Detroit Tigers' Brayan Pena hits an RBI-double off Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez in the third inning of a baseball game on Wednesday, May 22, 2013, in Cleveland. Tigers' Jhonny Peralta scored. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
CLEVELAND — Justin Verlander did not return to usual form Wednesday.
Fortunately for the Tigers, Ubaldo Jimenez did.
On an interminable rain-soaked night that hoisted red flags for both pitchers, Detroit walloped its way to an 11-7 victory over the Indians at Progressive Field.
Jimenez took an outsized step backward after four straight promising starts, allowing six runs over four innings to press pause on Cleveland's feel-good start and allow the Tigers to overcome another rugged outing from their ace.
Verlander was rattled for five runs on a season-high 10 hits over five innings — his third straight start of five innings or less after laboring through only two such outings over the previous two seasons.
In all, a night that stretched into the early morning featured two rain delays, a combined 27 hits, and a fittingly quirky final punch. Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera nudged the Tigers ahead 11-7 with a two-run home run in the eighth that bounced off the glove of center fielder Michael Bourn and over the fence.
"One of those freak things that happens," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "You don't see that often. That was just a freaky game. That's really all I can say. I probably helped the Marlboro stock tonight."
Cabrera finished 2 for 4 and boosted his majors-leading RBI total to 52. The reigning Triple Crown winner also tied the AL lead with his 13th homer.
By finishing off the two-game sweep, Detroit (25-19) pulled within a half-game of the AL Central-leading Indians, who lost for just the sixth time in 24 games. Cleveland also dropped its first series since April 18 against Boston.
"You're always supposed to keep your head up," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "That's the object. It's not a concern."
Big picture, the night was not particularly encouraging for either of the rivals.
Jimenez (3-3) regressed to a familiar state, evoking not the pitcher who had a 1.90 ERA over his past four starts but the one from the rest of his enigmatic two years in Cleveland. The Tigers touched the right-hander for two runs in the first inning and four in the third to push ahead 6-2.
Jimenez ultimately allowed seven hits while walking three and hitting a batter. He now leads baseball with eight starts of six-plus runs allowed in less than five innings pitched since 2012.
As for what’s wrong with Verlander, the Tigers’ two-time Cy Young Award winner offered little clarity.
After back-to-back rugged starts capped by a career-worst seven-run inning last weekend in Texas, Verlander vowed to scrutinize video, work with pitching coach Jeff Jones and return to the basics with his delivery. Leyland said he was not concerned.
"Since I’ve managed the Detroit Tigers and Justin Verlander’s been in my rotation, I feel pretty good when I come to the park when he is pitching," he said before the game. "And I think that’s the highest compliment you can pay to a pitcher."
Verlander was better but not by much. He struck out Michael Bourn and Jason Kipnis looking to open the game, then allowed three straight hits to foreshadow another tiring night. Though Verlander struck out nine and regularly touched 97 mph, he allowed a run in each of the first two innings and three in the fifth, including a two-run homer by Carlos Santana.
Verlander said he "definitely progressed in the right direction." He felt he settled down in the third and fourth before trying to beat oncoming rains in the fifth.
"I kind of rushed it a little bit," he said.
After rains hit with one out in the bottom of the fifth, Verlander (5-4) surprisingly returned after a 62-minute delay to get two more outs and the win.
"As rough as the sledding was," Leyland said, "I thought he deserved the opportunity."
Catcher Brayan Pena led the Tigers with three hits while Torii Hunter and Andy Dirks each added two. Michael Brantley had three hits and three RBI for Cleveland.
Contact David Briggs at: email@example.com, 419-724-6084, or on Twitter @ DBriggsBlade.