The Indians dropped their fifth straight game as Cleveland pitching was tagged for five home runs by the Minnesota Twins in an 8-4 loss on Saturday night.
The Tribe showed a little more punch in their bats on Saturday than they had over much of the week, but the Twins bested that performance with five long balls to score all eight of their runs. Cleveland starter Zach Plesac was responsible for three of the homers, but pitched well around those mistakes. The Indians bats could not do enough, scratching out half of their runs in the second half of the game before the Twins’ “Bomba Squad” added big insurance off of Nick Wittgren.
The Twins had a quiet first, wasting a leadoff walk by Jorge Polanco off of Plesac, but they cashed in big in the second. Brent Rooker doubled with one out, but Plesac retired Byron Buxton on the next pitch, getting him to foul out to first. One out away from escaping, Plesac’s 1-1 pitch to Marwin Gonzalez was relocated over the wall in right for a two-run home run to give the Twins the lead. Willians Astudillo made it back-to-back shots as he sent an 0-1 curve over the left field fence to make it a 3-0 game. Plesac got Polanco to fly out to end the inning, then set down the dangerous part of the order in the bottom of the third with a pair of strikeouts.
Left-hander Rich Hill was on the mound for Minnesota, making his second start against Cleveland this season. After leaving Jose Ramirez at first after a two-out walk in the first, he struck out the side in the second. Francisco Lindor singled with two down in the third, but he was forced at second on a fielder’s choice.
Ramirez started the Indians’ comeback efforts in the fourth. Fouling off three pitches in a seven-pitch at bat, he caught a 2-2 fastball and drove it 420 feet to left to put the Indians on the board, 3-1. Carlos Santana doubled to right-center and moved to third on a fly out by Franmil Reyes. Jordan Luplow drew a walk and Oscar Mercado cut the deficit to one with a sacrifice fly to right to score Santana, making it a 3-2 ball game. Hill struck out Roberto Perez looking to stop the rally.
Plesac was unable to keep the game close. After striking out Miguel Sano to start the home half of the fourth, he hit Rooker, ending his night with a forearm injury. Buxton made Plesac pay for knocking out his teammate, sending the next pitch to center for his second homer in as many games, pushing the Twins lead out to 5-2. Gonzalez was thrown out trying to stretch a single to two before Astudillo flied to right.
Hill came back out for one more inning, but he had a quick scare. Cesar Hernandez doubled to center with two outs in the fifth, but Ramirez flied to center to leave a big runner in scoring position.
Plesac set down the top of the Twins lineup in order in the bottom of the fifth before the Tribe bats added another run. Matt Wisler walked the leadoff man Santana before Reyes lined to center. A passed ball allowed Santana to move up to second, but that would matter little as Luplow tripled deep to center to make it a 5-3 game. With another big runner standing in scoring position, the bats failed as Mercado grounded out to first and Perez struck out looking again.
Plesac picked off Eddie Rosario after a leadoff single in making easy work of the sixth with the score still at a manageable 5-3. Wisler struck out Delino DeShields to start the seventh before Tyler Clippard entered and got the next two on outs in the air.
The Indians’ second-year righty came back out after the stretch with his pitch count still in his favor. He set down the bottom third of the order in order before his teammates manufactured an unearned run. Ramirez sent Clippard’s payoff pitch back into center for a leadoff single to start the eighth. He stole second and moved to third on a wild pitch before Santana was caught looking for the first out. Tyler Duffey came on for manager Rocco Baldelli and struck out Reyes swinging for the second out. With pinch-hitter Tyler Naquin at the plate, Duffey’s 0-1 pitch got past catcher Ryan Jeffers, allowing Ramirez to score on an uncomfortable looking head-first dive to cut the gap back to one at 5-4. Naquin worked a walk, but Josh Naylor flied deep to left-center pinch-hitting for Mercado to leave the tying run at first.
The momentum that had slowly tilted in the Tribe’s favor went away in the blink of an eye in the bottom of the frame. Wittgren got the first two batters to start his night before walking Nelson Cruz on four straight. The next ball was blasted over the right field seating by Rosario for a clutch two-run home run, opening the game back up at 7-4. Two pitches later, Sano joined the home run parade with the Twins’ fifth shot of the night and second set of back-to-back jacks, extending the lead to a game-high four runs. Wittgren struck out Jake Cave swinging to stop the bleeding.
Taylor Rogers took center stage for the second straight night, this time working in a non-save situation in the top of the ninth. Facing the 8-9-1 part of the Tribe lineup, he got Perez to line out to first before striking out DeShields. Rogers locked horns with Lindor for nine pitches, but after fouling off five pitches, the Tribe’s All-Star shortstop flied to right for the final out.
With a fifth straight defeat, the Indians dropped to 26-20 on the year, three and a half games in back of first place Chicago. The Twins moved to 29-18, two losses worse than the White Sox.
Plesac battled and gave the Indians seven innings and could have been an option in the eighth for interim manager Sandy Alomar Jr. He made a few mistakes, all of which were knocked out of the park by the Twins lineup. He dropped to 3-2 after his 87-pitch outing, allowing a season-high five runs on six hits with a walk and five strikeouts in his worst start of the year.
“I think just early in the game, I wasn’t sharp with my command,” Plesac said after the loss. “I made a couple of mistakes and paid for it.”
Wittgren allowed three runs on two hits with a walk and two strikeouts in an inning of work. He was touched up for a pair of long balls.
Hill took home the win for the Twins to move to 2-1 on the year. He threw 90 pitches over five innings, allowing two runs on four hits with two walks and seven strikeouts in his first win since his first start of the season. Wisler allowed an earned run and Clippard allowed an unearned run in relief before the Minnesota lineup broke through against Wittgren for three big insurance runs.
Four of the Indians’ six hits on the night were good for extra base hits, but once again the club was lost in the clutch, going 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position. Ramirez had a pair of hits, including his eleventh homer of the season, while scoring twice and also drawing a walk. Hernandez doubled for his 16th two-base hit of the campaign.
The Twins’ offense came not from the dangerous top part of the lineup, but the bottom two-thirds. Polanco, Donaldson, and Cruz went 0-for-10 with two walks and three strikeouts. Cleanup man Rosario had two hits, including the key homer late that was his tenth of the year. Sano slugged his eleventh. The four through nine hitters each had at least one hit, with only the Rooker/Cave combo failing to go deep.
Earlier in the day, Major League Baseball announced that Twins pitcher Sergio Romo had been suspended for one game and fined for his behavior in Friday’s game between Minnesota and Cleveland. Lindor also was fined for his role in the situation.
The Twins are expected to activate outfielder Max Kepler from the 10-day injured list before Sunday’s contest.
The Indians will look to avoid a costly series sweep against the Twins at Target Field in that matchup, scheduled for a 2:10 PM ET first pitch. Right-hander Michael Pineda (1-0, 2.77 ERA) will make his third start of the season for the Twins, while the Indians will turn to rookie Triston McKenzie (2-0, 2.57 ERA) in his fifth outing.
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