Cruz: “I’m in the zone right now”

HOUSTON - Nelson Cruz leads the majors in home runs and RBIs. He’s homered in five of the last seven games. He’s driven in five of the Orioles’ last nine runs.

He’s still a bargain at $8 million.

Manager Buck Showalter says Cruz is “in a good place.” He’s just glad to have Cruz in his own clubhouse.

“Yeah, I see the ball well,” Cruz said following today’s 4-1 win over the Astros. “Like I said, I tried to be consistent for that long. I just stay with my routine and do it on a daily basis so I can stay more consistent.

“Just tried to go wherever the ball is. If it’s inside, try to turn on wherever it is. I’m in the zone right now. I can see the ball well enough, stay long enough, pull the ball.”

The Orioles had lost four in a row and scored only five runs in their last three games before today.

“It’s tough,” Cruz said. “As a team, we know we can score runs, no doubt. We have, top-to-bottom, one of the best lineups in the league. It was a matter of time before we came back and do what we’re supposed to do. Today was a great example. We had a chance to tie the game and go on top again. We got walked a few times.”

The Orioles drew four walks today, exhibiting unusual patience at the plate.

“As a team, we like to swing,” he said. “We need to walk. That’s the way we should do it.”

Chris Tillman lowered his ERA from 4.97 to 4.63 by holding the Astros to one run over 6 2/3 innings.

Tillman stopped short of saying he felt relieved to turn in a quality start.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a relief. It’s my job,” he said. “As a starting pitcher, you want to get deep into the ballgame and give your team a chance to win. We were able to do that tonight.”

Showalter noted how Tillman seemed to put a little extra on his fastball after the first inning.

“Even last year, I feel like I get better as the game goes,” Tillman said. “That’s just the way I am. I’m not trying to throw softer earlier in the game. I felt good later in the game and was able to get into a rhythm. The defense did a really good job and kept us in the ballgame.”

Tillman hit two batters, raising his total to three in 12 starts.

“The first one I was trying to go in and I missed,” he said. “The second one, I slipped. My back foot came over the top of the rubber. It happens. It’s baseball. You have to make pitches and get out of it.”

It’s only one win, but maybe it’s a sign that the Orioles are getting back on track. The rotation has turned in three consecutive quality starts, with Tillman following Ubaldo Jimenez and Miguel Gonzalez.

“I think so,” Tillman said. “Ubaldo threw the ball well. Gonzo threw the ball well. I think we are kind of feeding off each other, kind of getting this thing going a little bit. I think it’s a part of the game, the friendly competition that we always talk about. These guys went out and set the tone early. I have to follow suit.”

Today’s victory returned the Orioles to .500 at 27-27 going into Sunday’s series finale.

“It’s big. Any win is big,” Tillman said. “You go into every game going out to win, not going out to lose. It was big. In the middle of the series, it gives us the chance to even the series.”

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