PHILADELPHIA: The Indians erased all the negative numbers from their past three games with a few well-aimed swings of the bat Wednesday at Citizens Bank Park.
In beating the Phillies 10-4 to split the two-game series, the Tribe looked a lot more like the offensive juggernaut that has compiled a 14-4 record since April 28 than the club that scored three runs in three games through Tuesday, batted .187 and was 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position.
Moreover, the Indians found their home-run swing again, as Mike Aviles, Nick Swisher and Jason Kipnis all went deep, accounting for six runs. In the previous six games, Kipnis had hit the only homer.
In one shocking development, Kipnis’ home run came in the eighth inning with two on base. Until then, all five of his homers had been hit in the first inning.
“I thought it was the first,” Kipnis said, smiling. “It was finally nice to take some good at-bats deep into a game.”
Kipnis has been hitting the ball hard at least once a game since the outset of the season, but until lately he hasn’t had much to show for it.
In his first trip to the plate Wednesday, he drove John Mayberry Jr. to the center-field track to make the catch, but after that, Kipnis made certain nobody could catch a ball on which he made contact. He doubled and scored in both the third and fifth innings then walloped his three-run blast in the eighth.
Kipnis is batting .302 with five doubles, one triple, five home runs, 14 RBI and 11 runs in his past 13 games. Eleven of his 16 hits have gone for extra bases.
“When he gets a pitch now, he doesn’t miss it,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He’s fighting off good pitches, especially against lefties, until he gets a good pitch to hit.”
Confidence makes all the difference to Kipnis.
“You want to walk up to the plate thinking you’re going to do some damage, square something up,” he said. “When you feel confident up there, it’s amazing how many things will fall into place.”
The Tribe emerged from its brief slump against another touted starter, Cole Hamels, former World Series Most Valuable Player who posted a 17-6 record and 3.05 ERA last season.
However, he has been having a fitful season this year. Hamels came into the game with a 1-5 record and 4.18 ERA and left after five innings, having lost six out of seven decisions with an ERA that has climbed to 4.61.
Events began to turn against Hamels in the third inning, when he gave up a two-run double to Mark Reynolds. Aviles homered for another run in the fourth, and Swisher went deep with Kipnis on base in the fifth, by the end of which Hamels had thrown 106 pitches.
“We drove his pitch count up early and forced him to work for every out, and we also scored,” Francona said.
Corey Kluber rebounded from his previous start (giving up eight runs in 4⅔ innings against the Detroit Tigers) to pitch through the sixth. He gave up three runs and six hits but walked only one and struck out five.
“I thought he was much more aggressive than his last start,” Francona said. “I thought he attacked the hitters a lot better. He left a change-up up to [Jimmy] Rollins when the game was still close, but otherwise he was good.”
Rollins got Kluber (3-2, 5.40 ERA) twice, driving in a run with a single in the third and delivering a two-run double in the fifth to cut the Tribe’s lead to 4-3.
“I threw more strikes today and was more aggressive in the strike zone,” Kluber said. “I didn’t fall behind many guys. When you’re able to throw more strikes, it makes your job much easier.”
Kluber got more attention for his cuts at the plate than he did for his pitching. In his first at-bat in the second inning, he lined a ball foul down the left-field line, ran the count to 3-and-2 then hit a solid drive to left that was caught.
“I thought Kluber set the tone with his quality at-bat,” Kipnis deadpanned. “He woke us up when he had our best at-bat in the first couple of innings.”
Kluber has not hit in a game since he played in Double-A three years ago. He said in high school, he hit in the middle of the lineup.
“I saw it off the bat but then it died and I thought, ‘That’s all I’ve got,’ ” he said. “It was just beginner’s luck. I wouldn’t chalk it up to anything more than that.”
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at email@example.com. 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.