In his first start since May 30th of a year ago, Carlos Carrasco provided the Cleveland Indians with six quality innings on the mound while the Tribe bats came alive against the Royals bullpen in a 9-2 drubbing of Kansas City on Sunday afternoon.
The series finale between the Indians and Royals provided a lot of encouraging signs as Cleveland pitching continued its strong start to the season while the offense erupted for nine runs on 13 hits against eight different Royals relievers, as Kansas City skipper Mike Matheny had to go with a bullpen game with two of his starters shelved after battles with the coronavirus. The Indians had big days from several guys in the lineup, but no one bigger than Jose Ramirez.
The Indians jumped out to an early lead in the first after a scoreless first from Carrasco, who struck out a pair in the inning. With one out against opener Ronald Bolanos, Ramirez sent a grounder off of the end of his bat to third. Erick Mejia fielded the ball fine, but threw wild to Maikel Franco at first. Ramirez dodged the tag to reach safely on the throwing error. Bolanos struck out Francisco Lindor on a breaking ball in the dirt for the second out of the frame. Carlos Santana drew his first of two walks on the day to keep the inning alive and Franmil Reyes delivered the first run of the game with an RBI-single through the right side of the infield. Not done, Domingo Santana launched a drive to the right-center gap, scoring Santana from third before he was thrown out trying to stretch the hit into a double.
Back on the mound with a 2-0 lead, Carrasco went three-up, three-down in the second and third innings, adding three more strikeouts to his tally to give him five for the day. The Indians had base runners in the home half of the second, but a walk was erased on a caught stealing and a single was negated on a double play ball. But in the third, facing new reliever Jorge Lopez, the Tribe bats delivered three straight hits to expand their lead. Cesar Hernandez singled to center. Ramirez sent a liner to right that ate up right fielder Franchy Cordero and went all the way to the wall. Hernandez scored from first and Ramirez was into third safely with a head first dive. Lindor came through with his biggest hit of the early season, slapping a double down the left field line and off of the tarp that scored Ramirez easily to make it a 4-0 Indians lead. Lopez retired C. Santana on a liner to center and Lindor’s base running mistake on a grounder to short by Reyes racked up the second out. Gabe Speier took over for KC, giving up a single to D. Santana before striking out Bradley Zimmer looking.
Carrasco made it ten in a row retired to start his 2020 season before Adalberto Mondesi spoiled the streak with a one-out double to left in the fourth. Jorge Soler struck out swinging for the second out, but Salvador Perez, starting for the third straight game behind the plate, singled to center to put the Royals on the board. Alex Gordon grounded into a force at second to end the mini-rally.
The Indians responded with several more runs of their own in the bottom of the fourth. With one down against Speier, Yu Chang reached on a single to short. Hernandez sent a 3-2 pitch into left field for a base hit, putting two on and bringing Matheny back to the mound for a new arm. That move did not pay off as Ramirez put the ball in play for the third straight at bat, sending Kevin McCarthy‘s pitch high and deep to right for a three-run blast. The first Cleveland homer of the campaign made it a 7-1 ball game.
Carrasco’s hardest inning of the game came in the following top half. Franco singled to open the inning before Cordero lined out and Mejia struck out looking. Brett Phillips walked to bring up Whit Merrifield, and he did what he does best, notching another base hit to left that scored Franco to make it 7-2. Carrasco retired Mondesi on a grounder to short to strand a pair.
After facing his first real difficult inning on the mound, Carrasco responded in true veteran fashion in the sixth. Facing the heart of the order, he struck out Soler, Perez, and Gordon swinging to give him ten Ks on the day.
Richard Lovelady became the sixth of eight Royals pitchers on the day in the sixth. Seven of his first eight pitches missed, as Chang walked on the first four balls, but Hernandez grounded into a double play when he found the strike zone again. Two pitches later, Ramirez got to take his second trot around the bases on the day, homering off of the left field foul pole on a slider in to make it 8-2.
A double by Franco to start the seventh ended Carrasco’s afternoon at six-plus worked. Oliver Perez left him standing there with a pair of strikeouts and a groundout in his first work of the season.
Cleveland added one final tally in the bottom of the seventh against Glenn Sparkman. C. Santana drew his second walk of the game and moved to third one out later on a double by D. Santana, his third hit of the day. Zimmer lifted a fly to left deep enough to score the runner from third with the Tribe’s ninth run of the game.
Dominic Leone made his Indians debut in the top of the eighth, striking out two and working around a one-out single by Mondesi and walk by Soler. Kansas City’s Kyle Zimmer (brother of Cleveland’s Bradley) struck out three in the bottom of the eighth, and making his Major League debut in the ninth, rookie right-hander Cam Hill retired the side in order, striking out Mejia for his first big league K to end the contest.
The Indians broke up the five-team logjam in the American League Central and improved to 2-1 on the season with the W, joining victorious Minnesota and Detroit atop the division standings. The Royals are now 1-2 on the year.
Carrasco looked as good as he had in quite some time, addressing some of the questions about how he would perform as a starter after his leukemia diagnosis last June. He did not appear to tire and he was able to keep his velocity up throughout the start. He gave the Indians six innings plus one batter, earning the win for the first time in a start since May 14th last year. He was charged with two runs on five hits, issuing one free pass while striking out ten. That strikeout total marked the 25th time in his big league career that he has reached double-digit Ks in one game.
“I think he looked to me like he was just taking the ball to throw, and I mean that as a compliment,” said Indians manager Terry Francona after the game about Carrasco’s triumphant start. “I think he was very professional about it.”
Carrasco threw 62 of 87 pitches for strikes, working from in front of 20 of the 24 men that he faced. His stuff played well throughout the afternoon, as he induced 17 swings and misses.
HOME RUN PITCH
Ramirez had himself a day at the plate while taking off from the field. Making his first start at designated hitter, he went 3-for-5 with homers from each side of the plate, four runs scored, and three batted in.
It was the 13th time in Ramirez’s career that he has homered twice in a contest and the fifth different time that he has homered from both sides of the plate.
A LITTLE HISTORY IN THE MAKING
When Perez took the mound in the seventh in relief of Carrasco, it marked the official start of his 18th different Major League season. In doing so, he has now pitched in more seasons than any other Mexican-born player in Major League Baseball history, breaking a tie previously held with pitcher Fernando Valenzuela (1980-1997; did not play in 1992), utility man Juan Castro (1995-2011), and third baseman Aurelio Rodriguez (1967-1983).
While the Royals head north to Detroit to start a four-game series with the Tigers, the Indians will stay put at Progressive Field to host the Chicago White Sox.
The three-game series will include a pair of 7:10 PM ET starts on Monday and Tuesday before a 6:10 PM ET start on getaway day on Wednesday. Aaron Civale (3-4, 2.34 ERA, 1.04 WHIP last season) is scheduled to start the series opener for the Tribe, to be followed by Zach Plesac and Shane Bieber.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images