Corey Kluber gave the Indians eight shutout innings and Vinnie Pestano closed it out as Cleveland defeated the Washington Nationals, 2-0, on a beautiful Father’s Day afternoon to claim the interleague series.
Kluber (5-4) effectively worked into and out of trouble, getting timely strikeouts and double plays throughout the game to earn his fifth win of the season. Kluber was in control of his pitches throughout the game, allowing seven hits but giving up no free passes. Eight Nationals batters were vicitimized by strike threes at the plate.
“He was so good all day, from pitch one he was aggressive with his fastball,” said Indians manager Terry Francona. “I don’t even think he threw a changeup today. Right in front of our eyes we’re seeing a kid mature into a really good pitcher.”
After allowing a one-out double to Anthony Rendon in the first inning, Kluber came back to strike out Ryan Zimmerman and got Adam LaRoche to fly out to center field.
In the second, a leadoff single by Jayson Werth was erased on a double play grounder to Jason Kipnis at second base.
In the fourth, a single by Rendon and a fielder’s choice grounder botched up by a throwing error by John McDonald put a runner at third base for Washington. Kluber was unaffected, striking out the next three batters in order.
The Indians struck for their first run of the day in the bottom half of the fourth inning. Kipnis drew a one out walk. With Carlos Santana at the plate, Kipnis stole second, his 15th of the season, and advanced to third on the throwing error by Jhonatan Solano. Santana followed the big play with the Indians first hit of the day, an RBI-single to center to give the Indians a 1-0 lead.
Again in the sixth, Kluber found himself in trouble. Denard Span singled to Kipnis at second. The speedy center fielder may have beaten the throw to first on his own, but first baseman Mark Reynolds did not field the throw from Kipnis and it went into the Nationals dugout, advancing Span to second. Rendon singled to right to move Span to third. Kluber came back with a big strikeout of Zimmerman and then induced a double play groundball by LaRoche to Kipnis. The relay throw from shortstop Mike Aviles was just in time, ending the threat and preventing the tying run from crossing the plate.
Washington starter Stephen Strasburg (3-6) was nearly unhittable in his first start off of the disabled list. He lasted five innings and was dealt his sixth loss of the season, despite allowing just one hit and one run. He walked four and struck out four.
“He didn’t look like he was commanding his best,” said Francona, “which is to be expected. His stuff is really good.”
The seventh inning provided more drama for Kluber and, once again, he dodged damage. Werth doubled to lead off the inning and Ian Desmond was hit by a pitch. A sacrifice bunt attempt by pinch-hitter Steve Lombardozzi was nearly caught by a diving Kluber, but he could not make the catch and Lombardozzi reached safely to load the bases. Solano came to the plate with a big opportunity in front of him, but lined into an unassisted double play to first baseman Reynolds. With two on and now two outs, Roger Bernadina grounded out out to Aviles to end the inning.
“When he got runners at third, he really barred down and struck some guys out,” said Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway. “He did a heck of a job of battling. Those are tough situations to pitch in and to have three of them throughout the game and still go eight innings, that’s a tremendous job.”
“He is pitching with so much confidence,” said Francona. “The biggest thing I think we’ve seen that is setting everything up is that he is pitching in aggressively and it’s opened up the plate. He’s able to not just throw one in. Hitters have to respect both sides of the plate.”
The Indians tacked on an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth. Michael Bourn doubled to lead off the inning. Aviles sacrificed him over to third. Kipnis hit a big sacrifice fly to right field to score the manufactured run.
With additional wiggle room, Pestano allowed a walk in an otherwise quiet ninth inning for his first save of the season.
Kluber improved to 4-1 on the season following an Indians loss.
“He has all of his stuff working down in the zone,” said Kipnis about Kluber. “He’s not letting any guys get extended really on any of his pitches. He’s got this cutter and his slider that are working and are just missing barrels and it’s just fantastic to watch.
“We are going to go as far as our starting rotation takes us, and they have been great the last couple of games.”
Kipnis was a hot bat throughout the series with Washington, finishing 5-for-9 with three runs batted in and three walks. He has improved his hitting streak to a season-high ten games.
“We’ve seen it last year with me, we’ve seen it before already this year,” said Kipnis about his recent successes at the plate. “I’m going to have my ups and downs. Some days you just feel good and it clicks in.”
With the win, the Indians (34-34) pull back to even on the season. The shutout was their ninth of the year, tying the Seattle Mariners for most in the American League. The Nationals (34-34) fall back to even at the same record. Both clubs remain in second place in their respective divisions.
The Kansas City Royals come to town for a three-game series starting Monday night. Carlos Carrasco (0-2, 15.26) will make the 7:05 PM first pitch. James Shields (2-6, 2.79) will go for the Royals.
Catch the action on Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio and on the Cleveland Indians Radio Network.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images