Fans have grown accustomed to the winning formula the Cleveland Indians have used over the past year to win a multitude of games.
Monday marked the return of the highly successful strategy.
The Tribe mixed a concoction of solid starting pitching, a touch of timely hitting and a smooth stir from the late-inning bullpen trio comprised of Bryan Shaw, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen to edge past the Minnesota Twins by a score of 3-1 on Monday night at Target Field.
Besides Abraham Almonte, every hitter in the road nine’s starting lineup registered a hit, including Edwin Encarnacion with a RBI single in the third and Michael Brantley with a solo home run in the fifth.
He did not take the easiest path, but Danny Salazar posted his second consecutive quality start to earn his first win of the 2017 season – 6 IP, 7 H, 1 R/ER, 2 BB, 7 K (103 pitches, 63 strikes, 61.2%).
“He kept them in check,” said manager Terry Francona to reporters after the game. “I thought he threw more curveballs than we’ve probably seen. I just think he competed like crazy.”
Minnesota left eight men on base when Salazar was on the hill, three of which were stranded at second or third base.
“The way it started, there were five or six hits early, (a) walk and a lot of traffic,” Francona said. “And then he just really competed and got us to a point where we could turn it over to our bullpen.”
Converting when the opportunity presented itself
After batting .000 (0-for-11) with runners in scoring position through the Tribe’s first 12 contests, Encarnacion broke through and delivered when the moment called for it. Shortly after Brantley notched an RBI groundout to first base, Encarnacion ripped an RBI single to right field to plate Yan Gomes (single). Encarnacion lifted the run-scoring base knock at an 11-degree launch angle with a 112 mph exit velocity.
Although Cleveland did not convert in its other four at-bats with runners in scoring position, Brantley returned to the RBI department with a solo shot in the fifth inning, his second of the campaign.
“He looks like Brantley, which is a big compliment to him and his work ethic,” said Francona. “It’s one thing to come back, but you [got to] still hit major league pitching and he really doesn’t look like he missed a beat. Now he’s starting to get some games in a row, he’s starting to get some timing and it’s exciting for us.”
Brantley was just as satisfied with his performance and the impact it had on the club's third victory in 10 games.
“All-around team win, we needed it,” Brantley said. “I was out of the game for a long time so the more pitches I get to see, the better off I’ll be. But at the same time, it’s a process. I understand the process. I got to keep going out there and just keep working hard.”
Bullpen delivers in the seventh, eighth and ninth
Francona employed Shaw, Miller and Allen on countless occasions in late-game situations over the course of a momentous 2016 campaign.
The three high-leverage hurlers returned on Monday.
One day after surrendering two key insurance runs to Detroit, Shaw toed the rubber and put his struggles behind him as he retired all three opposing hitters he faced in the seventh.
Miller followed suit and worked around a one-out walk by Robbie Grossman to finish with a hitless eighth inning of work.
Allen sustained his shutout start to the year by setting down Joe Mauer with the bases loaded to tally his third save.
“They had some really good at-bats (in the ninth),” said Francona of allowing the winning run to reach first base. “That ninth inning can be tough. It’s not just getting the three outs, but when they get men on – knowing that a hit can tie the game – I thought [Allen] was okay.”
Central Division update
Jordan Montgomery earned his first big league victory by pitching seven frames of three-run ball to the Chicago White Sox (6-6).
Game 2 of the four-game set is slated for an 8:10 p.m. ET first pitch from Target Field in Minneapolis, Minn.
RHP Josh Tomlin (0-2, 18.47) will look to return to form after allowing 13 earned runs through his first two outings against Arizona and Chicago.
RHP Phil Hughes (2-0, 3.86) has been the opposite of Tomlin with a pair of wins and only five earned runs charged to his ledger through 11.2 innings in two starts vs. the White Sox and Tigers.
John Alfes has covered the Indians for IBI since August of 2016. Follow him on Twitter @JohnAlfes for breaking news and in-depth coverage all season long.