December 22, 2014

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Tigers flex their muscles, club Corey Kluber and Indians in opening game of big series

DETROIT — And still heavyweight champions of the Central Division, the Dee-troit Tiiiiiiigers.

The Tigers did not need Michael Buffer to validate their superiority Friday night. They did that themselves by hammering away at the Indians for a 10-4 win at Comerica Park.

It wasn’t only the muscle displayed by a lineup featuring Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder that made the Tigers seem so fearsome. It was the ease with which the home team bludgeoned Tribe starting pitcher Corey Kluber.

Of course, Kluber (2-2, 5.64 ERA) probably had something to do with that. Not for the first time was he buffeted by the winds created by healthy swings of the bat. Nor was it the first time opposing hitters’ eyes became as big as saucers, so anxious were they to hack away at his pitches.

But in Kluber’s past two starts, against the Kansas City Royals and Minnesota Twins, he seemed to turn the corner, giving up five runs in 12⅔ innings. The Twins and Royals are not the Tigers, but the Royals, in particular, can field one of the more potent lineups in the American League.

“Coming out of the bullpen, his stuff was identical (to his previous two starts),” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “As he got into the game, he made some mistakes up and away to hitters. He got a cutter up and in to Cabrera and it spread out the game (with a home run). This team and this lineup will make you pay for mistakes.”

Kluber’s finest hour (make it about six minutes) was when he retired the side in the first inning, after giving up a leadoff walk to Austin Jackson.

From then on, Kluber spent the evening ducking and feinting, as the Tigers teed off on pitch after pitch.

In 4⅔ innings, Kluber gave up eight runs, 11 hits and two walks. Among the hits were six doubles and two home runs, one a towering drive by Fielder that measured an estimated 460 feet.

“I lost my delivery tonight,” Kluber said. “I was getting ahead of myself and getting jerky. I was behind guys and wasn’t throwing strikes.”

The home run hit by Cabrera in the fourth was more telling than Fielder’s, inasmuch as it accounted for three runs and gave the Tigers a 7-2 advantage, immediately after the Tribe had cut the deficit to 4-2.

“They are a very good hitting team,” Kluber said. “The mistakes I did make, they hit.”

Kluber doesn’t view his outing all the more disappointing because of his effectiveness in his previous two starts.

“I chalk it up to having a bad one,” he said. “Everybody has these kinds of games. I would feel worse if I didn’t know what I did wrong. But it’s mechanical stuff I can work on in my bullpens.”

The rate of scoring slowed after Kluber left, but it didn’t stop entirely. Bryan Shaw, Nick Hagadone, Rich Hill and Matt Albers combined to throw 3⅓ innings and give up two runs (one earned) on four hits, including a home run by Andy Dirks and a double by Cabrera.

Hagadone demonstrated that the Tigers can be pitched to, entering with one out and a runner a second in the sixth and striking out Fielder and Victor Martinez.

Of the Tigers’ 14 hits, 10 went for extra bases, not a ratio that worked in the Tribe’s favor.

Max Scherzer has a history of pitching poorly against the Indians, compiling a 5-4 record and 5.26 ERA for his career. Last year, he was 1-1 with a 6.06 ERA against the Indians.

He started the first inning as if he might be more vulnerable than Kluber, giving up doubles to Jason Kipnis and Nick Swisher to put the Tribe in the lead.

But Scherzer (5-0, 3.61 ERA) was still around late in the game, working through the eighth and allowing a total of four runs, five hits and no walks and striking out seven.

“We ended up scoring four off him, and he’s a pretty good pitcher,” Francona said.

The only semblance of a star performance by a Tribe hitter was turned in by Swisher, who fell a home run shy of the cycle. In addition to his first-inning double, Swisher tripled in the fourth and singled in the seventh.

Francona was asked if the only thing to do now was turn the page.

“It better be,” he said. “There are a lot more games.”

TONIGHT

• WHO: Cleveland vs. Detroit
• TIME: 7:08
• WHERE: Comerica Park, Detroit
• PITCHERS: Jimenez (2-2, 6.37 ERA) vs. Verlander (4-2, 1.55)
• TV/RADIO: SportsTime Ohio; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM, WMMS 100.7-FM