Three runs in the middle innings chased Danny Salazar early and the Cleveland offense was held in check by Jason Hammel and the Kansas City bullpen as the Royals defeated the Indians 3-1 in the series opener from Kauffman Stadium on Friday night.
Pitch count problems for the Indians right-hander Salazar led to an early exit and his offense could not pick him up, despite scoring the first run of the night in the fourth inning. Hammel, who had not earned a win in nine attempts against Cleveland in his career, held the club to just three hits in a quality start to earn his first win as a member of the Royals.
Both clubs missed out on opportunities in the early innings. The Royals attempted a two-out rally in the first after a walk by Lorenzo Cain and a single by Eric Hosmer, but with runners on the corners, Salazar struck out Salvador Perez swinging. The Indians put runners on the corners with one out in the next half inning on a walk by Jose Ramirez and a single by Jason Kipnis, but Hammel struck out both Lonnie Chisenhall and Abraham Almonte swinging to end that threat.
The Royals threatened again in the third but left a pair as the club again put runners on with two outs. Cain singled and Hosmer doubled to right, putting players in striking distance again for Perez, who repeated his earlier performance with another strikeout against Salazar to keep the game scoreless.
Two batters later in the fourth, the Indians tallied the first run of the night as Edwin Encarnacion drilled his fifth homer of the season into the camera bay in left off of Hammel, a pitcher he had fared well against throughout his career.
The lead would not last long as the Royals continued to run up a high pitch count against Salazar. They changed their approach in the fifth as the lineup turned over as both Whit Merrifield and Mike Moustakas singled to lead off the inning. Cain grounded into a double play, leaving the tying run at third base with two outs, but the hot Hosmer clobbered a monstrous shot to center field to put the Royals up 2-1. A single on a 3-0 pitch to Perez ended the night of Salazar at 98 pitches, but reliever Boone Logan was able to retire Alex Gordon on a grounder to second to escape further harm.
The Indians bullpen’s consecutive scoreless inning streak ended in the sixth at 35 innings. Logan began the inning by giving up a single to Jorge Bonifacio before striking out former Indian Brandon moss. Nick Goody entered in relief and gave up an RBI-double to left to extend the Royals lead to 3-1.
Hammel was done after six, handing the ball and the game over to a Royals bullpen that had been the strength of the club for several years. That continued on Friday as Scott Alexander, Joakim Soria, and Kelvin Herrera combined for three innings of one-hit relief. Soria struck out the side in the eighth, while Herrera allowed a two-out double to Encarnacion to bring the tying run to the plate in Ramirez, who grounded to third to end the game as the Royals’ closer earned his fourth save of the season.
The Indians (15-13) fell to 1-3 on their abbreviated ten-game road trip after Thursday’s rain out in Detroit. Their five-game winning streak in Kansas City came to an end with the loss. The Royals (10-18) got a much needed win against the Indians after going 5-14 versus Cleveland last season.
HAMMEL EARNS SOME FIRSTS
Hammel (1-3, 5.53 ERA) earned his first win of the season and his first win against the Indians in his career. He worked six innings and limited the Tribe to just one run on three hits while walking two and striking out six. He exited with a two-run lead after 95 pitches. Despite a low rate of first pitch strikes, Hammel got the Indians to swing and miss eleven different times on the night as the offense could not muster much against him, especially players not named Encarnacion or Kipnis.
HOSMER REMAINS HOT
Hosmer had a lengthy history with Salazar coming into the night and had shown previous success against the Indians right-hander. Coupled with a recent hot stretch at the plate, the mixture proved to be volatile to the Tribe.
Coming in with a .381 average and half of his RBI production over the course of the last week, Hosmer added to that total with a single, a double, a homer, and two RBI on the night against Salazar, who he was 9-for-27 (.333) against coming into Friday’s action. Those prior totals included four doubles, two homers, and six RBI, all of which have increased with his game-changing performance.
YOST HAD THE RIGHT PLAN FOR SALAZAR
Some nights you have it and some nights you don’t. Friday night was just one of those nights for Salazar (2-3, 4.28), who struggled with command despite at times baffling the Royals hitters. But manager Ned Yost had the right game plan for his club and they worked Salazar deep in counts and got aggressive the third time around, which proved to be the difference in the ball game.
Salazar worked just four and two-thirds innings, giving up two runs on eight hits with a pair of walks and seven strikeouts. He fired 98 pitches, 62 for strikes, and got 20 swinging strikes in the ball game, but his elevated pitch count and the ball that Hosmer elevated over the fence proved to be too much for the Indians’ All-Star starting pitcher.
EDWIN FEASTS ON HAMMEL
Encarnacion was the primary source of offense for the Tribe on the night, as he had a pair of extra base hits in four trips against the Royals pitching staff.
Encarnacion entered the game with a .389 career average against Hammel with a double, three homers, and four RBI, and added to the latter two with his fourth inning shot to right. His double against Herrera in the ninth gave the team one last chance because of his clutch hit.
Prior to the game, the Indians announced that they had completed a prior trade with the New York Yankees, sending Class-A pitcher Yoiber Marquina to the Bronx to finish the deal that sent the right-handed reliever Goody to the Indians.
Right-hander Josh Tomlin (2-3, 8.87 ERA) will look to play stopper for the Tribe on Saturday afternoon in the 4:15 PM ET start from KC. It will mark the 22nd appearance of his career against the Royals, a club that he has gone 9-4 against with a 4.33 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP. Last season, Tomlin went 3-0 in five starts against them with a 2.43 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP. Left-hander Jason Vargas (4-1, 1.42) will oppose for the Royals and will hope to extend the Indians’ recent road woes and season-long struggles against southpaws. He is 6-3 in his career against Cleveland with a 4.68 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP, including a no-decision in four innings of work in one start last season.
Photo: Brian Davidson/Getty Images