Only a bout with upper back tightness could prevent Cleveland’s Mike Clevinger from replicating his season debut numbers on the mound, as the right-hander worked five scoreless one-hit innings and the Indians bullpen did the rest to complete a four-game sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays in a 3-1 victory on Sunday afternoon.
Clevinger struck out ten Jays hitters and scattered a hit and a walk in five easy innings of work. He experienced the back tightness on the second pitch of the fifth inning, but after talking it over with the Cleveland coaching and training staff after the inning, he was taken out of the game for precautionary reasons.
“They made the right call,” said Clevinger. “It’s not worth it right now, this early. It’s just being safe.”
The Indians gave Clevinger a 2-0 lead in the first inning with a pair of two-out hits. Carlos Santana extended his hitting streak to eight games and his on-base streak to nine with a double to left that scored Jake Bauers after his two-out double that nearly cleared the right field wall off of Toronto starter Marcus Stroman. Tyler Naquin singled Santana home to make it a 2-0 lead.
Clevinger retired the first nine in order, striking out a pair in the first, one to end the second, and two more in the third. He walked Socrates Brito to start the fourth and gave up his first hit of the game (and just second on the year) as the scorching hot Freddy Galvis doubled to right, but Clevinger struck out the next three in order to get out of the jam with two in scoring position. He added two more strikeouts in the fifth before Richard Urena grounded to second as the last batter that Clevinger faced on the day.
The Indians added an insurance run in the fifth off of Stroman, who retired eight straight after his first inning struggles. Naquin singled and stole second in the fourth, but was stranded. In the next inning, Brad Miller led off with a four-pitch walk, moved to second one out later on a groundout by Leonys Martin, and came in to score on another timely two-out hit as Jose Ramirez singled to right-center to give Cleveland a 3-0 lead.
Neil Ramirez took over for the Tribe on the mound in the sixth and promptly struck out the side. After the offense wasted the third hit of the day from Naquin, a one-out double to left, off of Stroman in the sixth, Ramirez returned for the seventh and got a fly out before turning the game over to Oliver Perez, who got two more fly outs.
Stroman was lifted after six quality innings and the Blue Jays’ Tim Mayza retired the Indians in order before Toronto broke through against the Cleveland bullpen. With Perez still on the mound, Billy McKinney led things off with a first pitch double to right. Alen Hanson struck out looking before Urena joined McKinney on the base paths with a walk. Adam Cimber entered and threw just one pitch as Danny Jansen singled to right, driving in McKinney while moving Urena to third. With runners on the corners and the tying run at first, manager Terry Francona went to his closer Brad Hand, who got Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to ground into the backbreaking 6-4-3 double play to end the Jays’ last rally of the day.
The Indians improved to 6-3 on the year and are off to an impressive 5-1 start at Progressive Field. Their record on the season marks the best for the franchise through nine games since 2011. After the four-game sweep, the Blue Jays dropped to 3-8 and 0-4 on the road.
Clevinger’s superb start to the campaign continued on Sunday as he has now thrown 12 straight scoreless innings while allowing just two hits. He needed just 75 pitches to get through five innings against Toronto, walking one and striking out ten while earning his first win of the year. Ramirez and Perez each earned their first holds, while Hand closed his fourth game of the season successfully.
Stroman was once again the victim of no support from his offensive teammates. He has allowed just five earned runs on the season (2.41 ERA), but he took home his second loss of the season despite the quality showing. He worked six full, allowing three runs on six hits with a walk and six strikeouts while throwing 99 pitches.
The Indians offense once again ran through Santana, who drove in a run in his sixth different game this season. He has scored a run in seven of the nine Tribe games and is now hitting .419 on the season with his 1-for-4 effort Sunday. Naquin went a perfect 3-for-3 with two singles, a double, and one run batted in while pushing his batting average up to .304. He was responsible for half of Cleveland’s hits off of the Toronto trio to take the mound. Martin’s rough start at the top of the lineup continued as he went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, dropping his season batting average to .148. He is second on the club in strikeouts with 13 in 31 plate appearances. Eric Stamets, who started again at shortstop, went 0-for-3 with a strikeout to hold on to the team lead in that stat, doing so in 14 of his 26 plate appearances this year.
Justin Smoak was scratched from the lineup for Toronto for the third time in four games in the series. He has been battling a neck issue.
The Blue Jays will head to New England to start a brief two-game series with the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday as Fenway Park hosts its first game of the season. The Indians will skip north to Detroit, where they will begin a three-game series with the Tigers on Tuesday night to kick off a three-city, nine-game road trip.
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