ByThe Plain Dealer
DETROIT – Did anyone just feel a shift in the relationship between the Indians and Tigers? Not a seismic shift to be sure, but a tremor nonetheless.
Last year the Indians went 14-4 against Detroit on the way to winning the AL Central. Monday night the Tigers improved to 3-1 against the Indians with a 7-1 victory at Comerica Park. The series record doesn’t mean that much at this point of the season, but the way it has been reached does.
Left-hander Daniel Norris beat the Indians for the second time in as many starts. He held them to one run on five hits in six innings. In his two wins against the Indians this year, he’s allowed one run in 12 innings.
On Wednesday the Tigers will send another young lefty to the mound against the Indians. Matthew Boyd is already 1-0 against them this year.
Last year Norris and Boyd combined to make just nine starts for the Tigers. Should they continue to pitch well this season, along with AL Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer and veterans Justin Verlander and Jordan Zimmerman, those predicting a leisurely stroll for the Indians to the AL Central title may need to adjust their calculations.
The Indians, for those keeping track of such things, are 3-8 in games started by left-handers this year.
The Tigers hurt Trevor Bauer (2-3, 7.67) early as Nick Castellanos and Victor Martinez hit ringing doubles in the first inning for a 2-0 lead. Tyler Collins hit a full-count, three-run homer into the bleachers in right center field in the second for a 5-0 lead. No. 9 hitter Jose Iglesias drew a one-out walk, and Ian Kinsler singled to set the table for Collins, who hit Bauer’s 94 mph fastball.
In his last start, Bauer beat the Houston Astros even though he allowed four runs on six hits in six innings. The win made him 6-0 lifetime against the Astros, and he credited “random variation” for those gaudy numbers.
There was no random variation involved Monday. Detroit simply worked Bauer over, scoring seven runs on seven hits in four innings. He struck out three and walked a season-high five batters. Bauer threw a season-low 54 percent (50-of-93) of his pitches for strikes.
“I didn’t command the ball well obviously,” said Bauer. “First bad one, I think, as far as execution goes. You can’t be perfect every time out.”
Bauer is 0-2 with a 13.00 ERA (13 runs in nine innings) in two starts against the Tigers this year. He’s allowed 15 hits and seven walks in those two games. Bauer is 4-5 with a 7.69 ERA in his career against Detroit.
Norris (2-2, 4.00) struck out eight and walked four to improve to 3-0 against them in his career.
“He located well and his slider and change up were working tonight,” said shortstop Francisco Lindor, referring to Norris. “The guy goes out there and pitches seven innings, you have to tip your cap. He had a great outing.”
The Indians’ only run came in the third on a single by Edwin Encarnacion. The $60 million man entered May hitting .148 (4-for-27) against lefties. He singled in his first two at-bats against Norris, so perhaps that’s a sign of better things to come.
What it means
The Indians fell to 7-6 in the AL Central, while the Tigers improved to 9-6. The Indians have won seven of their last 11 games.
Bauer threw 93 pitches, 50 (54 percent) for strikes. Norris threw 106 pitches, 63 (59 percent) for strikes.
Former Indian Victor Martinez started the fifth inning with a bunt single to third. The infield was shifted to the right and the Indians had no play on the slow-moving Martinez as the crowd cheered.
When Justin Upton followed with a double to the center, Martinez barely reached third. But the bunt started a two-run rally and that was the important thing.
Upton’s double knocked Bauer out of the game. Zach McAllister relieved and Alex Avila blooped a single into center to score Martinez and Upton for a 7-1 lead.
Austin Jackson beat out an infield single in the ninth inning for the Tribe, but left the game with an injury. Abraham Almonte pinch ran.
Manager Terry Francona said Jackson jammed his toe on first base, but didn’t have any more information on the injury.
Jackson missed time in spring training rehabbing from surgery on his left knee in 2016 that limited him to 54 games with the White Sox.
Thanks for coming
The Tigers announced that 22,045 tickets were sold for Monday night’s game between the Indians and Tigers at Comerica Park. First pitch was at 7:10 p.m. with a temperature of 57 degrees.
Indians right-hander Corey Kluber (3-1, 419) will face Verlander (1-2, 4.60) on Tuesday night at 7:10 p.m. SportsTime Ohio, WTAM/1100 will carry the game.
Kluber has won three straight starts. The streak started with a win over the Tigers in which he allowed six earned runs on eight hits in 6 1/3 innings. He faced Verlander in that game on April 15 and the Indians won, 13-6.
Verlander has not won since April 4. He allowed nine earned runs on 11 hits in four innings against Kluber and the Tribe. In his last appearance, he allowed one unearned run in seven innings in a 2-1 loss to Seattle. Verlander struck out eight and walked two.