CLEVELAND – The Indians are beginning to piece together a winning formula over their last three games.
A balanced mix of effective starting pitching, explosive offense and shutdown relief paved way to a 9-3 victory over Minnesota on Saturday afternoon at Target Field.
Ryan Merritt kept the opposing bats at bay while Jose Ramirez notched two home runs, one double, four RBIs and two runs scored to continue his hitting terror out of the three-hole in a revamped lineup.
Keeping the line moving vs. Wilk
Cleveland rolled through eight batters in a 37-pitch first inning, highlighted by Ramirez’s solo home run and Bradley Zimmer’s two-run single, both coming with two outs.
“There was some really good things early,” said manager Terry Francona to reporters. “We did a good job of getting the line moving (and) keeping it moving.”
Zimmer and Ramirez furthered their early-inning contributions with a pair of doubles, plating three combined runs and eventually knocking Adam Wilk out of the contest – 3.1 IP, 8 H, 6 R/ER, 3 BB, 2 K (92 pitches, 55 strikes, 59.8%, five groundouts, two flyouts).
“It’s super important and I feel good because we’re winning,” Ramirez said through the team’s translator, Anna Bolton. “That’s what we want to do. We want to win. I feel good and we’re doing well.”
Ramirez homered again to elevate his batting average to .304, Zimmer finished with four RBIs to reach a total of 19 in 26 major league games and Erik Gonzalez and Jason Kipnis combined for six base knocks at the top and bottom of the batting order.
“They were two good pitches and I made great swings on them,” said Ramirez about his pair of blasts. “I’m just focusing on playing the game day-by-day. I’m putting in the work in my free time. Thank God I’m getting good results.”
Merritt tosses four frames, paves way to bullpen
Aside from Ehire Adrianza’s two-run single, Merritt displayed both efficiency and command in his four innings of three-run ball (two earned). Although the Twins batted .389 (7-for-18) against the lefty, they left five runners on base while the Tribe tallied multiple crooked numbers on offense for the second consecutive contest.
“There was some traffic with Ryan,” Francona said. “There was a lot of hits. To his credit, he throws strikes, he doesn’t beat himself and he got it far enough where we felt like we could turn it to the bullpen and still be ready for the second game.”
“It’s awesome,” said Merritt. “Being able to get some experience last year, it just always helps with your confidence.”
Zach McAllister, Bryan Shaw and Dan Otero capped off the matinee with five scoreless innings of relief work (one hit, one walk).
“[The bullpen is] reliable (where) we didn’t have to get guys warming up,” Francona said. “The Twins can come back in a hurry. They throw strikes and there’s value in just the fact that they’re reliable. They give up a hit, it’s not like they’re going to come unglued.”
Central Division update
The White Sox (31-36) edged past the Blue Jays, 5-2.
Only a few hours separate the Indians and Twins from Game 2 of their doubleheader at 8:10 p.m. ET from Target Field.
RHP Mike Clevinger (2-3, 4.09) will make his first big league start since June 6, a five-run outing within the hitter-friendly confines of Coors Field. The 26-year-old right-hander features a career-high 28.6% strikeout percentage this season.
LHP Adalberto Mejia (1-2, 5.75) has struggled to acclimate himself in the Minnesota rotation, pitching five or fewer innings in four of his five starts in 2017. The 23-year-old rookie has never faced Cleveland before.
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.