DETROIT — Chris Tillman returns just in time to face a team he has dominated throughout his career.
The Baltimore Orioles ace will be activated from the 15-day disabled list and start the finale of a three-game series on Sunday in Detroit. He’ll be opposed by Tigers ace Justin Verlander in a powerhouse matchup.
Tillman made a quick recovery from right shoulder bursitis after an uncharacteristic performance on Aug. 20 in which he allowed six runs in two innings to Houston. Tillman won 14 of his first 16 decisions but lost three of his last four before being sidelined.
He has always found a way to neutralize the usually potent Detroit offense. In eight career starts, Tillman is 5-0 with a 2.56 ERA. He tossed seven shutout innings against the Tigers on May 13 while outdueling Verlander in a 1-0 Orioles triumph.
“It’s a challenge to navigate your way through it as a starter,” he said of Detroit’s lineup. “You’ve got to respect them, but you’ve got to go out and do the same thing every time. You want to give your team a chance to win, make good quality pitches and let your defense work.”
The Orioles have managed to stay in the American League East race, as well as the wild-card hunt, during Tillman’s absence. They are two games behind division leader Baltimore and one game ahead of the Tigers for the final playoff spot after an 11-3 win over Detroit on Saturday.
“The guys have been throwing well. It’s been fun to watch, especially the younger guys,” Tillman said. “It’s always good to see everyone kind of come together as a group and do your job to the best of your ability. It’s been a tough two weeks (for himself) but fun to watch.”
Verlander has made 11 consecutive quality starts, the longest such streak of his career. During that stretch, he’s 6-1 with a 2.09 ERA.
“It’s good to have a pitcher like him because regardless of how the team is doing or how good the pitcher is that you’re facing, you know you’re going to have a chance to win when he’s on the mound,” Detroit manager Brad Ausmus said. “That gives you a boost of confidence going into a game.”
Verlander, who leads the AL with a .209 opponents batting average, has a strong record against Baltimore. He’s 9-4 with a .370 ERA in 17 starts against the Orioles with 100 strikeouts.
That’s still doesn’t match Tillman’s hex over the Tigers.
“He’s got a good hard cutter, it’s kind of like a hard slider, which is tough for a right-handed lineup,” Ausmus said of Tillman. “He’s a good pitcher, there’s no secret there.”
What is a mystery is how Tillman will look after a three-week absence.
“I expect him to be a little rusty,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “There’s a lot of unknown there. More than anything, we’d just like him to be healthy because even if he has a little rusty start, each one of them (afterward) will get better.”
The Orioles lead the season series 4-2. They are not scheduled to face each other again during the regular season, though a postseason matchup is certainly a possibility.
“This is critical because we’re coming down to the wire and teams are in similar situations from a standings perspective,” Ausmus said.
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