And that was enough to claim a 4-1 win against the Kansas City Royals at Progressive Field.
Wearing black jerseys and pants as part of Major League Baseball’s Players Weekend, Cleveland sent eight hitters to the plate and scored four times in the second inning off Royals starter Jakob Junis on the way to snapping a three-game losing skid. The Indians have won 11 of 17 meetings with Kansas City this year.
Francisco Lindor’s 22nd home run, a two-run towering drive to right center, highlighted the inning and allowed rookie right-hander Zach Plesac to settle in with an early lead.
Embattled closer Brad Hand, who entered having blown three consecutive save opportunities, gave up a leadoff single to Alex Gordon in the ninth but got pinch hitter Cheslor Cuthbert to ground into a double play, and retired Bubba Starling on a grounder to third for his 30th save.
Hand said he has been working on making an adjustment in his delivery that produced positive results Friday.
“The other day, my previous outing against the Mets I felt like I threw the ball well,” Hand said. “Just trying to build on that one into this one. It was nice to get the job done, that’s for sure.”
Manager Terry Francona said he thought the club showed good energy early on despite not getting back to town until 4 a.m. following a long night in New York.
“That doesn’t mean you’re gonna score runs but it’s kinda what you look for. You don’t want to let games get away because you’re tired.”
The Indians (75-54) drew even with idle Oakland for the No. 2 wild card spot in the American League, a half-game behind Tampa, which earlier defeated Baltimore. Cleveland is now 2.5 games behind Minnesota in the AL Central Division as the Twins fell to Detroit at home.
Jason Kipnis’ base hit and a double by Franmil Reyes set up Tyler Naquin’s two-run double in the second. Naquin came around to score two batters later on Lindor’s blast. Lindor has hits in 30 of his last 34 games dating back to July 19 including 21 extra-base hits and 20 RBI. The All-Star shortstop is hitting .324 in that stretch.
Junis (8-12, 4.89) retired six of the next seven hitters he faced, allowing only a walk to Kipnis before exiting prior to the start of the fifth inning. Carlos Santana collected a pair of hits and a walk in four plate appearances, raising his August batting average to .360 in 22 games with seven home runs, 19 walks and 21 runs scored.
Plesac looked strong early, facing the minimum number of Royals batters through four innings. But the 24-year-old righty struggled to command the strike zone in the fifth. He allowed a leadoff single to Alex Gordon and walked Ryan O’Hearn before striking out Starling and taking care of Melbrys Viloria himself on a grounder up the first-base line.
Francona appreciated Plesac’s competitiveness, and credited catcher Roberto Perez for keeping the rookie on track through the early stages of the game.
“We know Zach’s gonna compete, but a lot of times you’ll see it where it’s the other way around, where a pitcher will not have the feel for it and find it as he goes,” Francona said. "It just got to about the fourth or fifth inning and you could tell he was fighting it.”
With two runners in scoring position, Plesac escaped the inning by getting Brett Phillips to fly out to center. Plesac (7-4, 3.40) pitched 5 2/3 innings and allowed a run on four hits with five strikeouts and two walks. Nicky Lopez singled to lead off the sixth and scored on Hunter Dozier’s RBI triple before Francona lifted Plesac in favor of Oliver Perez.
Plesac said he studied film of his previous outing against the Royals to find a way to be successful attacking their hitters Friday.
“I can build off that for my next start,” Plesac said. “I know those guys are making adjustments, too, based on how I did before. So you’re just kind of playing the chess game. I’m just trying to stick to my strengths, not get too cute and execute.”
Perez and Nick Goody worked 2 1/3 scoreless innings before turning the game over to Hand in the ninth.
The series continues Saturday as Mike Clevinger (8-2, 3.11) starts for the Indians against Royals righty Glenn Sparkman (3-8, 5.40). First pitch is set for 7:10 p.m. The game will air on SportsTime Ohio and WLKR 95.3 FM.
Clevinger is 8-0 with a 1.96 ERA in 12 career appearances and 11 starts against Kansas City, the most wins without a loss against the Royals all-time. In two starts against KC this year, Clevinger is 2-0 with a 0.69 ERA. Sparkman has made three starts against the Indians this year. He is 0-2 with a 9.37 ERA in those outings. On July 27th he tied career highs in runs, hits and homers in five innings against Cleveland.