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Mercado’s 5 hits lead Indians to sixth straight victory

By JOE NOGA • Updated Jul 20, 2019 at 3:34 AM

 CLEVELAND — Inexperienced and inconsistent at the start of the season, Cleveland’s young outfielders have caught fire on the team’s current homestand, leading the Indians to a 10-5 victory against Kansas City on Friday at Progressive Field.

Oscar Mercado, Tyler Naquin and Jordan Luplow each registered multi-hit efforts, led by Mercado’s career-high five knocks as the Tribe won for the sixth straight time overall and fifth in a row against the Royals.

The win, coupled with Oakland’s 5-3 win over Minnesota moved the Indians (56-40) to three games behind the Twins in the American League Central Division race and a full game in front of the Athletics for the No. 1 wild card spot.

Mercado became the first Indians player with five hits in a game since Jose Ramirez against Detroit on Sept. 3, 2017, and the first Cleveland rookie to do so since Jason Kipnis on Aug. 10, 2011, also against the Tigers. He’s the 12th Indians rookie since 1913 with at least five hits in a game.

“Being able to come out and do things to help my team win is the most important thing,” Mercado said. “We swung the bat really well today, all around the lineup. That’s the most important thing. We’re playing really complete baseball and we’re pretty pumped about it.”

Greg Allen even got in on the act, picking up an RBI in the eighth inning when he was struck by a Wily Peralta pitch with the bases loaded, forcing in a run for an 8-5 Indians advantage.

Mercado, who got a day off prior to the All-Star Game when he was mired in a four-game hitless stretch has bounced back strong, hitting .423 (11-for-26) in eight games since the break — a trend that’s pleased Indians manager Terry Francona.

“Everybody’s going to go through a tough stretch, but you know a first year player is,” Francona said. “To see him not wilt, to see him come back with a vengeance, that’s pretty exciting.”

After a Jake Bauers leadoff single in the third, Naquin launched a 433-foot blast that hit near the top of the foul pole in right for a two-run homer that put the Indians in front 3-2. Naquin, who entered the game batting .429 in July, has multi-hit games in six of his last seven starts and now has six doubles, three homers and 11 RBI in 11 games this month.

Naquin said the doubt surrounding Cleveland’s outfield in the early part of the season came exclusively from outside the clubhouse.

“It’s easy to look on paper and make assumptions, but if you ain’t out there on the grass or on the dirt, then you ain’t got no room to talk,” Naquin said. “It’s very simple. Let it play out and see what happens and we can start talking about it when that stuff starts happening.”

Ramirez added an RBI single against Pena in the eighth that extended his hitting streak to 11 games and Jason Kipnis brought Carlos Santana home with a sacrifice fly for the Tribe’s 10th run.

Starting pitcher Shane Bieber (9-3, 3.69) earned the win after allowing five runs on seven hits in 5 2/3 innings. He left with the bases loaded in the sixth after giving up three straight hits to the bottom of the Royals lineup. Reliever Nick Goody then served up a three-run triple to Whit Merrifield that cut Cleveland’s lead to a single run.

But Mercado’s RBI single off Royals righty Kevin McCarthy gave the Indians a 7-5 lead heading to the eighth.

Kansas City loaded the bases on a base hit (originally scored as a Lindor error, then changed) and two walks off Bieber in the first. The Royals scored the first run on a balk called by second-base umpire Chad Fairchild. It was Bieber’s first professional career balk. Had two balks in 2016 as a junior at UC Santa Barbra.

Kansas City scored again in the top of the third on three straight hits by Merrifield, Gordon and an RBI double by Hunter Dozier. But after an intentional walk to Jorge Soler loaded the bases, Bieber got Umberto Arteaga to fly out to Naquin in right.

Naquin’s throw home beat Gordon, who had tagged up and tried to score from third. When Gordon tried to avoid catcher Roberto Perez’s tag, he was ruled safe by home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez. But Indians manager Terry Francona challenged, and upon review Gordon was called out as Perez’s glove touched his arm before he was able to slap home plate.

It was Naquin’s team-high eighth outfield assist. His previous career high was six in 2016.

 

Up next

The series continues Saturday as right-hander Adam Plutko (3-1, 5.40) gets the start against Kansas City righty Jakob Junis. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. The game will air on SportsTime Ohio and WLKR 95.3 FM.

Plutko is 0-1 in three starts against KC, including allowing one run on one hit with no walks and three strikeouts over four innings in a rain-shortened start June 24 at Progressive Field. Junis is 0-2 with a 7.94 ERA in three starts against the Tribe this season.

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