James Karinchak walked a pair before giving up the game-tying run in the bottom of the eighth and Adam Cimber allowed the winning run to score as the Cleveland Indians dropped their opener against the Kansas City Royals by a 2-1 final on Monday night.
In a rare occurrence, the Indians lost a game started by Shane Bieber, and even more notably so as it came when the Tribe’s ace was pitching following a Cleveland loss. He did his part, but after a good inning of work from the bullpen, things fell apart in unpleasant fashion in the eighth.
The reliable Karinchak, making his first appearance since blowing a save in Saturday’s extra inning win in St. Louis, was on to protect a 1-0 lead with six outs left in the ball game. Set to face the 2-3-4 part of the order, Karinchak could not command the fastball for the second straight outing and this time, his curve eluded him too. He walked Hunter Dozier on six pitches, then did the same to put on Jorge Soler. He needed six pitches to get Ryan O’Hearn swinging on a fastball at the top of the zone for the first out, but Maikel Franco drove a 3-1 curveball into left field for an RBI-single to tie the game at one. Interim skipper Sandy Alomar Jr. retrieved the young right-hander and went to the submariner Cimber, but after getting ahead 0-2 on Bubba Starling, he left a sinker down the middle and the light-hitting Royal slapped a single back into center field. Delino DeShields fired towards the plate, but Francisco Lindor curiously cut the ball off before relaying to the plate himself, giving Soler just enough extra time to cross the plate safely to put the Royals up, 2-1. Cimber struck out Adalberto Mondesi before getting Nicky Lopez to foul out to third.
Greg Holland, elevated back into the Royals’ closer role after the team traded Trevor Rosenthal over the weekend, had to contend with the middle of the Tribe order. He got Carlos Santana to fly to center before Franmil Reyes split the left-center gap for the second time on the night, rolling into second with his second double of the day. With pinch-runner Oscar Mercado replacing him at second, Tyler Naquin stepped in, one of the top hitters in the clutch for the Indians, but he failed to deliver and struck out swinging. Newest member of the organization Josh Naylor grabbed a bat, but in his first Indians at bat, he grounded to second to end the ball game.
A second straight loss dropped the Indians to 21-14 on the season and out of first place after the Chicago White Sox defeated the Minnesota Twins on Monday night. The Royals moved to 14-21 on the year, eight games out of first place. It marked the first time that Cleveland had lost when leading after seven innings and conversely the first time this season that Kansas City had won when trailing after seven.
The Indians wasted another good outing from Bieber, who for the eighth straight time this season gave the club a quality start. Unfortunately for Bieber, his offense had to square up with Brad Keller, who had allowed runs in just one of his four starts this season.
The Indians got the first runner of the game in the top of the first, when Lindor singled to center with two outs, but Santana was unable to move him along as he grounded to short to end the inning.
The Royals used a patient approach against Bieber and did not chase like other teams have done against him this season. A 21-pitch first inning resulted in a walk and two strikeouts for Bieber, but no harm done.
Keller retired the Tribe in order in the second while the Royals notched their first hit of the game as Franco led off the inning with a single to center. Bieber struck out Alex Gordon and Mondesi swinging before getting Lopez to ground back to the mound, but the Tribe starter needed another 23 pitches to get three outs.
Cleveland got its first runner into scoring position on the night in the third. With two outs, Keller lost Cesar Hernandez and walked him. The Tribe’s second baseman moved to second on a wild pitch, but Jose Ramirez grounded the next pitch to first to end the inning. Bieber continued to battle himself in a better 16-pitch frame in the home half of the third, walking Dozier with two outs around a pair of strikeouts to give him six through three innings. He added another in a perfect fourth and two more in the fifth after a leadoff walk of Mondesi, his third free pass surrendered in the game. He added another walk in the bottom of the sixth, putting on Soler with one out, before he got O’Hearn to line to center and Franco to fly to left with the final pitches of his outing.
Things changed for the Tribe in the seventh. Keller had retired eight in a row to clear the fifth and sixth before giving up a one-out single to Santana. After getting ahead in the count 2-0, Reyes caught a sinker up and over the plate and belted it to the gap in left-center and all the way to the warning track before it was cut off. A hard-charging hustling Santana flew around the bases and scored standing up with the first run of the game, giving the Indians a temporary 1-0 lead. Jesse Hahn came on in relief for manager Mike Matheny and retired the next two batters.
