Indians can’t hold lead as Salazar, top of order struggle

Apr 17, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona (17) takes the ball to relieve starting pitcher Danny Salazar (31) in the fifth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Rick Osentoski/Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

DETROIT — For four and a half innings, things were going the Indians’ way. They had a 3-1 lead over the Tigers, chased Justin Verlander and were getting a consistent outing from Danny Salazar.

And then, as things have a tendency to do, Detroit took advantage of a couple Salazar mistakes and took control. The Tigers scored four runs in the fifth en route to a 7-5 victory and a split of the abbreviated two-game series at Comerica Park.

"That’s why you play nine innings. We did a great job against a good pitcher. We did what we needed to do but didn’t come out on top," said Michael Brantley, who was 2 for 5 with a home run and four RBI.

In Wednesday’s 3-2 win, the Tribe was able to win with timely hitting (a two-run triple by Yan Gomes) and timely pitching. It wasn’t perfect, but they got what they needed at key times.

But on a day when Lonnie Chisenhall had a career high four hits and Asdrubal Cabrera broke out of his slump by going 2 for 4, the Tribe was unable to take advantage.

For at least four innings, Salazar’s outing was markedly better than a week ago at Chicago, where he became the first pitcher in baseball’s modern era to strike out 10 but have an outing of less than four innings (3 2/3 innings).

Of the first 15 batters he faced, only one lasted six pitches or more. That was quite a change from last Thursday when 11 of the 18 White Sox he faced had at-bats of six pitches or more. Salazar struck out three Tigers but was doing a good job of locating his fastball.

Salazar threw only 47 pitches the first four innings but his control got away from him in the fifth. After walking Alex Avila on a 3-2 breaking ball that went into the dirt, Terry Francona said that Salazar lost his strike zone. In assessing what went wrong, Salazar said that starting that inning he was trying to be too aggressive.

"In the first four innings I wasn’t rushing. I wasn’t trying to be perfect and was just throwing strikes," he said. "I wanted to do the same thing in the fifth but I couldn’t. I totally lost control. I was trying to overthrow and get too aggressive and perfect."

After walking the first two batters, Salazar got Rajai Davis to pop out. But Ian Kinsler provided what would be the go-ahead blast in the fifth with a three-run homer to left-center on a 3-1 fastball that Salazar left up in the zone.

After the homer, the Tigers got two more hits and Victor Martinez was intentionally walked to load the bases. Austin Jackson hit a sacrifice fly to left to put the Tigers up 5-3 and Salazar’s day was done.

"It was a big shutdown inning for us. We take the lead and they have the bottom of the lineup coming up," Francona said. "There were walks to start the inning. It is not necessarily bad walking some of their hitters, you just have to walk the right ones. You do not want to turn the lineup over and get to the big boys. That really hurt us."

Tigers top Tribe 7-5

In three starts, Salazar is 0-2 and has a 7.71 ERA. He has allowed 12 earned runs in 14 innings pitched along with four home runs. In his first three starts last season, Salazar had a 4.08 ERA. Salazar said after the game that he needs to start looking at video of last year and this year to pinpoint what has gone awry so far.

Said Francona of Salazar: "I don’t know if discouraging is the right word. We all see what he can do. We believe he will do it. With youth sometimes it doesn’t happen as fast as you want it."

The Indians made Verlander work in his five innings as the right-hander threw 113 pitches with 74 strikes. Of the three runs he gave up, none were earned. Cabrera, who got aboard on a bunt single and advanced to second on a Verlander throwing error, scored the game’s first run on a David Murphy two-out single to left-center.

With it tied at one in the fifth, Brantley had a two-out single on a Verlander fastball to score two more. Over his career, Brantley is hitting .333 with 14 RBI with two outs and the bases loaded.

"I thought we did a great job. We made him work from the first hitter of the game," Francona said. "If you can get him out after five then you feel like you have a good chance to win. We did but we just couldn’t stop them."

The Indians can take some solace in splitting the series. At 7-8, they are two wins better than they were at this point last year but there are some shortcomings that need to be fixed during a seven-game homestand that begins on Friday against Toronto. Better outings from their rotation is a given but there are other glaring ones.

The first four spots in the order were a combined 1 for 30 in the Detroit series. Nick Swisher and Carlos Santana were each 0 for 4 and struck out a combined five times. Santana is 1 for 27 over the past seven games and has seen his average dip to .157. Swisher was 3 for 23 on the six-game road trip and is batting .164. Cabrera, who was below the Mendoza Line coming into the game, is up to .218 while Jason Kipnis, who was ejected for arguing a strike call during the third inning, is struggling for the second straight April at .212.

The Indians are also tied with Oakland for most errors in the American League with 15. Of those errors, Gomes has four with three coming on pickoff throws where he has tried to catch the runner at second.

Hopefully most of that can be rectified by the time the Tribe and Tigers meet again May 19-21 at Progressive Field.

Follow on Twitter joereedy