out. Hammel had his longest outing of the season, going eight innings while allowing just two runs and striking out a season-high eight batters.
The numbers for Hammel against Detroit aren't particularly impressive, as his ERA is a bloated 6.17 but he has managed to earn a 2-1 record over seven total appearances.
Last season these two teams split their six total meetings. This is the first series of this campaign.