New York — The Tigers hitters made Corey Kluber feel like it was 2018 all over again.
The two-time Cy Young winner came into the series finale with a 4.15 ERA and a 1.7 WHIP, a far cry from the pitcher that used to give the Tigers fits when he wore an Indians jersey.
But you’d never know it watching him dominate on Sunday, as the Yankees swept the Tigers out of Yankee Stadium with a 2-0 win.
He blanked the Tigers for eight innings, allowing just two singles. He struck out 10.
“Feel bad right now,” Tigers catcher Wilson Ramos said. “Really frustrating why we’re not getting on base, why we’re not hitting well as a team. But we have to keep fighting and keep our heads up.”
It’s one thing to get blown away by the power of Gerrit Cole, like the Tigers did on Friday. It’s quite another to be absolutely dominated by an 85-mph change-up that Kluber was throwing off a 90-91 mph sinker.
He got 13 swings-and-misses and 13 called strikes with it. He also used it to get seven of his 10 strikeouts. The four change-ups the Tigers put in play had an averaged exit velocity of 70 mph.
“He’s a tremendous pitcher and he can come up with different ways to get guys out,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “When they go over scouting reports and look for holes, he’s got a lot of weapons to choose from. He was backing up our left-handed hitters with sinkers and cutters and then putting guys away with the change-up.
“He obviously had a great game and we obviously did not.”
Tip the cap to Kluber, sure. But also scratch the head over not making any adjustment to the change-up.
“We’re searching for everything right now,” Hinch said. “As much as it’s about Kluber, it’s about us. It’s always a combination of both. Kluber was tremendous, but at this level it’s tough when you don’t make any adjustment.
“But at the end of the day it’s a loss and we’ve had that feeling too much in the last month.”
The Tigers, who have lost five straight and 15 of 17, have now struck out 64 times in the last five games. And through that stretch have wasted some outstanding starting pitching performances, none better than Jose Urena’s on Sunday.
“It wasn’t a wasted effort,” Hinch said. “It was a missed opportunity.”
Urena was magnificent. The Tigers’ right-hander crafted his fourth straight quality start, limiting the Yankees to three hits and a pair of second-inning runs in seven innings. He put down the last 17 hitters he faced, striking out five of the last six, right through the heart of the Yankees order.
It’s the first time a Tigers pitcher has dispatched 17 straight Yankees hitters in either old or new Yankee Stadium since Virgil Trucks’ no-hitter at Yankee Stadium in 1952.
“We played a great ballgame today, it’s just sad we didn’t score,” said Urena. “But this is my loss, too. We’re teammates. Everybody lost. Everybody is trying to keep their composure and keep aggressive and do what they have to do. We’re going to get out of this.”
Urena’s power sinker (94-96 mph) and slider combination carved the Yankees up. He ended up getting 11 swings-and-misses and 25 called strikes. He has pitched seven full innings in each of his last four starts and allowed two earned runs or less in each one.
And the Tigers won just one of those starts.
“Jose was incredible,” Hinch said. “He was as locked in at the end as he was at the beginning.”
The damage, if you can call it that, came in the second on a swinging-bunt single by Gio Urshela, a ball that rolled along the third base line and somehow stayed fair, and a two-run double by Kyle Higashioka, a hooking liner that hit off the chalk line in left.
That was the only inning in which Urena fell behind hitters, and it earned him a stern mound visit from Ramos.
“I wanted him to attack the hitters,” Ramos said. “He got behind in the count and I just said to him, ‘Attack the hitters early and then you can do whatever you want with your pitches. You get behind, ball one, ball two, then you have to attack the middle of the zone.'”
Message received, in the form of 17 straight outs.
“It’s just really frustrating that we can’t give him any support,” Ramos said.
The closest the Tigers came to scoring was in the third. Ramos walked and JaCoby Jones singled. Both moved up on a wild pitch with one out. But Kluber struck out Robbie Grossman and Jeimer Candelario — both with change-ups — to end the threat.
“We have to concentrate a little more, especially with that situation,” Ramos said. “Runners at second and third and not scoring those runs, that was a big situation for us.
“We just have to stay positive and keep fighting. We need to go to Boston and try to win a series. That’s what we have to do.”