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Indians bullpen bails out stalled offense in 4-3 win over Angels

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A quick start from the offense was almost wasted by several innings of silence

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Los Angeles Angels Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Late last night, Brad Hand was smuggled home on a plane to get an MRI on either his shoulder or elbow (the team won’t specify). Everything appears to be healthy, but somehow no one seemed to notice the Tribe’s closer wasn’t around prior to the game, and the news was casually discussed during the broadcast as if it was already common knowledge that an All-Star was getting checked for a serious injury.

That was the most exciting thing to happen tonight.

The offense exploded for four runs in the first two innings, starting with Carlos Santana’s first-inning solo home run and ending with a Francisco Lindor two-run shot. After that, the Indians failed to advance a runner past second base for the final seven innings and they left eight stranded in scoring position. It wasn’t one of those nights where they got shutdown by some value brand, soft-tossing lefty, but unfortunate sequencing and an inability to string anything together made for an evening of baseball that was way more tense than it should have been.

Maybe they already had an eye on the upcoming Twins series, maybe they were just mystified that another human had the last name “Buttrey” and was a real person. Either way, they couldn’t plate runs past the second, but at least it was nice to see Santana tie his career-high in home runs. No doubt we’ll see him eclipse it in the next few weeks.

As for pitching, that’s where things at least started to appear interesting on the field. Adam Plutko had another Adam Plutko day, in that he didn’t look great, but somehow still came away with a solid line for a team’s fifth (or seventh) starting pitcher: 4.1 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 3 SO.

What interested me most was how Terry Francona opted to use Plutko and the bullpen. In particular, Tito didn’t wait until Plutko was neck-deep in base runners like he does with most starters. No, Plutko was out at the first sign of trouble in the bottom of the fifth when Shohei Ohtani homered. Seemingly before Ohtani made his long-legged strides around the bases, Tito was already on the way to pull Plutko before things got even remotely out of hand. Not after he already gave up multiple homers and walked a couple guys, but immediately when Plutko showed signs of being figured out by the Angels.

Again, it could come back to his anemic offense. Maybe if Tito saw what was, or wasn’t, happening when his guys were up to bat he knew he couldn’t afford to let Plutko try and work out of his own jam the third time through the order — he never let a jam happen. And with an off-day tomorrow, there wasn’t a whole lot to lose anyway. It let Carlos Carrasco get an inning-plus of low-leverage work, at least — and he did fine once he remembered how to throw strikes.

Tito going to Adam Cimber for the last out when he had no Brad Hand to fall back on was only slightly concerning, but at least it worked.

Best of all, the Twins lost today, which puts the Indians four games back of the AL Central. The two teams will play their final series of the season starting on Friday with, quite literally, the division on the line. A sweep would put the Indians within a game with mere days left in the season, and getting swept would all but put an end to their AL Central hopes. No pressure.