DETROIT (AP) – Now down three key players in the season’s early going, the Cleveland Indians reclaimed their usual spot at the top of the AL Central on Tuesday.
Corey Kluber earned his first win of the season in his third start, powered by four home runs that sent the Indians over the Detroit Tigers 8-2.
The Indians won their fifth in a row, stopped Detroit’s five-game winning streak and retook the lead in a division they’ve won three straight years.
On the day right-hander Mike Clevinger hit the injured list, Kluber (1-2) allowed one earned run over six innings. A two-time Cy Young Award winner who went 20-7 last season, Kluber struck out eight.
“Nobody on the other side of the field is going to feel sorry for you,” Kluber said. “If we get bad news on a guy, then obviously you feel bad for him and you don’t wish that. But when ‘play ball’ comes, let’s go out there and compete against the other team.”
The Indians were already without shortstop Francisco Lindor and second baseman Jason Kipnis with right calf strains.
Leonys Martin, Brad Miller, Roberto Perez and Jake Bauers all entered with sub-.200 batting averages before hitting their first homers of the season. Cleveland had hit a total of only four home runs this year before connecting at Comerica Park.
“I know this is a big ballpark but it was not playing that way, the ball was flying,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I thought Kluber did a really good of adding and subtracting. A couple ball they did hit, they hit to the big part of the field.”
Jordan Zimmermann (0-1) gave up four earned runs of the five he allowed and was chased in the fifth inning. He had allowed just one run in 13 2/3 innings in his first two starts.
“I just wasn’t able to get the grip and feeling I’ve had on the last two starts,” Zimmermann said.
He became the first Tigers starter to allow more than three earned runs in a game this season, snapping a streak of 10 games, which tied the 1987 club record.
Martin homered on the second pitch of the game against his former team, which traded him in July before a bacterial infection ended his season and threatened his life.
Miller added a two-run homer in the second, starting off a 2-for-2 afternoon in which he scored three times. Perez added a wind-aided, towering shot in the fifth inning, and Bauers homered off reliever Blaine Hardy to make it 6-2 in the sixth.
“The Perez homer, I thought that was a flyball, popup and the wind blew it out,” Zimmermann said. “I could’ve saved a couple runs if the wind wasn’t howling out.”
Miguel Cabrera had an RBI double and Niko Goodrum had a run-scoring single for the Tigers, who had opened the season winning seven of 10 games. They had been 3-0 at home after sweeping Kansas City over the weekend.
After the first two batters reached on Kluber in the first, Cabrera thought a 3-1 pitch was out of the zone. It was called a strike and he struck out swinging on the next offering.
“It changed the whole game,” Cabrera said. “He didn’t bring his best stuff today and they win the game.”
In his last six starts against Detroit dating back to 2017, Kluber is 6-0 with a 0.97 ERA and 49 strikeouts.
LITTLE LEAGUE HOMER
Eric Stamets singled and scored on a three-base error by center fielder Mikie Mahtook, who let the ball roll under his glove and reach the wall. Mahtook went 0 for 4 and is hitless in 23 at-bats this season.
First baseman Carlos Santana made a diving catch down the line to end the fifth inning. Santana was hitless in four at-bats, breaking a streak of eight straight games with a hit. The Indians celebrated Santana’s 33rd birthday from Monday and his U.S. citizenship with cake in the postgame locker room. Santana and teammate Hanley Ramirez, both from the Dominican Republic, will be sworn in as Americans on April 19.
Indians: Clevinger will miss at least six weeks with a back muscle injury. The team announced Clevinger strained his teres major, a muscle in his upper back. Francona said it would be six to eight weeks before he picks up a ball and resumes pitching activity. Clevinger had not allowed an earned run in 12 innings over two starts this season.
The 28-year-old Clevinger has emerged over the last two years as one of the AL’s top pitchers. He was 13-8 with a 3.02 ERA last season, striking out 207 in 200 innings. With Kluber, Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco, Clevinger helped make up one of the majors’ best rotations.
The Indians called up righty Nick Wittgren, a reliever from Triple-A Columbus.
Tigers: Reliever Drew VerHagen made his season debut after opening the year on the injured list with a forearm strain. He retired the side in order in the ninth, striking out one.
Indians: RHP Trevor Bauer (1-0, 0.64 ERA) starts Wednesday at Detroit coming off seven innings of no-hit ball on April 5 against Toronto. He has allowed one hit over 14 innings.