CLEVELAND — Mike Clevinger wanted to make the most of his strict pitch count as the strikeouts piled up.
Clevinger matched his career high with 12 strikeouts and 100 pitches over six innings, as the Cleveland Indians continued their dominance of the Detroit Tigers with a 7-2 win on Wednesday night.
The right-hander struck out the side in the first two innings and had nine strikeouts through four -- one against each batter in Detroit's lineup -- in his fourth start since returning from a sprained left ankle suffered on June 17 at Texas.
"I know we had to see how I bounce back and how the ankle recovers, but hopefully tonight was the last time they cut me off at 100," Clevinger said, smiling.
"When I looked up and saw I was at 60 pitches through three, I'm like, 'OK, I need to get more efficient.' But I think the reins will be loose from here on out."
The Indians moved within four games of AL Central-leading Minnesota, the closest they have been to first place since May 14. Cleveland has won 10 straight over the Tigers and leads the season series 11-1.
Clevinger (3-2) allowed one run on six hits in his third double-digit strikeout game of 2019, coaxing the Tigers into a career-high 23 swings-and-misses. He has been spectacular over the last three outings, going 2-0 with a 1.06 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 17 innings.
"A lot of deep counts are going to come with as many strikeouts as he had, but I thought his stuff was tremendous," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "I think he's getting to the point where the game is going to dictate when he comes out."
Oscar Mercado, who leads AL rookies with a .286 batting average, had a two-run double and José Ramírez went 3 for 4 and scored twice for Cleveland. Mike Freeman added two hits, including a two-out bunt single in the seventh that scored Ramirez and extended the lead to 3-1.
After Nicholas Castellanos hit a solo homer in the top of the eighth, the Indians broke the game open with four runs in the bottom-half off reliever Joe Jimenez. Pinch-hitter Greg Allen doubled home a pair, All-Star Francisco Lindor homered and Jason Kipnis had an RBI single.
Nick Wittgren worked the final 1 2/3 innings to pick up his second save, putting Cleveland on the verge of sweeping the four-game series. The Tigers have lost eight of their last nine games and are 4-23 since June 13.
Detroit starter Spencer Turnbull (3-9) fell to the Indians for the fourth time in four starts this season. The right-hander pitched six-plus innings, giving up three runs with three strikeouts.
"Spencer did great and gave us a great opportunity to win," Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. "His stuff was good against a good hitting team over there. All you ask of a starting pitcher is to give you a chance, and he did a nice job."
Indians RHP Corey Kluber successfully threw a 20-pitch bullpen session — all fastballs — before the game. It was the first time the two-time AL Cy Young Award winner has thrown from a mound since fracturing his right ulna on May 1 at Miami. Kluber remains several weeks away from potentially beginning a minor league rehabilitation assignment.
Indians rookie RHP Zach Plesac leads the majors with five pickoffs in 48 innings, the most recent Tuesday on Tigers OF Victor Reyes. "Zach has got the quickest feet I've ever seen," manager Terry Francona said. "You're sitting in the dugout thinking, 'This guy is in trouble, only he doesn't know it yet,' because he's going to be picked off."
Tigers: SS Niko Goodrum (right pinky finger) was a late scratch after being struck by a grounder during batting practice. X-rays on his bruised finger were negative. Gardenhire said Goodrum was sore, but available to pinch-hit or play the field.
Indians: RHP Danny Salazar (right shoulder) reported no physical issues after working three innings Tuesday on a rehab assignment with Double-A Akron. The former AL All-Star could return to the majors next month for the first time since 2017.
Tigers: LHP Matthew Boyd (6-7, 3.95 ERA) has three straight double-digit strikeout performances and ranks third in the AL with 12.0 strikeouts per nine innings.
Indians: RHP Trevor Bauer (8-7, 3.65 ERA) posted his only career shutout against Detroit on June 16, throwing a four-hitter with eight strikeouts at Comerica Park.
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