By DAVE HOGG, Associated Press
DETROIT (AP) — Eventually, a team from the AL Central will figure out a way to beat Cleveland Indians ace Corey Kluber.
Kluber continued his dominance of the division on Sunday, allowing two runs in eight innings as the Indians beat the Detroit Tigers 9-2.
The win improved Kluber (10-2) to 5-0 with a 0.76 ERA in five starts against division rivals this season, and he has won his last 11 decisions against teams from the AL Central.
“Division games are always huge, because those are the teams you are fighting for a playoff spot,” he said. “Obviously, winning your division is the easiest way to get in, so there’s a little more riding on these games.”
Kluber allowed five hits and struck out eight without walking a batter. He has 46 strikeouts and zero walks in his last six starts.
“I’m pretty sure I had some three-ball counts today, but my focus in that situation is to execute a pitch,” he said. “You don’t want to just throw a ball down the middle, because that’s when you give up damage. You still have to make a quality pitch.”
John Hicks, who had two hits off Kluber, tried to give his teammates some hopeful advice.
“I told a couple guys that if he throws a pitch that looks like a strike, it is probably going to end up a ball, and if it looks like a ball, it will probably be a strike,” he said. “It’s like hitting a Wiffle Ball.”
Melky Cabrera and Erik Gonzalez each drove in three runs for Cleveland, which expanded its divisional lead to five games over the Tigers.
Artie Lewicki (0-2) took the loss, allowing three runs on six hits and a walk in five innings. He struck out four in his third major-league start.
“Artie hung in there and kept us in the game, but Kluber didn’t give us many chances,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said.
Leonys Martin drove in two runs for Detroit, which lost a home series for the first time since April 13. The Tigers were playing their 18th game in 17 days.
“I think it is safe to say that everyone in this clubhouse is going to enjoy getting away from here for a day, because we’re worn out,” Gardenhire said. “We went 10-8, which isn’t bad, but we played so many close games that we could have been even better.”
The Indians took the lead with two runs in the second. Francisco Lindor singled, stole second and took third when Hicks’ throw sailed into centerfield. Yonder Alonso followed with a ground-rule double to left-centerfield to put the Indians ahead, and he scored on Cabrera’s one-out sacrifice fly.
Martin’s groundout in the third brought home Hicks to make it 2-1 and end Kluber’s 20-inning scoreless streak against Detroit.
Cabrera’s second sacrifice fly of the game, scoring Lindor again, gave the Indians a 3-1 lead in the fourth.
The Indians loaded the bases with one out in the sixth off reliever Drew VerHagen and Gonzalez followed with a three-run double to put the Indians ahead 6-1.
“VerHagen got a little unlucky, but that was a bad pitch with the bases loaded,” Gardenhire said. “He needs to have a good breaking ball to be successful, and he couldn’t find it today.”
Martin homered in the bottom of the sixth to make it 6-2, but that was Detroit’s last run off Kluber.
“He goes out and throws strikes,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He works ahead, and when teams get contact, it isn’t off the barrel.”
Cabrera drove in his third run of the game to restore Cleveland’s five-run lead in the eighth. Yan Gomes followed with his eighth homer to give the Indians a 9-2 advantage.
Indians: 2B Jason Kipnis (neck) and 1B Edwin Encarnacion both took Sunday off to rest minor injuries. … C Roberto Perez left the game after being hit in the right wrist by a sixth-inning pitch. Perez had X-rays, which were sent a specialist in Cleveland for further evaluation. “It’s a little ambiguous right now,” Francona said.
Tigers: C James McCann was scheduled to get Sunday off after catching 12 innings Saturday night, but was also dealing with flu-like symptoms. 2B Dixon Machado would have caught if something had happened to Hicks. . RHP Zac Reininger was optioned to Triple-A Toledo after the game, but the Tigers did not announce a corresponding move. If McCann is still sick on Tuesday, Detroit will bring up C Grayson Greiner from Toledo.
Indians: Cleveland travels to Chicago for a four-game series starting Monday. Lucas Giolito (4-6, 7.08) faces Cleveland’s Carlos Carrasco (7-4, 4.23) in the opener.
Tigers: After Monday’s day off, Detroit starts a three-game home series with the Twins. Blaine Hardy (2-1, 3.66) takes on Minnesota’s Jake Odorizzi (3-3, 4.24) on Tuesday.
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