The Indians sent closer Brad Hand back to Cleveland for an MRI. Hand has been struggling since the All-Star break.
As a result, manager Terry Francona used relievers Nick Wittgren, Oliver Perez and Adam Cimber to get through the ninth Wednesday night as the Indians completed a three-game sweep of the Angels with a 4-3 victory at Anaheim Stadium.
“There was a lot going on and a lot of moving parts, but they did a really good job,” Francona said of his relievers. “Clippard went back out and gave up the solo home run, but they really did a good job. That was a lot to ask.”
The Indians (86-61) swept the season series from the Angels, 6-0, to put the finishing touches on a 5-1 trip that began with a three-game series in Minneapolis against the Twins. Regarding the Twins (89-56), they lost to the Nationals on Wednesday night as the Indians climbed to within four games of first place in the American League Central.
The Indians, who started this trip trailing the Twins by 6.5 games, picked 2.5 games. The Twins play the Nationals again on Thursday before coming to Cleveland for a three-game series starting Friday night. That should make for an interesting series.
In the race for the Wild Card Game, the Tribe stayed a half-game behind Oakland (86-60) for the road position. Tampa Bay (87-60) lost at Texas to bring Cleveland within a game of the Rays for the home position.
While there are questions about Hand, Carlos Carrasco (5-7) had his best appearance since being activated on Sept. 1. He also earned the win.
Carrasco, making his fifth appearance since coming off the injured list, relieved starter Adam Plutko in the fifth following a home run by Shohei Ohtani that cut the Tribe’s lead in half, 4-2. Carrasco, after walking Albert Pujols to start his appearance, threw 1 2/3 scoreless innings. He struck out two walked two and didn’t allow a hit.
It’s still unclear what kind of impact Carrasco can have on the Tribe’s quest for October. They originally thought he could help in the late innings, but the results have been mixed. But perhaps Francona can spot him like he did Andrew Miller or Cody Allen.
When a hot spot in a game breaks out, regardless of the inning, he could use Carrasco to douse it. Carrasco doused it after Ohtani’s 18th homer of the season.
“That was a big step for him,” Francona said of Carrasco. “He’s obviously going to play a big role in what we’re doing. To have him do it here … that was terrific.”
The Indians did their scoring did their scoring early off lefty Dillon Peters. Carlos Santana homered in the first, a two-out drive just inside the right field foul pole. It was Santana’s 34th homer, tying the career high 34 homers he hit for the Tribe in 2016.
The Tribe added three more runs in the second for a 4-0 lead. Jason Kipnis walked to start the inning, took second on Peters’ first of two balks, and scored on Kevin Plawecki’s double. Francisco Lindor, one out later, homered to left for his 31st homer, second in as many games and fourth on the trip.
Lindor’s homer on Tuesday night made his just the fourth Indians player to hit 30 or more homers in at least three straight seasons. He joins Jim Thome, Albert Belle and Manny Ramirez. That’s some tall cotton when the conversation turns to Tribe power hitters.
Plutko threw only 76 pitches, but Francona hooked him with one out after Ohtani’s homer. He allowed two runs on six hits in 4 1/3 innings. Plutko struck out three and walked two.
“He had some tough innings early,” Francona said. “I know in July he probably stays out there and finishes the fifth — and maybe keeps pitching. But you’ve got 15 pitchers out there and a day off ... I just thought we could manage it from there.”
Kole Calhoun’s leadoff homer in the eighth off Tyler Clippard cut the Tribe’s lead to 4-3. Nick Goody, Wittgren, Perez and Cimber preserved the lead. The win went to Carrasco and the save to Cimber.
The Indians are off Thursday before opening their final homestand of the series with a big three-game series against the Twins starting on Friday.
Lefty Aaron Civale (3-3, 1.93) will start Friday for the Tribe. The Twins will counter with right-hander Jake Odorizzi (14-6, 3.60). Game time is 7:10 p.m. SportsTime Ohio, WTAM 1100 and WMMS 110.7 FM will carry the game.