CLEVELAND — In a season in which their vaunted rotation was drastically revised by injury, illness and, eventually, a major trade, the Indians have nonetheless risen to the challenge of an American League Central race. So losing a key lineup piece in Jose Ramirez, but defeating a division opponent anyway on Saturday night at Progressive Field fit right in with the Tribe’s unscripted formula.
With Mike Clevinger extending his perfect career record against the Royals and Franmil “La Mole” Reyes hitting an absolute rocket to the left-field Home Run Porch, the Indians earned a 4-2 victory in front of a sold-out crowd of 33,349 at Progressive Field to officially take this Players’ Weekend series — improving to 15-3 in their last 18 AL Central tilts. With the Twins’ 8-5 win over the Tigers, the Tribe remained 2 1/2 games back in the division and holds a one-game lead — with the A’s 10-5 loss to the Giants on Saturday night — in the AL Wild Card race.
But the Indians left the field wondering how long they’ll be without one of their signature stars. Ramirez, who left in the middle of a first-inning plate appearance with what was described as right wrist discomfort, had an MRI, and the club was reviewing the results postgame.
“That was rough,” Clevinger said of Ramirez’s early departure. “He came in underneath and I saw him. He seemed like he was in a lot of pain. So you just gotta hope for the best. I don’t wanna put the cart ahead of the buggy right now. I just hope he’s OK.”
Clevinger has been among those in the rotation who have stepped up this season — with Corey Kluber enduring a broken forearm and now an oblique setback, with Carlos Carrasco diagnosed with leukemia and with Trevor Bauer dealt to the Reds — so it was only natural for him to step up here. Though frustrated with foul balls that prevented him from going deeper into the game, Clevinger turned in 5 2/3 innings in which he allowed just a run on four hits with two walks and eight strikeouts.
Wearing the peace symbol and sunshine emojis on his black Players’ Weekend jersey, Clevinger continued to bring irritation and rain clouds to the Royals. He improved to 9-0 with a 1.93 ERA in 14 career appearances vs. Kansas City.
“I just think it’s coincidence,” he said. “Things are clicking for me it seems like every time I face them, whether it’s mechanically, whether it’s running in two starts prior or it clicks the start against them. I mean, it’s a pitcher’s park over there. I don’t know how many times I threw there, but I’m sure I’ve had half the outings there, which is like the Polo Grounds, which helps out a lot, too.”
Reyes’ third-inning, three-run blast off Sparkman with two out would have made it out of even the Polo Grounds. It was a powerful poke, measured by Statcast at 101.2-mph off the bat. And it was evidence of the prodigious power that compelled the Indians to target Reyes in the three-team Bauer swap.
Actually, the Indians’ three-game series against the Mets at Citi Field, which forced Reyes to the bench because of the lack of a DH spot, might have helped the slumping slugger, who also doubled against the Royals.
“It gave me a lot of time to work in the cage,” Reyes said. “I went into the cage every time, every inning that we were playing defense right after the fifth inning. I was working a lot of things. Thank God those things I was working on translated to the game and things are going well.”
Reyes’ rousing homer joined a perhaps 40-foot, broken-bat RBI single off the bat of Ramirez replacement Mike Freeman earlier in the inning to form the Indians’ only runs of the evening. But as was the case the night before, the early offense held up because of the work of the starter and the bullpen.
Oliver Perez replaced Clevinger with a runner on third and two out in the sixth and he struck out Ryan O’Hearn to end the threat.
Adam Cimber came on in a two-on, no-out jam in the seventh and allowed just a run, Tyler Clippard worked a 1-2-3 eighth, and Brad Hand continued to alleviate any concerns about his recent rut by nailing down his second save in as many nights — and his 31st of the season — in the ninth. The Indians got some typically great defense from Francisco Lindor, too.
But as idyllic as the result might have been, the Ramirez injury, coming so soon after the Kluber oblique injury during his rehab stint, loomed as another bit of adversity facing a Tribe team in a tooth-and-nail fight with the Twins.
“Jose is a happy guy and definitely you guys know that we need him,” Reyes said. “We need his defense, we need his offense and he’s a great guy. We don’t know what’s going to happen, but I hope everything is good.”