Indians' Bauer dominates 'scuffling' Tigers once again

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Trevor Bauer reacts after striking out Detroit Tigers' James McCann with the bases loaded in the first inning.

Cleveland — A week ago, the Tigers left Chicago after sweeping the White Sox, riding the wave of a five-game winning streak.

Seems like a long time ago.

The Tigers lost their fourth straight game on Saturday, shackled by the dominance of right-hander Trevor Bauer and beaten by the Indians, 4-1, at Progressive Field. It was Detroit's sixth straight loss in Cleveland this year and eighth straight loss in the state of Ohio.

BOX SCORE: Indians 4, Tigers 1

"You look at Cincinnati (who beat the Tigers on Tuesday and Wednesday), they're hot and playing good baseball right now," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Then we come in here and this team is hot. It's all part of the schedule. 

"You play teams when they're not playing good and you play teams when they're going at it pretty good. And right now we're scuffling offensively, so it all molds together."

The Tigers are two games into a 20-game in 20-day stretch, which includes just eight home games. Gardenhire's message to the team after the loss, essentially, was buckle up. 

"This is one of those roller-coaster rides," he said. "You are going to go up and you are going to go down. It's how you rebound. We've got to come out here tomorrow and compete. We have a chance to win a ballgame here before we come home and play in front of our own fans.

"You can't get your heads down. They've outplayed us for two days. That's the way it goes. That's a good baseball team over there and it's tough when they are hot. And they are hot right now."

The Indians have won six straight. And it was the fourth time this season Bauer has slain the Tigers. 

"He's got more than the average arsenal," said Tigers catcher James McCann, who struck out twice against Bauer, three times in the game. "He's got a fastball at 95-mph plus, he's got a big curveball, a slider, he's got a cutter at 88 and he's got a change-up.

"Really you're not seeing the same pitch in any at-bat."

Bauer allowed three runs with 29 strikeouts in 23 innings in the first three wins. He was good in those starts. He was oppressive in this one. He let his four-seam fastball and devastating knuckle-curve do most of the heavy lifting — striking out 11 over 6.1 innings.

"He's got all the pitches," Gardenhire said. "We talk about his breaking ball, and he's got a good one, but the fastball is jumping at 95-96 mph. I don't think he gets enough credit for that fastball.

"He rushes it in there with a lot of other stuff. He doesn't throw too many that are straight. The kid knows how to pitch and he's game-on. They let him throw 100-plus pitches every game."

Bauer's curveball was breaking from hitters’ eyes to their knees. He got five swings and misses and seven called strikes with that pitch, getting both Victor Martinez and Jose Iglesias to buckle on called third strikes.

All told, Bauer got 19 swings and misses.

And that was after a 28-pitch first inning where he loaded the bases with a walk, single and a hit batsman.

The only run he allowed came in the second. JaCoby Jones, who had two of the five hits off Bauer, singled, stole second, went to third on a fly out and scored on a wild pitch. Jones is riding a career-best, nine-game hitting streak.

"The biggest adjustment I can tell facing him this year is that everything looks to come out of the same slot with his hand," McCann said. "In the past, you might be able to pick up something; the curve would be popping out of his hand, or the cutter. 

"But now it's tough to pick up the difference in his pitches coming out of his hand."

Tigers left-hander Francisco Liriano returned from the disabled list, making his first start since May 26, and he had to kick off the inevitable rust. He needed 40 pitches to get through an ugly first inning.

"I was rushing things," Liriano said. "Trying too much. I hadn't pitched in a while and I was trying to do too much, trying to do more than I can do, and I ended up missing pitches."

He didn't get much help from his defense, either.

The first four Indians hitters reached and three of them scored. The other was thrown out at third base. The third run scored on a botched play at home plate. Edwin Encarnacion, not fleet of foot, tried to score from second on a single to center field.

The throw from Leonys Martin arrived in plenty of time, but McCann lost the ball as he applied the tag.

"The way I had it, my hand was holding it there," McCann said. "I didn't have a grip on the ball and when we hit, he hit my arm and it rolled the ball out. Secure? No, I didn't have it secured. But at the end of the day, I've got to hold on to that ball."

The first inning, between Bauer’s 28 pitches and Liriano’s 40, took 36 minutes to complete.

But after that, Liriano settled in and didn’t allow another hit from the second inning through the fourth.

He was at 75 pitches and done after four, allowing two earned runs and four hits with three walks and a couple of wild pitches.

McCann’s error was one of three by the Tigers. They made two in the span of three batters in the third. Iglesias misplayed a soft line drive by Rajai Davis that went off his glove. Liriano got a 6-4-3 double play on the next pitch.

Then first baseman Niko Goodrum dropped a routine throw from Iglesias. But Liriano pitched around that, striking out Brandon Guyer.

"We've been pretty good; we've caught the ball for the most part," Gardenhire said. "But we missed some plays. It's not normal. Iggy doesn't miss the ball, we know that. And Goody lost the ball in the sun — this place is notorious for that. The ball came right out of the sun.

"Those things happen, but we cost our pitcher a lot of extra pitches."

The Tigers struck out 16 times in the game. Third baseman Jeimer Candelario struck out four times. 

"We've got some people struggling," Gardenhire said. "He's not a four-strikeout guy, I can tell you that right now. He's coming out fighting and trying to force it and that plays right into their pitchers' hands."

Come out fighting. That's what the Tigers are going to have to do these next three weeks leading into the All-Star break.

"We identified this stretch before Opening Day," McCann said. "We have three and a half weeks before the All-Star break and eight games at home, all against good teams. It's definitely a test for us.

"But it's a day to day thing. You can't let one bad game or two bad games affect the next 20 games."