Last weekend, the Kansas City Royals missed out on a big opportunity to get back into the American League Central race by dropping two of three to the first place Cleveland Indians. With another opportunity this weekend, the Royals offense has gone missing as Mike Clevinger and three relievers combined on the Indians’ second straight shutout of their division rival, 4-0.
The back-to-back shutouts to open the series with Kansas City gives Cleveland five shutouts of the Royals this season and a Major League leading 14 shutouts this season.
The Indians were taking their fourth look of the season at right-hander Jason Hammel, who had won in each of his previous three starts against Cleveland this season. He was perfect on the mound for a good portion of the game, but the Indians would ultimately get to him for four runs on three long balls while the pitching stepped up to shut down a Royals offense scuffling at the worst time possible.
For five innings, the game was a battle of pitchers as Clevinger and Hammel went toe-to-toe. The Royals got the game’s first base runner in the second on a two-out walk by Mike Moustakas, but he would be stranded. Clevinger would strike out a pair in the third while Hammel would retire the side in order for the third straight inning to start the night.
The young Indians starter ran into some trouble in the fourth, but prevented any damage. Melky Cabrera and Eric Hosmer each singled with one out, putting runners on the corners for the middle of the order. Salvador Perez was cut down swinging for the second out, but Moustakas walked again to load the bases. With a chance to put the Royals on the board first and end a 19-inning scoreless streak, Alcides Escobar popped up to second to end a big threat.
Hammel made it four straight perfect innings, sending the game to the fifth, where his teammates nearly found the runs column. After strikeouts by Cheslor Cuthbert and Alex Gordon to start the inning, Whit Merrifield reached on an infield single to short. Lorenzo Cain stepped in and slammed a drive to deep center. Rookie outfielder Bradley Zimmer showed off both his speed and athleticism, making a full sprint diving catch to rob Cain of extra bases and the Royals of the lead.
The Royals starter breezed through the fifth and had retired the first batter in the sixth before Zimmer broke up the perfect game bid with a single to center. Two pitches later, the shutout was over as well as Roberto Perez homered just over the 19-foot wall in center field for a two-run shot to put Cleveland up, 2-0.
Bryan Shaw came on in relief of Clevinger for the seventh and retired the side in order, notching a strikeout in the process. Hammel remained in the game for manager Ned Yost, but the move would prove costly. Edwin Encarnacion slugged the first pitch of the inning to left for a leadoff homer to make it a three-run game. After Jay Bruce grounded out to second, Carlos Santana drilled a 1-0 pitch out to right that cleared the wall for the Tribe’s third homer of the night, making it a 4-0 game.
The Indians would load the bases that inning with two outs as Zimmer reached on an infield single to first and moved to third after a stolen base and a throwing error by the Royals. A walk by the Indians’ Perez put two on and brought reliever Brandon Maurer on to face Francisco Lindor, but he drew a walk of his own to load the bases. Austin Jackson struck out swinging for the third out, but the Indians had a four-run lead.
Dan Otero pitched the eighth, getting three ground ball outs. Cody Allen came on in the ninth in another non-save situation and walked the leadoff hitter Hosmer before getting a fly out, a strikeout, and a foul out to Santana at first, who reached into the stands to record the final out.
Clevinger (7-5, 3.72 ERA) worked six innings on the night and left with the lead after the Perez homer in the home half of the frame. He threw scoreless baseball while allowing just four hits and two walks while matching a career-high with nine strikeouts. Hammel’s (6-10, 4.76) line does not show how effectively he pitched through the first five innings while flirting with a perfect game. He would work six and two-thirds in total, allowing four runs on six hits with a walk and four strikeouts.
Three of the Indians’ six hits left the yard. The homer for Perez was his sixth, while Santana hit his 19th. Encarnacion’s shot was his 30th, giving him six straight 30-homer seasons.
The shutout for the Indians (72-56) marked the fifth time this season that their pitching staff had shutout the Royals (64-64). It gave Cleveland its 14th shutout of the season, tops in the Majors, and the team’s lead in the AL Central grew another game to six and a half games over the second place Minnesota Twins. The Royals fell to eight games in back of the Indians with the defeat and have not scored in their last 25 innings.
Left-hander Danny Duffy was originally supposed to start Sunday’s series finale for the Royals, but he was instead placed on the 10-day disabled list with an injury to his pitching elbow. Eric Skoglund (1-1, 5.59) will start in his place. It will be the fourth appearance as a starter this season for the 6’7″ southpaw. Opposing him will be righty Carlos Carrasco (12-6, 3.95), who will look to get the Indians a sweep.
First pitch of the final game of the homestand on Sunday afternoon is scheduled for 1:10 PM ET from Progressive Field.
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