Detroit's got nothing on Cleveland's pitchers

Andy Call

For most of the season, it has been an almost universally accepted fact that Detroit has the best starting pitching rotation in the Central Division.

Suddenly, however, the answer to that question is not nearly as clear-cut.

Jake Westbrook allowed one run over eight innings Tuesday night, and Joe Borowski closed out a wild ninth as the Indians slipped past Chicago, 2-1, at U.S. Cellular Field.

Afterward, Westbrook was asked if Cleveland can say its staff is as good as Detroit’s.

“Without a doubt, I think we can,” Westbrook said. “We have a very good rotation, and a very good team. It’s just a matter of us figuring out ways to win ball games.”

Westbrook is red-hot. So is Paul Byrd. So is C.C. Sabathia. So is Fausto Carmona. In fact, if the last three starts for all four are added together, the result is a 1.69 ERA (85 IP, 16 ER).

“Our starting pitching has really come around,” Indians Manager Eric Wedge said. “We’ve been getting quality outings day-in and day-out. It’s something that’s nice to see.”

It would be nice to see the Indians score runs as well, of course. If they had, Cleveland would be the runaway division leaders. But, because the hitters haven’t kept pace, the Indians instead cling to a half-game lead over the Tigers.

Westbrook (3-6) has allowed three runs over 21 innings in his last three starts (1.29 ERA). The White Sox scored a first-inning run Tuesday, then Westbrook took over. The right-hander retired 23 of the last 24 he faced, striking out three without issuing a walk.

“I feel confident,” Westbrook said. “I feel really good about where I am. It’s just a matter of me going out and putting up consistent outings.”

Because Westbrook had thrown 103 pitches, and because the game was played in muggy, 89-degree conditions, Wedge elected to turn the game over to Borowski in the ninth. That prevented Byrd and Westbrook from becoming the first Indians pitchers since 1996 (Chad Ogea, Charles Nagy) to post consecutive complete games.

Borowski’s saves are often adventurous ones, but this adventure was not of his making.

Leadoff hitter Jerry Owens struck out, but the ball popped out of catcher Victor Martinez’s glove and rolled to the backstop as Owens sprinted to first. He was sacrificed to second, then went to third on Jim Thome’s fly ball to right.

Paul Konerko swung at the first pitch, sending a high popup near the Cleveland dugout. Martinez and first baseman Ryan Garko pursued the ball, then let it drop between them. Konerko battled Borowski for seven more pitches before walking.

“Nobody wants it, guys aren’t trying to do it, but stuff happens,” Borowski said.

A.J. Pierzynski then sent a line-drive directly into the glove of second baseman Josh Barfield to end the game. Borowski is 31-for-34 in save situations as the Indians came out on top in their 38th one-run game of the season (21-17).

“Hey, more saves for me,” Borowski said with a grin. “Really, for a team, it helps you to play in those games. We can look at it like we’re getting a lot of experience with (close games).”

Cleveland scored all the runs it would need off John Danks (6-9) in the fifth inning. Jhonny Peralta singled to right, Jason Michaels yanked a double just inside the left-field line and Grady Sizemore dropped a looping two-run single into left field.

“Things happen, but we were able to fight through it and get a much-needed win,” Borowski said.

Reach Canton Repository sports writer Andy Call at (330) 580-8346 or e-mail andy.call@cantonrep.com.