Roberto Perez was stellar both at the plate and behind it and Mike Clevinger finally looked like himself again with six quality innings on the mound as the Cleveland Indians secured a 4-0 five-hit shutout of the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday night.
The Indians (47-38) moved to a season-high nine games above the .500 mark with their second shutout in the last three days. Four times in the last five the team has been involved in shutouts, with two coming in much more unpleasant fashion against Baltimore over the weekend. The Tribe has now won 19 times in the last 28 games. The Royals fell to 29-58.
Clevinger, who had never lost to the Royals in his career, faced off with left-hander Danny Duffy, who has rarely won against the Tribe. The matchup was in the Indians’ favor, but Cleveland still had some work to do.
In the early innings, Duffy breezed through the first six batters quietly, getting four groundouts, a foul out, and a fly out along the way. Clevinger had some traffic to deal with, but nothing that amounted to a real threat as Alex Gordon singled with two down in the first and Jorge Soler singled to lead off the second, but neither advanced beyond second.
Perez’s first plate appearance of the night quickly turned into the Indians’ first run of the night. Leading off the third, he drove a 2-2 pitch deep to right. The ball bounced around in the corner and Perez put on the afterburners, hustling all the way to third and reaching safely on a good slide around the tag of the third baseman Hunter Dozier. A wild pitch with Jake Bauers at the plate allowed Perez to scamper home, where another fancy slide from the Tribe backstop let him avoid the tag of Duffy to give Cleveland a 1-0 lead.
Pitching with his first lead of the day, Clevinger retired the side in order before the Indians added on. After Duffy struck out Oscar Mercado, Carlos Santana stepped in and battled, fouling off a couple of 0-2 pitches and seeing his first ball before the sixth pitch of his at bat was slugged over the fence in left for his 19th homer of the season, making it a 2-0 game.
Perez stepped up behind the plate in the bottom of the fourth. Gordon reached on an infield single before Dozier popped to short. Soler came to the plate and worked the count full, but on the payoff pitch, he struck out swinging. Gordon broke for second on the pitch and Perez cut him down with the caught stealing to end the inning.
Duffy hit a man in the fifth and Clevinger retired the side in the home half before the Tribe threatened again in the sixth. With one out, Santana singled and Jordan Luplow walked on five pitches, but Jose Ramirez and Jason Kipnis each flied to center.
Clevinger took matters into his own hands in what was to be his final inning of work. Billy Hamilton struck out on high heat before Whit Merrifield singled to left-center. After falling behind him 2-0, Clevinger came back with three straight heaters to strike out Adalberto Mondesi swinging while Merrifield swiped second. Three straight four-seamers on the edge by Clevinger to Gordon ended the inning with a third strikeout in the frame.
The Indians loaded the bases in the seventh, but could not score against Duffy and the KC bullpen. Perez drew a leadoff walk and moved to second on a single by Bauers. Tyler Naquin grounded into a double play, but Lindor and Mercado followed with walks to load the bases. Kevin McCarthy came on in relief for Ned Yost and got a big out, getting Santana to ground out to first to squander a big scoring threat by Cleveland.
Nick Goody was the first man out of the ‘pen for the Tribe and he did his job well in the seventh, striking out Dozier and Soler before getting Lucas Duda to foul to third. The Indians then doubled their pleasure in the eighth against McCarthy as they broke the game open for good with a two-out blast. After outs by Luplow and Ramirez, Kipnis drew a six-pitch walk. Perez stepped in and yanked a 1-0 sinker 403 feet down the left field line for a two-run blast, his 15th of the year, to give the Indians a 4-0 lead.
Goody came back out for the eighth and made it six straight retired by breezing through a nine-pitch inning. Manager Terry Francona turned to his closer in the four-run game for the ninth, giving Brad Hand back-to-back outings against the Royals. The first batter that he faced, Merrifield, doubled to left. Mondesi struck out swinging for the first out before Hand walked Gordon. Dozier lined out to Kipnis for the second out and Soler grounded out to the same spot to complete the shutout.
Clevinger got back into the win column for the first time since April with his best outing since that game, when he suffered his back injury that landed him on the 60-day injured list. For the first time this season, he did not walk a batter, which was a big part of his issues since returning from the IL. He threw six shutout innings, giving up just four hits while striking out nine batters.
“It was by far the best he’s been,” Francona said. “He reached back for a fastball, at times he probably tried to reach back too much. Batted down a ball that he shouldn’t have, but he got out of it. Got a pop up and a ground ball, so that was good. He could have kept going but I thought that was a good spot for him. We didn’t push it too much and he can go from here.”
He left after just 79 pitches. He is now 7-0 in eleven career games (ten starts) against Kansas City with a 2.03 ERA.
Duffy pitched one of his better career games against the Indians, but still was dealt the loss as his offense could not come through against Clevinger. He lasted six and two-thirds innings, giving up two runs on five hits with five walks and three strikeouts. He fell to 3-5 on the year and just 2-11 in 20 career games against Cleveland.
Perez reached three times in four trips for the Indians. He hit his first triple of the year before scoring in the third and homered late to break the game open with his 15th, adding to his new career-high.
Santana extended his hitting streak to nine straight with a two-hit day, including his 19th homer that pushed him past Al Rosen for ninth place all-time in Indians history. He has three straight two-hit games during that nine-game hitting streak and he has reached base safely in 26 consecutive games, dating back to June 4.
The Indians and Royals will wrap it up with a getaway day start from Kauffman Stadium at 2:15 PM ET on Independence Day. Right-hander Homer Bailey (7-6, 4.87 ERA) will make his second start of the year against the Indians, looking to build on a seven shutout innings of two-hit baseball against Cleveland on April 13. He has won three straight decisions but is coming off of a five-run no-decision his last start against Toronto. Zach Plesac (3-3, 3.61) will look to bounce back from the shortest start of his career last Saturday, when he worked just three and two-thirds innings while allowing seven runs against Baltimore.
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