CLEVELAND – Filling the void left by the injured Michael Brantley was a question of concern heading into a crucial eight-game road trip.
Players like Austin Jackson and Erik Gonzalez seamlessly picked up the slack left by the All-Star outfielder on Thursday night.
Jackson drove in three runs, Gonzalez hit a solo homer and the Indians’ bullpen tossed four innings of one-run ball in a 6-3 win over the Orioles.
With a gutsy five innings of work from Mike Clevinger, the road nine kept pace with a demoralized pitching staff that has now allowed five or more runs in their last 19 games. Cleveland has 10 consecutive contests with a double-digit hit total, the longest streak in the big leagues this season.
Clevinger grinds out victory in seesaw battle
Seth Smith homered in the first at-bat of the game before Jackson ripped an RBI triple and scored on Yan Gomes’ RBI single.
“Austin’s had such a good road trip,” said manager Terry Francona to reporters. “Not just hits, but driving in runs, hitting the balls in the gap. You can see how much fun he’s having.”
Clevinger issued a bases-loaded walk the following inning, but stranded two runners in scoring position with the score even at 2-2 and his pitch count above 50 pitches.
“That’s the ultimate bend but don’t break,” Francona said. “He competed like crazy and he never gave in.”
Once again, Jackson responded on a two-run double to help out Clevinger in his unconventional winning effort – 5 IP, 6 H, 2 R/ER, 4 BB, 4 K (100 pitches, 56 strikes, 56%, four groundouts, zero flyouts).
“It would have been easy to give up six (runs) and he didn’t,” said Francona. “I hope he can take that out of that.”
Insurance runs lighten the bullpen load
Gonzalez blasted his second big league home run to help Zach McAllister, Boone Logan, Nick Goody and Bryan Shaw work through the mid-to-late innings without much adversity.
“Everybody stepped up,” Jackson said. “My teammates, they’ve been getting on base. I’ve just been trying to do my job and that’s just get a pitch to hit, try not to do too much with it. It’s been finding some holes and some grass out there.”
Jose Ramirez extended his hitting streak to 10 games on a stand-up triple before Edwin Encarnacion blooped a single to extend the advantage to 6-2.
“[Ramirez has] been such a good hitter,” said Francona. “I know he’s hot, but he’s a good hitter.”
Andrew Miller sealed the series victory despite surrendering an RBI double to Manny Machado.
“We showed up today to win today,” Francona said.. “That’s what we always do. And now we’ll enjoy it for a few minutes, we’ll get on the plane and we’ll get ready for Minnesota. That’s the way we always do it. I think that’s the best way to not get too down, not get too full of yourself. Just stay right in the moment.”
Central Division update
The White Sox (32-39) beat the Twins (36-34), 9-0.
The Indians head home and begin a three-game set against the Twins on Friday at 7:10 p.m. from Progressive Field.
RHP Trevor Bauer (6-5, 5.54) has kept the Minnesota bats at bay this season, allowing four runs between two outings (13.1 innings) on April 20 and last Sunday. The 26-year-old has gradually lowered his ERA from 6.26 to 5.82 to 4.08 for each individual month.
LHP Adalberto Mejia (1-3, 5.53) will look to pitch past the sixth inning for just the second time in 2017. The 24-year-old throws his four-seam fastball at 92.96-mph with an average spin rate of 2,457.00-rpm, a mark well above the MLB average of 2,226.00-rpm.
John Alfes has covered the Indians for IBI since August of 2016. Follow him on Twitter @JohnAlfes for breaking news and in-depth coverage all season long.