The Royals threatened in the seventh against Phil Maton, on in relief of Bieber, who was in line for his seventh win of the year. Gordon singled to right and was lifted for pinch-runner Starling. Maton struck out Mondesi but plunked Lopez with an 0-1 pitch to push the tying run into scoring position. Pinch-hitter Ryan McBroom grabbed a bat for catcher Cam Gallagher, but struck out on a diet of four-seamers for the second out. Nick Wittgren was summoned through the outfield fence to face the dangerous Whit Merrifield and needed two pitches to get him to fly out to Jordan Luplow in deep left-center to keep it a 1-0 game.
The Indians missed out on a key scoring opportunity in the top of the eighth that would come back to haunt them. Scott Barlow, the third pitcher of the night for the Royals, got the first two batters of the inning before Hernandez singled and moved to second on a base hit by Ramirez. With a chance to get some needed insurance runs, Lindor grounded a 3-2 pitch to second.
QUALITY CY BIEBER
It was more of the same from Bieber, who even when he isn’t at his best, is still better than almost everybody. Despite walking a season-high four batters, he allowed just one base hit over six shutout innings of work and left as the pitcher of record when the Indians staked a one-run lead in the top of the seventh. He threw 105 pitches over those six innings while striking out nine.
“He was fighting a little bit with his command. He was able to settle down and ended up going six innings,” said interim manager Alomar Jr. “He doesn’t get frustrated. He knows he’s still better than everybody, so he knows how to get back on track. It’s very difficult to be perfect every outing you go out there, but you find ways to compete. At the beginning, you might not have your slider, your breaking ball, or your fastball. You deal with what you have then and then hopefully later on the other pitches start showing up. That’s what he does.”
He became the second pitcher in club history to be undefeated with an ERA below 1.50 through his first eight starts since Cy Falkenberg in 1913 and his 84 strikeouts are the second-most ever by an Indians hurler through his first eight starts, one short of Bob Feller’s 85 in 1946.
Bieber also established a new Major League record for strikeouts at the 50 innings pitched mark of a season with 82, breaking the previous record of 79 set by Kerry Wood. In 32 career starts on the road, Bieber owns a 20-5 record with a 2.73 ERA.
COMMAND ISSUES FOR KARINCHAK
The MLB strikeout leader among relievers was tagged for a blown save for the second straight night and took his second loss of the season.
“It seems like his tempo kind of slowed down a little bit the last two times,” said Alomar Jr. “Taking too long between pitches. I don’t know if he’s thinking too much. He needs to speed up his tempo.”
Karinchak put the blame on his own back, giving credit to his teammates for picking him up after his outing on Saturday against the Cardinals.
“I’m just not executing,” said Karinchak of his outing. “No one else to blame but me. I’ve got to watch film and get better every day. I can’t keep doing this.”
Keller kept the Indians at bay despite not doing anything too fancy in the process. He allowed a run on three hits and a walk over six and one-third innings of work, striking out four on the way. He worked ahead of just over half of the batters that he faced and got only six swings and misses on the night, but he had the Indians hitting the ball right at people to prevent harm.
“He’s probably their best pitcher,” said Alomar Jr. “He commands the outside corner, has a great cutter, good breaking ball, and he can elevate. He knows how to pitch. He’s probably their most solid guy since he came back.”
Earlier in the day, the Indians and San Diego Padres completed a massive nine-player trade ahead of the August 31 trade deadline. Heading to the Padres were starting pitcher Mike Clevinger, outfielder Greg Allen, and a player to be named later. Coming to the Indians in return were six players, including three added to the 28-man roster in catcher Austin Hedges, the outfielder Naylor, and pitcher Cal Quantrill. Joining the team’s alternate training site in Lake County are infielders Gabriel Arias and Owen Miller and pitcher Joey Cantillo.
“I did some reflecting today. I’ve created some great relationships with both of them, Clev specifically,” Bieber said of his two traded teammates. “He was one of the first guys that kind of welcomed me when I made my debut up in ’18. We developed a pretty great relationship and obviously with the staff, I wish him the best. I know bright things are ahead in his future, especially in San Diego. It is what it is. That’s the business of baseball. We all trust the front office. We’re doing what we believe is right. He’s going to do great things wherever he lands, at this point in San Diego. Going to miss him as a teammate and a friend.”
The Indians also designated outfielder Domingo Santana for assignment and recalled Oscar Mercado from Lake County.
Cleveland and Kansas City will resume their series on Tuesday night in another 8:05 PM ET start. The Royals will turn to veteran right-hander Matt Harvey (0-1, 11.12 ERA), who will make his third start of the season in search of an outing beyond three innings. The Indians will recall second-year right-hander Zach Plesac (1-1, 1.29 ERA) from the team’s alternate training site to make the start.
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