CLEVELAND — What was pegged at the beginning of the year as a potential key late-season series against Central Division rival Detroit opened Friday night as nothing more than another game for the Indians.
And ended as another loss.
The Tigers scored four times in the first two innings against Cleveland starter Corey Kluber and cruised to a 4-0 victory behind a dominating outing from ace Justin Verlander, who beat the Indians for the first time in three tries this season.
It was the eighth loss in 10 games for Cleveland, which owns the worst record in the American League (16-44) since the All-Star break.
The loss was secured early, with the Tigers stringing together four two-out hits off Kluber to score twice in the opening inning, then adding two more runs in the second to put the game away.
“We had a couple innings where we didn’t pitch well in the first and second where (Kluber’s) command wasn’t there,” said manager Manny Acta, whose team remained in a tie with Minnesota for last place in the division. “After that, he bounced back.”
Kluber (1-4, 5.48 ERA) held Detroit scoreless over the last three innings of his outing, but too much damage had already been done.
“I have to do a better job of recognizing quickly what their approach is against me,” said Kluber, who has allowed at least four runs in six of his nine starts for the Indians this year.
“Obviously, every time you go out there, you want to try and go as deep as possible. Not giving in and letting it spiral out of control is good.”
With Verlander on the mound, it didn’t matter what Kluber did after the second inning.
Detroit’s flame-throwing right-hander had his way with Cleveland hitters, allowing six hits, while striking out six over seven innings.
Scoring chances were limited against Verlander over the first four innings, but they surfaced late in the game, with the Indians failing to capitalize each time.
Cleveland opened the fifth with a leadoff single from Casey Kotchman that was followed by a double from Lonnie Chisenhall that gave the Indians three hits and left runners on second and third with no outs.
They failed to score when Verlander retired the last three hitters in the order — Matt LaPorta, Ezequiel Carrera and Jason Donald. Donald later left the game after being hit on the right wrist by Verlander in the seventh inning.
A leadoff single from Shin-Soo Choo and a one-out double from Carlos Santana left runners on second and third again in the sixth, but Verlander got out of it again, retiring Russ Canzler on a shallow fly ball to right, before Kotchman grounded to first.
Both innings ended with offensive-minded Tigers — first baseman Prince Fielder and third baseman Miguel Cabrera — making fielding gems to rob the Indians of runs.
Cleveland mustered one final stand, putting runners on first and second with two outs in the seventh before Verlander struck out Choo and headed to the showers.
“Offensively, we had a couple opportunities to get back in the game, but we just couldn’t get it done,” Acta said. “Verlander made tough pitches when he had to. He’s tough. He’s a guy that every pitch is way above average.”
It was a much different scenario than the last time the Indians faced Verlander at Progressive Field on July 26. In that game, Cleveland rallied for four runs in the seventh inning to beat the Tigers 5-3, getting back-to-back home runs from Santana and Travis Hafner in the decisive seventh.
What followed was an epic collapse that saw the Indians lose 11 straight games to fall well out of contention. Cleveland was just 31⁄2 games out of first place after beating Verlander that day, but have lost 36 of 46 games since then, entering Friday with a 17-game deficit in the standings.
“That’s too far away,” Acta said. “I don’t think anybody’s thinking that far back. We’re trying to keep things in the present.”
That’s not such a great place to be if you’re the Indians.
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