Aaron Civale’s Major League debut could not have gone much better for Cleveland on Saturday afternoon as the 24-year-old allowed just two hits and three walks over six shutout innings and four relievers handled the rest of the work in a 2-0 shutout for the Indians over the Detroit Tigers.
The Indians lineup backed their rookie starter with a couple of early runs of support, but struggled to get much else going against Spencer Turnbull, who pitched well overall in a five-and-fly despite being around the strike zone quite a bit. He kept the Tigers in the game and his bullpen fired three perfect innings of relief after he left, but Civale and the Tribe relief corps were able to protect the two-run lead to take home a second straight victory over Detroit.
Civale opened his big league career amped up and in most impressive fashion, freezing JaCoby Jones on a 3-2 pitch. He missed on three straight to Christin Stewart before coming back to strike him out swinging, and on another 3-2 pitch, he cut down Nicholas Castellanos to strike out the first three batters of his MLB career.
Civale made it six in a row retired to open his career with a groundout, his fourth strikeout, and a line out to work through a 16-pitch second inning. The Indians then put him out in front in the home half as Jason Kipnis opened the inning with a single to center off of Turnbull. Jose Ramirez made it a 1-0 game with a triple to the right field corner. He was erased in a rundown on a fielder’s choice by Tyler Naquin and the inning came to an end on a strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play.
Civale faced his first real difficulties in the third inning. After retiring the first two batters to make it eight straight, Dawel Lugo worked a four-pitch walk to end the perfect start to Civale’s career. Jones reached on an infield single to short, but Civale took care of Stewart with a swinging strikeout to strand a pair.
The Indians padded their miniscule lead in the third with plenty of traffic against Turnbull. Mike Freeman reached on an infield single with one out and swiped second base. He moved to third on a grounder by Francisco Lindor for the second out, but Mercado made his mark with a payoff pitch single to center to drive home the second run of the game. With a 2-0 lead, the Indians missed a big opportunity to tack on more as Santana joined Mercado on base via walk. The pair moved up 90 feet on a wild pitch and Kipnis was walked to load the bases, but Ramirez failed to deliver in his second AB of the game as he flied out to left to leave the bags loaded.
Civale gave up his second and final hit of the game in the fourth. After striking out Castellanos, Miguel Cabrera singled. Civale got out of the frame with a fly ball and a grounder to keep the advantage at two runs.
After a perfect fourth, Turnbull ran into some trouble in the fifth but worked his way out of the jam. Freeman singled for the second straight at bat. Lindor flied to center and Mercado reached for the third time on the afternoon when he was hit by a pitch. With two on and only one out, Santana struck out looking and Kipnis fouled to third.
Back to the mound for the sixth, Civale had to work his way out of a self-induced mess with two outs. After a liner to right from Jones and a grounder to third by Stewart, Civale walked Castellanos on four straight before walking Cabrera on five pitches. With the tying runs on base, Brandon Dixon popped up a 1-0 pitch to first to strand a pair.
Blaine Hardy, Nick Ramirez, and Victor Alcantara shut down the Tribe bats, setting down nine straight with three strikeouts to keep the deficit at two. The Tiger bats, however, could not come through despite some opportunities against the Tribe bullpen after Civale left with six complete.
Nick Wittgren allowed a leadoff single to Niko Goodrum in the seventh before a fielder’s choice and back-to-back swinging strikeouts left a runner at second. Oliver Perez opened the eighth, giving up a double to Jones before a fly out by Stewart. Adam Cimber came on and served as a ground ball machine, getting big outs of Castellanos and Cabrera to leave Jones stuck on second.
Brad Hand made things a little dicey again in the ninth, but he pitched out of the trouble that he had pitched into. After getting Dixon to fly to right, Goodrum and Ronny Rodriguez each singled to put the tying runs on base. Hand then busted out the slider, throwing six of the next seven for strikes in striking out John Hicks and Lugo to earn his 22nd save of the season in 22 opportunities.
Civale pitched a gem in his big league debut. He worked six scoreless and full frames, allowing just two hits on the afternoon. He walked three batters, but struck out six to earn his first Major League win. He had some deep counts against the Tigers and struggled for much of the day to pitch from in front of batters, but he was able to minimize mistakes against the young Detroit lineup. He threw 87 pitches, 46 for strikes, but made just eight first pitch strikes on the day.
“That’s not easy to do for that kid,” Tribe manager Terry Francona said. “You can say all you want, ‘Hey, relax. Have fun.’ This is the kid’s first major league start. I’m sure it’s going fast, but he did a terrific job.”
Turnbull pitched better against the Indians the third time around. Entering with a 9.00 ERA against Cleveland this season in his first two outings, he gave up just two runs on six hits with a pair of walks and four strikeouts in five innings of work. He threw 100 pitches, 56 for strikes. The loss moved him to 3-7 on the year.
The Indians’ offense came from a limited number of sources on the day. Mercado was 2-for-3 with a run batted in. Freeman had a two-hit game and scored a run. Kipnis and Ramirez contributed to the other hits and scoring, with the second baseman scoring a run and the third baseman driving him in.
Like the Indians, the Tigers were limited to just six hits on the day. Jones had two hits out of the leadoff spot and Goodrum had two out of the six-hole. Cabrera reached twice with a single and a walk. Manager Ron Gardenhire was ejected for the sixth time this season in the fourth inning after arguing balls and strikes.
Prior to the game in order to create spots on the 25- and 40-man rosters for Civale, the Indians designated outfielder Leonys Martin for assignment. The 31-year-old had hit .199 in 65 games this season with a .276 on-base percentage.
The Indians will look to another recent Columbus recruit on Sunday to complete a three-game sweep of the Tigers. Zach Plesac (2-2, 2.56 ERA) will make the start in his first career appearance against Detroit and his sixth start overall for the Indians this season. The Tigers will call on left-hander Daniel Norris (2-5, 4.40 ERA) to make his 13th start and 16th overall appearance this year.
First pitch from Progressive Field on Sunday afternoon is scheduled for 1:10 PM ET.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images