Danny Duffy and the Kansas City bullpen shut down the Cleveland bats and the always dangerous Whit Merrifield lived up to his hype on Monday as the Royals spoiled the Indians’ Home Opener behind a three-hit 3-0 shutout.
Duffy entered the day with a 4-12 career record against Cleveland and just a 3-8 mark at Progressive Field through his first 14 trips to the mound there, but he put together one of his better efforts against the inconsistent bats of the Tribe in the opening game of a quick two-game set between the two clubs. To their credit, the Indians had numerous hard hit balls throughout the afternoon, but few found their way past the gloves of the Royals defenders.
The KC lineup jumped out to an early lead against Cleveland’s Logan Allen in the second after missing out on a big opportunity in a 24-pitch first inning mess that saw the Indians’ left-hander load the bases after a leadoff single from Merrifield and back-to-back two-out walks by Salvador Perez and Jorge Soler before escaping unharmed. Allen retired Hanser Alberto on a fly to left before striking out Ryan McBroom to start the second frame, but Nicky Lopez reached on an infield single juggled by shortstop Amed Rosario up the middle. Allen fell behind Merrifield 3-0 before missing on a heater down the middle. Left fielder Eddie Rosario did not have to move as the ball sailed well over his head and into the bleachers for a two-run home run.
Cleveland had base runners against Duffy in each of the first four innings, but could not string together any lengthy threats. Jordan Luplow’s leadoff walk was erased on an inning-ending double play grounder by Jose Ramirez in the first. A. Rosario singled with two down in the second, but Josh Naylor was cut down swinging. Luplow walked again with two outs in the third, but Cesar Hernandez cut and missed on a curve out of the zone.
The Indians had their best early threat in the fourth, but it came with two outs. After a strikeout by Ramirez and a fly to center by E. Rosario, Franmil Reyes earned himself a hustle double off of the base of the 19-foot left field wall. A. Rosario drew a four-pitch walk, but Naylor flied out to Andrew Benintendi to leave a pair on the base paths.
Allen settled in after the rough start, facing the minimum over his last three innings while allowing just one more base runner in the fourth, who was erased on a caught stealing by Roberto Perez. He turned the game over to Triston McKenzie in the sixth, who kicked his rust off by striking out the first two men he faced in the top of the sixth. Walks proved to be a bit of an issue for him in a tight strike zone, however, as he walked one in the sixth and put the leadoff man McBroom on to open the seventh. A single to center by Lopez put runners on the corners and the pesky Merrifield delivered again with a fly to center to give the Royals a 3-0 advantage. McKenzie settled back in, getting Benintendi and Carlos Santana to fly out.
Duffy exited after six complete, setting the side down in order in the fifth and sixth. Scott Barlow picked up where he left off, retiring all six batters that he faced in two perfect innings of relief.
McKenzie allowed a hit in the eighth, but Michael Taylor was thrown out trying to stretch it to two bases. The young Tribe right-hander struck out the first two that he faced in the ninth while trying to keep the deficit at three, but walks to Lopez and Merrifield ended his outing. James Karinchak slammed the door on the threat, punching out Benintendi swinging on three pitches.
Down to their last hopes, the Tribe threatened but fell short against Jesse Hahn in the ninth. Hernandez worked the count from 0-2 to 3-2 before drawing a big walk to open the inning. Ramirez ripped a single into right field to bring the tying run to the plate in E. Rosario. He scorched a grounder down the first base line, but former friend of the feather Santana made a nice backhanded stop and threw to second for the force before the return throw to first doubled up E. Rosario. With a runner now at third but two men out, Reyes grounded out.
Cleveland is now 1-3 on the season, while Kansas City improved to 3-1.
Duffy stifled the Tribe with six shutout innings of two-hit ball. He walked three and struck out five and stretched himself out for 97 pitches along the way. Barlow nailed down the hold with two perfect frames, while Hahn had his scare but still earned his first save of the season.
Allen took the tough loss despite settling in after the rough start. He threw 72 pitches over five innings, giving up two runs on five hits with two walks and three strikeouts. He became the first left-handed starting pitcher for the Indians since Ryan Merritt on August 30, 2017 (per MLB.com). McKenzie lasted three and two-thirds in relief in his first appearance of the season, allowing a run on two hits with four walks and five strikeouts on 58 pitches.
The tandem of Lopez and Merrifield provided the bulk of the damage for the Royals. Both had a pair of hits, drew a walk, and scored a run. Merrifield drove in all three Royals runs to give him nine on the season. Cleveland drew four walks to outperform their three-hit effort, with Ramirez and A. Rosario each contributing singles and Reyes providing a double.
The two teams will take Tuesday off before wrapping up the brief series on Wednesday afternoon in a 1:10 PM ET start. Shane Bieber (0-1, 4.50 ERA) will make his second start of the season and his home debut against right-hander Jakob Junis (0-0, 0.00 ERA), who will make his first start and third appearance already of the year after working two scoreless innings in relief.
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