On Friday night, Ubaldo Jimenez faced Justin Verlander for the third time in the last four weeks. Jimenez and the Indians bested the Tigers on the first of these meetings, and they lost the second one. Thanks to an ineffective performance from Jimenez and the error-riddled defense of Indians first baseman Nick Swisher, the Tigers won yesterday, too, by a score of 7-5.
Jimenez led off the second inning by giving up a home run to Tigers DH Victor Martinez, giving Detroit a 1-0 lead. Later that inning, with one out and a runner on first, Ramon Santiago hit a ground ball to first, which Swisher fielded. Instead of trying to retire Santiago, Swisher threw to second, hoping to force the lead runner, but the throw was bad, and everyone was safe. Jimenez walked the next batter, and later gave up an RBI single to Torii Hunter, followed by a bases-loaded walk to Miguel Cabrera, making the score 3-0.
Jimenez allowed only one earned run in that inning, the one from the Martinez homer, but he did himself no favors by issuing three walks in the frame. Although with the way Cabrera’s been hitting, maybe Jimenez got off easy by walking him instead of watching him hit one over the fence for a grand slam.
Jimenez had another bad inning in the fourth. He gave up a double and two singles to the first three batters before Tribe manager Terry Francona decided he’d seen enough. Matt Albers came out and stanched the bleeding by getting Cabrera to hit into a run-scoring double play and retiring Prince Fielder on a grounder to short.
The Indians finally got to Verlander for three runs in the top of the fifth. With runners on second and third and one out, Detroit ahead 5-3, Swisher could have tied the game with a base hit. Instead, he hit a weak pop-up to short for the second out of the inning, throwing his bat into the ground like a lawn dart in frustration. Michael Brantley then flied out to end the inning.
Another Swisher error led to another unearned run in the fifth. Detroit scored again in the seventh, so the score was 7-3 as the Indians came to bat in the top of the ninth inning. Jason Giambi led off the inning with a home run off Detroit closer Jose Valverde, who later gave up a solo blast to Drew Stubbs to bring the Indians within two runs. With two out, Jason Kipnis singled. Swisher, representing the potential tying run, came to the plate with a chance to atone for his poor play earlier. Could he do it? No. He hit a weak grounder to short to end the game.
After strong performances in his last two starts, Jimenez turned in his shortest appearance since mid-April, going only three-plus innings. The bullpen pitched well enough to keep the Indians in the game, and the Indians did bring the potential tying run to the plate in the ninth inning. But except for the three-run outburst in the fifth, and the too-little, too-late homers in the ninth, the Tribe offense was mostly silent. Their 3-4-5 hitters, Swisher, Brantley, and Carlos Santana, each went 0 for 4. It goes without saying that you need those hitters to produce, not to make outs.
Swisher is in the midst of what we’d all better hope will be the worst slump of his 2013 season. He’s gotten only one hit in his last 29 at-bats, over which time his batting average has dropped from .278 to .244. He certainly looks like a man who’s trying too hard to make things happen. Perhaps Francona should consider letting Swisher ride the pine for a couple of days to clear his head. He’s not helping the club the way he’s playing now.
The Indians are now 30-30, and are at the .500 mark for the first time since May 5, when they were 14-14. The Tigers now have a 3.5 game lead in the AL Central. While of course it would be nice if the Indians could win both of the remaining games in this series, I’d be relieved if they could win even one of them. A Tigers sweep wouldn’t exactly doom the Indians, not with 100 games left to play, but it would certainly put them into a pretty deep hole.