Even in a new look, less threatening Cleveland lineup, Jose Ramirez is going to see a few pitches per game that he can put a good swing on. He made the most of those pitches on Wednesday, as he hit a pair of timely two-run home runs to power the Indians over the Kansas City Royals, 4-2, from Progressive Field.
Inconsistent offensive production has been the story as anticipated for the Cleveland baseball club through its first four games and the same looked to be the case on Wednesday until the heroics from the little Ramirez, who displayed his underrated and underappreciated MVP-caliber results on the diamond once again in lifting the Tribe to victory. He picked up his fellow award winning teammate, Shane Bieber, who put up another quality effort on the mound, but left minutes before the Royals tied the game up in the seventh.
Bieber once again had some command issues on the rubber, walking four in his six and one-third innings of work, but he had limited the Royals to just three hits over the course of the afternoon when he left in the seventh with a 2-1 lead. The reigning Cy Young Award winner worked around two runners in the first after a one-out single from Andrew Benintendi and a two-out walk by Salvador Perez, punching out Jorge Soler to strand a pair. He retired the side in order in the second and gave up a two-out free pass to Benintendi in the third with no harm done, but Perez knocked the first pitch of the fourth inning over the wall in straightaway center to put Kansas City on the board first.
Jakob Junis got the start in what was expected to be a bullpen game, but he dominated the Tribe bats and pitched deep into the afternoon due to an economical pitch count. He retired the first five in a row before a two-out single in the second by Josh Naylor, but Jake Bauers grounded out to end that inning. Roberto Perez walked to start the home half of the third, but he was erased on a grounder to first off of the bat of Andres Gimenez. Junis followed that with a punch out of Ben Gamel before retiring the side in order in the fourth and working around a two-out walk of Bauers in the fifth in his final frame.
Royals skipper Mike Matheny went to his bullpen for the bottom of the sixth, calling on Jesse Hahn for the second time in the series. After earning the save in Monday’s 3-0 win, Hahn was let down some by his defense as the Tribe started to make some noise. Gimenez led off the inning with a single to right. Gamel grounded to short, but legged out the fielder’s choice with Gimenez forced at second. Cesar Hernandez had a similar outcome, grounding to third. Hunter Dozier got the force of Gamel at second, but the relay throw to first was not in time to nab Hernandez for the final out of the inning. With a bonus opportunity, Ramirez stepped in to the plate and pounced on a slider low and in, yanking it just foul into The Corner, but he did not miss on the next offering, a heater middle in, parking his first homer of the season into the right field seats to put the Tribe up by a 2-1 count.
Bieber returned for the seventh, pitching with the lead for the first time this season, but he ran into trouble. After striking out Dozier swinging, he walked rookie Kyle Isbel and gave up a single to left to Michael Taylor. Tribe skipper Terry Francona retrieved his starter and called upon one of his late inning men, James Karinchak, but his first pitch to Nicky Lopez was lined into right field for an RBI-single, tying the game at 2-2. Karinchak got out of the jam, getting Whit Merrifield to fly to right before Benintendi grounded to second to leave a pair.
The Indians put together a mini-threat after the stretch against Scott Barlow. Back-to-back one-out singles by Naylor and Bauers put the go-ahead runs on base, but Barlow caught Perez looking before cutting down Gimenez swinging with his third strikeout of the inning.
Emmanuel Clase was the next reliever up for Francona on the afternoon and he got the job done against the heart of the Royals lineup, getting Carlos Santana to ground to short before striking out both Perez and Soler swinging.
Veteran Royals reliever Greg Holland took over for Barlow in the eighth, but promptly walked Gamel on four straight pitches to start his outing. Hernandez was unable to move the runner along, striking out swinging after three foul balls before it. Ramirez stepped in with a chance to play the hero again and, after working the count full, he found a Holland slider left over the heart of the plate and he sent a skyscraper into the right field seats again for his second dinger of the day, putting Cleveland back in front, 4-2. Two more singles from Eddie Rosario and Franmil Reyes sent Holland to the showers, but Jake Brentz retired the two batters that he faced to prevent the Indians from adding to their new lead.
With the typical closing options of Karinchak and Clase already used, Nick Wittgren got the call for the save in his second appearance of the season and his first since allowing three runs to Detroit in his season debut. He was far more efficient the second time around, needing just eight pitches to get two outs in the air sandwiched around a grounder to send the Royals (3-2) packing with a series split. Wittgren earned his first save since September of 2019.
After being shutout in their home opener on Monday, the Indians (2-3) found just enough offense to eke out the victory in their second home date of the year. The W allowed the club to avoid opening the year with back-to-back series losses to the bottom two teams in the American League Central from a season ago.
Bieber took the no-decision but had pitched well enough for a win. He allowed just two runs on three hits, walking four and striking out 12 on 103 pitches. He extended his streak of at least eight strikeouts per start to 14 games (dating back to his 2020 season debut), matching the longest such streak in franchise history (Corey Kluber, 2017). Randy Johnson holds the MLB record with 17 such performances in a row.
The six hits contributed by the Tribe lineup by players not named Ramirez were all base hits. Naylor joined Ramirez as the only players between the two clubs with two-hit days. Eight of the nine Tribe starters reached via hit or walk. Reyes and Soler each struck out three times.
The Tribe will take Thursday off ahead of their three-game set against the Detroit Tigers over the weekend. Zach Plesac (0-1, 3.00 ERA) and Julio Teheran (1-0, 1.80 ERA) will be the matchup in the 7:10 PM ET first pitch on Friday. The Royals will head to Chicago for a three-game series with the White Sox beginning Thursday afternoon.
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