After going through a rough patch in May, Justin Verlander appears to be finding his All-Star form.
That progress will be tested against a potent offense on Tuesday night, when the Tigers host the Orioles for the second of a three-game series at Comerica Park. Detroit will be looking for its ninth win in 12 games after taking Monday's opener, 5-1. The Orioles are going for their seventh victory in 10 games.
Verlander (8-4, 3.41 ERA) gave up 16 earned runs during a three-game stretch ending May 22, but he has followed that up with four consecutive quality starts. The right-hander is 3-0 with a 2.89 ERA during that span, striking out 32 in 28 innings. That includes an outing on June 1 at Baltimore in which he held the Orioles to three runs on eight hits in seven innings.
Verlander was even better on Wednesday in Kansas City. Although a blown save cost him a victory, he gave up only three hits over seven scoreless innings while racking up eight strikeouts.
"For me, it was my best start," he said, "just because of the way I've been working to get back where I need to be. I feel like I've been getting better every start. I wasn't exactly where I want to be, but pretty doggone close."
Verlander will try to keep things going for a starting rotation that has been firing on all cylinders. Tigers hurlers have recorded a quality start in 21 of their past 23 games, with a 2.32 ERA and 176 strikeouts in 159 1/3 innings.
The Orioles will counter with a callup from Triple-A Norfolk, thanks to the stomach virus that continues to bother scheduled starter Jason Hammel. The club revealed on Monday that it will add Zach Britton to the roster to take the ball against the Tigers.
The 25-year-old left-hander has 40 big league starts to his credit but only one this season. That came against Seattle on April 29, when he surrendered six runs on 10 hits in six innings. He has a 16-15 career record, with a 4.85 ERA.
Britton earned the nod with some strong work at Norfolk. He has a 3.28 ERA for the season, including a 2.13 mark over his past four starts, the last of which came last Monday. In 60 1/3 Triple-A innings this season, Britton has struck out 44 and walked 23.
Orioles: High praise for Machado
Third baseman Manny Machado has attracted a lot of attention for his breakout sophomore season, and Tigers manager Jim Leyland is one of those who has taken notice. While Leyland said he hasn't been able to see Machado much, he called him "a blue-chip player."
"He's got a good feel for hitting for a young guy, he stays inside the ball real good," Leyland said. "He's excellent down at third base. He's a smart player for a young kid, he's a real keeper. You know he's one of those special kids that comes along once in awhile, and can handle Major League competition at a very young age. It doesn't happen very often. It's kind of nice for him because he's really breaking in with a good club that takes a little pressure off of him. He's a terrific young player, very, very impressive."
• First baseman Chris Davis has homered in four of his past six games after going through an eight-game drought, tied for his longest this season. Davis is 9-for-25 with two doubles and 10 RBIs over this stretch.
Tigers: Pena, Holaday to share catching duties
Detroit placed catcher Alex Avila, along with pitcher Anibal Sanchez, on the 15-day disabled list on Monday. Avila is fighting a deep bruise on his left forearm after being hit by a pitch on Sunday, and although he does not believe the arm is broken, X-rays have not yet been taken.
With Avila out, the club recalled catcher Bryan Holaday from Triple-A Toledo to pair with Brayan Pena, and Leyland said he will use his gut to determine who starts behind the plate on a given day. Pena got the nod on Monday and went 0-for-4.
It's possible that the situation could turn into a platoon. Holaday was hitting .308 with a .410 slugging percentage against left-handers at Toledo, while the switch-hitting Pena entered Monday with a .375 average and both of his homers against righties.
• Outfielder Avisail Garcia also was recalled from Toledo on Monday, to fill the other open roster spot. Garcia hit .288 with two home runs and 10 RBIs in 24 games before Austin Jackson's return from the DL on Friday bumped him to the Minors. He entered Monday's game as a pinch-hitter and went 0-for-2.
• Before Monday's win, the Tigers led the Majors with 5.72 runs per game, a .302 average and a .370 on-base percentage at home.
• Britton has made two career starts at Detroit, the most recent coming last Aug. 18, when he gave up six hits and struck out five over seven scoreless innings.
• In 204 plate appearances against Verlander, current Orioles are hitting .193 with a .526 OPS and 53 strikeouts.