Kinsler sparkles in ugly victory over Indians

DETROIT — The Tigers did a lot of things wrong Thursday afternoon.

In tomorrow morning’s standings, however, their 7-5 win over the Indians will count the same as any cleanly played victory.

Justin Verlander lasted only five innings, the defense was sloppy and the go-go Tigers even made a mistake on the basepaths. But Cleveland was happy to match the blunders every step of the way.

The key to the game was the bottom of the fifth inning. Verlander had just allowed two runs in the top of the inning to fall behind 3-1, and having thrown 113 pitches, his day was done.

Cleveland’s flamethrowing youngster, Danny Salazar, was facing the bottom of Detroit’s order and needed to shut the Tigers down. It didn’t happen.

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Alex Avila drew a walk to start the inning, and Alex Gonzalez followed with another one. Rajai Davis tried to get a bunt down, failed and then popped out.

But Ian Kinsler made it a moot point with a three-run homer into the Tigers bullpen.

When the Tigers got Kinsler for Prince Fielder, the move was supposed to solidify their defense, but it was unclear how much of the offensive loss he would be able to fill.

It’s still early — The Tigers are four games away from having played a tenth of their season — but Kinsler has been better than advertised.

He’s played well at second base and has combined with Rajai Davis to give Detroit a pair of serious threats on the basepaths. Most important, he’s hitting at a level that Fielder couldn’t reach very often in 2013.

After going 2-for-5 Thursday afternoon, Kinsler is batting .327 with a .519 slugging percentage and leads the team with 10 runs scored.

Brad Ausmus called Kinsler a "baseball rat," and while the new second baseman wasn’t familiar with the term, he quickly realized it was meant as praise.

"That’s a weird compliment, but it is one of the highest compliments you can get in this sport," Kinsler said. "We’re playing OK right now, but I’m just waiting for us to erupt and run off a bunch of wins in a row.

"We’re good enough to do that, but you never know in this game. It humbles you very quickly, so you have to win when you get the chance."

After the game, Salazar sounded much like Max Scherzer early in his Tigers career, when he hurt himself by constantly tinkering with his mechanics.

"After I walked Avila, I started thinking too much about everything," Salazar said. "I started trying to figure out if I had changed my arm slot or if I was doing something different with my windup.

"Once I started doing all of that, I was just lost. I was throwing the ball over the place."

The Tigers added another run later in the inning to take a 5-3 lead, and scored enough late insurance runs to make up for a rough seventh from Al Alburquerque and Ian Krol.

Joba Chamberlain and Joe Nathan got the last seven outs, with Nathan pitching a perfect ninth to ease some of the fears raised by his poor start to the season.

"I felt a lot better out there," he said. "I felt like I was finishing off my pitches, which is hopefully a sign that things are getting stronger.

"We’ve been grinding and things haven’t gone our way lately, so today felt like a step in the right direction."