CLEVELAND — The Indians’ offense waited too long to get going Friday night at Progressive Field. Deposed closer John Axford didn’t help matters, either.
With three-time defending Central Division champion Detroit in town for the opener of a three-game series and with the crowd at Progressive Field (33,545 fans) as big as it had been since the home opener, Cleveland dropped a 6-4 decision.
The Indians trailed 5-0 before Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana belted home runs to bring them to within a run in the eighth inning. That would have been enough for the win had Axford not served up a three-run homer to J.D. Martinez in the top of the inning.
“It’s certainly frustrating on its own, but when you’re trying to mount a comeback right after that, it certainly makes it worse,” said Axford, who signed a one-year contract worth $4.5 million to become Cleveland’s closer, then lost the job a little more than a month into the season.
“But it’s definitely bad on its own.”
“He started out first two hitters, 0-2, 1-2, then allowed them both to work into full counts,” manager Terry Francona said of Axford, who struck out the first batter he faced before losing his command. “(J.D. Martinez) is such a first-ball fastball hitter and he got one that caught way too much of the plate.”
The Indians got another quality outing from starting pitcher Corey Kluber, who allowed two runs on eight hits over seven innings against one of the American League’s top lineups.
“Seven innings, two runs,” Francona said. “He dodged his way through a really good lineup. He made pitches when he had to. He got us pretty deep in the game, giving up two runs. That’s a pretty good job.”
“I thought it was pretty good,” Kluber said of his outing. “For the most part, I was able to pound the zone and worked ahead of guys.”
Kluber (6-5, 3.30 ERA) allowed runs in just one of the innings he worked, with former Indian Victor Martinez touching him up for a two-run homer in the fourth.
It was the third time this year that both Martinez’s have homered in the same game for Detroit, with all three coming against the Indians.
Victor Martinez has made life miserable on Cleveland since he was traded during the 2009 season. He’s batting over .360 in his career against the Indians and over .360 this season, with three homers and five RBIs in six games in 2014.
“You just try to make your pitches (to him),” said Kluber, who made a mistake to Martinez on a first-pitch fastball. “But sometimes even if you make a good pitch, it doesn’t matter.”
The Indians were hemmed in by right-hander Rick Porcello, who tossed six scoreless innings, allowing six hits and striking out three.
Cleveland’s best chance for runs off Porcello came in his last inning. Michael Bourn led off with a single but was erased on a double-play grounder from Cabrera. Jason Kipnis and Santana followed with base hits, but Lonnie Chisenhall popped up to end the threat.
The Indians went back to work in the eighth against Ian Krol, with Mike Aviles and Bourn starting the inning with singles and riding home on Cabrera’s eighth homer. Kipnis flied to left before Santana launched his 10th homer.
“That’s kind of the character of our team showing right there,” Kluber said of the late rally. “We’ve done it a lot of times. You’re just kind of hoping that it’s going to be another one that we’re able to pull out. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to.”
Michael Brantley (mild concussion) made his first appearance since Monday, pinch hitting for Aviles in the ninth and dropping a two-out bloop single into left-center before Bourn struck out against closer Joe Nathan to end the game.
Francona said Brantley, who was expected to return tonight, was cleared to play in the third or fourth inning.
WHO: Cleveland vs. Detroit
WHERE: Progressive Field
PITCHERS: Bauer (2-3, 4.20 ERA) vs. Verlander (6-7, 4.98)
TV/RADIO: Channel 8; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM, WMMS 100.7-FM