A combination of early offense and strong pitching helped the Cleveland Indians cool off the hot Chicago White Sox on Friday afternoon in a 7-1 final.
While the pitching staff has been the source of offseason attention, the Indians offense was expected to be the area of concern and, possibly, weakness. After scoring two runs in the season opening game against the tough David Price of Boston, the offense has sparked seven runs in back-to-back games with a well-balanced attack of power and speed, leading to consecutive victories.
Cleveland turned the offense on right out of the gate, giving their starting pitcher Danny Salazar plenty to work with.
Jason Kipnis, the Chicagoland native, singled to center with one out off of Chicago starter John Danks in the first and moved to second on a single by Francisco Lindor. A five-pitch walk from Mike Napoli loaded the bases and the birthday boy, Carlos Santana, weakly dribbled in front of the mound. White Sox catcher Alex Avila fielded the ball, looked at home where Kipnis was scoring, then threw wildly to first. The error allowed Lindor to score, Napoli to move to third, and Santana to scamper over to second. Still with just one out, Yan Gomes lifted a fly to center to sacrifice home Napoli with the third run of the inning.
It took 19 pitches for Salazar to wrap up the first inning, but he did so with a pair of strikeouts. His offense then took over again and gave him added run support.
With an out in the top of the second, Jose Ramirez doubled a ball deep to left. Rajai Davis chased him home with a gapper to the track in right center for a triple. It became a five-run advantage as Kipnis, three pitches later, sent a fly to center that was plenty deep enough for Davis to trot home.
A brief wild spell in the bottom of the frame put two on with one out after back-to-back walks from Melky Cabrera and Avisail Garcia. But with Brett Lawrie at the plate, Gomes fired the second pitch from Salazar behind the runner Garcia at first and picked him off. Lawrie struck out to end the inning.
Both pitchers settled in before a one-out homer by new Chicagoan Todd Frazier in the fourth to make it a 5-1 game. The Tribe got the run back and an extra for insurance in the next half frame when the team strung together a two-out rally.
Lindor knocked his second hit of the game with a single to left. Napoli lined a hard one-hopper off of Frazier at third that landed in shallow left, allowing an alert Lindor to move all the way to third. The aggressiveness paid off as Santana added a second RBI to his birthday tally with a single to center. Gomes cleared Napoli from second with a double that skipped off of the wall in left to give the game its 7-1 final for the new scoreboard at US Cellular.
Davis also added a highlight reel catch in center, after initially misjudging a fly ball in the fifth from Adam Eaton. With the snowflakes a little thicker at that point of the game, Davis broke in before putting his head down and charging towards the wall before making a leaping catch.
“I’ll tell you what, when it’s snowing like this,” shared Davis postgame, “and that ball was hit, it’s kinda tough to see the ball, especially when you had the sun then you had the shade. It was really tough but we managed to make it through. When I looked up and saw all my infielders looking at me, I knew the ball was going to be in my area, but I couldn’t see it off the bat and then you’ve got all the gray background. And then finally, I looked up in the sky and was, ‘Oh! There it is. Gotta go.’”
The start of the game was delayed briefly while the grounds crew worked on a field that had battled snow flakes prior to first pitch. Flakes continued to fall throughout the game, but did not lead to further delays.
The Indians appear to have a target for bad weather painted on them through the first week of the season. Monday’s home opener and Thursday’s series finale with the Boston Red Sox were cancelled due to bad weather and the team played in freezing temperatures on Tuesday and windy and wet conditions on Wednesday. Temperatures for Saturday’s contest are looking no better.
FIGURING OUT FRAZIER
The Sox were limited to just three hits on the afternoon and the new guy Frazier was responsible for two of them. One of the newest members of the White Sox, Austin Jackson, delivered the other with a two-out single in the fifth.
SKIP ME, SKIPPER
Now in his tenth big league season, Chicago’s Danks is just 5-15 against the Indians in 27 career starts with Friday’s loss. His ERA climbed from 5.29 to 5.41 after allowing seven runs (five earned) over five innings with six strikeouts and a walk.
Salazar got his first win of the season with five and one-third innings tossed on the mound while clearing struggling with the command of several of his pitches. He allowed just the one run on the Frazier homer on two total hits, walked three, hit one batter, and struck out seven. He left after throwing 94 pitches, 52 of them for strikes.
“We gave him a cushion, which was really good. You could tell he was having a tough time, he was scattering a lot of fastballs, deep counts,” said manager Terry Francona in the postgame interview, “but he still threw the ball really well. You could tell he was having trouble throwing his breaking ball where he wanted to. But, saying all that, he gave up the solo home run to Frazier and not a whole lot else. Manship came in and cleaned up the inning.”
A BETTER BAUER
After allowing a pair of runs and a homer to David Ortiz in the season opener, Trevor Bauer pitched an effective two innings in the seventh and eighth in relief of Jeff Manship. No batter reached base and he struck out two, throwing 15 of his 23 pitches for strikes.
“Trevor did a really good job. Really two innings of really pounding the zone, threw the ball well,” offered Francona.
OTERO, THE LAST MAN STANDING
The last Indians reliever on the roster to take the mound this season did so when Dan Otero pitched an inning of scoreless relief in the ninth, allowing just one single to Frazier. It leaves just a pair of starters on the 13-man pitching staff who have yet to throw this season, and each are scheduled this series against the Sox.
First pitch on what is expected to be a cold, but dry, day in Chicago will be 2:10 PM ET from US Cellular Field.
Photos: AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh