Well in case you weren’t already thoroughly impressed with Shane Bieber’s dominant Thursday night outing against the Minnesota Twins, Mike Clevinger put it in perspective by getting knocked around on Friday night at Target Field in a 4-1 loss to the reigning AL Central champs.
Clevinger needed 38 pitches and one audible four-letter word to get through the first inning. Max Kepler homered in the first at-bat of the game and the Twins feasted at the first sign of blood. Josh Donaldson singled, Nelson Cruz drew a walk, and then Eddie Rosario did what Eddie Rosario does, taking a neck-high fastball and blistering it into the wall in right center for a two-run double.
The next inning, Clevinger surrendered a solo shot to Alex Avila. Yes, that Alex Avila. It was that kind of night for the Tribe starter, snapping a streak of impressive performances by Cleveland starting pitchers. He labored through four innings of work, struggling to find any sort of consistency while surrendering six hits and five walks, with only five strikeouts.
To their credit, the Tribe’s bullpen kept the game within reach. Phil Maton, Óliver Pérez, Cam Hill, and Dominic Leone combined to hold the Twins scoreless over the last four frames. Unfortunately, the Indians seemed daunted by the monumental task of mounting a comeback.
Twins starter Randy Dobnak had no business pitching a shutout, but the Indians’ listless lineup seemed more interested in driving up his pitch count than getting on base and scoring runs. They mustered three hits, two walks, and no runs against a spot starter who hammered away at the Tribe with his sinker and curveball. At one point in the fourth inning, the Tribe put three balls in play with an exit velocity of 100+ mph and only one of them translated into a hit.
César Hernández continues to be the bright spot in an otherwise dismal lineup, singling twice off Dobnak. José Ramírez should have been able to say the same, but he seems to have offended the fickle baseball gods. He barreled up Randy Dobnak twice and came away with nothing on both occasions because of the glove of first baseman Marwin González (a member of the 2017 Houston Astros, I might add, if you need a reason to up your level of scorn).
In the first inning, Ramírez lined a shot with a 104 mph exit velocity and a .590 xBA right at González, who was then able to double Hernandez off first base. Then in the third with runners on first and second, Ramírez lined another shot at González, this one with an .820 xBA.
To scratch across their only run of the game, the Indians needed Ramírez to draw a leadoff walk against Tyler Clippard in the sixth inning and then steal second base. Francisco Lindor grounded out to advance Ramírez to third, before Carlos Santana struck out swinging. Franmil Reyes “doubled” on an infield chopper to second base (with a .080 xBA) that crossed up Jorge Polanco and Luis Arráez and rolled into the outfield, scoring Ramírez.
“Getting the offense going” was a topic of conversation on the broadcast tonight, and I have to say I’m not holding my breath. I really don’t think much of this lineup outside of the top four. The starting rotation will give this team a chance in nearly every game, but there is no margin for error with the minor league hitters that occupy the bottom half of the Indians’ lineup.