Closed-door meetings do not necessarily correlate with immediate success.
For the Indians, a brief talk with manager Terry Francona has resulted in a two-game winning streak against the best team in major league baseball.
The Tribe beat the Astros, 3-0, thanks to Mike Clevinger's shutout pitching performance and timely hitting off the scorching bat of Lonnie Chisenhall. Two of Houston’s three losing series this year have come against a Cleveland team that is now 9-2 against the AL West.
Clevinger flirts with no-hitter
Entering play with the lowest opposing batting average in the starting rotation (.125, 4-for-32), Clevinger tossed six innings of no-hit ball before Jose Altuve led off the seventh with a single.
“It kind of set in about the third,” said Clevinger to reporters about the potential no-hitter. “It goes back to location. I think it went back to staying within myself and just pitching and not throwing. That was the big key here, staying aggressive whether or not it was 0-2 or 1-2 and keeping that same attack mentality.”
A steady mix of fastballs and off-speed pitches kept the Astros off-balanced all afternoon long as they fell victim to Clevinger’s career-high eight strikeouts – 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R/ER, 2 BB, 8 K (106 pitches, 66 strikes, 62.3%, six groundouts, two flyouts).
“He lived down in the zone with a good, crisp fastball and terrific off-speed,” Francona said. “Instead of being at 100 pitches in the fifth, he’s into the eighth. That was really nice to see.”
Tribe strikes first
A bizarre base hit mixed in with erratic command from Mike Fiers paved way to an early edge as Jason Kipnis singled in Chisenhall to yield a 1-0 lead. Yan Gomes reached on a single that scraped off the ceiling of the stadium before Chisenhall advanced to third base on a passed ball.
Fiers missed up in the zone with his curveball on numerous occasions in the early stages of the contest (see top chart below), forcing him to resort to other, less effective offerings (see bottom chart below).
One of those less effective offerings was a 90.3-mph fastball right in the nitro zone of Chisenhall as he blasted a solo home run to center field in the fourth inning, his fourth bomb in the last six games.
“Anytime you can score, it’s big,” said Francona. “The way [Houston] played, that makes you nervous.”
Cleveland fell into an offensive lull and went 0-for-12 after the homer until Michael Brantley singled and scored on Carlos Santana’s RBI double to put the score at 3-0.
The three-run cushion was more than enough as it paved way to scoreless appearances from Andrew Miller and Cody Allen in the eighth and ninth frames respectively.
“It’s a good thing the season’s a long season because we’re not off to the start we think we’re capable of,” Miller said. “It’s fun. This team is as good as there is in baseball. If we accomplish what we think we can, we’re going to have to see them again. They’re that good.”
The series finale is scheduled for Sunday at 2:10 p.m. ET from Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas.
RHP Danny Salazar (2-4, 5.66) will look to keep the ball in the park and limit traffic on the base paths as he currently leads the starting rotation in HR/FB ratio (23.7%) and WHIP (1.57).
RHP Joe Musgrove (3-3, 4.57) is slated for his 20th major league appearance (19th start) after holding Atlanta and Miami to three total runs between his last two outings.