CLEVELAND -- For the third time in four meetings this season, the Indians beat Justin Verlander. This time, they only needed one run to do it. Michael Brantley's fifth-inning double provided the go-ahead tally, supporting Mike Clevinger through six scoreless innings in a 4-0 win over the Tigers on Saturday at Progressive Field.
Six days after Clevinger (5-3) held the Tigers to a run on two hits over six innings in Detroit, he limited them to three hits, two walks and one runner in scoring position. The young right-hander retired 13 of 14 Tigers in between hits from the second into the sixth innings, with a walk accounting for the lone runner in the stretch.
"He pitched well," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "But we have to find a way to scrape out a couple runs, to be honest with you. Somehow, we have to find a way to scrape out some wins. We just didn't do a lot offensively."
Clevinger, 26, is pitching the best baseball of his budding Major League career with just five total runs given up over 27 innings in his past five starts.
"The improvement he has through each start," Indians bench coach and acting manager Brad Mills said, "I thought today was sure nice to see, especially since going into the [All-Star] break now. That's really going to give him some confidence. Commanding the zone like he did. Not getting behind hitters. After the first hitter of the game, he kept coming after guys, stayed aggressive with all of his pitches and he was able to have command of his offspeed stuff."
With a bevy of scouts watching ahead of the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, Verlander (5-6) acquitted himself from last Sunday's struggles with the Tribe by holding down its mighty offense. He didn't have a 1-2-3 inning, but his lone inning with multiple hits was the one that cost him, with Brantley converting Francisco Lindor's two-out single into a run.
"Personally, win. Teamwise, not a win," Verlander said. "And this is a team sport. This isn't a personal sport."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Clevinger thwarts early chance: The Tigers had their leadoff runner on base in each of the first two innings, but didn't advance either. The more costly chance was their first, with Ian Kinsler drawing a walk ahead of the middle of the order. Clevinger nearly nabbed him on three pickoff throws, then caught Kinsler too far off base on the fourth, retiring him just before Justin Upton's single.
"The three previous were close," Clevinger said. "I feel like a lot of runners, especially if you pick over three times, that fourth time they're going to be going. We gave him a little bit of a hold. I was going for the throw for the tag, because I thought we might have had a chance because the other two were close."
Brantley battles for RBI: Verlander struck out six of nine Indians hitters from the fourth inning into the sixth, but could not finish off Brantley after a 1-2 count. Brantley fouled off a curveball, fastball and slider from Verlander before running the count full, then turning on a curveball over the plate and lining it off the fence in right-center.
"It's a battle every time," Brantley said of facing Verlander, whom he has seen more than any other pitcher. "There's so much video and there's so much tape to go back years and years. You really try to simplify it and get a pitch out over the plate, don't try to do too much, stay up the middle and don't get caught in any tendencies. He's a great pitcher over there, he's their ace, and we were lucky to get the victory tonight."
"There's been times when I've given up four or five [runs] in wins. I know it's a lot easier to dwell on the good ones when you don't get run support, but you can't do that. You just have to plug along, go about your business, just continue pitching and really take positives away from it. This felt like a huge step in the right direction for me." -- Verlander, on lack of run support
"It's a little surreal. Especially when he made his mark and won the Cy Young, I think I was 16. I think any right-handed pitcher, especially the second he got on the scene, he had the 100-mph fastball with the power curveball. Everyone looked up to wanting to do that and wanting to be him. It was surreal to get to face him two starts in a row. It gives you a little extra edge, because you grew up watching the guy and trying to emulate the pitches he has." -- Clevinger, on facing Verlander
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Zimmer's strikeout to end the fourth inning was Verlander's first strikeout since fanning Kansas City's Alex Gordon to end the sixth inning on June 27. Verlander went 41 batters between strikeouts; 38 of those batters were Cleveland Indians.
"Anytime that you want to have good at-bats, I think you want to make the pitcher to work for his outs maybe a little bit more," Mills said. "That's probably the most important thing that we can put together, is putting together a solid at-bat and making him use those pitches and kind of throw everything, so now we see all those pitches. I think that's what the guys were able to do."
KIPNIS EXITS WITH INJURY
Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis exited the game following the third inning with a right hamstring injury. In the bottom of the frame, he tried to beat a slow roller to the mound but pulled up before touching the base, holding his right leg. Erik Gonzalez replaced Kipnis at second base.
AFTER FURTHER REVIEW
The Tigers challenged a pickoff play at second base in the sixth inning in which Verlander tried to get Jose Ramirez out. After a review, the call stood, as shortstop Jose Iglesias' glove did not touch Ramirez in time. The Tigers have been successful on 10 of their 17 challenges this season, but they only have one successful overturn in their last four challenges.
WHAT'S NEXT Tigers: All-Star Michael Fulmer gets the ball as the Tigers close out their first half on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball at 8:05 p.m. ET at Progressive Field. Fulmer went 1-2 with a 6.75 ERA against the Indians during his rookie season, but he hasn't faced them this year.
Indians: Fellow All-Star right-hander Corey Kluber takes the mound for the Indians in the series finale. Kluber has given up just two total earned runs in his last four starts, but the Tigers have hit him hard for 11 runs over 9 1/3 innings in two starts this season.