MINNEAPOLIS — With two strikes on Joe Mauer, Cleveland reliever Joe Smith scrapped plans to pitch around the All-Star catcher and tried for the strikeout.
It didn’t work.
Mauer’s two-out RBI single in the eighth inning off Smith lifted the Minnesota Twins to a 3-2 victory over Cleveland on Friday and left the Indians frustrated about several misplays in the field.
“They told me, kind of pitch around him here and don’t give him anything to hit,” Smith said. “Once I got ahead of him 1-2, then my approach changed. I was going for a punchout. I wanted to get out of the inning.”
Costly errors made getting out of innings difficult for the Indians on Friday.
Third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall misplayed Brian Dozier’s two-out grounder in the sixth, setting up Trevor Plouffe’s two-run single that tied the game.
“I was just going in the hole after the ball and kind of came up, didn’t keep my head down right there,” Chisenhall said. “It’s frustrating when I don’t come up with balls like that. After that the inning kind of went the wrong way for us.”
With Smith (4-1) pitching in the eighth, Pedro Florimon singled and Dozier reached on an error when first baseman Nick Swisher let Chisenhall’s throw bounce in and out of his glove.
Smith got Plouffe to ground into a double play, but Mauer followed with the go-ahead single.
Indians manager Terry Francona was asked if he thought about walking Mauer — who is hitting .320 — in that situation.
“I guess the question would be, ‘why would you?’ You’d have first and third and the guy at third can fly,” Francona said. “So how do you defend that? They can do a lot of things. If you want to hold Mauer at first you have the hole open. I just think you’re asking for trouble there.”
Four Twins relievers struck out six over 3⅓ hitless innings, including Casey Fien (2-2) in the eighth and All-Star Glen Perkins in the ninth for his 22nd save in 24 tries.
Scott Kazmir stifled Minnesota for two hits over six innings, but walked Florimon — the No. 9 hitter — with two outs and nobody on in the sixth. Chisenhall’s error followed and a winnable game went the wrong way for Cleveland.
“A little frustrating when you know you have a hitter set up and it’s tough to get the ball in a certain spot,” said Kazmir, who has allowed just 12 hits and three unearned runs against Minnesota this season. “Just have to keep building.”
The Indians stayed 1½ games behind first-place Detroit, which lost 1-0 at Kansas City, in the AL Central race. Their four-game winning streak ended.
Kazmir’s no-hitter ended questionably with one out in the third when Asdrubal Cabrera tried to backhand a grounder hit slightly to his right by the speedy Clete Thomas. The ball bounced off his glove, and official scorer Gregg Wong awarded Thomas a single.
The 29-year-old left-hander, whose last full effective season in the majors was in 2008 with American League champion Tampa Bay, has started to get his career back on track with Cleveland.
Kazmir walked three and struck out three and didn’t allow a Twins hitter to make solid contact until Plouffe’s single in the sixth.
Indians starters, who entered the night with the fourth-fewest innings in the league, haven’t taken a loss in their past nine games. They have a 2.14 ERA in that span with only two homers allowed and a .192 batting average against them.
The bullpen, tied for the league high with 17 blown saves before the break, is the bigger concern. That and the 3-9 record against the Tigers so far. And the recently quiet bats of Cabrera and Mark Reynolds.
Twins starter Mike Pelfrey gave up a pair of deep doubles in the third to Chisenhall and Michael Bourn, whose drive drove in both runs.
This was Cleveland’s first visit of the season to Minnesota. The way the Twins have been playing, though, that’s good for the Indians.
Beginning with Friday’s game, more than 19 percent (13 of 67) of their remaining games are against the Twins. Ten of them in this second half are here at Target Field, including a four-game series to finish the regular season from Sept. 26-29.
The Indians will have to tighten a few things up if they want to use the Twins as a stepping stone to catching Detroit.
“We did some things tonight in a close game where you don’t put yourself in a good position to win,” Francona said.
Francona said RH Zach McAllister, out with a sprained middle finger on his throwing hand, is on track to return to the rotation on Tuesday at Seattle. He’s been out for six weeks.
WHO: Cleveland vs. Minnesota
WHERE: Target Field, Minneapolis
PITCHERS: Kluber (7-5, 3.88 ERA) vs. Correia (6-6, 4.23)
TV/RADIO: SportsTime Ohio; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM, WMMS 100.7-FM