Last night, visitors of Progressive Field were treated to an offensive onslaught as the Indians pounced on the Tigers for 11 runs. With the offensive talent on the Tribe this season, that type of performance is incredible yet not unheard of. Tonight, however, when the offense disappeared for most of the game, another facet of the Tribe, the pitching, stepped up and muscled out a win for the team. Mike Clevinger, Andrew Miller, and Cody Allen gave up a combined four hits all game and did not allow a single run in tonight’s victory. Both games so far in this series have highlighted the two biggest strengths of the 2017 Cleveland Indians, making for a good feeling heading into the All-Star Break.
Mike Clevinger went toe to toe with Justin Verlander once again and came out the victor just as before. The difference tonight was that Verlander looked like his old self, baffling Cleveland hitters all night long and routinely hitting 95+ mph on the radar gun even after eclipsing the 100 pitch mark. Despite walking four batters, the Indians never made Verlander pay. He gave up just one run on the evening off of a double into the gap in right field by Michael Brantley. That blemish aside, Verlander pitched like an ace for 6.2 innings before handing the ball over to his bullpen, who promptly allowed the game to get out of reach. But we’ll get to that in a moment. First, Clevinger.
In our game thread this evening, someone said that Mike Clevinger has arguably been the team’s third best starter in this first half. I’m going to take it a step further and say that there’s no “arguably” about it: in terms of results, the rotation starts with Kluber, Carrasco, and Clevinger. Don’t believe me? Let T.J. Zuppe enlighten you:
Mike Clevinger's past 5 starts: 27 IP, 15 H, 14 BB, 28 K, 1.67 ERA.— T.J. Zuppe (@TJZuppe) July 9, 2017
Tonight was no different. After giving the Indians six innings of 1-run ball against Detroit last Sunday, he followed that performance up with six more innings, this time of the shutout variety. The walks were less of an issue tonight (he issued 2 instead of 5), which is nice since that seems to be Clevinger’s biggest issue. His slider had a ton of movement this evening and paired nicely with his fastball that touched 95 mph at times. But his pitching wasn’t his only highlight of the evening.
In the first inning, Clevinger started the game off by walking Ian Kinsler. Kinsler was apparently anxious to get to second base because he drew a couple of pickoff attempts from Clevinger as well as Yan Gomes. After striking out Alex Avila for the first out, Clevinger attempted another pickoff attempt that caught Kinsler leaning a bit too far off the bag. As he attempted to dive back to first, Kinsler fell short and had to scramble to his feet towards second base to avoid the tag by Santana. A quick flip from Santana to Lindor ended the base running threat as Lindor applied the tag, completing the TOOTBLAN.
Five innings later, on the last batter that he faced, Clevinger flashed some athleticism that isn’t often seen from pitchers. After taking a liner off the bat of Miguel Cabrera to the leg, Clev recovered and threw a bullet to first to get the sluggish slugger out and end the inning. All in all, a fantastic showing by Mike Clevinger to end the first half. Expect more great things from him this season.
Back to the offense. In the bottom of the seventh inning, Erik Gonzalez moved into scoring position on an
ground-rule automatic double. Not wanting to have any part of Michael Brantley again, Brad Ausmus signaled an intentional walk in order to bring up Edwin Encarnacion, who has historically been terrible against Justin Verlander. At that point, Ausmus walked to to the mound and took the ball from a reluctant Justin Verlander. Shane Greene entered the game to finish off the inning, and it surprisingly worked. The rest of the night did not go as well for the Tigers bullpen.
Bruce Rondon is inexplicably still getting innings as a major league reliever and I am okay with it. Hoping to keep the game to a one-run deficit to give his team a chance in the ninth inning, Rondon got All-Star Jose Ramirez to strike out. The good times stopped there for Detroit. Lonnie Chisenhall came up to the plate and fought for eleven pitches before drawing a walk. When asked about his strategy, his answer was simple:
Asked Chisenhall today about his increased plate discipline this year. His answer: "Swing at strikes and take balls." 11-pitch AB ends w/ BB— T.J. Zuppe (@TJZuppe) July 9, 2017
With Occam’s disciple now on first, Papa Santana stepped to the plate and promptly ripped an RBI double into right field and took third on an errant throw by J.D. Martinez. Bradley Zimmer was next, and he didn’t need an error to get him to third since his legs were long enough to get him there on his RBI triple all by themselves. Yan Gomes completed the scoring with a deep sac fly to bring Zimmer home, making the game 4-0. Cody Allen came in and had a fairly uneventful ninth inning (Miguel Cabrera got a single, but who cares?) to give the Indians a series victory over the Detroit Tigers.
Notably absent from this recap is Jason Kipnis. Kipnis exited the game in the third inning after a check swing roller to the mound sent him hustling to first base. At some point on that run to first, he tweaked something and limped off the field on his way back to the dugout. Shortly after, Twitter had the breaking scoop:
Kipnis suffered a right hamstring injury. No other details at this time.— T.J. Zuppe (@TJZuppe) July 9, 2017
Mills: Jason Kipnis has a mild hamstring strain. More info tomorrow.— Zack Meisel (@ZackMeisel) July 9, 2017
This isn’t good, but it could have been much worse. As a reminder, Kip missed basically all of spring training due to an injury, so his underwhelming season up to this point could be attributed to missing that time. Now, just as it looked like he was heating up to his normal self, he goes down with another injury. If anyone suggests Michael Martinez replace him, please disconnect your internet from now until eternity.
Tomorrow is the final game prior to the All-Star Break. A sweep of the Tigers seems like a wonderful way to end the first half.