Some late insurance runs and a good job by the bullpen picking up Shane Bieber in his shortest outing of the year paced the Cleveland Indians to a 4-1 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday afternoon.
It was a tale of two starts for Bieber, who breezed through the first three innings before running into some trouble in the fourth and fifth frames in his shortest start of the season. Despite the mixed results, he limited the Brewers to just a run in five innings of work while striking out ten. The bullpen took care of things the rest of the way, while the offense scored two big insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth to give the pitching staff some wiggle room.
After a 1-2-3 top half from Bieber (aided by a defensive gem from Jose Ramirez), the Indians backed him with an early run of support against left-hander Brett Anderson. A one-out walk by Ramirez got the Indians going. Francisco Lindor grounded out to third, moving Ramirez up to second, and Carlos Santana ripped a first-pitch double to the wall in left to score Ramirez and give the Indians a 1-0 lead.
Bieber made quick and easy work of the Brewers in his first three innings. He struck out two in the first, the fifth and sixth hitters in the second, and the side in the third to give him five straight strikeouts and seven the first trip through the order in a perfect 9-up, 9-down effort.
Anderson kept the Indians at bay in the early going. He retired the side in order in the second. Ramirez reached on a two-out single to center in the third, but he was caught stealing to end the inning.
Things changed for Bieber in the fourth as the Brewers worked him deep into counts. He needed six pitches to get Ben Gamel to ground to second and six more to get Keston Hiura to ground to third. Christian Yelich saw nine before drawing a walk. Daniel Vogelbach jumped on the next pitch and sent a four-seamer into right field, putting runners on the corners with the Brewers threatening for the first time. Orlando Arcia turned a 2-0 pitch into an inning ending fielder’s choice in a 25-pitch frame for Bieber.
The Indians added another run in the bottom of the fourth. Lindor reached on an infield single to short. He moved to second on a grounder by Santana and to third on a fly to center by Franmil Reyes. Jordan Luplow grounded a cutter the opposite way past the shifted first baseman to drive in Lindor with the second run of the day for Cleveland. Roberto Perez, back in the lineup after some time off to rest a tired arm, grounded into a force at second for the final out.
The Brewers sent seven men to the plate against Bieber in the fifth and again made him work. Luis Urias reached on an infield single and motored to third on a single to right by Jace Peterson. Tyrone Taylor struck out swinging on the seventh pitch of his at bat for the first out. Jacob Nottingham grounded up the middle, but Cesar Hernandez was unable to field the ball cleanly on a tough play, allowing Urias to score and all runners to advance safely. Gamel loaded the bases with a sharp single to left, but Bieber settled down to strike out Hiura on five pitches and Yelich on three straight to leave the bases full of Brewers in a 33-pitch frame.
Anderson set the Tribe down in order again in the fifth ahead of another threat from the Brewers. Phil Maton, on in relief of Bieber as his final two innings tacked on too many pitches to his count for the day, walked the first batter that he faced, Vogelbach. He was forced at second on a grounder from Arcia. Urias struck out swinging but Peterson reached on an infield single to second to put runners on the corners. With a chance to drive in the tying run, Taylor flied deep to Mercado in center.
The missed opportunities started to hurt the Brewers as the Indians tallied two in the sixth to knock out Anderson. Ramirez drew a leadoff walk and moved to third on a double halfway up the left field wall by Lindor. Santana plated his second runner of the game with a single to left, making it a 3-1 game. Eric Yardley came on for manager Craig Counsell, facing the dangerous Reyes, but he got him to ground to short. Lindor was off on contact and scored easily to make it 4-1, but Santana and Reyes were doubled up on the play. With the bases cleared, Luplow walked and Perez sent a solid single back into center to put runners on the corners, but Tyler Naquin was cut down swinging to leave a pair.
Dominic Leone took over for Maton in the seventh, walking one but notching a pair of strikeouts to open and close the inning. After a perfect inning from Josh Lindblom in the home half, the Brewers were retired in order by Nick Wittgren in the eighth.
