CLEVELAND – First-place competition usually presents a number of challenges for any club on both sides of the ball.
Not for the Indians.
Cleveland is now 10-3 against division leaders in the American League after an 8-1 rout of the Twins on Friday night at Target Field.
Carlos Carrasco set the tone and showed his mid-season form on the mound behind another offensive onslaught of eight runs on 10 hits.
First-pitch swinging burns Turley
The Tribe attacked early in the count and garnered an advantage on Yan Gomes’ RBI single off rookie Nik Turley. Four of the five results in the second inning came on the left-hander’s first pitch, all of which were in the central portion of the strike zone…
"It sets the tone," said Gomes to reporters. "Give Carlos some wiggle room to just pitch his tail off."
An aggressive approach at the plate carried over to the third when Edwin Encarnacion took a powerful hack at the second pitch he saw for a three-run blast, scoring Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor.
"If you get something straight that's over the plate, we always want to be ready to hit," Francona said of his team's aggressiveness. "With one swing, you can kind of spread a game out. [Encarnacion] certainly has been showing lately that he's got that in him. That's really good."
"When you start seeing the results, that's how you know that you're feeling good," said Encarnacion through the team's translator, Anna Bolton. "I just try to get a pitch in the strike zone and make a swing on a pitch that's in the strike zone."
Gomes (single) and Lonnie Chisenhall (double) plated two runs apiece in the fifth to knock Hurley out of the game with an eight-run lead.
"It's just kind of keep the line moving," Gomes said. "Just get the job done. Whatever you need to do with that at-bat. Just keep the line moving. Get some good at-bats so we can feed off of it."
Carrasco keeps it low
A steady mix of fastballs, sliders and changeups kept Carrasco in control and the opposition off-balanced. The right-hander used all five of his pitches en route to seven strikeouts on offerings placed at the knees or lower…
"Early in the game, he made pitches when he had to," said manager Terry Francona. "He competed really well. I think it just kind of shows the stuff he has. He got us deep enough in the game where you're going into a four-game series and a doubleheader tomorrow, the last thing you want to do is be going to the bullpen early."
Carrasco went on to set down eight straight hitters until Eddie Rosario hit a solo homer, the lone damage on the right-hander’s ledger – 6.1 IP, 4 H, 1 R/ER, 3 BB, 7 K (113 pitches, 64 strikes, 56.6%, five groundouts, three flyouts).
"You see when the pitcher's out there getting quick innings, our offense tends to pitck it up," Gomes said. "It was good to get some shutout innings from him."
Bryan Shaw and Boone Logan teamed together for 2.2 innings of scoreless relief, bringing the road nine within one game of first place.
"It's a head-to-head, first and second place," said Gomes. "It's part of the game. They're a good ballclub. We're starting to get hot. It's a good series."
After sitting out two consecutive contests due to neck spasms, Kipnis decided to give it a go atop Francona’s lineup. The two-time All-Star departed in the eighth with lingering issues in the injured area.
"He's good," Francona said. "I was glad we had some runs. [Erik Gonzalez's] so good defensively where you can take a guy like that out and maybe (it) gives him a chance to play in all these games as opposed to having him miss one."
Central Division update
The Tigers (32-34) and White Sox (30-36) combined for 24 runs to dominate the Rays and Blue Jays respectively.
The Indians play their first doubleheader of the campaign on Saturday at 2:10 p.m. ET and 8:10 p.m. ET from Target Field.
LHP Ryan Merritt (0-0, -.--) will make his 2017 debut approximately eight months after tossing 4.1 scoreless innings in Game 5 of the ALCS. The 25-year-old southpaw has a 5-4 record and 3.90 ERA in his last 10 minor league outings between Columbus and Lake County.
LHP Adam Wilk (0-1, 6.75) has seven innings of three-run ball under his belt in two relief appearances on the Twins. Now with his fifth big league organization, the journeyman lefty could serve a temporary role if Hector Santiago (strained left shoulder) and Phil Hughes (right biceps inflammation) were to miss further time.