CLEVELAND: The Indians need six innings from their starters, and Tuesday night Ubaldo Jimenez delivered six innings. All you have to do is ask.
The result was that manager Terry Francona was able to keep his relievers in normal roles, and the Tribe shut out the Blue Jays 3-0 at Progressive Field.
“In a perfect world, you want Ubaldo to go seven instead of six,” Francona said. “But he’s getting better.”
It was only the sixth time in 18 starts that Jimenez has made it through six innings and the first time in his past seven outings.
“For the last five games or so, I haven’t been able to help my team as much as I should, pitching five innings,” Jimenez said. “I haven’t been as consistent as I want to be [in the first half], but I’ve been able to compete. But I would like to go more innings.”
Jimenez (7-4, 4.37 ERA) threw too many pitches (105) for the number of innings he worked. A pitch count 10-12 lighter might have allowed him to go out for the seventh. But nobody was complaining.
He limited the Jays to five hits, walked only two and struck out four.
“Ubaldo did a good job,” Francona said. “He had traffic the better part of the game, but he never let it get out of hand. He pitched himself back in the count when he needed to, and his fastball had lots of life. There were lots of things to like.”
Only one time was Jimenez in trouble. In the fourth, he worked his way out of a two-on, no-out jam nicely. Had Jimenez given up one run, he would have been praised for limiting the damage. Instead, nobody scored.
Colby Rasmus led off the inning with a double and stopped at third on Maicer Izturis’ single to shallow right. Rajai Davis slapped a hard ground ball back to the mound, a ball gloved by Jimenez. He looked the runner back to third and forced Izturis at second.
It was the play of the inning, because had Jimenez chosen to ignore Rasmus at third and try for the double play, a run certainly would have scored. It would have been acceptable that early in the game to trade one run for two outs, but maybe Jimenez figured he would escape without being scored upon.
And he did, striking out J.P Arencibia and retiring Emilio Bonifacio on a fly ball to the right fielder.
One reason Jimenez chose to look the runner back to third is Davis’ speed. He might not have turned the double play, anyway.
“I knew I wasn’t going to get a double play because of Davis,” Jimenez said.
Added Francona, “He did a great job. He was not going to get Davis.”
In comparing this year to his horrid season of 2012, Jimenez said: “This year is probably two times better than last year. I was lost with my mechanics and I lost focus.”
The Indians never really found the secret formula for getting to Josh Johnson, but they scored twice.
Johnson retired the first 10 batters he faced, but with one out in the fourth, Asdrubal Cabrera walked, Jason Kipnis singled him to second and Nick Swisher’s hit to right scored Cabrera. Michael Brantley also singled to score Kipnis with the second run.
After that, Johnson returned to being inscrutable. He gave up no more hits and only one walk, pitching through the seventh.
Johnson has had a troubled season, spending seven weeks on the disabled list (from April 21-June 9) with right triceps tendinitis.
He came into the game with a modest 4.89 ERA and a 1-3 record, but in one previous start against the Tribe, last year, held the Indians to one run in seven innings.
“Johnson has good stuff,” Francona saisd. “I know he’s had trouble, being on the DL. But when he pitches like that, he’s good.”
The Tribe scored an important insurance run in the eighth off Steve Delabar, when Drew Stubbs led off with a double, was sacrificed to third by Michael Bourn and scored on Cabrera’s long sacrifice fly to center. Just like they draw it up in small-ball school.
Chris Perez gave up consecutive one-out hits in the ninth but closed out the game for his 10th save of the season.
The Indians lead the American League with 11 shutouts, even though their pitchers rank 13th in earned-run average.
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.