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Published: Monday, 4/26/2004

Westbrook brilliant

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Detroit's Ivan Rodriguez is forced out at second base, but his hard slide kept the Tigers momentarily alive in the ninth inning as Rondell White beat the throw to first from Indians second baseman Ronnie Belliard. Detroit's Ivan Rodriguez is forced out at second base, but his hard slide kept the Tigers momentarily alive in the ninth inning as Rondell White beat the throw to first from Indians second baseman Ronnie Belliard.
KING / BLADE Enlarge

DETROIT — Jake Westbrook has seized the moment.

Cleveland was in desperate need of some pitching help, and the 26-year-old who had been relegated to obscurity as a middle reliever moved to the head of the class yesterday by throwing a two-hitter and taming the Detroit Tigers 3-2 at Comerica Park.

The outstanding outing in a spot start came on the heels of his seven innings of perfect work against the Tigers last week in relief.

It was the best-case scenario for Indians manager Eric Wedge, who has had the worst bullpen in the major leagues so far this season.

“That's two great performances in a row,” Wedge said. “Obviously, we needed somebody to step up today, and he was the one. He was in command of the baseball game throughout. He threw the ball with extreme confidence and authority today.”

The official scorer made an inexplicable change in the hours after the game, so Westbrook's gem was down-graded to a two-hitter, but that took none of the luster off the accomplishment. The Tigers had scored 22 runs in the first two games of the series, and now Wedge is mulling over moving Westbrook into the regular rotation.

“That's something we're going to have to talk about,” Wedge said. “The way he's thrown the baseball over the last two outings makes that very worthy of discussion. He definitely picked up today where he left off the other day.

“Detroit has a good-hitting club, and some veteran hitters over there, so that just makes that performance all the more impressive.”

Cleveland's Jake Westbrook may have earned himself a spot as a starter. Cleveland's Jake Westbrook may have earned himself a spot as a starter.
KING / BLADE Enlarge

The Tigers were impressed, as well.

“His sinker runs in on you and is a real good pitch,” Detroit outfielder Rondell White said. “And his change-up seems to go down right in front of you, and right out of the strike zone.”

Westbrook, who needed just 100 pitches to record the second complete game of his career, said he is just filling a need.

“I want to do whatever helps this team win games,” he said. “If they need me in the bullpen, then that's where I'll be. And if it works out that I am best suited to start games, that is fine, too. I just want to go out there and be confident with my stuff and challenge hitters. I think I am at my best when I do that.”

Detroit's Brandon Inge, who had a 10-game hitting streak snapped, said the former Yankee had his pitches moving in all of the right directions.

“His ball was just sinking, sinking tremendously,” Inge said. “And if it didn't come out of his hand belt-high or above, it looked like it was going to be low. But sometimes it just appeared like it was going to come in as a perfect strike, and then the bottom just dropped out of it. He was tough to figure out.”

The Indians went on top 2-0 in the second inning when Ronnie Belliard walked and came around to score on Ben Broussard's double off the wall in left field. Alex Escobar's roller through the middle scored Broussard.

Carlos Pena got the Tigers within a run in the bottom of the second with his fourth home run.

“Sometimes you throw a good sinker, and he swings at it and hits it into the ground,” Westbrook said. “Then other times, he definitely knows what's coming and he hits it hard someplace.”

Jody Gerut belted a two-out home run deep into the right-field bullpen in the third to put Cleveland back up by two.

A scoring change gave Bobby Higginson a hit in the seventh. White, who had walked, scored on Pena's sacrifice fly.

Contact Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6510.



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