CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 22: Jason Kipnis #22 scores on a double hit by Asdrubal Cabrera (not shown) #13 of the Cleveland Indians during the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at Progressive Field on May 22, 2012 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Ubaldo Jimenez dodged and weaved his way through six innings, and the Tribe bullpen did the rest.
It's still May, so all the caveats and cliches about it being early apply, but if one was handicapping each matchup this series, this was the one the Indians needed to win, for Doug Fister and Justin Verlander are going for the Tigers to finish the series.
This is Rick Porcello's fourth season in the majors, and he hasn't yet taken the next step. He has a mid-90s fastball, but he's using it to throw two-seam sinkers, not strike batters out (career 4.9 SO/9). He's averaged over 10 hits per 9 innings, again not the mark of a young fireballer. Tonight the Indians slowly picked him apart, and he left in the sixth inning having given up 8 hits to the Tribe lineup. But let's save that until later.
Another underachieving pitcher started tonight in Ubaldo Jimenez. Unlike Porcello, Jimenez has at one time in his major-league career been a dominant pitcher. In 2010, just three seasons ago, JImenez struck out 214 batters and allowed just 164 hits in 221.2 innings for the Rockies. In 2012, through 46 innings, Jimenez has allowed a hit per inning, and more alarmingly, more walks than strikeouts. The velocity has crept back towards the mid-90s, but his delivery is such that he can't locate his pitches with any regularity. Pitching coach Scott Radinsky is working on simplifying his mechanics, but working on a delivery during the season is like working on a car while its running. So we've seen the great Ubaldo, the awful Ubaldo, and a lot of mixed-bag Ubaldo during the first quarter of the season. I think at this point frustrating but effective is going to be norm, with blips of greatness sprinkled sparingly and randomly through the season.
Tonight Jimenez issued six walks, only one of which came around to score. That walk was to Jhonny Peralta in the second inning, and the penalty was Alex Avila's three-run homer on the first pitch after the free pass. The pitch was a fastball right down the middle, so perhaps Jimenez and Santana was figuring that after the walk Avila would take until he got a strike. But even though the Tigers walked six times, they were very aggressive when the pitch was in the strike zone, and that aggressiveness paid off. Amazingly, despite muddling through four more innings, the Tigers couldn't push across another run. Jimenez was near 100 pitches when he got through the sixth, and by that time the Indians had clawed their way back into a 3-3 tie.
While the Tigers' scoring consisted of one three-run blast, the Tribe's scoring was spread out. They took the lead in the first thanks to Jason Kipnis' legs. The Cleveland second baseman beat out a potential double play, then scored from first on an Asdrubal Cabrera double. After Avila's three-run homer put them down 3-1, they got a run back in the third on Travis Hafner's two-out single. Hafner drove in the third run of the game as well, a sacrifice fly in the fifth.
The Indians exploded for two runs in the sixth, thanks in large part to some shaky Tiger defense. Michael Brantley blooped a single to left field, then stole second. Johnny Damon struck out, but Casey Kotchman picked up the slack by driving home Brantley with a single up the middle. Kotchman then advanced to scoring position when Porcello threw the ball away while attempting a throw to first (obviously made to catch Kotchman leaning the wrong way). Then Jose Lopez lined a ball into the right field gap; right fielder Brennan Bosch got to the ball, but twisted himself inside out trying to actually catch it, and the ball bounced off his glove and towards the wall. Kotchman scored from second, and the Indians posted a crooked number for the first time.
That was all the Cleveland bullpen needed. Tony Sipp and Joe Smith handled the seventh, Vinnie Pestano (who has completely overcome the bout of wildness that plagued him a couple weeks ago) cruised through the eighth, setting things up for Chris Perez to close out the game. This was Perez's first appearance since his comments on Cleveland's attendance, and he came out to the mound to mostly cheers from the home crowd. Facing him in the ninth would be the 9, 1, and 2 hitters, so if he retired the side in order, he wouldn't have to face Miguel Cabrera. But not only he have to face Cabrera, but Prince Fielder as well. He walked Ramon Santiago (.183/.254/.250) with one out, and gave up a single to Andy Dirks so that Miguel Cabrera walked to the plate as the go-ahead run. Perez struck out Cabrera on a perfectly-placed fastball, however, and retired Prince Fielder on a game-ending grounder after falling behind 3-0.