CLEVELAND – Left-handed pitching has thrown the Indians a fit in 2017.
Despite slashing .225/.318/.334 against southpaws entering play, the Tribe solved Hector Santiago by doubling their hit total from their first two games this homestand.
As a result, Cleveland moved within one game of first place and beat Minnesota, 8-3, on Sunday afternoon at Progressive Field.
Jason Kipnis justified manager Terry Francona’s decision to have him leadoff for the first time in 2017 by going 3-for-4 with two home runs and four RBIs to elevate his batting average by 42 points.
Piling it on with Kipnis
Within two innings of the game’s first pitch, the Tribe had already matched their hit total from the first two contests of the series with four runs on six hits, including home runs off the bats of Kipnis in the first and Lonnie Chisenhall in the second.
“We know what kind of offense we’re capable of having,” said Kipnis. “It’s about going out and executing, guys hitting with runners in scoring position and putting pressure on defense.
The bats were just beginning to break out of their shell.
Four more runs came across to score in the third on Santana’s solo blast and Kipnis’ three-run homer to yield an 8-0 lead, tying the Indians' largest of the campaign (April 30 vs. Seattle).
“I’m happy to be in the lineup, it doesn’t matter for me,” Santana said of batting fifth rather than first. “Couple years ago, Kipnis (was) hitting well to leadoff. He did a good job.”
Kipnis was batting .281/.355/.424 with 50 doubles and 14 home runs in 180 games out of the one-hole. In addition, the two-time All Star was batting .304 (51-for-168) when leading off an inning.
“I kept saying it’s a matter of time, and it is,” Francona said. “Because [Kipnis is] too good. It was just nice to see. It kind of set the tone early.”
Quick innings in the field and long innings at the plate was a formula that boded well for Bauer as he efficiently carved his way past the Minnesota lineup for a final line of 6+ IP, 7 H, 3 R/ER, 0 BB, 7 K (106 pitches, 70 strikes, 66.0%, seven groundouts, two flyouts).
“A lot more strikes than balls today, I thought he was really good,” said Francona. “I think I thought he pitched better than he did. He had no walks and seven strikeouts.”
Bauer ran into trouble toward the end of his outing when the Twins strung together three consecutive hits – Joe Mauer singled, Miguel Sano doubled and Kennys Vargas notched a two-run double. Jorge Polanco finished Bauer in the seventh frame with a solo home run to pave way to Bryan Shaw in relief.
“I thought I pitched pretty well,” Bauer said. “I thought the offense did a great job coming out setting the tone early. It’s a lot easier to pitch ahead than it is even from behind. A lot of credit goes to them.”
Nevertheless, Bauer exited to a supportive crowd of 23,099 fans and eventually earned his third win of the season.
Bullpen buries Twins
With a five-run cushion, Francona was able to employ Shaw, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen in a lower leverage situation than normal.
“We really needed Shaw and those two to pitch,” said Francona. “It’s nice when you can do it when you’re winning. And neither [Miller and Allen] threw too much and that was really good.”
The trio was up for the task as they tossed three shutout innings out of the pen to extinguish the chances of suffering a series sweep.
The Rays come into town to start a three-game series on Monday at 6:10 p.m. from Progressive Field.
RHP Carlos Carrasco (4-2, 1.86) will look to use an extended five days rest to his advantage after hurling seven scoreless innings last Tuesday in Toronto. The Indians have provided Carrasco with one run of support over his three starts at home this year.
RHP Chris Archer (3-1, 3.04) opposes his top of the rotation counterpart in hopes to extend his quality start streak to three games. Tampa Bay has not lost since April 24 when Archer is on the hill.