Game 69 Preview: Orioles at Tigers

Otto Greule Jr

We think left-hander Zach Britton will be starting for the Orioles tonight, but we can't be too sure. One thing we do know: Justin Verlander is on the hill for the Tigers and he has performed very well against Baltimore throughout his career.

Baltimore Orioles (40-31) at Detroit Tigers (39-29)

Time/Place: 7:08 p.m., Comerica Park

SB Nation blog: Camden Chat

Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: LHP Zach Britton (0-1, 9.00 ERA) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (8-4, 3.41 ERA)

Britton has only made one start in the majors this season, and it didn't go particularly well. He allowed three runs on six hits through his first five innings against the Seattle Mariners, but then the wheels came off. A four hit, three run sixth ended his day and the Orioles went on to lose 6-2. Britton's numbers have been much better in the minors, allowing a 3.28 ERA and 3.42 FIP in 60 1/3 innings. He is allowing more than a hit per inning and his WHIP is 1.459, but a 71.1% strand rate and low home run rate have kept his numbers in check.

Throughout his career, Britton has been much better than the majority of the Orioles' staff at limiting the home run ball. He has given up 19 dingers in 220 2/3 career innings, or a rate of 0.8 homers per nine innings. Of course, it helps that his career ground ball rate is 54.8% and his ground ball to fly ball ratio is above 2.0.

The ground balls come from heavy reliance on a two-seam fastball that sits at 92-93 miles per hour. He has thrown the two-seamer over 40% of the time over the course of his career, and over 50% of the time with two strikes. He also mixes in a four-seam fastball, primarily used as the first pitch of an at-bat. Between the two pitches, opposing hitters have seen fastballs to start at-bats over 70% of the time from Britton. He will also mix in a slider to left-handed hitters and a changeup to righties, which have effectively limited any significant platoon splits from either side of the plate.

Justin Verlander was finally back in Boss Mode during his last start, holding the Kansas City Royals to just three hits in seven innings. This is nothing new, however, as he has owned the Royals like nobody's business throughout his career. Other than being denied his 25th win of the season by the Orioles in 2011, he hasn't had much trouble with them either. Verlander is 8-0 with a 2.93 ERA in 12 starts against Baltimore throughout his career. He held them to three runs over seven innings in his start at Camden Yards on June 1st, picking up his seventh win of the season.

Musical chairs, babies, and red tape

Last night, Orioles beat writers reported that Britton would be called up from Triple-A Norfolk to start today's game. There haven't been any reports since to contradict this roster move, but O's starter Miguel Gonzalez left the ballpark early to attend the birth of his first child in California. Gonzalez will most likely be placed on the paternity list, possibly paving the way for right-hander Kevin Gausman to be recalled in time for today's game. Gausman was sent down to Triple-A on Friday after the O's used six relievers in a 14-inning win over the Boston Red Sox.

To add another wrinkle to the story, MLB Daily Dish reported that the O's would recall first baseman Travis Ishikawa from the minors, likely as the corresponding move to Gonzalez's pending departure. Ishikawa is hitting .316/.413/.525 with seven home runs in 49 games in Triple-A this season. While Ishikawa's placement on the roster may seem redundant with Chris Davis lighting the world on fire at first base, Orioles' designated hitters are hitting an abysmal .190/.256/.381 this year.

Outlook

Last night, it looked like a lot of the Orioles hitters were sitting on Max Scherzer's fastball. He had a lot of success with his off-speed pitches, getting hitters out in front and forcing some very awkward swings. He ran into a bit of trouble when his location failed him -- despite the 10 strikeouts, this was far from Scherzer's best outing this season* -- but buckled down when he needed it most to keep the O's from scoring.

*How great is it that we can watch a guy strike out 10 batters in six innings while allowing just one run and say "Eh, not his best day?" This team has us at a Paris Hilton-level of spoiled this season.

Britton, meanwhile, will look to do what he has always done: establish his fastball, get ground ball outs, and use the off-speed stuff to keep hitters at bay. He is 2-0 with a 3.75 ERA against the Tigers in his career, including a brilliant performance last August where he tossed seven shutout innings at Comerica Park. Given Austin Jackson's hot start since returning from the disabled list -- and how efficient the Tigers offense is when he's getting on base -- I don't see Britton having a repeat performance tonight.

Prediction

Verlander shines and picks up win number nine.

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