Tigers unable to solve Byrd in opener

Tigers unable to solve Byrd in opener

CLEVELAND -- The Tigers didn't need a closer on this night. They didn't need Joel Zumaya, either, though he was available to pitch after all.

No, the Tigers just needed someone other than Paul Byrd on the mound. Anyone but him.

Manager Jim Leyland used words like flat, sluggish and "blah" to describe how his team looked after a 5-0 shutout by the Indians. Between the effects of changing cities for every series since the All-Star break and a possible hangover from the weekend series against the White Sox, they looked worn down. Still, it was up to Byrd to take advantage.

"He's just been fantastic against us," Leyland said. "We just haven't been able to figure him out."

He has been that puzzle for the Tigers to try to solve for years now, but he seems like an especially tough riddle this year. His 7 2/3 innings of four-hit ball bumped his record to 5-10 on the year, and two of those victories have come against the Tigers. So have three of his eight quality starts. Take away those three meetings with Detroit, and his earned-run average for the season jumps from 4.93 to 5.53.

For his career, Byrd is now 10-2 against the Tigers with a 3.33 ERA.

While he lowered that ERA on Monday, he raised the memory of how this offense struggled early in the year. Once Edward Mujica finished off the final four outs, the Tigers had suffered their 11th shutout of the season, tops in the American League. Until this one, however, they had been blanked just once since Memorial Day after suffering nine shutouts in their first 51 games.

"I know what I see," Leyland said when asked what makes Byrd so tough. "He changes speeds. He stays out of the middle of the plate. He can throw any pitch at any time -- a little on, a little off, breaking ball behind in the count, cut the ball, sink the ball, changeup. He's a pitcher."

He has plenty in his arsenal, and Tigers hitters echoed that. Still, there's something that particularly works against them.

"Against us, I think he's very comfortable," said Kenny Rogers, whose success against the A's over his career gives him a pretty good appreciation. "He has an idea what he wants to do. He has a plan, and he's able to execute it pretty much every time against us. He pitched very well. Give him credit for it."

Carlos Guillen summed up Byrd's success succinctly.

"He throws strikes," he said. "He changes speeds."

Guillen entered the night as a .410 career hitter against Byrd (16-for-39), but went hitless with two strikeouts on Monday. Two hits from Curtis Granderson and singles from Magglio Ordonez and Matt Joyce comprised the offense against the veteran right-handed junkballer.

Granderson was 9-for-36 (.250) with nine strikeouts against Byrd entering Monday. Ordonez was 9-for-43 (.209).

Granderson's double leading off the sixth inning was the lone extra-base hit against Byrd, but he didn't move from there. Byrd induced a Placido Polanco flyout before sending down Guillen swinging at an offspeed pitch.

"I'm throwing the ball better to left-handers," Byrd said. "I'm keeping the ball down. If I have my changeup, that's a big neutralizer for me."

Up came Ordonez with two outs. He took a first-pitch strike and fouled off a changeup before flying out to right on a fastball.

"Certain hitters have trouble seeing the ball against me," Byrd said. "He's had a little trouble picking up the ball."

At that point, the Tigers were still in the game at 2-0 thanks to Rogers, who had shaken off two early RBIs from Jhonny Peralta to hold the Indians from there. Once he took the mound for the bottom of the sixth, however, the pitching duel slipped from him.

"I wasn't tired," he said. "It was more an inability to make an adjustment. I should've been pitching a little bit different. I knew they were diving out. Most every one of them was on top of the plate and diving out over the plate. I needed to pitch in more, and I didn't."

Rogers fell behind on a steady diet of offspeed pitches to Kelly Shoppach before losing a 3-1 pitch over the plate, which Shoppach drove into the left-field seats for his ninth home run on the season and a 3-0 Indians lead. Still, Rogers could've lived with that.

After Rogers had recovered from a Ryan Garko double to strike out Andy Gonzalez, it was a two-out at-bat with sub-.200 hitter Asdrubal Cabrera that Rogers would want back. He missed the strike zone on back-to-back pitches before leaving an offspeed pitch over the plate.

"I think it was a changeup that cut," Rogers said. "That's not a good changeup for me."

Cabrera deposited it to left, an estimated 392-foot shot, for his second home run of the season. And Byrd had a little more lead to work with.

"Those types of games, you have to keep as much pressure on the other guy as you can," Rogers said. "When you give them a cushion like that, it makes it much easier for him to go out there and do what he was doing. He was pitching well from the get-go, but if we had kept it at 2-0 or 3-0, it would've made it a little better."

Byrd left after a Granderson single and a Guillen walk in the eighth, but Mujica closed it down.

Leyland talked to his team briefly after the game, but it wasn't to chide them. He understood they looked flat, and he understood the pitcher that helped make them look that way.

"A little flat," Leyland said, "and a lot of credit to Byrd. And you move on."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.