CLEVELAND — They moved the bullpens and ripped out several thousand eats. They built a new bar and even moved the Bob Feller and Jim Thome statues to new spots.
The Indians were busy in the offseason making changes.
Their defense still needs some work.
Reliever Marc Rzepczynski’s throwing error helped Detroit score three runs in the seventh inning after Cleveland rallied and the Indians dropped their highly anticipated home opener 8-4 to the unbeaten Tigers.
Down 5-0, the Indians strung together five hits in the sixth to get within two runs before the Tigers answered with three runs and wrecked a sunny, windy day for 35,789 fans who got their first look at remodeled Progressive Field.
Cleveland’s defense was a major problem last season, when the Indians led the majors in errors. On Friday, Rzepczynski’s gaffe cost the Indians dearly.
“That really hurt,” manager Terry Francona said.
Yoenis Cespedes singled off Anthony Swarzak and alertly tagged on a fly to center field, testing Michael Bourn’s arm. Cespedes took third on a wild pitch by Rzepczynski before Jose Iglesias hit an infield RBI single. Anthony Gose followed with a tapper toward Rzepczynski, who fielded it but threw wildly past first, the ball sailing down the line, allowing Iglesias to score and make it 7-3.
“We talked about that all spring,” said Francona, who emphasized defense throughout the team’s stay in Arizona. “When they hit the ball 40 or 50 feet, you got to get an out.”
Ian Kinsler followed with an RBI triple to make it 8-3 and the Tigers never looked back.
Alfredo Simon (1-0) took a shutout into the sixth in his debut for Detroit and Nick Castellanos hit a two-run homer in the fifth off Zach McAllister (0-1) as the Tigers, overlooked in preseason predictions, moved to 4-0.
Carlos Santana had two RBIs for Cleveland, which put the tying run on deck in the ninth before Joakim Soria struck out Michael Bourn with two on for his first save.
Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez each had three hits and an RBI for the Tigers, who have outscored opponents 30-5 so far.
The Indians were excited to show off renovated Progressive Field, which underwent a massive makeover this winter with reconfigured bullpens, a two-story bar and other enhancements.
The Tigers, though, were the ones who looked at home.
“They keep coming at you,” Francona said. “You talk so much about the middle of their order, but when guys at the bottom are hitting like they are right now, there’s no let up.”
Castellanos’ homer gave the Tigers a 5-0 lead and chased McAllister, tagged for 13 hits. The Tigers were hitting mostly bloops and finding holes before Cespedes opened the fifth with a double.
Although they have a lineup loaded with power, the Tigers, who typically mash teams into submission, led 3-0 after four on 11 singles.
The Indians finally got it going in the sixth, getting an RBI double from Michael Brantley and run-scoring singles by Santana and Brandon Moss, who snapped an 0-for-12 start. But with two on, Al Alburquerque came in and got Yan Gomes to hit into an inning-ending double play to preserve Detroit’s 5-3 lead.
Cleveland couldn’t overcome the early deficit, one key mistake or the Tigers.
“That’s a tough lineup,” McAllister said. “They’re a good team.”
NOT SO SWEET HOME OPENERS
Home openers at Progressive Field haven’t been kind to the Indians. Cleveland dropped to 10-11 in their ballpark (excluding a rescheduled game in Milwaukee in 2007). Cleveland is also 59-56 all-time in home openers.
Tigers: RHP Justin Verlander, on the disabled list with a strained right triceps, threw a side session Friday. The former Cy Young winner is on the DL for the first time in his career. He first experienced the strain on March 27 during a spring start.
Indians: 1B/DH Nick Swisher continues his recovery from double knee surgery. He’s at the team’s training complex in Goodyear, Arizona, where the 34-year-old’s at-bats are being videotaped so the Indians can gauge his progress.
Tigers: LHP David Price was brilliant in his season debut, coming within one out of a rare opening-day shutout in a 4-0 win over Minnesota. Price’s outing set the tone for Detroit’s pitchers, who shut out Minnesota for 24 consecutive innings.
Indians: AL Cy Young winner Corey Kluber makes his home debut, one day after turning 29. The right-hander took a tough loss on opening day in Houston. He didn’t allow a hit until the sixth, gave up just three hits in 7 1-3 innings and retired 17 of the first 18. Kluber went 10-3 in 17 starts at home last season.
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