After winning on Opening Day, the O's dropped off rather quickly, reeling off four straight losses. They came into Sunday's game looking to avoid a sweep, but faced a tough test in Justin Verlander. Enter Chris Tillman. He located his pitches with authority and out-pitched Verlander when that kind of start was most needed. The defense behind Tillman helped immensely and the offense provided just enough to score the W.
Tillman breezed through the first three innings, three up and three down in each thanks to some excellent defensive plays, before leaving a big mistake up to Torii Hunter in the 4th. Hunter mashed it over the left field wall, leaving O's fans wondering if this was going to be yet another letdown. Tillman, however, recovered beautifully, allowing just four more hits over his remaining 5.1 innings. The only other time to worry came in the 5th inning. Tillman walked the leadoff man, which brought rookie Nick Castellanos to the plate. Castellanos hit a ground ball right back up the middle that TIllman was able to glove. His throw to second, however, was nearly air-mailed into CF and required a huge leap from SS Ryan Flaherty. Flaherty couldn't get his foot down on the bag to nail the runner, but avoided the slide expertly and got the runner at first. Tillman was able to work out of the inning with no further damage.
The O's first run of the game came in the 6th, produced on a couple of long doubles by Adam Jones and Nelson Cruz. The pitcher's duel continued to 8th inning, where Nick Markakis laced a pitch into the right field corner. After nearly tripping on the base as he rounded 2nd, Markakis ended up a third with a stand-up triple. Adam Jones, the next batter, launched a deep fly to left to give the O's the lead. Some excellent defense from the likes of Steve Lombardozzi, Chris Davis, David Lough, and Markakis, good pitching, and a Matt Wieters insurance homer later, the O's had their second win of the season.
Now it's off to New York for a three-game series starting at 1:05pm tomorrow.
Several game notes:
- O's have been out-homered 8-3 this season (Nelson Cruz has two of them), but Matt Wieters' homer in the 9th inning was a huge insurance run and gave Tillman the chance to go after a complete game.
- Ryan Flaherty might be struggling at the plate so far, but he had two excellent ABs in the game. He fought off some tough pitches in the 5th and drew a walk. He then demonstrated some good patience in the ninth and got his first hit of the season. Hopefully that will get him going.
- In six career starts against Detroit, Tillman is 3-0.
- Outfield defense isn't something the O's are known for, at least according to UZR, but they came up big in this game. David Lough made some heads' up plays and a Markakis added an excellent diving grab late.
- Lombardozzi isn't likely to maintain his current batting average or always make plays like that 2nd inning gem, but he's looking like a great pickup from DD so far. He's got the defensive skills to play multiple positions and could be huge if J.J. Hardy's back continues to smart.
- End game: Tommy Hunter is two for two. Just saying.
- Schoop just doesn't look ready for the MLB yet. He's clearly struggled with pitches on the outer half of the plate, breaking balls especially, and that's exactly where he's being pitched.
- While Justin Verlander might be the day game king (well, he's good in general, but he's dominated day games in the past), he was out-dueled by Tillman in this one. Not only is that big considering the poor start from the O's rotation, but it gives the bullpen some needed rest.
- It can't be stressed enough how much good defensive plays can boost a pitcher's confidence. The better the plays on defense, the more emotion Tillman displayed and the better he appeared to pitch.
- Needless to say, the O's still need to pick up the pace offensively. They've been outscored 29-20, which doesn't seem that bad, but you're generally going to allow more than 1 run per game. Three runs probably doesn't win games on a regular basis.