CLEVELAND: Indians hitters were handcuffed for the first six innings Friday night at Progressive Field by Royals starter Bruce Chen.
The left-hander, making his first start of the season, no-hit the Indians through four innings before giving up his only hit of the night — a leadoff double by Tribe catcher Carlos Santana.
But Chen recovered unscathed and continued to keep Indians’ hitters under wraps through six dominating innings before handing the game over to the Royals’ bullpen.
With Chen headed to clubhouse, the Indians’ offense exploded for three runs on five hits. The Tribe sent eight hitters to the plate against relievers Tim Collins and Aaron Crow that inning and emerged with a 3-0 victory that marked the Indians’ league-leading 12th shutout.
Jason Kipnis and Nick Swisher greeted Collins with back-to-back singles. Carlos Santana followed with a double up the middle against Crow.
As Kipnis flew around third base, a laser throw to the third-base side of the plate from center fielder Jarrod Dyson arrived in plenty of time for catcher Salvadore Perez to get him. But Kipnis never slowed down and managed to elude the tag with a slide and back-hand swipe of the plate to score the game’s first run.
“Not one time yet has anyone asked me about Millsy [third-base coach Brad Mills],” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “And that’s a good thing, because his decision-making is flawless. Part of the reason he could make that decision [to send Kipnis] is Kip’s aggressiveness on the bases.”
Struggling slugger Mark Reynolds aided the rally with a perfectly placed bunt that went for a single to load the bases.
Michael Bourn’s day off ended up being just six innings, but he didn’t mind when Francona called on him to pinch hit. The savvy veteran quickly worked his way into a hitter’s count against the rattled Crow, then rapped a double to shallow center field that capped the game’s scoring with two more runs.
“How about that?” Francona said. “He gets a day off, but he’s ready. Not only ready, but he contributes a big hit. That’s the kind of guys you like having around. He’s not lounging around on his day off, he’s ready to play and helps us win the game.”
The Indians were able to put themselves in a position to rally late thanks to the guile of young starter Corey Kluber, who worked his way out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth inning to keep the game scoreless as he and Chen engaged in a pitchers’ duel.
The inning began with a screaming liner up the first-base line that shot into the right-field corner that speedy Green native David Lough turned into a triple. Kluber got the next batter out on an infield groundout, but then gave up back-to-back walks to load the bases.
“I might have kind of been trying to do a little too much there, trying to keep that run from scoring,” Kluber admitted. “But I just stepped back and took a deep breath and it worked.”
Kluber recovered to strike out Alex Gordon and then fielded an infield hit and beat Eric Hosmer to first base to end the threat. After extracting himself from the tough inning, Kluber retired 10 of the next 11 batters he faced to pick up his seventh win of the season.
“It looked like he was trying so hard to keep them off the scoreboard, that he almost pitched himself into a potential big inning,” Francona said. “But to his credit, he did keep ’em off the scoreboard.”
The Indians’ offense threatened to add runs in the eighth inning after Swisher and Santana walked with two out, but Luke Hochever struck out Reynolds to end the inning.
With Tribe reliever Chris Perez having pitched in five of the club’s last six games and coming off a recent disabled list stint, Francona turned to young Cody Allen in the ninth inning.
Allen made it interesting by loading the bases and put the go-ahead run at the plate, but Allen rebounded to strike out Dyson looking on a fastball on the outside corner to pick up his second big-league save.
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Aeros blog at http://www.ohio.com/aeros. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/sports.abj.