The Indians missed a chance to really break the game open in the bottom of the eighth against Drew Rasmussen. Lindor and Santana drew back-to-back six-pitch walks to start Rasmussen’s afternoon. Reyes flied to right for the first out before Luplow reached on an infield single to second to load the bases. Perez struck out looking for the second out and Naquin, facing reliever Alex Claudio, popped out to short to leave the bases full.
Brad Hand took the mound for the ninth, facing the bottom third of the Brewers order while looking for save number eleven on the year. Pinch-hitter Ryan Braun, batting for Peterson, singled just in front of Luplow in left. Taylor flied to right for the first out. Nottingham grounded to Lindor, who threw to second from his knee for the second out, and Hernandez’s seed to first beat the Brewers’ catcher by a hair to end it.
The Indians improved to 25-15 on the year to keep pace in the hotly contested American League Central Division. Cleveland is now 11-8 at Progressive Field on the year. The Brewers dropped to 18-21 on the season and are 10-11 on the road. Cleveland now leads the all-time series with Milwaukee, 209-208.
For three innings, Bieber was magnificent. He struck out seven of the first nine batters that he faced, but he struck out just three of the next 12 while giving up five hits, a walk, and one run in the fourth and fifth frames. He exited after five innings of work with 103 pitches thrown for the day, including 58 in his final two innings of work that spelled the need for his shortest outing of the year. Twenty of his 68 strikes thrown on the day were swing and misses.
“Everything was going great, but then he had to navigate, threw a lot of pitches in the fourth and fifth innings,” said interim manager Sandy Alomar Jr. “We felt like in the fifth inning, he had to work so hard to get out of that. Getting out of that jam was huge. He worked so hard in that inning we decided just to pull him out. We have a big series coming up and I feel like pushing him to the sixth…I know he was fighting to go back out there, but he had to fight in the fourth and the fifth inning and throw a lot of pitches.
“They were just looking in one area and gave up any other part of the plate, it seems like that. They were I guess more looking for spin and just reacting on fastballs. A couple of hits they got, they were late on it, on the fastball.”
Bieber improved to 7-0 on the year with a 1.25 ERA. He remains the MLB leader in strikeouts with 94.
“I’m learning a lot, I’m growing a lot, and I’m learning how to attack in different ways,” said Bieber. “While I’d like to get a lot deeper into ball games, I feel like that might be certain team’s approaches, trying to get my pitch count up and lay off pitches that are good pitches that might induce swings most of time.”
The Indians bullpen behind him was solid once again. Maton, Leone, Wittgren, and Hand combined for four shutout innings, allowing two hits and two walks while striking out three. The first three earned holds, while Hand moved to 11-for-11 in save opportunities with his 100th career save.
Anderson kept the Indians in check until the tail end of his start. He worked five-plus frames, leaving without retiring a batter in the sixth. He allowed four runs on six hits with two walks and just one strikeout while taking the loss, the first of his career against the Indians. Anderson had allowed just four earned runs against the Indians in his career coming into Sunday’s start.
The Indians had two-hit days from Lindor, Santana, and Luplow. Ramirez, Lindor, Santana, and Luplow all reached safely three times to account for 12 of the team’s 13 base runners on the afternoon. Ramirez and Lindor each scored twice to provide the offense, with Santana driving in two of those in his first RBI in a week.
Yelich had a tough day at the plate, walking once and striking out three times to drop his season batting average down to .201. All seven hits by the Brewers on the day were base hits, with Peterson the only player to record two hits. Gamel and Vogelbach reached twice with a hit and a walk.
The Indians will get right back to work on Monday, as the Kansas City Royals come to town to start a four-game series to conclude Cleveland’s penultimate homestand of the season. Right-hander Zach Plesac (2-1, 1.33 ERA) will make his second start since being recalled from the team’s alternate training site in Lake County and will look to build on a solid six innings of one-run baseball in his last start on September 1, also against Kansas City. The Royals will call on right-hander Brad Keller (3-1, 1.93 ERA), who last started on August 31 against the Indians, allowing a run on three hits in six and one-third innings in a no-decision.
First pitch on Labor Day is scheduled for 6:10 PM ET.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images