A two-run home run by Franmil Reyes in the top of the eighth highlighted a four-run rally for the Cleveland Indians in support of starter Shane Bieber, while Brad Hand pitched a perfect ninth to save a 4-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday night.
The struggling Indians lineup had a different approach during the game, but came away with just three hits against right-hander Tyler Mahle and the Reds bullpen. Two of those hits came in their final two innings at the plate, however, and both were instrumental in putting key runs on the scoreboard.
The Reds jumped out early against the Indians with a run in the first inning, the first scored off of Bieber in 2020. The Tribe right-hander retired Shogo Akiyama on strikes and got Joey Votto to ground out, but Nicholas Castellanos remained scorching hot, extending his hitting streak to eleven games with a moonshot to straightaway center to put the Reds up by a 1-0 count after one.
The Indians had one-out runners in the first and second on free passes against Mahle, but were unable to advance the runner. That changed in the third as Oscar Mercado led off the inning with a solid single to center, but the next two men to the plate – Cesar Hernandez and Jose Ramirez – were both retired on swinging strikeouts. Francisco Lindor was hit on the foot by a pitch to put a runner in scoring position, but Carlos Santana flied to center to strand a pair.
Bieber struck out three batters in the bottom of the second around a two-out single to center by Nick Senzel and got three ground ball outs in the third sandwiched around a two-out walk by Votto. In the fourth, he was far less lucky as the Reds added to their lead. After striking out Mike Moustakas swinging to open the inning, Bieber got ahead of Eugenio Suarez, 1-2. Looking for back-to-back punch outs, Bieber instead caught too much of the plate and the Reds’ slugger, who hit 49 homers a year ago, notched his first of the season with a drive over the wall in center to make it a 2-0 game.
Mahle kept the Indians in check in a solid start overall, retiring the final ten batters that he faced after plunking Lindor. Nine of those outs came on balls in the air. He turned the game over to the bullpen for the seventh, and with a new pitcher on the mound, the Indians put together the first half of their rally.
Reyes led off the inning against right-hander Pedro Strop and grounded to short, but an error there by Freddy Galvis allowed him to reach safely. Bradley Zimmer drew a six-pitch walk to put a second runner on before Jordan Luplow struck out swinging for the first out. First pitch swinging, Sandy Leon flied to right for the second out, putting the rally on the brink of failure, but Mercado showed good patience at the plate, drawing a walk after falling behind 1-2 to load the bases. Hernandez stepped into the box and pounded a 2-2 pitch in the hole between first and second. Votto fielded to his right, but was too far away to take the ball himself. Instead, he had to underhand flip to the sprinting Strop, who could not beat Hernandez in time (nor did he catch the flip), allowing Reyes to score from third. Lucas Sims came on in relief for manager David Bell, but his payoff pitch to Ramirez missed low and away for ball four, walking in the tying run. Lindor grounded to first to leave the bases loaded.
Bieber remained on the mound in the bottom of the seventh for Cleveland. Cincinnati got an infield single from Jesse Winker, who was erased on a fielder’s choice. Senzel reached on a throwing error on that play, but he was stranded as Galvis grounded to short.
Nate Jones became the fourth Reds pitcher of the game in the top of the eighth, but his stint on the mound changed the night in favor of the Tribe. Santana drew a walk on seven pitches to bring Reyes to the plate. He fouled off several pitches before catching a 2-2 sinker middle-middle and putting a charge into it, clearing the wall to the right of center for a two-run home run to put the Indians on top for the first time, 4-2. Zimmer struck out swinging and left-hander Amir Garrett came in and retired Luplow and Leon, but the damage had been done.
Bieber was back on the bump in the bottom of the eighth for the Tribe, pitching for the first time on the night with a lead. He got the first two batters before Votto singled to right and with the tying run at the plate in the dangerous Castellanos, interim manager Sandy Alomar Jr. called upon right-hander James Karinchak for the final out. A wild pitch moved Votto into scoring position, but Karinchak got Castellanos looking on a high curveball to send the game to the ninth.
