A moving strike zone is hard to combat when you are already struggling with your own control on the mound. Carlos Carrasco fought through command issues on Wednesday, while the combination of a rough performance from the Cleveland bullpen and another lackluster showing from the Indians bats against Kyle Hendricks and three Chicago relievers helped push the Cubs to a 7-2 win at Progressive Field.
The Indians matched the Cubs in the hit department, but nine free passes by Cleveland pitching helped increase base traffic and opportunities for the opposing Chicago club, already one of the top offense in the game today without extra help. Neither team was all that impressive with runners in scoring position, but the Cubs came through when it counted with several big hits, including a pair of homers from the big boppers at the top of their lineup. The Indians squandered scoring chances throughout the night, doing little to help their cause.
In the end, it marked another game where the Indians faltered against a top-tier opponent.
Carrasco started the game nicely, striking out Kris Bryant swinging, but followed with back-to-back walks on 14 total pitches to Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez to put two on. A fielder’s choice by Willson Contreras forced Baez at second, and with runners on the corners, Carrasco worked out of it by getting birthday boy Ian Happ to ground to short.
The Indians had an early scoring opportunity, but instead left their first of eight runners stranded on base on the night. With one out, Jose Ramirez doubled to right-center off of Hendricks and moved to third on a grounder to second by Francisco Lindor, but Carlos Santana lined back to the mound to end the inning.
After a 22-pitch first inning, Carrasco followed it up with a messy 18-pitch frame in the second. Jason Heyward grounded to second and David Bote struck out for two outs on ten pitches, but Victor Caratini singled to center and Jason Kipnis walked on four straight pitches to put two on. Bryant, up for the second time in as many innings, grounded into a force at second to end the frame.
Franmil Reyes continued his hot hitting to start the home half of the second, singling to left, but Hendricks struck out two of the next three swinging to leave the big slugger standing at first.
Rizzo put the Cubs on the board with a solo homer to start the third, lining a low screamer into the first row of seats in right to give Chicago a 1-0 lead on his fourth of the year. Carrasco retired the next three, striking out the final two of the inning. Hendrick retired the side in order in the third and Chicago threatened for more in the fourth as Heyward and Bote each walked to start the Cubs’ at bats against Carrasco. Caratini struck out swinging for the first out, but both runners moved up 90 feet on the wild pitch third strike. Kipnis was cut down swinging for the second out before Bryant flied to left to leave two men in scoring position.
Hendricks got the first two in order to give him eight straight retired at the two-out mark of the fourth, but Reyes singled the opposite way to keep the inning alive. Hendrick recovered by striking out Mike Freeman on four pitches.
The Cubs did some damage in the fifth to break the game open for the second straight night. Back-to-back singles from Rizzo and Baez put runners on second and third (after a stolen base by Baez). Contreras struck out swinging for the final out of Carrasco’s night (the catcher was promptly ejected by home plate umpire Tim Timmons, whose strike zone was unpredictable for both sides all night long), with Oliver Perez entering for the second straight night. After Perez missed wide with a first pitch ball, Happ was given an intentional walk to load the bases for Heyward, the hero of Tuesday night. He delivered again, sending a sacrifice fly to right to score Rizzo to make it a 2-0 lead. The next batter, Bote, singled sharply to right. Tyler Naquin’s throw to the plate was cut off, with Bote tagged out after a brief rundown between first and second but not before both Baez and Happ scored to double the Cubs’ lead to 4-0.
The Indians responded for a run in the bottom of the fifth as a successful replay aided the team’s cause. Naquin and Sandy Leon each singled to put runners on first and second against Hendricks. Bradley Zimmer struck out swinging for the first out. Cesar Hernandez popped a 2-2 changeup into shallow left. Bryant charged hard and made a diving catch while tweaking his gloved left hand awkwardly on the snow-cone catch. Cleveland manager Terry Francona challenged the ruling on the field of a catch and it was overturned, with the umpires assigning Naquin to third, Leon to second, and Hernandez to first. Ramirez popped a fly ball to left-center, just deep enough to score Naquin on a bad throw to the plate to get the Indians on the scoreboard in a 4-1 game. The tying run at the plate, Lindor failed in the clutch, grounding weakly to first to strand a pair.
