Timely hitting and pitching help Indians edge Tigers

Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Zach McAllister (34) pitches in the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park.

Rick Osentoski/Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

DETROIT — In the dugout before Wednesday’s game, Terry Francona said that if the Indians want to have any chance at winning the AL Central this season, beating the Tigers more than four times would be essential.

They got off to a good start. In the first of 19 scheduled meetings against the Tigers this season, the Tribe got some timely pitching and hitting for a 3-2 victory.

Zach McAllister had his second straight solid outing, allowing only one run in six innings. The right-hander allowed four hits while striking out four and walking two to get his first win over the Tigers in seven starts.

Like he did last Wednesday against San Diego, McAllister’s fastball was working well again and his offspeed pitches were effective in the final two innings.

"On a night like tonight it felt like we were sitting in the dugout more than we were on the field. He worked quick," Francona said. "There were a couple at-bats where they grinded out some but he kept his poise."

McAllister gave up his only run in the first when Ian Kinsler, who got aboard on a leadoff double, scored on a Miguel Cabrera ground out. McAllister though showed some real poise in the fourth. He got Cabrera to fly out to start things off but Victor Martinez walked and Austin Jackson singled after both had nine-pitch, at-bats. After getting Nick Castellanos to fly out to center, McAllister struck out Alex Avila with an elevated fastball on a full count.

After a 31-pitch fourth inning, McAllister threw just 12 in the fifth and 17 in the sixth. Martinez was the only one to get aboard the last two innings with a single.

"The fourth was a big inning for me because those middle innings are where they did a lot of damage last season," McAllister said. "It was good to be able to get through the last two inning smoothly."

McAllister has allowed only one earned run in the last 13 2/3 innings he has pitched. A big reason for that is because he has done a better job on keeping his fastball lower. In his first start on April 2 against Oakland, McAllister only went four innings and gave up three runs as it was elevated too much and hitters were jumping on it early.

The Tigers nearly rallied in the final two innings. They got within a run in the eighth when Rajai Davis led off by reaching base when Jason Kipnis was unable to haul in the pop fly. Ian Kinsler’s bunt single put runners on first and second but Torii Hunter grounded into a double play. Miguel Cabrera’s single would score Davis and Martinez would get his third hit of the day with a single but Cody Allen struck out Jackson to end the inning.

John Axford came on in the ninth to get the save but not until the potential tying run was 90 feet away. With one out, Alex Avila doubled to the right-center gap but Michael Bourn bobbled it, which allowed Avila to get to third. Axford though atoned for Sunday’s blown save in Chicago by striking out pinch-hitter Don Kelly and getting Davis to ground to short.

Said Axford of McAllister: "He was great. To put those starts together especially on a night like tonight and to keep it together was fantastic."

McAllister is developing a reputation for getting off to good starts. In eight March or April starts, he has a 2.83 ERA, which is his best ERA in any month.

On a night when the Tribe had only five hits, the bottom of the order had four of them. Yan Gomes was 2 for 4 and provided what would be the game-winning hit with a two-run triple to right-center in the second. In seven games in Detroit, Gomes is 8 for 21 with four extra-base hits and three RBI. Lonnie Chisenhall also had two hits and has doubled in four of his last five games.

Michael Bourn was 0 for 4 in his first game back but scored a run in the first when he led off the game with a walk. After Detroit starter Anibal Sanchez walked the bases loaded, Bourn would score when Carlos Santana grounded into a double play.

Santana, who said earlier in the day that the shuffling between third, catcher and designated hitter might be affecting his offense, was 0 for 4 and saw his average dip to .170 as he is 1 for 23 over the past six games.

With three of the regulars hitting under .200 and the starting rotation still struggling to find solid footing, the Indians have been a work in progress the first three weeks of the season, but getting a win over the reigning AL Central champs is a boost of much-needed confidence. As Francona noted, the Tigers did everything they needed to at crucial times last season in taking 15 of 19. That’s something the Indians did for at least one night.

"All of us struggled last year against Detroit but to put together a good game and a win is the most important thing," McAllister said.