The much-improved Tigers will try to pick up where they left off against the Orioles when the teams meet for the first time this season.
During their forgettable 119-loss season in 2003, the Tigers had a losing record against every AL team, except the Orioles. The teams split six games, with each winning all three played in the other club’s park.
In an effort to wipe away the memories of their nightmare season, the Tigers were very active in free agency this past offseason, signing catcher Ivan Rodriguez, outfielder Rondell White, infielder Fernando Vina, closer Ugueth Urbina and right-hander Jason Johnson, who had spent the previous five seasons in Baltimore.
Johnson, who has won two straight starts, signed a two-year contract with the Tigers on Dec. 30. He said he’s not overly concerned with facing his former team in the series opener.
“I don’t care if it’s them, the Yankees or Minnesota, I expect to do well every time I go out there on the mound,” said Johnson, who twice won 10 games for the Orioles. “I expect to do the same thing on Friday.
“I know how to pitch to a lot of their hitters. I’m sure they know me, too. I had a good time there, but it was probably time for me to leave. I enjoyed the players.”
The Tigers moved within two games of .500 with a 17-7 rout of Kansas City on Thursday. Carlos Pena tied the AL record for hits in a nine-inning game by going 6-for-6. He hit two home runs and had five RBIs for Detroit, which has split its last six games.
Losers of seven straight, the Orioles limp into Detroit after failing their big test against the visiting New York Yankees. Baltimore entered the series at .500 and was eager to prove it belonged in the AL East race. However, the Orioles allowed a franchise-record 41 runs in the three-game sweep.
“We’ll handle it. It’s just a bump in the road you have to overcome,” manager Lee Mazzilli said following Thursday’s 18-5 loss. “It’s not easy to swallow, but it’s not the whole season.”