If there were any question as to how ready Trevor Bauer was to become a member of the Indians starting rotation instead of being just an emergency spot starter who fills in occasionally, Tuesday’s performance provided the answers.
The Tribe’s right-hander out pitched Detroit’s veteran ace Justin Verlander to help guide the Indians to a 6-2 victory that marked their second consecutive win over their division rivals at Progressive Field, cutting the deficit in the division between the teams to 8 ½ games.
Considering just how much the Tigers dominated the Indians last year, it’s crazy talk that the Tribe will try for the series sweep early Wednesday, the game slated for a 12:05 p.m. first pitch.
Called up from Triple-A Columbus Tuesday to take the vacant spot of struggling right-hander Danny Salazar, a matured Bauer shook off an early set back that came in the form of a 429-foot blast of a home run by Torii Hunterthat gave the explosive Tigers offesne a 1-0 lead just two batters into the game.
“It’s a 3-1 count in the first inning and I gotta go at him,” Bauer said. “I don’t want to walk him, especially with Miggy (Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera) coming up after that. And he hit the crap out of the ball…It’s the first inning and a solo home run with a lot of game left. I really was just trying to minimize (the damage) and keep them off base.”
Bauer went on to scatter seven hits over six-plus innings, limiting Detroit (27-14) to just one more run – another solo homer by catcher Alex Avila that led off the fifth inning.
“He did a lot of things good,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He competed, he pitched in, he was aggessive attacking the strike zone. He changed speeds, he used all his pitches and with men on base, he executed pitches – that’s not the easiest assignment when you come up from Triple-A and face (Detroit). He even made a good play covering first (base in the sixth inning).”
Of course it helped to have an early cushion with which to work, as the Indians offense battered Verlander for five runs over the first two innings, including a four-run second inning that featured three doubles.
“It felt like we worked him well early and I think we ran his pitch count up pretty quick, although he still made it to the sixth (inning),” said Indians third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall. “He puts a ot of innings up every year and just to make him put a little extra effort in (is good). It’s always a big game playing the Tigers, so we want to make sure we get to him when we can.”
But Bauer, 23, also was the benefactor of solid defense behind him (which is not a given by the club that leads the major leagues in errors) along with a little luck in winning a replay challenge that overturned a close play and resulted in a double play that allowed him get out of a sixth-inning jam unsctahed.
With one Detroit out and two on after Bauer issued back-to-back walks in the sixth inning, Nick Castellanos hit into what was first ruled a fielder’s choice. But Francona challenged the close call at first base after Bauer hustled over over to cover the bag and dug out a low throw by shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera in the dirt.
After a 2:25 delay, the call was overturned (giving Francona his foruth win in 10 challenges), and Bauer pounding his fist in his glove fired up as he walked off the mound.
“It was nice to get that overturned and out of the inning,” Bauer said. “…That was a big play. We don’t get that call, there’s two outs and the tying run’s at the plate.”
In a rarity, Verlander (5-3, 3.55 ERA) gave up five runs on 11 hits and three walks as he battled his command throughout the night before giving way to the Tigers bullpen.
In constrast, by the time Bauer (1-1, 2.25 ERA) exited the game for good after giving up a single to Avila to start the seventh, the 13, 924 fans in attendance got to their feet and gave him a standing ovation as he handed a 5-2 advantage over to the bullpen to protect the rest of the way.
For good measure, David Murphy added a solo homer with one out in the bottom of the inning, Bryan Shaw pitched in two hitless inning of relief and Cody Allen retired the Tigers side in order, beginning with striking out the always dangerous Victor Martinez.
“I felt great being able to get back out there and get on the horse again,” said Allen, who had given up four runs in his last two games, including blowing the save in Monday’s game before the Tribe rallied for the win in extra innings. “I put the last two behind me and just moved forward.”