Punchless Indians hope to keep shutting Tigers down

CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Indians aren’t hitting much, but with the pitching they’re getting, they don’t need to hit much.

Over their last five games, the Indians averaged two runs per game — but they’ve won four of them. That includes their wins over the Detroit Tigers on Monday and Tuesday by the scores of 2-0 and 2-1, respectively. The Indians only had four hits in each of those games, but their pitching has been sensational.

Wednesday night, the two teams will meet for the third contest of their four-game series.

“It’s been a tough go of it for us offensively, but the pitching staff has saved the day,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said. “Every game is (close), and there’s not a lot of margin for error.”

The Indians have won nine games in a row from the Tigers, and Cleveland’s pitchers have a 0.78 ERA in those games.

The pitching matchup Wednesday will be a pair of right-handers: Detroit’s Jordan Zimmermann (0-0, 8.71 ERA) vs. Cleveland’s Carlos Carrasco (2-0, 5.40 ERA).

The Indians are not one of Zimmermann’s favorite opponents. Last year Zimmermann made three starts against the Indians and was 0-3 with a 9.22 ERA. In five career starts versus Cleveland, Zimmermann is 0-4 with a 10.88 ERA.

Pitching in Progressive Field has always been a nightmare for Zimmermann. In two career starts in Cleveland he is 0-1 with a 12.38 ERA. The Indians have hit .410 against Zimmermann at Progressive Field.

Zimmerman’s last start this season was Thursday, a 9-7 Tigers victory over the White Sox, although Zimmermann did not get the win. He pitched 4 1/3 innings, giving up six runs on nine hits.

Carrasco, who finished fourth in the American League Cy Young Award voting last year, has won his first two starts this season. His last start was a 3-2 win over Kansas City on Friday in which he pitched six innings, allowing two runs on five hits with four strikeouts and one walk.

Carrasco has traditionally pitched well against Detroit. In six starts last year against the Tigers, he was 4-1 with a 1.82 ERA. In 25 career appearances against Detroit he is 10-7 with a 3.88 ERA.

One of the hitters Carrasco will have to deal with Wednesday night is ex-Indians catcher Victor Martinez, the Tigers’ designated hitter, who has historically hit very well against his former teammates.

In 411 career at-bats against the Indians, Martinez has hit .300, with 30 doubles, 14 home runs and 72 RBI.

“He’s a really gifted hitter, from both sides of the plate,” Francona said of the switch-hitting Martinez. “He’s been a good hitter for a long time.”

Indians outfielder Michael Brantley is also a good hitter, and Brantley is expected to be in the lineup Wednesday night. The left-handed-hitting Brantley started the season on the disabled list as he completed his rehab from offseason ankle surgery.

Brantley was activated Friday, played three games, then was given a day off Monday, against Detroit lefty Francisco Liriano. Francona said he will be easing Brantley back into everyday duty.

“He’s worked so hard (in his rehab) that he deserves the best chance to come back and stay back,” Francona said. “If that means us making some concessions, so be it.”