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Tigers' woes vs. Bauer dampen Liriano's return

Detroit struggles to solve Indians' ace during fourth consecutive defeat
MLB.com @beckjason

CLEVELAND -- The Tigers have faced Indians right-hander Trevor Bauer four times this season. As James McCann stepped into the box against him in the first inning Saturday night, they had the bases loaded on Bauer for just the third time. That time went much like the previous two had.

McCann took a first-pitch fastball he thought might have been off the plate, but drew the strike call from plate umpire Quinn Wolcott. He shrugged off the curveball in the dirt, then chased a cutter and a slider, both off the plate.

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CLEVELAND -- The Tigers have faced Indians right-hander Trevor Bauer four times this season. As James McCann stepped into the box against him in the first inning Saturday night, they had the bases loaded on Bauer for just the third time. That time went much like the previous two had.

McCann took a first-pitch fastball he thought might have been off the plate, but drew the strike call from plate umpire Quinn Wolcott. He shrugged off the curveball in the dirt, then chased a cutter and a slider, both off the plate.

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As McCann walked back to the dugout to put on his catching gear, he knew that was the Tigers' chance. He saw four different pitches in the at-bat, but couldn't pick up a tell on any of them.

"Really, you're not seeing the same pitch in any at-bat," McCann said after the 4-1 loss at Progressive Field. "[Bauer] is not doubling up to you very often. For me, the biggest adjustment that I can tell, facing him in the past versus facing him this year, is everything looks to come out of the same slot out of his hand."

Six innings later, as Bauer crossed the 110-pitch mark, he threw two breaking balls that sent Jose Iglesias ducking back from the plate. Both dropped into the zone, not even on the inside corner, capped by the knuckle-curve for strike three. Dixon Machado sent the next pitch into left field for a one-out single that ended Bauer's night, but it meant little in the outcome.

Video: DET@CLE: Bauer uses filthy curve for 11th strikeout

The Tigers' fourth consecutive overall loss was their sixth in as many games in Cleveland this season, and their ninth in a row there since last September. They fell seven games behind the Indians in the American League Central standings after starting the week with just a 2 1/2-game gap.

Bauer finished with 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball on five singles with 11 strikeouts, improving to 4-0 against Detroit. He has fanned 40 Tigers over 29 1/3 innings while allowing four runs. His lone tally Saturday came on the legs of JaCoby Jones, who hit a second-inning infield single, stole second, took third on a fly out, then scored on a wild pitch. The Tigers put just three balls in play in the first two innings against Bauer, who hit two batters, walked another, allowed two singles and struck out five of 11 batters.

"I know he's had four starts against us, but he's doing it against everyone else, too," McCann said. "It's a credit to him, for what he's been able to do this season."

Video: DET@CLE: Jones races home on a wild pitch in the 2nd

Familiarity has done nothing for the Tigers against him. If anything, it has done more for Bauer. He racked up multiple strikeouts Saturday on his fastball, curve, changeup and slider. He sent down Jeimer Candelario swinging at a changeup and a curveball over the first two innings, then coaxed a called third strike on a changeup at the knees that had Candelario pointing to the ground and yelling at Wolcott as he walked back to the dugout.

"I have a lot of things I can go to that can kind of disguise what I'm trying to do to a hitter, or even just get a hitter out multiple different ways," Bauer said. "So, I think I'm a lot better prepared arsenal-wise this year to face the same lineup multiple times in a row, or in close succession to each other."

Bauer's continued dominance overshadowed Francisco Liriano's return to the Tigers' rotation. Liriano (3-3), making his first start since May 26 after recovering from a right hamstring strain, showed signs of rust in a 40-pitch, 20-strike opening inning that included two wild pitches, two walks, four singles and a costly error from McCann on a play at home plate. Liriano held Cleveland hitless from there, but errors from Iglesias and Niko Goodrum helped run up his pitch count.

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Tigers errors forced Liriano to throw 19 extra pitches, likely costing him a chance to pitch the fifth inning. McCann's error cost Liriano a run as well. Though center fielder Leonys Martin's throw home on Brandon Guyer's single beat Edwin Encarnacion by several feet, McCann never had a firm grasp on the ball, which came lose on Encarnacion's slide to build a 3-0 lead for Bauer.

Video: DET@CLE: Encarnacion scores on error at the plate

"The way that I had it kind of secured was my hand was kind of holding it there," McCann said. "I didn't have a grip on the ball, and when he hit my arm, that kind of rolled the ball out. I didn't have it secure, but at the end of the day, I have to hold onto the ball."

SOUND SMART
Though McCann didn't get the out at the plate on Encarnacion in the first inning, Martin was given credit for an assist, his second of the inning. His eight outfield assists tie him with Seattle's Mitch Haniger for the AL lead. His 58 outfield assists since 2013 put him one behind Gerardo Parra for most in the Majors.

HE SAID IT
"My first year or two here, we didn't lose [in Cleveland], and it went 180 degrees over the last couple years. It's one of those frustrating things." -- Tigers right-hander Alex Wilson

UP NEXT
Matthew Boyd, sent to defeat by a short-porch grand slam in Cincinnati in his last start, will have more room to work with at Progressive Field on Sunday when he takes the mound in the series finale against the Indians. Boyd (4-5, 3.63) tossed seven innings of one-run ball in Cleveland back in April. The Indians will counter with right-hander Adam Plutko (3-1, 5.04). First pitch is set for 1:10 p.m. ET.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

Detroit Tigers, Francisco Liriano