CLEVELAND — Justin Verlander recently watched videotape of his 2011 season, when he was the AL’s MVP and noticed he wasn’t pitching the way he had back then — dominating, overpowering, nearly unhittable.
Verlander made an adjustment.
And made the Indians look silly.
Verlander toyed with Cleveland’s lineup for eight innings and Don Kelly hit a three-run homer off Justin Masterson, leading the Detroit Tigers to their 10th straight win, 5-1 over the Indians, who can’t seem to beat the one team they’re chasing.
“That’s the Justin Verlander we know,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
Verlander (12-8) allowed one run and four hits as the Tigers won their second straight in this four-game series and beat the Indians for 10th time in 11 games to open a five-game lead over Cleveland in the AL Central.
Kelly connected in the fifth inning off Masterson (13-8) and Miguel Cabrera picked up his 100th RBI as the Tigers improved to 11-3 against their nearest division rival.
“Every game’s a big game but especially against the guys who are chasing us,” Verlander said. “They’ve been playing extremely well. We know it’s going to be a battle this series. It’s not over yet but winning the first two is a great start.”
The Indians, who are 24-10 against the Central’s three other teams, have to win the next two over Detroit just to gain a split.
To do that, they’ll have to beat Doug Fister and Max Scherzer.
“Detroit has four aces, which is why they are so good,” Indians manager Terry Francona said before the game.
Although Scherzer leads the AL with 16 wins and is the front-runner to win the Cy Young this season, Verlander remains the Tigers’ top gun and the one they turn to when things get tough.
He has struggled at times this season, but has now found his old form.
“The adjustment that I made obviously made not just a little impact but a pretty big impact,” said Verlander, who explained he altered his motion toward the plate. “Everything I’ve been searching for I was able to find it today. That’s a huge stride in the right direction.”
Verlander gave up an RBI groundout in the second, but otherwise handled the Indians with ease. When Cleveland threatened in the sixth with two on and none out, Verlander turned up the heat.
He retired Nick Swisher on a deep fly to right before blowing a 100 mph fastball past All-Star Jason Kipnis for strike two and then locked him up with an 84 mph changeup.
Verlander then got Asdrubal Cabrera to ground out on another fastball then hit the century mark on the radar gun. As he headed toward the dugout, the right-hander pumped his fist knowing he had probably put the Indians away for good.
“We had a couple chances and he seemed to find another gear tonight, that we’ve unfortunately seen in the past,” Francona said. “When he starts hitting 100 at the knees, that’s tough.”
Masterson had one bad inning, and it cost him.
Kelly’s three-run shot highlighted Detroit’s five-run fifth off the right-hander, who hurt himself by hitting two batters during the inning.
First, he plunked No. 9 hitter Ramon Santiago, who had squared to bunt before getting drilled. Austin Jackson followed with a single and Torii Hunter’s RBI groundout brought in Santiago to tie it 1-all. Cabrera, who missed three games with a hip injury, then sent a drive off the centre field wall for a go-ahead RBI double, arriving at second with a slow-motion slide.
One out later, Masterson hit Victor Martinez on the right foot. Detroit’s DH hopped around in obvious pain and Cabrera even left third base to check on his teammate, who limped to first but stayed in the game. Kelly followed by drilling a 1-1 pitch into the Tigers’ bullpen for his fifth homer to make it 5-1.
Kelly owns Masterson. He’s now 11 of 24 (.458) with two homers and eight RBIs. On June 9, he hit a three-run homer off Masterson in Detroit’s 4-1 win.
“If I was Superman, he’d be my Kryptonite,” Masterson said. “There’s always a guy. He salivates when I’m up there.”
Like his teammates, Masterson struggles with the Tigers. He dropped to 0-3 with a 7.23 ERA against Detroit this season.
The Indians got some bad news even before losing their second straight game in this crucial four-game series as starter Corey Kluber was put on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained right middle finger. The team said Kluber injured his finger on Monday night when he pitched 7 1-3 shutout innings.
There is no timetable on Kluber’s injury, but Indians starter Zach McAllister recently missed seven weeks with a similar ailment.
“I’m disappointed for him,” Francona said. “It makes it harder for us.”
The Indians took a 1-0 lead in the second on Verlander, who despite his gaudy numbers against most teams, came in just 16-14 in his career against Cleveland.
Asdrubal Cabrera led off with a double and Michael Brantley followed with a single. Cabrera got caught in a rundown between third and home for the first out, but Ryan Raburn came through with an RBI groundout against his former teammates.
Masterson pitched himself into and out of trouble in the second.
He walked Prince Fielder and Martinez to open the inning and then gave up a single to Kelly. However, the right-hander buckled down and struck out Alex Avila and Jose Iglesias before getting Santiago to bounce into a force at second.
NOTES: The Tigers have won 14 of 18 against the Indians dating to Sept. 5 last season. Detroit has outscored Cleveland 109-62 in those games. … Indians rookie RHP Danny Salazar will make his second career start Wednesday. Ubaldo Jimenez was pushed back for Salazar, who took a no-hitter into the sixth in his debut on July 11. … Tigers 2B Omar Infante (sprained left ankle) began a minor league rehab assignment for Triple-A Toledo on Tuesday. … Tigers RHP Octavio Dotel (sore elbow) will began a rehab assignment at Class-A Lakeland (Fla.) Wednesday. He’s been out since April 20.