(Sports Network) - The Detroit Tigers try to strengthen their hold atop the American League Central this weekend when they visit the hapless Baltimore Orioles tonight for the first of three meetings at Camden Yards.
The Tigers saw their lead in the division shrink to three games this week as Cleveland took two of three from them at Progressive Field. Justin Verlander made sure the lead did not dwindle even more on Thursday, as he picked up his major league-leading 17th win on the year and Detroit avoided a three-game sweep with a 4-3 victory.
"They're not going to go away," said Tigers manager Jim Leyland of Cleveland. "They're going to be there with us. I've been really impressed with their veterans. They can catch the ball and hit as good as anybody."
Verlander (17-5) snapped a tie with Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia, picking up the win after allowing three runs on three hits and three walks while fanning 10 over seven innings. Sabathia goes tonight for the Yankees.
Verlander posted his fifth straight positive decision and eclipsed the double- digit mark in strikeouts for the fourth time in 2011. He also achieved his 100th career victory.
As good as Verlander has been of late Brad Penny has been just as bad, losing his last three starts, while allowing 15 runs in 17 innings of those setbacks. Penny's latest loss came on August 4 against Texas, as he surrendered five runs (four earned) and 11 hits in 6 2/3 innings.
Penny, who is 7-9 with a 4.92 ERA on the year, is 1-0 in three starts versus the Orioles with a 7.36 ERA.
Baltimore, meanwhile, will counter with righty Alfredo Simon, who has lost three of his last four starts. Simon was tagged with the loss on Sunday against Toronto, which reached him for six runs (four earned) and 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings. He is 3-5 on the year with a 4.08 ERA.
This will be his first-ever start against the Tigers.
Baltimore enters this series on the heels of dropping three of four to the Chicago White Sox, including a 6-3 setback on Thursday in the series finale.
Nick Markakis cracked a two-run home run, Nolan Reimold had two hits and J.J. Hardy collected an RBI single for the Orioles, losers in 10 of their last 13.
Chris Tillman (3-5) was roughed up in 2 2/3 innings, giving up six runs on eight hits while walking three and striking out three to take the loss.
"It's frustrating," said Tillman, who was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk after the game. "I wasn't necessarily making bad pitches, but they got way too comfortable early. I was all over the plate and by the time I noticed, it was almost too late. You have to pitch effectively inside and I didn't do that today."
Baltimore captured two of three from the Tigers in the first week of the season and is 5-2 in the previous seven matchups.