DETROIT -- The Tigers' matchup against Corey Kluber went about as expected. The stretch of games it ended wasn't nearly as rough for the Tigers as it could have been.While the Tigers ended a 20-inning scoreless streak against Kluber dating back to last September, they needed many more than that
DETROIT -- The Tigers' matchup against Corey Kluber went about as expected. The stretch of games it ended wasn't nearly as rough for the Tigers as it could have been.
While the Tigers ended a 20-inning scoreless streak against Kluber dating back to last September, they needed many more than that to stay close against a cruelly efficient Indians offense that got to Artie Lewicki and the Tigers' bullpen. The resulting 9-2 Tigers loss to the Indians on Sunday at Comerica Park swung the series in Cleveland's favor, and stretched the Tribe's lead to five games in the American League Central.
In the bigger picture, though, the Tigers survived what could be the toughest stretch they'll face all season. They went 3-5 this week against the Yankees, Red Sox and Indians, all likely playoff teams, and took one game from each. Beyond that, Detroit finished 10-8 over a stretch of 18 games in 17 days, using seven different starting pitchers thanks to injuries and a doubleheader.
This was the stretch that was expected to sink the Tigers. Instead, they continue to exceed expectations and hang around. They even added a Rally Goose along the way.
"We're hanging in there," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We played a lot of close ballgames. One swing here and there could've changed it, and one good pitch here and there. So 10-8, yes, but we could've been better, and I think that's what keeps driving these guys. We can do better."
They couldn't have done much better against Kluber, who did what he usually does against Detroit. They could've done better in general. Between three errors and some other misplays, the Tigers looked like a group of players in need of an off-day. They'll get one Monday, and two more next week, breaking up an upcoming stretch of eight consecutive games against sub-.500 teams.
"It's been tough for us," Leonys Martin said, "a lot of late flights, day games, night games. But we have to do it. That's the schedule. We have to move forward one day at a time.
"We definitely need a day off."
Part of the reason why the Tigers' extra-inning win Saturday night over the Tribe was so important was the Sunday matchup. While Lewicki was making his second start in place of the injured Francisco Liriano, Kluber was trying for his third consecutive scoreless performance against the Tigers, having blanked them for eight innings on two hits in April, and in a complete game last September.
"It's just a repeat when you face that guy," said Hicks, who managed a pair of opposite-field singles Sunday. "He's one of the best in the league for a reason."
When John Hicks scored on Martin's groundout in the third inning, it marked Detroit's first run off Kluber since John Holaday's seventh-inning RBI single against him last Sept. 2. By then, however, Cleveland already had two runs off Lewicki with a Yonder Alonso ground-rule double and the first of two Melky Cabrera sacrifice flies.
When Martin sent a drive out to right field in the sixth inning, he had the Tigers' first home run off Kluber since Jose Cabrera last May. By then, another Cabrera sac fly off Lewicki and a three-run sixth inning off Drew VerHagen had put the game all but out of reach. The Tigers could pick away at Kluber's lead, but couldn't pry him from that large of a lead, Rally Goose or not.
"I was telling guys, honestly: If he throws you a pitch and it starts as a strike, it's going to be a ball," Hicks continued. "If he throws you a pitch that starts as a ball, it's probably going to be a strike. His ball, it's like a Wiffle ball, it really is. He's throwing two-seamers that are starting a foot off the plate and end up being on the plate. It's impressive stuff."
Kluber (10-2) became the American League's first 10-game winner this season with eight innings on five hits and eight strikeouts. He improved to 10-7 with a 3.67 ERA lifetime against Detroit, and 8-1 with a 2.94 ERA against the Tigers since 2016.
"Everything he threw, the ball moved a lot," Martin said. "You don't know where the ball's going to go. It's tough to get on top of the baseball. Thank God he made a mistake, and I put a good swing on it."
The Tigers complained about the strike zone when Kluber shut them down in Cleveland in April. On Sunday, all they had were compliments for Kluber, and a relief for the off-day that awaits them.
"A day off is needed, I can guarantee you that," Gardenhire said. "I think even the clubhouse kids are tired, so everyone's a little worn down."
Kluber has held the Tigers to a .209 batting average in 13 starts since 2015, the lowest mark by any pitcher with at least eight starts against Detroit in that span.
HE SAID IT
"I have a contract with my wife. When I'm 45, I can get back out there [in baseball] full-time. I think I'm going to honor that." -- Former Tiger Torii Hunter, who was honored before the game with the Detroit Tigers Willie Horton African American Legacy Award. Hunter said Gardenhire approached him after being hired and gauged his interest in joining his coaching staff.
The Tigers optioned right-handed reliever Zac Reininger to Triple-A Toledo after the game. A corresponding move will be announced before the Tigers get back to play Tuesday. Reininger allowed three runs on the eighth inning on Sunday.
Left-hander Blaine Hardy (2-1, 3.66 ERA) hopes to get back to success on Tuesday against the Twins in what could be a big start for him with Jordan Zimmermann rejoining the rotation soon. Hardy allowed five runs in six innings Wednesday at Boston, matching his damage from his previous three starts combined. Minnesota will counter with righty Jake Odorizzi (3-3, 4.24). First pitch is set for 7:10 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.