Corey Kluber threw six innings of two-hit, shutout baseball and the Cleveland offense capitalized on sloppy defensive work by Oakland on Thursday as the Indians routed the A’s, 8-0.
The Indians ace returned from a lengthy stint on the 10-day disabled list with a lower back strain, but one would have never guessed it with the way that he handed the Oakland lineup as he struck out ten A’s hitters of the 18 that he retired in a start monitored on a pitch count after a short five-inning rehab start in Akron last Friday.
There was little action for either offense in the first couple of innings. Kluber struck out five straight batters, beginning with the second A’s hitter of the afternoon, while his teammates managed a leadoff walk in the second before a double play grounder.
Both teams had some activity on the base paths in the third, but the Indians would get the better end of it. Rajai Davis reached on an infield single to short with one out in the inning, stole second, and moved to third on a groundout, but after a Matt Joyce walk, Mark Canha struck out swinging in a big scoring opportunity wasted for the A’s. The Indians followed up the missed chance by Oakland with a leadoff double from Daniel Robertson, who promptly moved to third on a passed ball by catcher Josh Phegley and four pitches later came on in to score on a wild pitch from A’s starter Jharel Cotton to give the Indians a 1-0 lead.
The young Cotton went toe-to-toe with Kluber through the first five innings, giving up just the one run on two hits with a pair of walks, but things took a disastrous turn in the sixth as the Indians ripped the game open. Erik Gonzalez singled to start the inning and moved to second on a walk by Jason Kipnis. Francisco Lindor dropped down a bunt but an error by third baseman Ryon Healy allowed him to reach safely to load the bases. A five-pitch walk to Michael Brantley made it a 2-0 game as Gonzalez was forced home and Carlos Santana blooped a single to left over the pulled in infield to make it 3-0. Cotton got a ball back to the mound from Jose Ramirez and the pitcher made a rough throw to Phegley, who was able to get just the force at the plate, leaving the bases loaded with the first out of the inning. Bradley Zimmer grounded to second and the throw came to the plate to force Brantley, but a close play at first base was ruled safe. An alert Santana, who never slowed, raced to the plate with the first baseman beginning to walk off of the field. Santana went into home with a head first dive, but was called out on the tag by Phegley.
A pair of manager reviews followed as Oakland’s Bob Melvin challenged that Zimmer was in fact out at first, which would give the club a 4-2-3-2 double play. Cleveland’s Terry Francona wanted New York to review Santana’s out at the plate. The Indians won both calls, as Zimmer and Santana were each ruled safe to give the Indians another run. Zimmer moved to second on a passed ball and Robertson reached safely with an RBI on another error by Healy, making it a 5-0 game and sending Cotton to the showers.
Former Indians reliever John Axford retired Roberto Perez with a force out of Robertson at second to end the mess. To make matters worse in the sixth, the game was delayed after the sprinkler system kicked on in left field and sprayed water over the playing surface.
The Indians got to Axford in the seventh. Gonzalez led off his second straight inning with a single and Kipnis drew a walk in a case of déjà vu. Lindor and Brantley each singled to left, scoring Gonzalez and Kipnis to make it an 8-0 game. Josh Smith entered from the bullpen and restored order, getting three straight outs to end the inning. He would give up back-to-back two-out hits in the eighth as Gonzalez got another single and Kipnis added a double, but Lindor flew out to leave a pair.
Danny Salazar made his first relief appearance since his removal from the starting rotation in the ninth inning, giving up a leadoff single to Adam Rosales before Joyce grounded out and both Canha and Healy struck out swinging to end it.
The Indians (28-24) continued their dominance of the AL West by winning three of four from Oakland (23-30). The two teams will next meet after the All-Star break. The win moved the Indians into sole possession of first place with a half game lead over Minnesota at the time, as the Twins had dropped four straight games heading into their evening contest with the Los Angeles Angels.
Kluber earned his fourth win of the season and lowered his ERA to 4.36 with six scoreless frames on the mound. He struck out ten, walked one, and allowed two of the A’s three singles on the day. Bryan Shaw pitched a perfect seventh with two strikeouts. Nick Goody pitched the top half of the eighth, striking out the side swinging.
“It’s nice to have him back, which kind of gives everyone a lift,” Francona said of his ace. “But then when he comes out and just throws the way he did. In fact, I hate to use the word ‘throw’ because he ‘pitched’ and his breaking ball was so, so good. He was crisp right from the get-go.”
Cotton took his sixth loss of the year, despite what started off as a good outing. After the defensive woes of the A’s returned in the sixth, he was unable to escape the inning. He was charged with five runs, but only one was earned. He allowed four hits and four walks while striking out four. Axford was tagged with three more of his own while retiring just one of the five batters that he faced.
The Athletics return home to Oakland to host the Washington Nationals over the weekend. The Indians will also head west, stopping in Kansas City for a three-game series with the club with the worst record in the American League, the Royals, beginning Friday night.
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