CLEVELAND -- The Tigers didn't need long to take on the never-quit personality that manager Ron Gardenhire instills in his teams. But the way Corey Kluber painted the corners of the strike zone on Monday night, even they admit they didn't feel like they had much of a chance.There was
CLEVELAND -- The Tigers didn't need long to take on the never-quit personality that manager Ron Gardenhire instills in his teams. But the way Corey Kluber painted the corners of the strike zone on Monday night, even they admit they didn't feel like they had much of a chance.
There was clearly frustration with home-plate umpire Jeff Nelson's strike zone still simmering in the clubhouse after Monday's 2-0 loss to the Indians, evidenced by the words Gardenhire carefully chose afterwards, with hand gestures.
"He had that ball coming back over the plate, that plate," Gardenhire said. "It came back over it a lot, and we got caught looking. It's frustrating. He's really good and he was really close tonight, right at that corner, and we just couldn't get to it."
At the same time, Tigers hitters acknowledged Kluber was spotting pitches exactly where he wanted them. That level of command coaxes calls on pitches at the corners, notably so on a night with a first-pitch temperature of 33 degrees.
"He threw all three pitches to the spots that he wanted at any time," James McCann said, "and he got every call in his favor. He's a great pitcher, and sometimes you have to tip your cap. He had our number tonight."
The numbers Kluber posted were as impressive as the heat map. He threw 72 of 103 pitches for strikes, 29 of them called. He drew 15 called strikes on his sinker, compared to one swing-and-miss. He struck out 13 batters, eight of them on called third strikes. He struck out every member of Detroit's starting lineup except leadoff man Leonys Martin.
"We went out there and battled today," Tigers starter Francisco Liriano said. "Kluber pitched a great game and wasn't missing his spot at all. He just went out there and executed a lot of pitches."
Essentially, the Tigers were in a no-win situation. They could expand their strike zone and swing at some pitches they might believe to be headed off the plate, which sets up Kluber to expand further off the plate and get them to chase. Or hitters could take pitches that, while borderline in their minds, were consistently being called strikes.
"They were close, and sometimes you're gonna have to learn to fight them off," Gardenhire said. "It's tough, though. You can sit there and watch on TV and everything seems so easy to do, but when you're up there at the plate, I'm telling you, it's so different. His ball has late movement. It's darting, and he's just got great stuff. …
"He has great movement, and he knows how to pitch. That's why he's so successful. He made it tough. We tried to make adjustments. We tried to shoot the ball the other way. But then he comes inside and knocks you right back off the plate."
Kluber's dominance essentially left the Tigers -- having played three 1-0 games already this season -- hoping for another one. Liriano did his part, holding the Indians hitless for 4 2/3 innings as they lifted seven fly-ball outs to center or right. But once Yan Gomes lined a single to left, Bradley Zimmer took advantage of one of the few sliders Liriano missed all night and clubbed a two-run homer.
"Just made one mistake and it changed the whole game," Liriano said.
The degree of change could be debated. The way his teammates saw it, Liriano was their one hope to shift a game Kluber controlled.
"Liriano threw the crap out of the ball, and our bullpen hung in pretty good," Gardenhire said. "A good effort by us. We just faced a really hot pitcher tonight that threw the ball. We've seen him do it before, and when he's spot-on like that, it makes it really tough."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Zimmer's barreled blast: With two out in the fifth, Zimmer sent a slider from Liriano out to right-center on a line for his game-changing home run. According to Statcast™, the blast had a 107 mph exit velocity with a 22 degree launch angle. Leading up to that homer, the Indians had gone 0-for-8 on Barrels on the homestand (parts of four games) in cold, windy conditions. For context, the MLB slugging percentage on Barrels was 2.363 this season, entering play on Monday.
"Just a slider that was kinda sitting there," McCann said. "Wasn't his best slider today."
Miller Time: As if eight innings of Kluber wasn't tough enough, Tigers hitters had to face Andrew Miller and his wipeout slider in the ninth. And yet, the Tigers brought the potential tying run to the plate in the final inning for the fifth time in as many losses. A hit-by-pitch to JaCoby Jones set up the middle of the order, but Miller induced a game-ending double play grounder from Jose Cabrera.
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Kluber (40) ranks fifth among active players in double-digit strikeout games, trailing only Max Scherzer (66), Clayton Kershaw (58), Chris Sale (53) and Justin Verlander (42). Only Sam McDowell (74) and Bob Feller (51) have more in franchise history.
The Tigers have been shut out in three of their first nine games for the first time since 2003. They've allowed four runs total in those three shutouts. According to baseball-reference.com, they're the first AL team in the DH era to lose three times in their first nine games while allowing two runs or fewer in each of them.
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The Tigers kept their deficit at two runs in the seventh inning with help from a challenge on what was initially ruled a double steal. Replays showed Zimmer slid into Machado's foot on his way to second base and he wasn't on the bag when Machado tagged him. Instead of runners at second and third with one out, the Indians had a runner on third with two out, a threat that ended when Drew VerHagen struck out Erik Gonzalez.
Tigers reliever Buck Farmer left the game in the seventh inning with what the team called a left hip spasm after he seemingly took a misstep on the mound following through on a pitch. He's listed as day to day. More >
Left-hander Matthew Boyd will try to continue the stingy pitching he put up against the Indians last year when he starts Tuesday's 6:10 p.m. ET clash at Progressive Field. He went 1-2 and posted a 2.28 ERA in four starts against the Tribe in 2017.
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Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.