Covering the Bases: Game 73

622VPFinal: Indians 8, Twins 7

FIRST: First things first, let’s take note of the fact that the Indians won this game. And let’s let Indians temporary closer Vinnie Pestano emphasize that point for Tribe fans.

“We won the game. That’s the bottom line,” Pestano said. “If I go out there and give up five runs, and we win by one, we win by one.”

Fair enough.

Now, about Pestano’s performance.

Armed with a three-run lead, Pestano labored through a 34-pitch inning and coughed up two runs, including one on a home run by Chris Parmalee. In the end, the right-hander (filling in for sidelined closer Chris Perez) struck out Josh Willinghame to collect a save and seal the victory. It was a game in which Cleveland had a 6-2 lead after one inning and an 8-3 lead after five.

That was before the Twins made a four-run push across the final three frames against the Tribe bullpen.

“We kind of had to hang on for dear life,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “But we did, so we’ll go home happy.”

Pestano’s final line was hardly pretty — 1 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 HR, 34 (18) — and he knows that. This has hardly been his finest season, and he knows that, too. The setup man has dealt off and on with a right elbow issue, but all parties involved say he is healthy enough to keep pitching. This is where it’s worth noting perhaps that he hit 90-93 mph with his fastball against the Twins. That’s in Pestano’s usual range.

“I actually thought tonight Vinnie threw the ball better,” Francona said. “That was a really long inning. Any pitcher, when you start getting up around 30 pitches, that’s a tough inning. But I thought he was more crisp tonight than he has been before. He just made a couple mistakes.”

So, maybe this is less to do with health and more to do with an off night?

Perhaps it’s also worth noting that in Pestano’s previous eight appearances, he posted a 1.13 ERA, a .233 opponents’ batting average and threw strikes at a 63-percent clip. In the four outings prior to that stretch, it was a 13.50 ERA, .333 average and 58-percent strike rate. So there had been improvement leading up to Saturday’s eventful save.

“I feel good when I’m out there,” Pestano said. “I’ve thrown a lot lately, either getting up to get in the game or throwing. But I don’t think that had anything to do with tonight. I felt fine when I was on the mound tonight. I pitched in the same conditions everybody else did. A lot of guys went out there and got some big outs, made some big pitches.

“I felt like I was making good pitches. They were just on them. I don’t really have any other explanation. I don’t know if I was being predictable with my pitch [selection] or what have you. They’ve got some good hitters in their lineup.”

SECOND: Jason Kipnis has the tools to end the Indians’ 10-year cycle drought. He has a mix of power and speed that makes him a strong candidate to complete the rare feat, which has only been achieved seven times in Cleveland franchise history.

It should come as no surprise that Kipnis has flirted with a cycle seven times in his 252 career games in the big leagues:

June 22, 2013 vs. Twins: 3-4, 1B, 2B, 3B, 2 RBI, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 SB
June 12, 2013 at Rangers: 3-5, 1B, 2B, HR, 1 RBI, 1 R
May 4, 2013 vs. Twins: 3-4, 1B, 3B, HR, 2 RBI, 2 R, 1 SB
June 10, 2012 at Cardinals: 3-4, 1B, 2B, HR, 3 RBI, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 SB
Sept. 17, 2011 at Twins: 3-5, 1B, 2B, 3B, 2 RBI, 3 R
Aug. 10, 2011 vs. Tigers: 5-5, 3 1B, 2B, HR, 3 RBI, 4 R
Aug. 1, 2011 at Red Sox: 3-5, 1B, 2B, HR, 1 RBI, 3 R

On Saturday, Kipnis doubled in the first inning, singled in the second and tripled in the fourth. He had two more tries at the elusive cycle.

“I was hoping that he’d be swinging out of his shoes,” Pestano said.

Alas, Kipnis drew a walk in the fifth and grounded out in the eighth.

“I’ve seen him do it before,” Pestano noted.

That was on Sept. 17, 2010, when Kipnis hit for the cycle for Triple-A Columbus to in the game that clinched the Triple-A championship for the Clippers. Go figure that one year later, Kipnis flirted with a cycle in the big leagues against the Twins. He’s toyed with a cycle three times against Minnesota. Sooner or later, Kipnis is bound to break through, right?

The list of Indians cycles includes Travis Hafner (Aug. 14, 2003), Andre Thornton (April 22, 1978), Tony Horton (July 2, 1970), Larry Doby (June 4, 1952), Odell Hale (July 12, 1938), Earl Averill (Aug. 17, 1933) and Bill Bradley (Sept. 24, 1903). Not a bad list of names right there.

THIRD: It could easily get lost in the mix, but the performance of left-hander Rich Hill in Saturday’s win is worthy of recognition. With the Indians holding an 8-5 lead in the eighth inning, Hill entered with runners on first and second base and one out. He was asked to face lefty-hitting Joe Mauer and righty-hitting Ryan Doumit.

Hill answered the bell with back-to-back strikeouts.

“He’s been working so hard in the bullpen,” Francona said. “And every time he throws in the bullpen, [pitching coach Mickey Callaway and bullpen coach Kevin Cash] are always so positive. They say he’s making strides, and it was nice to see him take it into the game. That was a huge part of the game, and he was facing some really good hitters. His fastball had a lot of life on it and his breaking ball, he got them to chase it out of the zone.”

Hill has not given up a run in his past five appearances, while working on raising his arm angle closer to where it was during Spring Training. I wrote about that in more detail earlier this month (CLICK HERE).

HOME: Corey Kluber was admittedly not the sharpest he’s been all season, but the right-hander still pitched into the sixth inning for the Tribe. He allowed eight hits and issues one walk, but limited the damage to three runs (all on a pair of home runs). Not great, but not bad. Over his past eight turns, Kluber has gone 4-2 with a 2.77 ERA, striking out 49 and walking seven in 48 2/3 innings.

“If that’s one of his outings that’s not his best,” Francona said, “and he still gets us to where he did, that says a lot about his growth.”

EXTRA: Simply due to the historical nature of P.J. Walters’ start for the Indians, I’m including an extra item tonight. The righty only recorded two outs in the first innings for Minnesota, ending with five walks, one hit batsmen, six runs allowed and 46 pitches (28 balls). Walters became the first pitcher to have at least five walks and six runs allowed in one inning or less in a start against Cleveland since July 7, 1954 (Bob Turley, Baltimore). He also became the first starter for the Twins/Senators franchise to have at least five walks and six runs allowed since May 17, 1940 (Sid Hudson). No pitcher in baseball had turned in that line since Glendon Rusch did so for the Brewers on June 18, 2003. It’s only happened 15 times dating back to 1916, according to baseball-reference.com. … Also, I was asked by the Plain Dealer’s Dennis Manoloff if I could find the last time the Indians were out-homered by at least four long balls, and still won. The Twins had four homers to the Tribe’s zero in Saturday’s Indians victory. Based on some quick research, it looks like the last such game took place on Aug. 27, 2003, when the Indians beat the Tigers, 9-7, but were out-homered, 1-5.

ON DECK:

Twins (33-38) at Indians (38-35)
at 1:05 p.m. ET on Sunday at Progressive Field

–JB

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