DETROIT -- The Tigers wouldn't have won the American League Central last season without Kyle Lobstein, manager Brad Ausmus said this spring. One reason for that was Lobstein's Sept. 2 outing in Cleveland, where he struck out 10 Indians over 5 1/3 innings of two-run ball and kept Detroit close enough for J.D. Martinez's go-ahead three-run homer in the ninth.
Seven months later, Detroit is bringing Lobstein to Cleveland once again. And the way the Indians' lineup still leans left-handed, having Lobstein filling in for an injured Justin Verlander on Sunday at Progressive Field might not be the worst thing to happen to the Tigers.
"He's a left-handed pitcher facing a team that has a lot of left-handed hitters," Ausmus said when asked why Lobstein was picked for the callup. "And primarily, it's because of what he did for us last year."
While Verlander had reverse splits last year, allowing a .239 average and .686 OPS to left-handed hitters compared with .321 and .849 to righties, those splits did not help him against the Indians. He went 1-2 with a 4.75 ERA in five meetings with Cleveland, including a Sept. 3 loss at Progressive Field, in which Verlander allowed six earned runs on nine hits over 6 2/3 innings.
That was the day after Lobstein fanned 10 of the 24 Cleveland batters he faced, including everyone in the starting lineup except noted lefty-killer Ryan Raburn. Lobstein fanned Michael Bourn and Yan Gomes twice.
The game was one of four Lobstein starts the Tigers won, even though Lobstein earned the victory in only one of them. If not for a strong outing from Carlos Carrasco, he might have gotten the win in Cleveland.
The Indians came back and roughed up Lobstein 11 days later in Detroit, fanning just twice over five innings of four-run ball. Half that damage came from Michael Brantley's two-run homer in the first inning.
Major League left-handed batters went 10-for-46 (.217) with 11 strikeouts against Lobstein last season. Meanwhile, the only major offseason addition to the Indians' lineup was Brandon Moss, a left-handed hitter.
With no left-handers in Detroit's rotation, spot starts -- either from Lobstein or Kyle Ryan -- are the only chance to get in a southpaw. And Lobstein did nothing to threaten his status as the top insurance starter.
"We had him knowing he could fill a hole if there was a long-term injury in our starting rotation," Ausmus said. "But I don't expect it to be more than one start."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.