Adam Plutko allowed just one run while giving the Indians a quality start on Saturday, but he came away with a tough defeat as the Royals’ Jakob Junis pitched even better. The Kansas City right-hander worked with three relievers to secure a three-hit 1-0 shutout over Cleveland on a scorching hot day on the shores of Lake Erie.
One night after the two clubs combined to score 15 runs on 25 hits, offense was at an absolute premium as the Royals got back into the win column after their four-game winning streak came to an end on Friday night. In doing so, they stopped the Indians’ recent tear at six straight, ending one of the game’s longest active winning streaks coming into the day while spoiling things for the 31,958 in attendance on a night with first pitch temperatures in the 90s.
The biggest hit of the game came in the top of the first inning with the Royals at the plate against Plutko. After the right-hander got past Whit Merrifield and Alex Gordon on five pitches, Hunter Dozier drove a 2-1 fastball the opposite way to right and just over the wall to give the Royals a 1-0 lead.
Opportunities were scarce for the Indians, but they missed one in the home half of the first against Junis, who had lost two of his three starts against Cleveland this season. Francisco Lindor led off the frame with a single to left and Carlos Santana drew a one-out walk, but Jason Kipnis flied to center and Jose Ramirez flied to the warning track in left, just missing an RBI-knock.
The Royals stranded runners in the third and fifth, unable to add on. Plutko’s throwing error with one out in the third allowed Merrifield to reach second, but he was stranded at third after a groundout by Gordon and a strikeout by Dozier. In the fifth, Cam Gallagher doubled to right, but moved no further on a pair of pop ups in the infield.
Junis walked Roberto Perez with one out in the second before retiring the next 13. He struck out a pair in a perfect third, added another in a 1-2-3 fourth, and struck out the side in the fifth.
The Tribe put together their best rally efforts in the sixth with two down after fly balls to center by Lindor (who was robbed of extra bases on a leaping catch at the wall by Billy Hamilton) and Oscar Mercado when Santana walked and Kipnis reached on an infield single, but Ramirez missed again with two on and two outs as he struck out looking.
Plutko returned for the seventh inning and set down the side in order again. Junis’ night was over after six, replaced in the center of the diamond by Scott Barlow, who allowed a two-out double to Greg Allen in the seventh before striking out Tyler Naquin flailing.
Indians manager Terry Francona went to his bullpen for the eighth and called on Tyler Clippard. A leadoff double by Gallagher, his second of the night, put the Royals in prime position to tack on, but on Hamilton’s missed bunt attempt, Gallagher was caught in no man’s land and Perez fired to Lindor, who threw over to Ramirez at third for the easy tag out. Hamilton struck out before Merrifield and Gordon both reached on singles, but Dozier flied to right to leave a pair of insurance runs on base.
The Royals ran themselves out of another inning in the top of the ninth against Nick Wittgren, the third Tribe pitcher of the night. Jorge Soler drew a leadoff walk and Cheslor Cuthbert lined a single back past Wittgren into center. After a first pitch ball, Humberto Arteaga attempted to bunt the runners up, but got too much sky under the ball. Alertly, Wittgren allowed the ball to drop and fired to third for the force. Ramirez threw to second for the twin-killing. With both lead runners eliminated on the 1-5-6 double play, Nicky Lopez popped to Ramirez in shallow left.
Even with Junis off of the mound, the Indians failed to do anything against the rest of the Kansas City pitchers to take the mound. Jake Diekman struck out two in an eleven-pitch eighth. Closer Ian Kennedy had similar success in the ninth, needing just ten pitches to get Kipnis swinging, Ramirez on a pop up in foul territory, and Bauers missing on a high fastball.
The Indians fell to 56-41 on the season in defeat and are now 31-21 on the year. Their six-game winning streak came to a close but, coupled with a late Oakland rally over Minnesota, the Indians trail the Twins by three games.
Plutko pitched one of the better games of his Major League career on Saturday, but he came away defeated after allowing just one run on two hits with a walk and four strikeouts. He threw 103 pitches, 68 for strikes, but he fell to 3-2 on the year as his offense was unable to do anything against Royals pitching.
Junis improved to 6-8 on the season with six quality shutout innings against Cleveland. He gave up two hits while walking three and struck out seven while working through a stretch of 13 men retired from the second into the sixth. Each of the three Royals pitchers behind him struck out a pair of batters, with Barlow and Diekman taking home holds and Kennedy earning his 17th save of the season.
“He really slowed our bats down and seemed like he could go to a breaking ball for a strike whenever he wanted to,” Francona said after the game of Junis’ performance. “Then he’d elevate a fastball for effect and go right back to it, and it kind of gave us fits.”
Ramirez’s eleven-game hitting streak came to a close for the Indians with an 0-for-4 day at the plate. He was 0-for-2 with runners in scoring position and stranded four of the team’s six men left on base in the ball game. Lindor and Kipnis each had singles and Allen doubled to provide the bulk of the Tribe’s threats on the day. Santana went 0-for-2, walking twice.
The two clubs will meet once more this weekend in a 1:10 PM ET first pitch from Progressive Field on Sunday afternoon. The Indians will send out right-hander Zach Plesac (3-3, 3.56 ERA), whose last start lasted just three innings (with the rookie facing the minimum number of Detroit hitters) before rain delayed the contest. Right-hander Glenn Sparkman (3-5, 4.54) earned a win for the Royals during their four-game sweep in Chicago when he threw a five-hit shutout on Tuesday.
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