July 23, 2016

Partly sunny

Tigers’ Max Scherzer cools off the Tribe

CLEVELAND — The Indians thought they were facing Detroit’s ace tonight — not Tuesday.

Offering up a Justin Verlander-esque performance in the series opener between Central Division rivals Cleveland and Detroit, Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer pitched his team to a 5-1 victory.

The Indians get Verlander in the series finale, and that might be a better prospect than Scherzer, who allowed a run on just two first-inning hits over eight innings, to completely stymie a surging Cleveland offense.

“That was a dominant performance,” said Cleveland manager Terry Francona, whose club lost for the first time in six games but maintained a 1½-game lead over second-place Detroit in the Central Division standings. “I think his last pitch was 98 mph. When you’re up around 115-120 pitches and you still have that left in the tank … That was impressive.”

Of Cleveland’s first three batters, two of them — Michael Bourn and Asdrubal Cabrera — delivered base hits, with a sacrifice fly from Michael Brantley scoring Bourn with the first run of the game.

That’s where it all ended for the Indians and their offense. Starting with Brantley, Scherzer (6-0, 3.61 ERA) retired 22 straight and struck out the last four hitters he faced before turning it over to closer Jose Valverde in the ninth inning.

“He didn’t make a lot mistakes,” said Bourn of Scherzer, who struck out seven and walked just one. “We got to him early, but we didn’t keep getting to him. He’s good. He had his good stuff tonight. He shut us down tonight. You have to tip your cap.”

The Indians got a positive effort out of their starter, right-hander Corey Kluber, who kept pace with Scherzer by tossing five straight scoreless innings to start the game.

But Kluber ran into trouble in a pivotal sixth inning for the Tigers, who tied the game at one on a leadoff home run from Andy Dirks. Torri Hunter followed with a double that brought the always-dangerous Miguel Cabrera to the plate.

Cabrera, the defending Triple Crown winner who leads the American League in virtually every offensive category, took a strike before hammering the next pitch an estimated 411 feet to dead center.

Detroit went up 3-1 and never looked back.

“We were trying to go middle-in and it got too much of the plate,” said Kluber, who allowed three runs on eight hits and struck out a career-high eight batters over 6⅓ innings. “It was kind of right where he wanted it.”

Prior to the game, Francona said they could not pitch around Cabrera, a notorious Indians abuser on every occasion, and with first base open, he chose not to walk him.

“(With) nobody out, you’re asking for trouble,” Francona said. “Obviously, we didn’t want him to hit the home run, but even so, you’re putting your pitcher in a bad spot there.”

The Indians put two aboard with one out in the ninth against Valverde, conjuring up thoughts of another comeback win despite the four-run deficit.

“I always feel that way,” Francona said. “I wouldn’t be a very good manager if I didn’t. That’s the way I always feel.”

Contact Chris Assenheimer at (440) 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.