July 19, 2014 at 11:23 pm

Indians 6, Tigers 2

Drew VerHagen mostly solid in debut but Tigers fall in opener

Detroit — Drew VerHagen wasn’t in awe of the moment or the situation.

With his family and a near-sellout crowd, VerHagen made his major-league debut at Comerica Park against the Indians.

VerHagen pitched four superb innings but was done in by a shaky fifth inning, as the Tigers fell to the Indians, 6-2, Saturday afternoon in the first game of a day-night doubleheader.

It’s the third straight loss for the Tigers, who have lost both games since the All-Star break.

But VerHagen pitched well enough to give the Tigers a chance.

“It’s a solid effort for a first start in the major leagues,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “He kept us in the game and gave us a shot to win; he did a nice job.”

VerHagen didn’t show any signs of nerves early, starting the game by striking out Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera. VerHagen followed with a pair of walks, but catcher Bryan Holaday threw out Michael Brantley trying to steal to end the threat.

“He got those first two (strikeouts) right away. We’re happy for him and he got off to a good start,” Ausmus said. “He gave us a chance to win; he gave us five solid innings. We have no complaints with Drew VerHagen whatsoever.”

VerHagen started the second by striking out Lonnie Chisenhall and Nick Swisher and looked to be coasting, giving up just one hit through four innings.

Chisenhall drew a leadoff walk and scored on Swisher’s double. After Yan Gomes singled, David Murphy’s RBI single made it a 2-0 lead.

Gomes scored on an RBI single by Kipnis, but VerHagen managed to get out of the inning by getting Cabrera to fly out.

VerHagen got through a quick fourth inning with only eight pitches. But the fifth was his undoing, with three runs on four hits.

“They were coming out swinging, and I needed a quick inning. I got behind in the fifth and pitching from behind,” said VerHagen, whose contract was optioned to Triple-A Toledo after the Tigers’ 5-2 loss later Saturday night. “I walked a guy, (got behind) 2-1 on another and they were more comfortable in the box and I left a few balls up in the zone.”

“The fifth was definitely a little rocky. I was getting behind guys, but I think it’s something that I try to improve and get better each start. Overall, it was solid for a first start. I’m happy and it was a fun experience.”

The Tigers answered with a run on Austin Jackson’s RBI single in the bottom of the fifth, scoring Eugenio Suarez, who had a leadoff walk.

The Indians added a run in the seventh after a leadoff single by Gomes, a walk to David Murphy and an RBI single by Kipnis. Cleveland added two more in the ninth on Gomes’ leadoff double and RBI single by Murphy, who scored on a single by Cabrera.

Miguel Cabrera had a leadoff double in the ninth, moved to third on a grounder and scored on J.D. Martinez’s groundout.

In the last four innings, the Tigers had two base runners and Indians starter Corey Kluber (10-6) notched half of his 10 strikeouts.

“He didn’t really leave too many pitches over the plate the first three at-bats,” said Nick Castellanos, who struck out three times. “It was a grind; he did well and my fourth at-bat, he left something up.”

VerHagen took the loss, giving up three earned runs on five hits, with four strikeouts and three walks.

“It was a blast; it was really fun. I threw solid and overall it was a really great experience,” said VerHagen, 23.

Holaday lauded VerHagen on his first start in the majors.

“Gomes is a good hitter and worked the at-bat. He got a pitch he could handle and got that single. That’s the way it goes sometimes,” Holaday said. “VerHagen was battling out there and sometimes you have to tip your cap.”


Tigers rookie Drew VerHagen works in the second inning. / Robin Buckson / Detroit News