CLEVELAND — The hits with runners in scoring position that had eluded the Indians for the majority of the season were prevalent Wednesday night at Progressive Field.
Not surprisingly, a win followed.
Producing a number of hits at the right time, while getting another lockdown effort from its bullpen, Cleveland edged the Royals 5-3 in front of another sparse crowd (9,311).
“It was only a matter of time,” said Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, whose two-out double in the seventh inning proved to be the game-winning hit. “Even though we haven’t seen the production we wanted to with runners on base, guys are still taking good swings. We’re swinging at the right pitches, but
sometimes they’re not falling in. Finally, they are starting to fall in and get some runs for our staff.”
There weren’t enough runs to make a winner of ace Justin Masterson, who is without a decision through five outings to start the season. He produced a quality effort, though, allowing three runs (two earned) on eight hits, while striking out six over 6⅓ innings.
“As long as we’re winning, I’m happy,” said Masterson, who allowed consecutive home runs to Salvador Perez and Mike Moustakas to give KC the early lead in the second inning. “That’s perfectly fine. I’ll take however many no-decisions come as long as we keep winning the games.
“It started off a little slow. We were making some good pitches. Execution was off a couple times throughout the game, but we’re getting better. We’re working in the right direction.”
The Indians produced three hits with runners in scoring position — accounting for all four of their RBIs on the night. Michael Bourn produced the first key hit with a two-out triple to tie the game in the second. The scuffling center fielder had three hits.
“We were able to come up with some big hits in key moments and help our team out,” Bourn said. “We’re going to continue to battle. We had good pitching tonight. That’s always a plus for us. We were able to scrap some runs across. We had a chance to break it open at the end and we couldn’t quite do it, but we had to battle. We had the battle mode on, so that’s always a good thing.”
Pinch hitter Lonnie Chisenhall came up with the third run-scoring hit, dropping a bloop single perfectly into left field to plate the game’s final run in the eighth inning.
But it was Kipnis’ double that changed the Indians’ fortunes for good.
“That was a real big hit,” manager Terry Francona said. “Again, they’re working. They’re hitting. And they have track records. Sometimes, you need a big hit at a big time. We got it tonight. And then the tack on run, I thought was huge.”
Masterson started the seventh inning but was removed after issuing a one-out walk to Omar Infante.
That left it up to Cleveland’s bullpen, which allowed two hits over the final 2⅔ innings, while keeping the Royals off the board. Closer John Axford retired three of the four hitters he faced in the ninth to record his eighth save in nine opportunities.
At 9-10, the Indians haven’t begun the season in ideal fashion, but with a Central Division race that figures to be tight to the end, they have remained within striking distance during the first month.
“We’re only one game under .500. It’s not a storm,” Bourn said. “We might not be playing as consistently as we can. We have a one good game, a bad game, two good games, two bad games. We’re going to continue to fight. It’s early. It’s April. We take it game-by-game and pitch-by-pitch. That’s all we can do.”
“It’s been a little cold, been a little crazy,” Masterson said. “We’ve been talking about the start of the season. It’s been a little awkward, been a little weird, busting up everyone’s routine, but we’re seeing guys take solid ABs. They’re taking good swings and good things are starting to happen now.”