CLEVELAND — Technically, it’s a first-half series, but when the Indians and Tigers square off tonight in the first game of a three-game set at Comerica Park the outcome could carry some weight in the second half.
It’s the top two teams in the Central Division hoping to send a message to one another on how things might play out after the All-Star break.
“You can’t not think it’s a big series,” said Indians pitcher Jake Westbrook, who will start against Kenny Rogers in the second game of the series on Wednesday. “There’s still going to be a lot of hype. You’ve got the first- and second-place teams.
“But you can’t look into it any more than that. If you do that, you put a lot of extra pressure on yourself. There’s still a lot of games left.”
True enough. But the Indians are past the midway point of the season, playing their 81st game on Sunday. The Tigers series is the beginning of a six-game road swing that leads up to the All-Star break, and the Indians could use a positive performance as a springboard to the second half.
“It’s always a big series when we play the Tigers, White Sox and Twins,” said C.C. Sabathia, who is a big reason the Indians led the Tigers by 1½ games in the division standings through Sunday. “We know we have to go in there and finish strong for the break.”
Even manager Eric Wedge, who rarely places any extra significance on a series, admits the trip to Detroit isn’t just a routine visit.
“Anytime you play within the division and you play the teams you’re battling it out with, there’s obviously going to be more of an emphasis,” he said.
Wedge shut down Joe Borowski on Monday after using the closer four straight days to get three saves and a win. Borowski supported the decision.
“The competitive side wants to do it, but you’ve got to be sensible,” said Borowski, who converted his American League-leading 24th save – 12th straight – on Sunday. “There is a threshold for relievers, where no matter who you are, you’re begging for problems.”
Borowski played catch Monday before Wedge told him he would not pitch.
“It felt like I hadn’t thrown in three or four days,” said Borowski, who has pitched in 34 games this season. “It’s definitely a good sign. My arm feels good. It’s not taxed. It’s not hurting.”
Victor Martinez, who was elected to his second All-Star team Sunday, credits little more than hard work in the offseason for improving his throwing and tuning up his stroke.
It’s tough to argue with the results. Martinez entered Monday with the team lead in batting average (.323), homers (14) and RBIs (63), while ranking third in the league by throwing out 27.5 percent (14-of-51) of would-be base stealers.
“I’ve been working a lot on both sides,” said Martinez of his offense and defense. “You work every day, you can get better. I just want to be a good baseball player.”
Paul Byrd (7-3, 4.67) opens the set at Detroit, opposing left-hander Nate Roberston (4-6, 4.82).
Westbrook (1-3, 6.10) and Rogers (2-0, 0.75) are the scheduled starters Wednesday, while All-Stars Sabathia (12-2, 3.20) and Justin Verlander (9-3, 3.18) go in the series finale on Thursday.
Sabathia was named AL player of the week on Monday, winning both of his starts, while posting a 2.25 ERA over the span.
Triple-A Buffalo’s Brian Slocum, a candidate to make Cleveland’s bullpen this spring, is rehabbing a strained right elbow in Winter Haven, Fla. Slocum, who hasn’t pitched since May 4, made five starts for the Bisons before sustaining the injury.
l Brad Snyder, who was born in Sandusky, hit his ninth homer Sunday in Buffalo’s 8-7, 10-inning victory over Rochester.
The Indians will hold a 5 p.m. workout on July 12, the final day of the All-Star break, before beginning the second half with a six-game homestand against the Royals and White Sox.
l The Indians drew a walk-up crowd of 15,724 fans to the first three games of the Tampa Bay series – a record for a three-game stretch.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or email@example.com.