DETROIT -- Dennis Sarfate will head back to the bullpen with a loss and a few words of encouragement from his manager.

Sarfate had his longest outing in four career starts, but four runs over 4 2/3 innings helped the Tigers top the Orioles, 5-3, at Comerica Park on Saturday night. Sarfate (4-3), who struck out five, was doomed by three walks and two homers.

Meanwhile, Tigers righty Justin Verlander continued his mastery of the O's, giving up just two unearned runs in six innings while fanning six. Verlander (9-13) held Baltimore to one run over 8 2/3 innings earlier this season.

Sarfate will return to his familiar relief role since the team has a day off next week to keep the other four starters on regular rest. Even though the club lost all of Sarfate's starts, he could return to the rotation when a fifth starter is needed in two weeks. Saturday's outing was an improvement.

"He didn't overthrow," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "His velocity was down, but his ability to throw the ball in the strike zone was better. His tempo was better. He slowed himself down. I thought his delivery was better."

"This is definitely a learning step, a big step in the right direction for me," Sarfate said.

The first inning was key. Sarfate struck out the first two batters and retired the side, getting out of the opening frame unscathed for the first time as a starter.

"The first inning has been a huge inning for me," Sarfate said. "Being able to get through that first inning today gave me some confidence back."

The second, fourth and fifth innings proved more troublesome. Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera singled, advanced to second on a wild pitch and scored on a Gary Sheffield single in the second. Cabrera and Carlos Guillen knocked solo shots in the fourth to put Detroit up, 3-2, a lead the Tigers never relinquished.

Sarfate's night ended in the fifth after walking Magglio Ordonez on four pitches to load the bases and then walking Sheffield on five pitches, plating a run to put Detroit up, 4-2. Trembley, tired of the walks, pulled Sarfate for Randor Bierd, who got out of the jam.

"You can't defense the walk," Trembley said. "A base on balls will lead to most things that are negative. Against the middle of the lineup -- especially against the middle of their lineup, with those right-handed hitters -- you're probably better trying to get them out early in the count. You pitch behind 2-0, 3-0, 3-1, you're playing with fire."

Verlander doused a blazing Baltimore lineup. The Orioles managed their only runs off the righty on a throwing error by Guillen in the third. Melvin Mora grounded to Guillen with runners on second and third and two outs. Guillen ran to his left, gloved the ball, made a 360-degree spin and sailed a throw above a leaping Cabrera's reach. Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis scored to give Baltimore a short-lived 2-1 edge.

Verlander has been up and down this season, though way down recently, yet consistently strong against Baltimore. Verlander's topsy-turvy season, like his fastball, is baffling to the Orioles' hitters.

"He's got our number the last two outings," Aubrey Huff (0-for-4) said of Verlander. "I can't explain why he's getting hit [by other teams]. I don't really get it."

The Orioles' best chance to get back in it came after Verlander exited, down, 5-2, in the seventh. They had runners on first and third with no outs, with the top of the order due up. Catcher Guillermo Quiroz had doubled and advanced to third on a Juan Castro single. Roberts grounded into a double play, scoring Quiroz, but killing the glimmer of momentum.

"That's probably a situation there [where] if we get a base hit, we break it open, and we're going to get a couple more guys up with RBI situations," Trembley said. "It didn't happen."

Jay Payton got thrown out of the game in the eighth after grounding out on a close play at first and arguing the call with first-base umpire Kevin Causey. First-base coach John Shelby restrained Payton, who also jawed with home-plate umpire Ron Kulpa and threw his batting gloves onto the field before saying good night.

Payton declined comment after the game, but Trembley thought Causey made the out call a little quick for such a close play.

"Whether the guy was safe or out, I thought Kevin Causey called the play way too soon," Trembley said.