Over the last three games heading into last night, the talk of Cleveland sports has been the awakening of the Tribe offense. The 33-run, 48- hit explosion was just what the doctor ordered to heal the wounded psyche of the Wahoo Warriors. And while the bats have been rightfully praised, there has been a dirty little secret side story going on beside it – shhhhhhh don’t jinx it – the starting pitching has actually been solid!
Corey Kluber got things started Sunday when he pitched seven strong innings of two-run baseball. He struck out six without walking a single batter. A night later in Kansas City, with a winning road trip on the line, the much maligned Ubaldo Jimenez gave his signature performance in a Tribe uniform, completely shutting out the Royals for seven innings on just three hits. As the Indians returned home after an 11-day trip, Zach McAllister followed suit with seven innings of his own against the Phillies. Like Kluber, The Zach Attack allowed just two runs – both on solo homers. With the doubleheader played last Sunday, the Indians needed a spot starter to keep the line moving. 22-year old phenom Trevor Bauer would be summoned from Columbus.During the wacky first week of the season, it was Bauer who was called upon to make one start in Tampa Bay, thanks to the injury to Scott Kazmir and Carlos Carrasco stuck in suspension. He opened that game full of nerves and walked the first four batters he faced. He managed to guy through five innings, throwing 105 pitches. He walked seven, yet only gave up three runs on three hits. You could see the electric stuff he had, but Bauer was (and is) still a work in progress.
Last night he would get another shot and looked like he had made some strides since we last saw him close to a month ago. Bauer again started a little shaky, walking two in the first inning, but with the help of Yan Gomes, was able to wiggle free without any damage. Philadelphia leadoff man Jimmy Rollins made the mistake of trying to run on The Yanimal and he failed. Gomes through a perfect strike to second to nail Rollins for the first out of the inning. With two out and Chase Utley at first, Bauer threw a knee-buckling breaking ball that Ryan Howard stared at for strike three. It was the kind of tantalizing pitch that has the organization so excited about him.
To open the third, Bauer issued his third walk to Laynce Nix, then erased him on an athletic, yet risky play. Ben Revere laid down a bunt in front of home plate. Bauer came charging hard and fired an off-balance bullet to second base, narrowly forcing Nix. He would end the inning by again striking out a Phillie looking, this time Michael Young.
Meanwhile, the offense had the task of getting after old friend Cliff Lee, making his first start at Progressive Field since being dealt by the Tribe to Philadelphia in 2009. Lee, now in his second stint with the Phillies, is as nasty as ever. But in the third, the Indians got to him.
Instead of the long ball that had served them so well during the three-game winning streak, it was small ball that did the job in this one. With a 1-0 lead in the third and one out, Michael Brantley put down a beautiful bunt for a single that nobody saw coming. Jason Kipnis worked a walk, something not easily done against Lee with his pinpoint control. Up stepped Asdrubal Cabrera who continued to show Tribe fans that he is breaking out of his April slump. Hitting right-handed, Cabrera roped a doubled down the left field line that plated both Brantley and Kipnis. Mark Reynolds, known for his power, reached base on an infield single to short which moved Cabrera to third.
That’s where the Ryan Raburn show continued.
With a second inning single in his pocket, Raburn hit a dribbler down the third base line drawing no throw for a two-out, RBI single. When you are hot, you are hot. The Tribe’s lead was now 4-0.
Back to Bauer. As he had done in the first and third, Trevor opened both the fourth and the fifth innings with walks. In the fourth he struck out Carlos Ruiz to end a two-on, two-out threat. The highlight came on a great, extra-base hit saving catch at the wall by, you guessed it, Raburn. An inning later, the first two Phillies reached via the free pass. However, the kid from UCLA retired Rollins, Young, and Utley to close out the frame, and his night.
“Everything was working at points, but not everything all at the same time. For whatever reason, I lock in more when there’s guys on base. I’m a really competitive guy. I don’t like giving up runs. I need to do a better job of doing that when no one is on,” Bauer said.
At 93 pitches and a day off looming, it was easy for Terry Francona to turn to his bullpen. Yes, Bauer walked six and had some command issues, but if I told you that your starting pitcher would go five scoreless innings of one hit, five K ball, would you take it? I know I would. A great stat from our friend Jordan Bastian from Indians.com: Bauer has 13 walks in 10 innings, but only one of baserunners have scored.
“When he got into some traffic out there, he made unbelievable pitches. He attacked hitters when he had to with really good stuff,” said Francona.
The Tribe rotation is now on a four-game run where they have given up just four runs in 26 innings (1.38 ERA) while recording four wins. Not too shabby.
As for that offense, they would add another run in the fifth off of Lee. Reynolds hit a sharp one out grounder to Rollins at short, who booted it between his legs. Reynolds was running hard all the way and thanks to a great slide, advanced to second. With two out, that man did it again. Ryan Freaking Raburn, folks. He smashed a double to right field bringing home Reynolds, giving the Tribe a 5-0 lead.
In the seventh, it was another Raburn one out single that was the catalyst for the final run of the game. It was sandwiched between three more infield hits by Carlos Santana, Gomes, and Drew Stubbs (who got the two-out RBI).
Raburn’s ninth inning strikeout ended an incredible 12-13 run with four homers and nine RBIs.
“When you can plug a guy into your lineup like Raburn and he gets this hot, it’s such an added bonus,” said Francona. “He’s been so hot. We’ve been able to hit him all over the order. The catch he made in the fourth inning; the game was still close and that kind of changed things. He’s been huge for us.”
Relievers Bryan Shaw, Rich Hill, Joe Smith, and Cody Allen pitched four scoreless innings to close out the 6-0 shutout win, giving Bauer his first win as an Indian.
The Tribe now gets a much deserved day off before welcoming the Minnesota Twins to town for a three-game set over the weekend.
(photo via Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)