Detroit — A team from Detroit that acted for most of April as if anything fewer than seven runs was a mini-slump, has now scored once in two games.
The Tigers’ latest taste of American League Central frustration came Friday night as the Cleveland Indians popped them, 2-1, at Comerica Park.
On a chilly night when Justin Verlander struck out 10 Indians, he also got nailed for a pair of solo home runs, by Carlos Santana and Marlon Byrd. It wasn’t latitude the Tigers or Verlander could afford Friday.
“One of the best games I’ve seen him pitch in the last year-and-a-half,” said Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, who wouldn’t have gotten much argument from Verlander scholars.
“But if we can hold teams to two runs, we’re going to be a very good team. We’re gonna hit.”
They weren’t overly bothering to Indians starter Josh Tomlin, or a three-man Indians relief corps that Friday choked off the Tigers with four hits.
The Tigers' run came in the sixth on Ian Kinsler’s two-out single, and Justin Upton’s soaring double up the left-center field gap.
The Tigers got a follow-up walk to Cabrera that gave Victor Martinez another crack at Tomlin. But this time Tomlin got the Tigers clean-up king on a right-side bouncer that ended the inning.
Byrd followed with his leadoff homer in the seventh to make it 2-1. The Tigers had another chance a half-inning later when Nick Castellanos singled to right, moved to second on Tyler Collins’ bounce out and waltzed to third on a wild pitch.
With pinch-hitter Jarrod Saltalamacchia batting for starting catcher Bobby Wilson, Indians reliever Zach McAllister, a right-hander, got Saltalamacchia on a swinging strikeout to hold the Indians’ lead and seal the victory.
Tomlin isn’t, in terms of reputation, a pitcher anywhere near the neighborhood of Saturday’s Indians starter, Corey Kluber, but Tomlin came into Friday with a 1.80 ERA. It’s now at 1.54.
“He did a very good job today of making us hit our pitch,” said Castellanos, the Tigers third baseman who had a single and a long fly to right field that never seriously threatened the seats.
“He stayed on the corners and didn’t leave much in the middle.”
The Tigers likewise did nothing in the eighth and ninth against an Indians bullpen that wasn’t a lot better than the Tigers’ back-end group of Justin Wilson and Drew VerHagen, who pitched shutout baseball after Verlander exited.
The Tigers starter, who now sits at 1-2 on the season, understood Friday’s game wasn’t one to be over-analyzed. The Indians got two more hits on the night, and two of those hits were solo homers.
The first Cleveland run came from newfangled leadoff batter Santana, who isn’t many folks’ idea of an opening act. He’s big, and a full-swinger, but what a combo for Cleveland as he lifted a 92-mph fastball and rode it into the right-field seats for a 1-0 Indians lead one batter into the game.
“The pitch to Santana I put where I wanted,” Verlander said. “The pitch to Byrd I wanted down and away. I got it up just a little and he got the barrel of the bat on it.”
That was as much stress as Verlander was to endure until Byrd poked his homer, into the same vicinity, leading off the seventh.
Verlander’s pitch-count soared (96 after five innings) but he lasted seven innings, allowing but four hits, while punching out 10 Indians batters, the 30th time in his big-league career he has struck out at least 10.
His four-seam fastball only occasionally beat 93 mph, but it was following Verlander’s flight plan, as were his side dishes.
Sliders, change-ups, curveballs — all were giving the Indians headaches and a stack of strikeouts.
“I think the adjustment I’ve made,” he said, speaking of some maintenance on his delivery, “has got me in a good position.
“I know we didn’t do it today,” he said, turning to an offense that was supposed to carry the Tigers on most nights. “But these guys can score in bunches.”
Or, so the thinking goes. Two consecutive games have confirmed an old baseball truism — something about good pitching and what it does to good hitting.