DETROIT (AP) — Max Scherzer pitched in pain and yet refused to make excuses.
Detroit’s star suffered from neck spasms in the Tigers’ 5-2 loss to Cleveland, allowing the Indians to sweep the day-night doubleheader.
“There’s no excuses on ailments,” he said Saturday night.
Scherzer also took the blame for letting No. 9 hitter Chris Dickerson hit a pair of solo homers off him.
“I was one pitch away from having a great outing,” he said. “Unfortunately, I gave Dickerson two pitches — two offspeed pitches — in the middle of the zone. He’s a good enough hitter that he’s going to capitalize.”
Scherzer said he has had neck spasms in the past, and is not worried about the current one affecting his future.
“No, I’m not concerned about it,” he insisted.
The AL Central-leading Tigers have lost four straight — three in a row to the second-place Indians — and their lead is just 4½ games.
“It’s frustrating, especially when you’re playing teams in your division,” centerfielder Austin Jackson said. “You always want to get those wins. We had opportunities and we couldn’t get that big hit when we needed it.”
Detroit’s defense had chances, including when Jackson raced to right-center and failed to catch Carlos Santana’s tiebreaking, bases-clearing double with two outs in the ninth inning of the second game.
“I rushed my glove up to try and make the catch,” Jackson recalled. “I missed it, and hit the wall.”
The Tigers tied it in the seventh when Jackson hit a two-out triple to score Eugenio Suarez from first after he beat a throw on a potential double play to extend the inning.
The Indians loaded the bases in the ninth against Joe Nathan (4-3) with Roberto Perez’s leadoff double, Jason Kipnis’ walk and Michael Brantley’s free pass and Santana took advantage.
Cleveland won the first game 6-2 thanks in large part to Corey Kluber’s strong outing.
Drew VerHagen, meanwhile, gave Detroit a shot to win the first game in his major league debut after shaking off some early nerves and struck out his first two hitters.
VerHagen went five innings, allowing three runs and five hits.
“No complaints about Drew VerHagen whatsoever,” Detroit manager Brad Ausmus said.
Kluber was even better, however. He came within an out of a complete game, striking out 10.
Kluber (10-6) allowed seven hits — three by Miguel Cabrera — and one walk. He was relieved by Bryan Shaw in the ninth after equaling his career high of 114 pitches.
VerHagen (0-1) struck out four of his first six batters, but the 23-year-old right-hander didn’t fan another hitter after that bright start.
Cleveland’s Yan Gomes had three hits and scored three runs on his 27th birthday. The Indians pulled within 5 1/2 games of the first-place Tigers in the AL Central.
Kluber struck out at least 10 for the fifth time this season.
“I located my fastball pretty well for the most part, pitched inside enough to keep them honest,” Kluber said. “I’m not trying to strike guys out.”
Cleveland managed one hit in the first four innings before breaking through in the fifth. After a leadoff walk by Lonnie Chisenhall, Nick Swisher lifted an RBI double, and David Murphy and Jason Kipnis added run-scoring singles to make it 3-0.
Detroit scored in the bottom half on a two-out infield single by Austin Jackson. Kipnis, the second baseman, came charging in, but he double-clutched a bit before making the throw, and the speedy Jackson beat it out, enabling a run to score from third.
Ian Kinsler followed with a line drive to third that was caught by a diving Chisenhall.
The 6-foot-6 VerHagen was called up to pitch in this doubleheader, and he struck out the first two hitters. After the first strikeout, catcher Bryan Holaday tossed the ball back to the Detroit dugout, presumably to be saved for the rookie.
“Obviously had some nerves going but was able to control them,” VerHagen said. “And the two strikeouts right away helped.”
NOTES: Tigers LHP Drew Smyly (5-8) is scheduled to pitch in the series finale against Indians RHP Josh Tomlin on Sunday afternoon. ... Santana hit his sixth game-winning RBI this season. ... Detroit’s Nick Castellanos struck out three times and Holaday threw out three runners on steal attempts in the first game. ... Cabrera is 15 for 28 (.536) against Kluber.
AP Baseball Writer Noah Trister contributed to this report.