The Chicago Cubs showed little rust after their long layoff, routing the Cleveland Indians 7-1 on Tuesday night in the return to the dugout by Terry Francona.
While the Indians welcomed Francona back to the Progressive Field dugout, the day was tarnished by the absence of the game’s scheduled starting pitcher Mike Clevinger, whose failure to abide by team protocols in Chicago followed by a senseless unwillingness to self-report his transgression after another teammate was sent home by the club for the same mistake left him unable to start the series opener between the two clubs. The matchup was already an unfavorable one, with pesky lefty Jon Lester set to oppose. Adam Plutko took the mound for just his second appearance in two weeks with the task of giving the Indians as many pitches as he could to minimize the wear and tear on the bullpen as a result.
Plutko was up to that task, but was only able to give the Indians four innings of work, throwing 78 pitches while limiting the Cubs to a solo run on four hits. That run came after retiring the first four batters that he faced, when three straight base runners reached in the second to put Chicago up by an early run. Willson Contreras singled to left-center with one out and moved up to second on a five-pitch walk by Ian Happ. Jason Heyward, who had a big night at the plate, started that effort with a single to center on a payoff pitch from Plutko, scoring Contreras to make it a 1-0 game.
Longtime Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, who was recognized by the Cleveland organization in a video tribute before his first game as a visitor, doubled to right in his first at bat to lead off the third. He was stranded as Plutko retired the top of the Cubs order in order. He got a double play ball from Contreras in the fourth to erase a leadoff single by Kyle Schwarber.
Lester had easy sailing for much of the night, but he had a couple of jams to contend with. He got out of a first inning mess after an infield single by Francisco Lindor and a walk by Carlos Santana, striking out Franmil Reyes. He retired the side in order in the second and third before Santana doubled to right with one out in the fourth. He was joined on base on a good walk from Reyes, but Jordan Luplow flied out to Heyward in right before Domingo Santana grounded out to third to strand a pair.
Oliver Perez pitched a perfect fifth in relief of Plutko and Lester matched those results before the Cubs broke the game wide open in the sixth against relievers Cam Hill and Phil Maton. Kris Bryant led the inning off with a walk. After a flyout to center by Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez reached on a single to short. Schwarber was hit by a pitch to load the bases and a sacrifice fly from Contreras moved Bryant across to make it 2-0. Happ sent a 1-1 pitch back up the middle between the shifted infielders for another run, scoring Baez to push the score to 3-0. Maton took over with runners on the corners and only one out, hoping for a double play ball, but instead, his 1-2 curveball was belted over the wall in right by Heyward to double the Cubs lead to 6-0. Victor Caratini struck out swinging to end the five-run onslaught.
The Indians finally struck through against Lester in his final inning of work. Jose Ramirez flied to right to start the inning, but Lindor was plunked. C. Santana lined to center for the second out but Reyes’ good career numbers against Lester played true as he sent a double to the gap in right-center to score Lindor, making it a 6-1 game.
Logan Allen made his season debut for the Indians and had a tough start to his 2020 tour. He walked Kipnis and hit Bryant, but he got Rizzo to ground into a double play. A wild pitch skipped away from catcher Sandy Leon, just far enough away that a sprinting Kipnis was able to score from third without a throw. Baez followed with a double to center before pinch-hitter Albert Almora Jr. was retired on a fly to right to prevent more harm.
Allen allowed three more singles and a walk over his final two innings of work, but was able to keep the Cubs off of the scoreboard.
The Indians had little better success against the Cubs bullpen than they did with the starter Lester. Ryan Tepera and Colin Rea pitched perfect innings in the seventh and eighth. Rea remained on for the bottom of the ninth and allowed a one-out single by Reyes while Tyler Naquin reached on an error by Bryant. The six-run hole remained, however, as pinch-hitter Oscar Mercado flied out before another out in the air from Leon.
The Cubs moved to 11-3 on the season in their first game back since a blowout loss against the Royals in Kansas City on Thursday. The Indians dropped to 10-8 on the year with their third home loss. Chicago had its entire series this past weekend postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak in the St. Louis Cardinals organization.
The Tribe bullpen had its first collective struggle of the season as the Indians allowed a season-high seven runs, ending their streak of 17 straight games allowing four runs or less. Plutko gave up a run over four innings while taking a tough loss. Hill was tagged with four runs on two hits with a walk and a hit batter in two-thirds of an inning worked. Maton was charged with the Heyward run from the homer, while Allen allowed four hits, two walks, and a hit batter in three innings.
Lester moved to 2-0 on the year with a quality start. He gave up a run on three hits with two walks, one hit batter, and four strikeouts on 93 pitches. Tepera and Rea allowed just two base runners over the final three frames.
Heyward did the heavy lifting for the Cubs, reaching base three times. He hit his second homer of the season and drove in four runs to give him nine on the year. Baez and Happ each had a pair of hits.
Lindor, C. Santana, and Reyes combined to go 4-for-9 with two walks and all of the run production. The rest of the Tribe lineup went 0-for-23. The Indians as a whole were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position and stranded seven. Santana’s early walk was the 858th of his Tribe career and moved him into second place on the Indians’ all-time bases-on-balls list, ahead of Tris Speaker (857) and now trailing only Jim Thome (1,008).
Prior to the game, the Indians announced a pair of expected moves, placing pitchers Clevinger and Zach Plesac on the restricted list after the pair broke protocol and left the team hotel in Chicago on Saturday night. The team activated the outfielder Naquin, who reached on error in a late pinch-hitting plate appearance, and recalled the left-handed pitcher Allen from the team’s alternate training site in Eastlake.
The Indians will look to salvage a series split in the short home set on Wednesday night in the finale from Progressive Field. Carlos Carrasco (2-1, 2.50 ERA) will draw the starting nod for the Tribe while the Cubs will counter with right-hander Kyle Hendricks (2-1, 3.54).
First pitch is scheduled for 6:10 PM ET.
Photo: Ron Schwane/Getty Images