For the second night in a row, the Cleveland Indians used a four-run inning to defeat the Kansas City Royals, this time by a 4-2 final on Saturday night. But there was little room for celebration for the club, which awaited word on the severity of a right wrist injury suffered by the resurgent Jose Ramirez during a first inning at bat.
The team’s former two-time All-Star and top three Most Valuable Player finisher in each of the last two seasons swung awkwardly on a 2-0 pitch with Francisco Lindor on second and Yasiel Puig on first and two outs in his first at bat against the Royals’ Glenn Sparkman. He left the game after meeting with the team trainer and manager Terry Francona. The wrist has been a lingering issue for him, but after the game, Francona shared that Ramirez’s injury on Saturday was felt in a different area of the wrist. Ramirez had an MRI performed to exam the injury and more should be known ahead of Sunday’s series finale with Kansas City.
Mike Clevinger got the start for the Tribe and once again dominated the Royals. After retiring the side in order in the first, he got the first two in the second before Meibrys Viloria dropped in a single to shallow right-center, but Ryan O’Hearn grounded into a force at second to end the inning.
Sparkman contained the Indians in the second, giving up just a one-out walk to Tyler Naquin before getting the final two outs in the air. Clevinger gave up another two-out hit in the third as hit-machine Whit Merrifield reached on a slow roller between third and short, but Jorge Soler was punched out to leave a man at first.
The Indians used a massive two-out rally in the bottom of the third to take the lead for good. Oscar Mercado opened the inning with a double to left. Sparkman struck out Carlos Santana on three straight pitches for the first out. Puig struck out, but during the at bat, Mercado moved up to third base on a wild pitch. That proved to be a big play, as Freeman dribbled a broken bat roller between short and third and legged out the infield single, with Mercado scoring on the play to give the Indians a 1-0 lead. Kipnis walked on five pitches to put two on and Franmil Reyes parked an 0-1 pitch deep to the Home Run Porch for a three-run bomb, putting the Indians up by a 4-0 count.
Clevinger struck out the first two batters of the fourth before running into his own self-induced jam. Cheslor Cuthbert, in a deep hitting slump, worked a walk to keep the inning alive. Viloria battled Clevinger for six pitches, finally driving a 1-2 pitch deep to the gap in right-center for an RBI-double to get the Royals on the board. Clevinger took matters into his own hands after that, striking out O’Hearn to end the frame.
Sparkman retired the Indians in order in the fourth before the Royals put up a little threat in the top of the fifth. Humberto Arteaga reached on an error by Freeman to start the inning. After a fly out by Brett Phillips and a grounder by Merrifield that moved Arteaga to third, Soler walked to put runners on the corners for the dangerous Hunter Dozier. He worked the count from 0-2 to 3-2 before striking out for the third straight time.
Sparkman got the hook after getting Puig to fly to right to start the home half of the fifth. Tim Hill gave up a leadoff single, but then retired the next five in order.
Clevinger’s battle with deep counts came back to end his outing early with two down in the sixth. He got Alex Gordon to ground to second, but the slumping Cuthbert reached with a double to left to end an 0-for-40 stretch at the plate. Viloria moved him to third with the second out, but Oliver Perez came on and won his left-on-left battle with O’Hearn, striking him out to leave a big runner at third.
While Perez got a big out to end the sixth, he was unable to get the Royals in the seventh. He hit Arteaga to start the seventh and gave up a single to Phillips to put two on with nobody out. Francona went to submariner Adam Cimber, hoping that he could work out of his funk on the mound in a tight situation. He was able to do just that, getting a pair of fielder choice grounders, with the second by Soler scoring Arteaga. He walked Dozier to put the tying run on, but Gordon lined to left for the final out to end the rally.
Scott Barlow and Kevin McCarthy faced the minimum for the Royals in the seventh and eighth innings, while Tyler Clippard set down Kansas City in order in the bottom of the eighth. Brad Hand came on looking for saves in back-to-back games and got the job done after a leadoff single by Arteaga. He struck out pinch-hitter Bubba Starling for the first out and got Merrifield to pop out to third for the second out. The dangerous Soler stepped in as the tying run capable of popping a ball over the wall with ease, but he grounded into a fielder’s choice force of Arteaga to end the ball game.
The lone issue for Clevinger on the night was an elevated pitch count due to lots of lengthy at bats. He needed 106 pitches to clear five and two-thirds innings, but he left with a 4-1 lead provided by another big inning from the lineup. He allowed just one run on four hits, walking two and striking out eight. He won his seventh straight decision and improved to 9-0 in his career against the Royals with the victory.
Hand locked down his 31st save of the season with one inning of scoreless one-hit relief as the Indians (76-54) won a second straight contest to keep pace with the Minnesota Twins in the American League Central.
Sparkman dropped to 3-9 on the season with a short outing. He went four and one-third innings, allowing four runs on six hits with three walks and four strikeouts on an even 100 pitches. The bullpen backed him up and kept the game close, giving up just a single and a walk in three and two-thirds innings of scoreless relief.
Reyes’ third homer as an Indian gave him 30 on the season combined with his time with the San Diego Padres. His big blast proved to be the game winner, but his thoughts after the game were much more centered around Ramirez and not his production for the Tribe on Saturday.
“We’re really sad because Jose is a happy guy and you guys know that we definitely need him,” said Reyes after the game. “We need his defense, we need his offense, and he’s a great guy. It seemed like he was in a lot of pain. We don’t know what’s going to happen, but I hope everything is good.”
Freeman, who took over for Ramirez three pitches into his first at bat of the game, filled the void admirably once again, as he went 2-for-3 with two singles and a walk while driving in one and scoring one.
The Tribe will go for the three-game sweep on Sunday afternoon in a 1:10 PM ET. Shane Bieber (12-6, 3.26 ERA) will go for the Tribe, looking to end a two-game losing skid while improving to 4-0 in his career against the Royals. Left-hander Eric Skoglund will make his season debut for the Royals as he will be recalled from Triple-A Omaha to make his first start since last September. He has worked eleven times for Omaha after missing 80 games while suspended.
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