By Sheldon Ocker
Beacon Journal sports writer
MINNEAPOLIS: The Indians’ starting pitching has wavered recently.
That was to be expected. After a weeks-long run of dominance, it was time for the rotation to come back to earth, at least a little.
But maybe Zach McAllister’s performance Tuesday night put a stop to the pitching slump, as he turned in a solid performance in the Tribe’s 5-2 win over the Twins.
“I think he had two strikes on 18 of 21 guys,” manager Terry Francona said. “So he was pitching ahead in the count. He was using his off-speed pitches and threw enough breaking balls in there so they had to expect it. He also elevated his fastball. He did a good job.”
The club’s two-week slide has had more to do with a lack of offense than pitching. In 11 games before the triumph at Target Field, the attack amassed the puny total of 27 runs.
Eight times the offense scored three or fewer runs, and twice it failed to score any. The result: a 3-8 record.
Consequently, the victory over the Twins was, if nothing else, refreshing. The Tribe’s passive attack was getting old and boring, let alone nonproductive.
It’s not as if the Indians tore the cover off the ball against starter Samuel Deduno, but at least they made solid contact more often than usual and took advantage of scoring opportunities.
Asked if he had been forced recently to take a different approach to managing the offense, Francona said, “Sometimes as manager you have to recognize that [a continuing slump], and you ask a guy to bunt and try to manufacture runs.”
Tribe batter hit
Deduno (7-6, 3.54 ERA) gave up five runs (four earned) in six innings, allowing five hits and three walks. But he also hit a batter and threw a wild pitch, which led to runs.
Except for Ryan Raburn’s two-run homer in the sixth, the Indians had to scratch and claw for runs. In fact, Raburn’s home run would have been a solo if Carlos Santana had not been hit in the foot with a pitch, one batter ahead of Raburn.
On the team’s difficulty in scoring, Raburn said, “You go through stretches where you don’t get hits. We’ve been hitting the ball well. When things go your way, balls fall in. When they don’t, everything is caught. Like last night; I don’t know how great plays they made against us.”
Santana received approval to take first only after the four umpires met on the infield grass to make sure that Deduno’s pitch actually struck the batter.
The Tribe’s first run in the third inning was mostly a gift made possible by Joe Mauer’s error at first.
Raburn led off by drawing a walk and Mauer muffed Lonnie Chisenhall’s ground ball to put runners at first and second. Yan Gomes singled to load the bases, and Michael Bourn grounded into a force play while Raburn scored.
Jason Kipnis started the second with a single to center and took second on a wild pitch. One out later, Michael Brantley singled to score Kipnis but the rally fizzled, even though Deduno committed an error, allowing Raburn to reach.
In the fifth, Gomes led off with a double, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt and scored on Kipnis’ groundout to the right side.
Strong return by McAllister
McAllister (5-7, 3.74 ERA) was in command virtually every inning.
“I felt a little more relaxed tonight, but the big thing was my command,” he said. “I was able to work on a few things between starts, and take them into the game tonight.”
McAllister gave up one earned run (two total) in six innings, allowing four hits and one walk while striking out seven. He didn’t waste many of his 102 pitches and was forced to throw a few more than he needed because of an error by Michael Bourn that led directly to a run.
With one out in the sixth, Mauer singled to center and Justin Morneau followed with a line drive to center for what should have been another single. Instead, Bourn played the bounce from the side, and the ball skipped past him into the nether reaches of the outfield for an error.
By the time the ball was relayed back to the infield, Mauer had scored easily and Morneau had pulled into third.
It was just the kind of setback that causes teams to give up a big inning. Instead, McAllister came to the rescue and struck out Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia.
“The defense has been great for us all year,” McAllister said. “As a pitcher, it was my job to pick them up.”
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.