With the way Shane Bieber has pitched so far this year, run support does not need to be a priority. Six shutout innings of six-hit baseball from the Tribe’s ace and three strong innings of relief led the Cleveland Indians to a 2-0 shutout on Thursday to complete a three-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Indians (16-9) put together a perfect road trip through Detroit and Pittsburgh over the last week by riding the stellar starting pitching that has dominated the opposition for the bulk of the season. The club had a frustrating night of missed opportunities at the plate, but the five pitchers to take the mound for the Indians on Thursday limited the Pirates (4-17) to just six hits and a walk in a second straight scoreless effort in Pittsburgh.
Cleveland spent the first four innings working up Trevor Williams‘ pitch count, ultimately chasing him from the game after four innings. After a quiet first, they struck through with a key two-out hit from an unlikely source. Back-to-back one-out singles by Franmil Reyes and Tyler Naquin put runners on the corners. Domingo Santana lined to right, but Beau Taylor ended a long hitting drought at the dish with a single to right-center, driving home the first run of the game. With men on the corners again and two outs, Bradley Zimmer grounded to first, but the Indians had staked out a 1-0 lead.
Bieber had an unusual outing as he allowed base runners in five of his six innings worked. His own throwing error allowed Kevin Newman to reach with one out in the first, but he was stranded at second. The Pirates got their first hit of the game in the second when JT Riddle singled to center, but he advanced no further.
The Indians put together a scoring threat in the third, but could not come through in a long inning. After a groundout by Cesar Hernandez and a strikeout swinging by Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor kept the inning alive with a single to left. Carlos Santana pulled a single into right to put two on, but the Tribe’s woes on the day with men in scoring position began as Reyes struck out swinging.
Two reached in the third off of Bieber as Pittsburgh posed its first real threat on the night. Erik Gonzalez sent a one-out single into center and moved to second on an infield single by Newman, but he was gunned down trying to swipe third as the inning crumbled. Josh Bell struck out swinging to send the game to the fourth.
Cleveland had things set up for a big inning in the top of the fourth, but again could not deliver the big hit needed. Naquin singled to right and D. Santana walked on four pitches. Taylor successfully sacrificed both runners up for the first out. Zimmer worked a walk to load the bases for the top of the order, but Williams struck out Hernandez and got Ramirez to fly to left. Bieber had a perfect fourth with two strikeouts, with Pirates designated hitter Colin Moran getting ejected by third base umpire Tripp Gibson after arguing a checked swing that was called the third strike.
Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton turned to his bullpen for the fifth inning, calling on Sam Howard. He retired the Tribe in order, while a fielder’s choice by Gonzalez wasted a two-out single by Jacob Stallings against Bieber in the home half of the frame.
The Indians once again had all sorts of base traffic in the sixth, but could not add on to their one-run lead. Back-to-back one-out walks by D. Santana and Taylor on nine pitches against Brandon Waddell put two on, but Zimmer and Hernandez both grounded out.
Bieber’s final inning of work on the night was his toughest. Newman and Bell both opened the inning with singles, putting runners on the corners with nobody out. Bieber battled, striking out pinch-hitter Adam Frazier and Jose Osuna swinging before getting Riddle to fly to right to keep it a 1-0 game.
Waddell worked an easy seventh, but Chris Stratton had issues with the Tribe bats and the strike zone in the eighth. Reyes drew a leadoff walk and moved to second on a first-pitch single by Naquin, his third hit of the night. D. Santana worked his third walk of the game to load the bases. In stepped Taylor, having already made a significant impact at and behind the plate on the night, and he chopped a fielder’s choice to first. A throwing error by Bell trying to cut down the runner at the plate allowed Reyes to score to extend the Cleveland lead to 2-0. The Pirates were able to pull off the play the next time, as Zimmer grounded to short with Naquin cut down at the plate for the first out. With the bags still full, Hernandez struck out on a 3-2 slider and Ramirez grounded to short to waste a big scoring chance.
The Tribe bullpen was business as usual in relief of their ace. Oliver Perez pitched the seventh, leaving with two outs after a single by Stallings. Nick Wittgren entered and retired Gonzalez on a grounder to second. James Karinchak walked the leadoff man in the eighth before a flyout by Bell and strikeouts by Frazier and Osuna. Brad Hand handled the ninth, striking out Bryan Reynolds to start the inning. Cole Tucker flied to right for the second out, and pinch-hitter John Ryan Murphy struck out looking on a fastball in to send the Indians to their sixth straight victory.
Cleveland now trails Minnesota by a half-game in the American League Central standings. The bad season continued for Pittsburgh, which sits in the cellar of the National League Central with a 4-17 record and a four-game losing streak.
Bieber’s march to the Cy Young award continued with six more scoreless innings of work on Thursday. He set down eleven on strikes and did not issue a free pass, working around the six base hits compiled by the Pirates. He left at 99 pitches tossed, with 66 for strikes and 16 of those whiffs. It marked the fourth time in six starts this season that Bieber has struck out double digit totals in a game and he has gotten at least eight Ks in every start this year.
Bieber is now 5-0 on the season with a 1.11 ERA. He has 65 strikeouts in 40 2/3 innings of work. A good inning from the closer Hand earned him his seventh save of the year.
Williams dropped to 1-4 on the year with a mixed outing on the mound. He limited the Indians to just one run over four innings, but he allowed six hits and two walks along the way and needed 90 pitches to get through 12 outs.
With the road trip in the books, the Indians will head home to Cleveland to start their first real homestand in quite some time. Adam Plutko (1-1, 3.95 ERA) will draw the starting nod for the Indians in the series opener, to be followed by minor league call-up Triston McKenzie for his big league debut on Saturday and Carlos Carrasco in the finale on Sunday. The Tigers will send Michael Fulmer (0-0, 7.56 ERA) to the mound in the series opener, followed by Matt Boyd and Tarik Skubal.
First pitch on Friday from Progressive Field is scheduled for 7:10 PM ET.
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