Cody Reed prevented the Indians from adding to their advantage, bringing the closer Hand to the mound with a two-run lead to pitch for the first time since allowing four runs in a loss to Chicago on Wednesday night. The extra rest may have done him some good, as he got Kyle Farmer to line to left, got Suarez to pop out to first, and then froze pinch-hitter Matt Davidson on four pitches to end it.
The win ended the Indians’ four-game losing skid and brought the team back up to the .500 mark at 6-6 on the season. The Reds fell back below the .500 mark at 5-6.
Bieber improved to 3-0 on the year with a third straight quality start. He spread 106 pitches over seven and two-thirds innings of work, allowing two runs on five hits with two walks and eight strikeouts. While he was not as sharp as he was in each of his first two outings, he minimized the damage and gave the Indians a chance to get back into the game.
“Other than a couple mistakes, he was awesome,” said Alomar Jr. “He gave us a chance, kept us in the game. The entire staff is keeping us in the game. He settled down and was able to keep us in the game and the offense came through.”
With eight strikeouts, Bieber moved to 35 on the season, giving him the third-most ever thrown by a pitcher in his first three starts of the season. Nolan Ryan struck out 37 with the California Angels in 1973, while Gerrit Cole struck out 36 with the Houston Astros in 2018.
“I want to go as long as possible, give our team and myself as many opportunities to capitalize on the game as possible. I was definitely stoked to have the opportunity to go out for the eighth,” said Bieber of his outing. “I think it’s part of the game, if you’re going to be around the zone there are going to be guys that are either guessing right or taking advantage of mistakes. Tonight, they definitely took advantage of mistakes. Castellanos, I was trying to go in for effect, that ball wasn’t supposed to be near the zone. When you’re hot, you’re hot, so he took advantage of that. Suarez, probably should have spun something but instead I leaked a fastball back over middle. They’re good hitters, so they took advantage of it. I was just happy they were solo home runs and I didn’t compound mistakes.”
Karinchak earned his second hold of the season with his strikeout of Castellanos. Hand earned his third save in as many opportunities.
Mahle took a tough no-decision for the Reds after firing six shutout innings of one-hit ball. He struck out six and walked a pair, leaving with 98 pitches tossed and a 2-0 lead. The bullpen behind him struggled to keep runners off of the bases, allowing two hits, issuing four walks, and hitting a batter over the final three innings, failing to protect the small lead.
Reyes scored twice and drove in two runs for the Indians in the top offensive game on either side. Hernandez reached twice on a single and a hit by pitch, while Mercado singled and walked and both Ramirez and Zimmer walked twice.
The Reds had five hits off of Indians pitching, including the two solo home runs. Castellanos now has six on the season to go with 13 RBI and his 11-game hitting streak. The team had only two at bats on the night with runners in scoring position. Moustakas left after five innings with a bruised left quad.
The Indians were again without the services of manager Terry Francona, who remained in Cleveland after undergoing tests at the Cleveland Clinic regarding a gastrointestinal issue. There is still no timetable for his return.
Major League Baseball’s need to be fluid and flexible in the pandemic continued on Tuesday as sources confirmed to both the Athletic and ESPN that there will be a change to roster caps and taxi squad sizes in light of COVID-19. Rosters, currently set at 30, were due to be reduced to 28 later this week with another drop to the final size of 26 two weeks after that. Outbreaks in several spots around the league have made MLB reconsider that plan, as this week’s drop to 28 will be the only reduction for the year. Meanwhile, taxi squads can increase from three players to five.
The Indians and Reds will resume their set on the other end of the state as the two clubs head to Cleveland for games on Wednesday and Thursday. Mike Clevinger (0-1, 4.91 ERA) will be the first to the mound for the Indians, looking to feel like himself for the first time this season after some problems with the long ball and control in the early going. The Reds have switched up their rotation, pushing back Luis Castillo to Thursday while opting for rookie righty Tejay Antone (0-0, 2.08) in the opener in Cleveland. It will be his second big league start after allowing a run on one hit (a homer) with a walk and five strikeouts in four and one-third innings in his MLB debut against the Chicago Cubs on July 27.
First pitch from Progressive Field on Wednesday night is scheduled for 7:10 PM ET.
Photo: Jamie Sabau/Getty Images