Miguel Cabrera has dealt his fair share of damage to the Indians over the course of his career.
After being activated from the 10-day disabled list (right groin strain) earlier in the day, the slugging 34-year-old first baseman launched a two-run homer off Corey Kluber to hand the Tribe a 5-2 loss on Tuesday night at Comerica Park.
Kluber only threw 55 pitches as he departed the game due to lower back tightness while the offense could not find an answer for the cruising Justin Verlander.
"He'd been fighting [his lower back] for a little while," said manager Terry Francona to reporters after the contest. "Probably the weather didn't help much. He was really tight. I just thought it made sense to take him out and then we can wait tomorrow (to) see how he shows up."
Wheels fall off for Kluber
The ace of the Cleveland pitching staff never found his groove as he allowed at least one run in each of the first three frames to exit to a final line of 3 IP, 7 H, 5 R/ER, 1 BB, 4 K (55 pitches, 38 strikes, 69.1%, four groundouts, one flyout).
"His back was tight," Francona said. "Wasn't free and easy. You just don't want somebody to hurt a shoulder or an elbow. It's not fair to him."
While Victor Martinez and Andrew Romine knocked in one run apiece between the first two innings, Cabrera put the largest dent in the Indians’ chances when he lifted a ball over the left-center field wall to bring the score to 4-1.
"He's just a special hitter," said Francona of Cabrera. "That's a pretty good piece of hitting."
Moments later, Alex Avila added an RBI single up the middle to raise concern for Kluber and the lingering soreness he was experiencing.
"Guys have stuff all the time," Francona said. "I think tonight it was noticeably - he was probably more uncomfortable and a lot of it could just be the weather."
Wild pitch accounts for half of Tribe’s runs
Verlander’s start was in stark contrast to his nine-run debacle on April 15 against a similar lineup with Yandy Diaz rather than Jason Kipnis.
The 2011 American League MVP ran into trouble in the first inning by allowing two singles and one walk, including Carlos Santana who singled and came around to score on a wild pitch.
One run in the first was only half of what the road nine could get on the evening.
Francona’s offense batted .182 (6-for-33) as they could only muster one RBI on Lonnie Chisenhall's triple to plate Jose Ramirez in the sixth. The bats never awoke from their slumber as shown by their .000 (0-for-4) batting average with runners in scoring position and seven men left on base.
"[Verlander] always competes," Francona said. "I thought he had a real good cutter that got us off some pitches, some other pitches. He navigates his way around a lineup pretty good."
"He knows what he's doing. He was good. He was real good."
Bullpen picks up the slack
In light of Kluber’s shortened start, the Cleveland relievers were able to fill the middle innings with zeroes as Shawn Armstrong, Nick Goody and Boone Logan combined for five hitless innings out of the pen - 5 IP, 0 H, 0 R/ER, 2 BB, 6 K.
"They did a great job," said Francona. "If somebody hits a hanging pitch out of the ballpark, we're still playing. More often than not, our guys usually do that. Again, they're hard to games to win but we've won a few and we'll probably win a few more."
The bullpen unit has now collectively posted a 0.00 ERA over their last 32.1 innings dating back to April 18.
Central Division update
Chicago (14-11) ousted Kansas City (8-17) moments before Minnesota (14-11) took care of business vs. Oakland.
Game 3 of the four-game series is slated for Wednesday at 7:10 p.m. ET from Comerica Park in Detroit, Mich.
RHP Carlos Carrasco (2-2, 2.04) will look to get the Indians back on track and extend his string of quality starts to six consecutive outings dating back to the second game of the campaign on April 4 in Texas.
LHP Matt Boyd (2-1, 3.86) is scheduled for his second appearance opposite Cleveland after firing six innings of one-run ball back on April 16 at Progressive Field.