Cleveland manager Terry Francona tried to loosen up the Indians clubhouse a little bit heading into a key weekend series in Kansas City with the Royals. The results appeared evident on the field, as the Indians routed the Royals by a 10-1 final, but had a scare in the sixth inning when starting pitcher Corey Kluber had to exit the ball game early with an injury.
In a game that had plenty of positives to draw upon, Indians’ players, brass, and fans were all collectively holding their breath in the sixth when Kluber broke from the mound and appeared hobbled as he attempted to cover first base on an infield single. He was able to talk his way back onto the mound in what was then a 6-1 contest and pitched to another batter, but after the base hit, Francona and the team trainer were back out to the mound to escort Kluber from the game.
It was announced late in the game that Kluber left with a right ankle sprain.
“It’s a low ankle sprain and on the mild side,” said Francona after the game. “It’s not the dreaded high ankle sprain that you hear with NFL guys.”
The short start ended Kluber’s run of quality starts and also left him one start short of matching Randy Johnson’s record for consecutive starts with at least eight strikeouts. Kluber’s incredible run hit 14 straight.
Francona brought in a DJ and games to keep the clubhouse relaxed and the decision may have paid off as the Indians came to the plate and immediately caused havoc for the Royals.
After a foul out to start the game by Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis put the Indians on the board with a solo homer to right off of Royals starter Ian Kennedy, his third homer in the last four games. The bats were not done, however, as three-hitter Austin Jackson singled to right. Kennedy recorded the second out on a liner by Edwin Encarnacion, but Jay Bruce opened things up with a two-run homer to right, making it a 3-0 game before Kansas City could even step to the plate.
Former Indian Brandon Moss cut into the lead for the Royals with a deep drive to center off of Kluber in the bottom of the second to end a hitting slump at the plate.
The Indians responded in the next at bats with another big inning. Kipnis walked to start things off before Kennedy retired Jackson and Encarnacion on balls in the air. Bruce singled to right to put runners on the corners and Carlos Santana walked to load the bases. Yan Gomes came through with the big two-out hit, singling two runs in with a base hit to right. Kennedy was done for the day after just two and two-thirds, but Scott Alexander was able to strike out Bradley Zimmer with two in scoring position to stop the bleeding, at least temporarily.
Kluber was aided by his defense in the fourth when the Royals threatened for the first time. Melky Cabrera reached with a one-out single to left and Mike Moustakas followed with a double to center. WIth a chance to do more damage, Moss instead grounded to Santana at first. He stepped on the bag and fired to second, where Moustakas was caught between second and third. Lindor made the tag before the slow moving Cabrera could cross home plate for the 3-6 double play to end the inning.
Jake Junis allowed the sixth run of the game for the Tribe in the sixth. In his second inning of relief, he gave up a leadoff single to Santana and a one-out single to Zimmer. He retired Giovanny Urshela on a liner to right for the second out, but Lindor singled to left, scoring Santana to push the score to 6-1.
Things took a turn for the worse for the Indians in the home half of the sixth. Kluber retired Lorenzo Cain to start the inning before Eric Hosmer grounded to Santana off the bag at first. Kluber, rushing to cover the play, came up limping, but remained in the game and pitched to Cabrera, giving up a single to center to put two on. Andrew Miller, fresh off of the disabled list, came in from the bullpen and struck out Moustakas before walking Moss to load the bases. Alcides Escobar flied to right to leave the bags juiced and the score the same at 6-1.
Bruce came through with another big hit in the seventh to erase what little doubt may have been left in the game. Jackson walked off of Junis to start the inning and Encarnacion singled to left. Bruce sent another drive over the wall in right for his second homer of the day, giving the Indians a 9-1 lead on his third, fourth, and fifth RBI of the game. It was his 25th multi-homer game of his career and leaves him just two homers short of matching his career high of 34.
Joe Smith, Tyler Olson, and Nick Goody would each pitch scoreless innings of relief to close out the game. Encarnacion added a solo homer to lead off the ninth on the first pitch of the game from reliever Ryan Buchter to give the game its final 10-1 score.
The Indians are back to 14 games over the .500 mark on the year (67-53) and lead the AL Central by six games. Minnesota (61-59) moved a half game up on Kansas City (61-60), as the Twins won their game against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Kluber (12-3) got the win despite his early exit. He worked five and one-third innings, allowing a run on six hits with a walk and four strikeouts. It was his shortest start since July 9, when he lasted five innings in a no-decision against Detroit. Kennedy (4-9) was dealt another defeat as he could not complete the third. He retired eight batters and was charged with five runs on six hits with a pair of walks and one strikeout.
Prior to the game, the Indians activated Miller and placed outfielder Abraham Almonte on the 10-day disabled list with a strained left hamstring. The Royals placed reliever Joakim Soria on the disabled list with a strained left oblique and recalled right-hander Kevin McCarthy from Triple-A Omaha.
Game two of the three-game set will start at 7:10 PM ET on Saturday night from Kauffman Stadium. Trevor Bauer (11-8, 4.72 ERA), who just appeared on Thursday night in Minnesota in a relief appearance, will get the starting nod for the Indians. In his last start, he held the Boston Red Sox to three runs on seven hits while striking out 11 in six and two-thirds innings in a win. Tough left-hander Jason Vargas (14-6, 3.45) will look to even the series up for the Royals. He earned a win on August 13 in a quality start against the White Sox in Chicago, giving up three runs on six hits with two walks and seven strikeouts in six frames.
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