LAKELAND, Fla. -- Justin Verlander struck out eight of the 14 Orioles batters he faced but still found himself on the short end for much of Thursday afternoon before Gerald Laird's two-run single paced a three-run sixth in a 4-2 win for the Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium.
The comeback victory improved the Tigers' record this spring to 9-1-3, the best in the Major Leagues. They're unbeaten in six games -- three wins, three ties -- since taking their only loss of the spring.
Detroit was trailing from the third pitch of the game, a Verlander fastball that Endy Chavez sent deep to right for his first home run this year and the first run Verlander has allowed in Grapefruit League play this season.
Verlander promptly struck out the next four hitters, including ex-teammate Wilson Betemit after a 3-0 count, and then fanned four more in a six-batter span over the third and fourth innings.
"It was better today," said Verlander. "I still didn't quite get in the groove I want, but it was definitely better. Changeup was good, curveball's pretty good, and fastball control was better."
All those strikeouts bumped up Verlander's pitch count to the point that he left with two outs in the fourth. Collin Balester replaced him and stranded a runner on third with a
solid backhand stop and throw from third baseman Miguel Cabrera before retiring the O's in order in the fifth.
Chavez singled and scored on a Chris Davis double off Balester in the sixth to extend Baltimore's lead for Brian Matusz, who racked up six strikeouts over four scoreless innings. After Pat Neshek's scoreless fifth, however, the Tigers struck off Miguel Socolovich with back-to-back singles by Danny Worth and Don Kelly and a Jerad Head walk to load the bases with one out.
"That's a tough lineup up there -- a lot of big hitters, power guys," said Matusz. "It doesn't matter. Every team at this level is good. You've just got to go out there and attack the zone, and I was able to do that today."
Laird's drive to left off Jon Link fell just in front of Nolan Reimold, and Kelly followed Worth around third. Head scored on Davis' throwing error to push Detroit in front.
Jose Valverde protected the lead by striking out the side in order in the seventh.
Up next: Rick Porcello's tour of the Grapefruit League continues, with his third road start in as many outings, this one a Friday meeting with the Mets in Port St. Lucie, Fla., at 1:10 ET on MLB.TV. His opposing starter will be familiar Tigers foe Johan Santana, who's continuing his injury comeback and trying to recapture his prime years from his Twins days. Prince Fielder is among the Tigers on the travel roster.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.