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Plesac's dominance, Jose's blast keeps Tribe hot in July

By JOE NOGA • Updated Jul 27, 2019 at 2:00 AM

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There will come a point this season when Jose Ramirez and Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona will no longer have to answer postgame questions about whether or not the two-time All-Star third baseman has returned to his MVP-caliber form following a big night at the plate.

Until then, Ramirez and Francona don’t mind responding because it means the hits just keep on coming.

Ramirez homered for the second straight night Friday in an 8-3 victory over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium. It was Cleveland’s fifth straight road win against Kansas City and kept the Tribe (61.42) two games behind Minnesota in the America League Central Division race as the Twins defeated the White Sox 6-2 in Chicago. Cleveland still maintains a 3.5-game lead for the first AL wild card position ahead of Tampa Bay, and is four games ahead of Oakland and Boston.

“It doesn’t bother me, it’s baseball,” Ramirez said through interpreter Agustin Rivero when asked if he was tired of answering slump-related questions. “You have ups and downs, but the important thing is to keep working and you do your things and your results will show up. That’s baseball.”

Ramirez has 12 home runs on the year and 12 extra-base hits in his last 13 games, including eight doubles. His 420-foot blast off Kansas City starter Jakob Junis gave Cleveland a 5-1 lead in the sixth and gave rookie pitcher Zach Plesac some breathing room after the Royals had cut a two-run Tribe lead in half in the fifth.

Ramirez has recorded multi-hit games in five of his last six outings and 10 of 20 games in July. He entered Friday’s contest with a .675 slugging percentage and 1.028 OPS in that stretch.

“He feels good about himself,” Francona said. “That’s good for us because we’ll reap the rewards. He’s going to really help us.”

Francisco Lindor sparked the Indians with an RBI triple in the third off Junis that scored Tyler Naquin from first for a 1-0 lead. Mike Freeman, inserted into Francona’s lineup minutes before game time to replace injured All-Star Carlos Santana, later brought Lindor home with an RBI single for a two-run advantage.

Lindor is hitting .500 (14-for-28) in his career against Junis with 10 RBI. He entered Friday’s game with a .330 lifetime average against the Royals including 66 RBI in 76 games and a 1.024 OPS, all personal highs against any AL Central opponent.

Plesac (5-3, 3.13) held the Royals scoreless until the fifth when a Freeman error on a high throw to first allowed Whit Merrifield to reach base. Merrifield scored an unearned run on Hunter Dozier’s RBI single before Plesac struck out Jorge Soler and got Cheslor Cuthbert to ground out to Jake Bauers at first.

Francona called Plesac’s start the best game the Indians have seen from him yet.

“He stayed in his delivery, he was able to slow down,” Francona said. “Because of that, he had more power with command. He had a better breaking ball.”

Plesac helped himself with a dazzling defensive play in the sixth when he dove headfirst onto the warning track in front of the Royals dugout to snatch Bubba Starling’s pop foul. The rookie finished with four strikeouts and two walks in seven strong innings.

“This whole time I’ve been trying to hit little jumps, hit these goals I’m trying to hit and make adjustments and tonight was one of those nights,” Plesac said. "I felt really good with all my pitches and I felt like I was in a good direction, good rhythm, so I’m just going to look to build off that going into my next start.”

Junis, who stymied Indians hitters over six scoreless innings on July 20, worked into the seventh, allowing six runs on 10 hits and striking out five. He gave up singles to Lindor and Naquin before exiting the game before Freeman delivered a bases-loaded sacrifice fly.

The damage could have been worse for Junis (6-9, 5.03), who escaped trouble with the help of ground ball double plays in the first, second and fifth innings.

Naquin, back in the Tribe lineup after missing two games with a tight right hamstring, collected three hits including an RBI double in the eighth against Royals reliever Jorge Lopez. He has eight multi-hit efforts in 15 games during July and is hitting .423 (22-for-52) in that stretch.

“He sat for a couple of days and just came right back,” Francona said. “That’s really good and it’s not that easy. He had to score from first his first time up and he looked healthy.”

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