Perez got the first two in the sixth before turning the game over to teammate Adam Cimber, but his second pitch to Bryant exited the playing field for his second homer of the season, extending the Chicago lead to 5-1. Hendricks left after six with that healthy lead, giving up another single to Reyes before getting the final two outs.
The Indians bullpen pitched a scoreless seventh before the Tribe got a run back in the bottom of the seventh against Dan Winkler. A leadoff walk by Leon opened the inning before Zimmer struck out and Hernandez grounded into a fielder’s choice to force Leon at second. Ramirez drew a six-pitch walk to push Hernandez into scoring position and Lindor delivered against reliever Rowan Wick with a single to right-center to scratch across the team’s second run of the night. With a chance to add more or even tie things up with a big fly, C. Santana grounded to first.
As was the case the first time Cleveland scored, Chicago responded to the Indians’ run in its next trip. James Karinchak walked two of the first three batters of the inning before old friend of the feather Kipnis slapped a ground rule double over the wall in the left field corner to make it 6-2. Karinchak struck out the next two to prevent further damage. Wick struck out the side in the eighth and the Cubs got one more in the ninth off of Nick Wittgren. He struck out the first two before walking Happ and Heyward doubled him home before Bote grounded to short.
Jeremy Jeffress pitched an uneventful ninth for the Cubs to close out the 7-2 game. He struck out Domingo Santana before plunking Zimmer. Hernandez grounded to short to start a 6-3 game-ending double play.
The Cubs improved to a Major League-best 12-3 on the year. The Indians dropped to 10-9 on the year and 6-4 at home with their second loss in a row.
Carrasco had his first real clunker on the mound this season as he fought through command issues and a strike zone that seemed to move from pitch to pitch, which helped little. He lasted four and a third, allowing three runs on four hits with five walks on the night. He spent a lot of time working from behind and working in full counts, running his pitch count up quickly to 103 before exiting.
“It is frustrating. You guys watched the game and how the zone was in there. On and off,” said Carrasco. “I didn’t control myself in there in that situation. I just tried to do my best, but it was on and off. I couldn’t find where the ball goes today. My changeup, my slider. I tried to keep the game really close, 1-0, but I ran out of pitches…I think this is something that I learned, sometimes when you don’t have your best stuff, you have to fight through and that’s pretty much what I did.”
Despite the difficulties on the mound, he did manage seven strikeouts and battled both himself and the home plate umpire, showing rare emotion on the mound in response to the moving strike zone.
“I thought he was really yanking a lot of fastballs, into the lefty, away to the righty. Shoot, he was probably in the fourth inning and strike-to-ball were even,” said Francona. “There were a lot of walks. He was pitching out of danger the entire time.
“I thought in the first inning, I thought Tim [Timmons] had a couple of pitches he could have called strikes he didn’t. He actually said that, he owned up to it. That to me…everybody’s human. I don’t think that’s why we got beat by five. Guys are human.”
All four Indians relievers were charged with one run on one hit. Karinchak walked two but struck out four in an inning and one-third.
Hendricks moved to 3-1 on the season with six quality innings for the Cubs. He allowed just one run on seven hits, issuing no walks while striking out five.
“He’ll locate about as good as you can. He makes 86 or 87 look about 93,” said Francona. “He’ll throw one up out of the zone for effect, and then he’ll come back with something slow, whether it’s a breaking ball or a changeup, try to get you to take the sting out of the bat or roll over. He did a good job of it and we didn’t adjust enough.”
Reyes went 3-for-4 for Cleveland, reaching base in six straight plate appearances in the series and five straight times via hit. He extended his hitting streak to six straight (with five multi-hit games in that span). He is now hitting .292 on the year.
The Indians will take Thursday off before hitting the road for another road trip during a heavy travel portion of the schedule for the club. The first stop will be in Detroit, where the team will play three against the surprising Tigers. Aaron Civale (1-2, 2.84 ERA) will be the first to the mound for the Tribe in the 7:10 PM ET series opener on Friday night, with Shane Bieber (3-0, 1.63) and Adam Plutko (1-1, 2.45) to follow at Comerica Park.
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