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Cleveland Indians bullpen shines in 5-4 win in Minnesota

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The bullpen threw five high-stress shutout innings after Danny Salazar left with “forearm tightness”

Cleveland Indians v Minnesota Twins
Rajai Davis made an outstanding catch in the eighth inning.
Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Indians 5, Twins 4

Box Score

Indians improve to 82-58

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We’ve been hearing the phrase "bullpen game" over the past week, mostly in connection with Josh Tomlin’s spot in the rotation, a spot that comes up tomorrow night. But tonight the Indians had a quasi-bullpen game, for Danny Salazar left after the fourth inning with what was described as "forearm tightness".

Before he left, Salazar had given up four runs to the Twins. One of those runs was unearned, scored in the wake of a Jason Kipnis error. Two of those runs came in Salazar’s final inning, a two-run homer to Twins prospect Byron Buxton. Salazar had thrown a lot of pitches to get through four innings, and likely was on track to get through only five innings. But Salazar left an inning early, and so the Tribe bullpen, already facing a long day on Saturday, would be called upon to go beyond expectations.

The Indians’ big offensive inning came in the wake of two consecutive miscues by Minnesota starter Tyler Duffey. He nicked Kipnis to start the third inning, then threw wildly to second when Francisco Lindor hit a comebacker. After Mike Napoli flew out, Jose Ramirez lined a pitch back up the middle that struck Duffey in the foot; had the ball missed Duffey, Kipnis would have scored. But as it was, the Indians loaded the bases, a situation they have struggled with in 2016. This time, though, they came through, for Lonnie Chisenhall drove home two runs on a double in the left-center gap. Abraham Almonte drove home a third run with groundout, then Tyler Naquin singled to drive run the fourth run of the inning.

Buxton’s homer tied the game at four, but Mike Napoli untied it on the first pitch of the fifth inning. Usually a hitter doesn’t sit on a breaking pitch, but it looked like that’s just what Napoli did, and he got the perfect pitch in the perfect spot. The ball landed in Target Field’s upper deck, and might have hit the scoreboard had this game been played in Cleveland. Little did anyone know that that smash would be the last run scored by either team.

The final five innings of the game consisted of five high-leverage appearances by Cleveland relievers. Joe Colon, Zach McAllister, Dan Otero, Bryan Shaw, and Cody Allen all threw shutout innings. McAllister pitched around two walks (one by him, one by Colon) in the sixth inning, Dan Otero got a fortuitous double play to short-circuit a Twins rally in the seventh, Bryan Shaw retired Max Kepler thanks to a tremendous play by Rajai Davis in the eighth inning. Cody Allen, who was pitching for the third consecutive game, retired the Twins in order to finish off the game.

Terry Francona went for the win tonight, using most of his key relievers in a one-run game, even with the knowledge that Mike Clevinger will be fortunate to get through three innings tomorrow. But his philosophy has been consistent; try to win the game in front of you, and deal with tomorrow when it comes. However, he does have more options now then he had, say, in Toronto in the aftermath of the 19-inning game. Josh Tomlin should be available to pitch, there’s several callups available, and if the game is close, he’ll have Andrew Miller for two innings if necessary.

The Tigers also won tonight, so the Indians remain six games up in the AL Central. And you know what? That’s perfectly fine, for if the Indians keep that don’t have to worry about what the Tigers do.