Covering the Bases: Game 60

MLB: Cleveland Indians at New York YankeesFinal: Tigers 7, Indians 5

FIRST: Mama said there would be days like this.

It was an evening to forget at the ol’ ballyard for Cleveland’s Nick Swisher on Friday. He went 0-for-4 in the batter’s box, extending his hitless drought to 20 at-bats, and he made a pair of errors (one with his arm and another with his glove) at first base.

The baseball gods saw to it that Swisher was at the plate for the game’s final moment. He grounded out to second base to end the contest, while representing the tying run.

“It was just a bad day,” Swisher said. “I don’t know what to say. It’s just one of those rough days. You’ve got to forget about these and move on.”

And, really, what more can he say?

The first error came in Detroit’s three-run second inning. With Brayan Pena on first and one out, Swisher gloved a grounder from Ramon Santiago. Swisher quickly fired the ball toward second base, but it was off the mark and shortstop Mike Aviles didn’t have a clear shot at it. Swisher was trying for a double play, but he admitted he should have just taken the sure out at first base.

“I just tried to get a little greedy,” Swisher said. “Pena is not exactly a fast runner. I thought I was going to be able to do that, but I should’ve just taken the out at first.”

The second miscue was a ball off the glove and through the wickets from Jhonny Peralta in the fifth inning.

Swisher has played 342 games at first base in his career. This marked only the fourth time he’s made two errors in the same game.

At the plate, Swisher’s 0-for-20 (dating back to Saturday) marks the second-longest hitless drought of his career. His longest is a skid of 28 at-bats running from Sept. 2-9 last season with the Yankees. Through 54 games this season, Swisher is batting .244 with seven home runs and 22 RBIs for the Indians.

In the fifth, following a three-run, five-hit push by his teammates, Swisher offered at a first-pitch changeup from Justin Verlander and popped out to the shortstop.

“I’m just a little off, man,” Swisher said. “I’ve got to find a way to get it back. You go through some of these streaks during the season and you’ve just got to fight your way out of it.”

Indians manager Terry Francona has plenty of faith in Swisher’s ability to turn things around.

“I think he’s probably trying a little bit too hard,” Francona said. “He’s so conscientious. It’s a good quality, he just needs to try to relax. And he will. He’ll be up in those same situations and win games for us. It’s just, right now — you saw his last swing — he’s trying to hit the ball a long way. We love when he’s up in those situations. Those types of things will turn.”

SECOND: Ubaldo Jimenez had seemingly turned a corner, going 4-1 with a 3.21 ERA in his past eight starts, averaging nearly six innings per outing over that span. And perhaps Friday’s debacle will just be a slight setback in his improving season. We’ll see. Right now, however, Big U’s recent performance against the Tigers has been troubling.

In his last two outings against Detroit, Jimenez has allowed 11 runs (nine earned) on 14 hits in seven innings, in which he’s walked six, struck out six and piled up 181 pitches. That’s an average of 25.9 pitches per inning. In the second inning on Friday, Jimenez labored through 42 tosses (though Swisher’s error did create some extra work).

“I was pressing too hard probably to get the next guy out and I just couldn’t,” Jimenez said of his second inning. “In the first inning, I felt really good. In the second inning, everything was going the other way. I threw too many pitches in that inning and after that I was kind of fatigued.”

Francona pulled the plug at 85 pitches after Jimenez allowed three straight hits to open the fourth.

“With Verlander on the mound, we were just trying to stop it right there,” Francona said. “And our guys did a pretty good job.”

Indeed, Cleveland’s bullpen only allowed one earned run over the next five innings. The Indians’ offense also rallied a bit — three runs in the fifth, and then two in the ninth (on a home run each for Jason Giambi and Drew Stubbs) — but the damage had been done.

THIRD: Verlander entered the evening with a 7.43 ERA (22 earned runs in 26 2/3 innings) in his last five turns, dating back to his May 11 meeting with Cleveland. In his past two starts against the Tribe, the righty toiled through 220 pitches and gave up nine runs (eight earned) on 16 hits in 10 innings. This time, Verlander limited the Indians to three runs on seven hits across seven frames.

“He has another gear,” Francona said. “Whatever pitches he has, you can almost multiply it, because he can pitch with his fastball at different velocities.”

HOME: Cleveland has now dropped five in a row, matching a season-worst losing streak. The team has lost five straight three times this year, including two such streaks within the past 14 games. The Indians have lost 13 of their last 17 games, dating back to May 21. They were in first with a lead of 2 1/2 games before that 17-game stretch, and now sit 3 1/2 games back of the first-place Tigers. In this recent 17-game slide, the rotation is 4-9 with a 4.69 ERA and the offense has hit .242 as a whole. Interestingly enough, the Tribe has hit .313 with runners in scoring position in that span compared to just .219 in other situations.

Francona is hardly giving up on his club, which went 18-4 before this recent tumble.

“Oviously you care when the results aren’t there,” Francona said, “but I think they trust each other and I think they believe in each other. It’s just obviously we’re all hoping for better results. This team is so special in my mind already that I always believe. And I don’t think that’s going to change. I just think we’re going to figure this out. In the meantime, sure, you hate to lose and it’s so personal. But we’ll figure it out.”

Another good Francona quote to leave you with tonight:

“You’ve got to fight through it. That’s the only way to go. I think it’s our responsibility to try to make things go our way — not hope.”

ON DECK:

Indians (30-30) at Tigers (33-26)
at 4:05 p.m. ET at Comerica Park

–JB

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