'Lights-out' Mike Clevinger stars as Tigers tumble for 14th straight time to Indians
Detroit — Manager Ron Gardenhire was asked about Indians starter Mike Clevinger, who continued his mastery over the Tigers on Thursday, shutting them out over eight innings as Cleveland completed the three-game sweep, 2-0.
He was asked if Clevinger's jittery mannerisms on the mound were a distraction to the hitters.
"Yeah, that and the hair," Gardenhire said, breaking up the room. "He's got a lot going on. He's one of those gunslingers. He's not waiting for you to get in the batter's box, he's attacking you.
"Hopefully for some of our younger hitters this will be a great experience for them."
BOX SCORE: Indians 2, Tigers 0
Besides the long, flowing locks and the herky-jerky delivery, Clevinger also features a four-seam fastball that can ride between 95-97 mph, a wipeout slider and change-up.
"He's a great pitcher," said Tigers rookie shortstop Willi Castro, the former Indians farmhand who had one of the four hits allowed by Clevinger. "I've been looking at him the past three years. That slider is really good."
It was the fifth straight loss for the Tigers, who still need five wins at Comerica Park to avoid becoming the first team in the modern era of baseball to lose 60 home games in a season.
The loss also extended their season-long skid against the Indians to 14 games. It was the American League-leading 13th time they've been shutout.
"Clevinger was lights-out," Gardenhire said. "He really attacked. He spun it good and his fastball was jumping. He pretty much made it impossible for us to really do anything."
It was Clevinger's 11th career start against the Tigers and he came in with a 2.10 ERA in the previous 10. That’s the fifth-lowest ERA against the Tigers among active pitchers with a minimum of five starts.
(The others on that list, for the record: Matt Shoemaker, 0.68; Marcus Stroman, 1.75; Aaron Sanchez, 1.93; and David Price, 2.08.)
He accrued 10 strikeouts and, according to Statcast, got the Tigers to swing at 21 pitches outside the strike zone.
"That's what he gets you to do," Gardenhire said."His ball jumps all over the place. He throws strikes when he has to and when he gets ahead in the count, which he was all day, that's when he gets you to chase out of the zone.
"Guys are trying to fight it off, but when he's throwing that hard, it's not that easy."
Clevinger got 24 swing-and-misses, 13 against his four-seam fastball. The average exit velocity on the 17 balls the Tigers put in play against him was a meek 81 mph.
“I was like, ‘I’m going to throw every pitch like it’s 0-2, but 0-2 for a strike,’" Clevinger said. "That was kind of like my mindset this whole game.”
The Indians are chasing the Twins for the lead in the Central Division, and Clevinger said he's approaching every start like a must-win.
"It’s fun to have all these matter," he said. "For a lot of these guys in this clubhouse, it’s the first time these games matter at this point in the year. Usually we’ve had it kind of locked up around this time, since I’ve been up here.”
The offense was provided by shortstop Francisco Lindor, who basically put the Indians on his back in this series. He homered and accounted for both runs Thursday. He had 15 total bases in the series, including three doubles and two home runs.
"He's a phenomenal hitter, there's no doubt about that," said Tigers starter Daniel Norris, who allowed a solo home run to Lindor in the third inning, the only blemish on his short day.
Norris, whose workload is being limited for the remainder of the season, pitched three innings for the fourth straight outing. He struck out four and allowed two hits. But Lindor somehow got his barrel on a 1-1 fastball (92 mph) and knocked it into the right-field seats.
"I've faced (Lindor) enough now where he knows my tendencies and I know his," Norris said. "I thought I had him in-between there. I threw the pitch I wanted, but like I said, he's a good hitter."
Drew VerHagen worked the next four innings. There was plenty of traffic on the bases in those four innings, but only one runner crossed home plate.
The Indians loaded the bases with one out in the seventh and Lindor sent one on a high arc toward the seats in right-center. Harold Castro, who was shaded toward left-center, ran the ball down in front of the out of town scoreboard.
Mike Freeman tagged from third and trotted home with the second run. It could've been worse.
"I thought that ball was gone, honestly," VerHagen said. "That ball is out of a lot of parks and this would have been a whole different interview. It's funny how when you've got a good mentality, you are positive and you're confident out there, plays just get made behind you.
"I don't know if it's because of your tempo and you are attacking and the infielders and outfielders are on their toes, but plays get made."
The Tigers have three more chances, in Cleveland in September, to end the skid.