CLEVELAND – Kerry Wood made his long-awaited return to the mound, but it was far from a triumphant one.
Wood, who was activated from the disabled list Friday, laid the groundwork for another Indians defeat a day later, allowing the game-winning runs in a 6-4 loss to Detroit on a cold and wet Saturday afternoon at Progressive Field.
Wood did not appear in a save situation, making his season debut in the seventh inning, but his performance was just as costly as a ninth-inning implosion for the Indians, who lost their fifth straight to fall a season-high eight games under .500 (10-18).
“He retired the first two guys real easy,” said Cleveland manager Manny Acta, whose club has lost seven of its last eight games and nine of its last 11. “After that, he lost his command and a big-time hitter got him.
“He was going to pitch in the middle of the game once or twice, just to see if he was ready to close.”
Wood proved he wasn’t yet prepared for the ninth-inning job with a shaky outing that started in promising fashion, but ended with Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera breaking a 3-all tie with a two-out, two-run single.
The right-hander’s effort mirrored an overall disappointing performance from the Indians, who walked eight batters and struggled to come up with a game-changing hit for much of the day.
“We just didn’t do enough good things to win the ballgame,” Acta said. “You can’t walk eight guys and leave runners on third base with less than two outs and expect good things to happen.”
Though it was windy and chilly on the field, Indians hitters felt the heat against Detroit pitching, with a trio of hard-throwing right-handers – Justin Verlander, Joel Zumaya and closer Jose Valverde — combining to register 15 strikeouts.
Verlander took a perfect game one out into the fourth inning, allowing three runs on four hits, while striking out nine over six innings. Detroit’s ace allowed just a run on one hit over the first five innings, striking out six of the first nine batters he faced.
He got his third win of the season when the Tigers rallied against Wood in the seventh.
“You’ve got to give that to Verlander,” Acta said. “On any given day, he can do that to a baseball team, regardless of how we’re swinging the bat right now.”
A little more offense could have given a long-awaited win to Indians starter Justin Masterson, who did not get a decision despite offering up a positive performance.
Masterson allowed three runs on five hits over six innings, nearly matching Verlander with eight strikeouts, but remained winless in six starts (0-3, 5.23 ERA). The right-hander has just one win in 16 starts since joining the Indians’ rotation last year after arriving in a trade with Boston.
“I’m just happy I’m continuing to get better,” said Masterson, who has struck out 15 over his last two starts and 39 for the year, which ranks sixth in the American League. “That’s really all I can control and all I can worry about. The win will come when it comes. It’s more about getting a victory for our team morale.”
That morale took another hit when Wood entered the game.
He retired the bottom two batters in the order before allowing Austin Jackson to slice a double down the right-field line that breathed life into the Detroit rally. Wood then walked the next two batters – Johnny Damon and Magglio Ordonez – to load the bases for Cabrera, who handled a 1-0 inside pitch and slapped it into right-center.
“Obviously, walking Damon killed me, right there,” Wood said. I didn’t think I made that bad of a pitch to Cabrera. That’s why he’s hitting .340 (actually, .371). The key to that is not getting to him.
“It was one of those days. It’s baseball.”
Though throwing strikes was a focal point of Acta’s first spring training with the Indians, his pitchers have struggled to adopt the approach. Cleveland has walked 109 batters in 248 1/3 innings, entering the day with the fourth-highest total in the league.
“It continues to be a concern,” Acta said. “When you’re swinging the bat like we are, you can’t afford to put that many people on base. Sooner or later, it’s going to cost you.”
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org.