CLEVELAND: The Indians probably noticed that the Minnesota Twins just got finished taking two out of three from the Detroit Tigers, whom the Tribe are chasing in the Central Division race.
But paying attention to the misfortune that befell their rival doesn’t mean the Indians will have an easier time with the Twins, who took the first of a three-game set 5-1 Friday night at Progressive Field.
The defeat left the Tribe six games behind the Tigers and 2½ games behind the Oakland Athletics, who hold the second wild-card spot.
When Ubaldo Jimenez gave up three doubles, one single and two walks in the first two innings, it looked like the Tribe starter was in for a long night.
He was, but that was a good thing.
Despite all the congestion on the bases early in the game, Jimenez (9-8, 3.95 ERA) yielded only two runs — both in the second inning — but struck out 10 and hung around for six innings.
Hung around actually gives the wrong impression; Jimenez practically owned the Twins from the third through the sixth innings, giving up one hit and a walk in that span.
“He started coming inside and mixing up his pitches,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He was really good.”
A six-inning performance by Jimenez is considered a triumph, considering that in 15 of his 25 starts, he has failed to get that far. Eventually, his pitch count became an issue; when he left he had thrown 114 pitches.
“The main thing was my fastball,” Jimenez said. “I was able to locate it, and it had good life.”
Jimenez foreshadowed his (mostly) dominating presence while trying to escape from a firestorm in the first inning, when Brian Dozier led off with a walk, Chris Herrmann doubled and Justin Morneau walked to load the bases with nobody out.
So was it time to switch the channel to motocross or Texas hold ‘em? Not so fast, because Jimenez proceeded to strike out the side without allowing a run.
“When the first three hitters got on, I don’t know if Ubaldo got mad or what,” Francona said. “But he started really competing and letting it go.”
Did anger kick start Jimenez?
“That’s what got me going,” he said. “I had to throw everything I had in that inning. If I give up a couple of runs, I don’t know if things would have been the same for me. I needed to minimize the damage.”
He was not so fortunate in the second, giving up a leadoff double to Clete Thomas, a one-out RBI double to Pedro Florimon and a two-out run-scoring double to Herrmann.
Once it became clear that Jimenez was in charge, it didn’t seem unreasonable to think the Indians would score three runs and take the lead.
But the fact it took two wild pitches to generate a rally in the first inning was a tipoff that this was not going to be a banner night for the offense.
Michael Bourn led off the first with a single and took second on Samuel Deduno’s first wild pitch. Two outs later, Santana singled to score Bourn and moved to second on another wild pitch. He did not score, however.
After that, it was the Samuel Deduno show.
“He was throwing his breaking ball in and out of the [strike] zone,” Francona said. “Early in the game, he was throwing it in the zone, but when we got into swing mode, he threw it out of the zone, and we had a tough time laying off the pitch.”
The only other threat he faced was of his own making, when he walked three in the sixth inning. Bourn drew a leadoff walk, stole second and watched Nick Swisher draw a walk.
Only two bad things happened to the Indians during the inning: They did not get a hit, and Bourn and Swisher tried to execute a double steal, but Bourn was thrown out at third.
Even so, the Tribe got another chance when Santana walked with two outs, though nothing came of it.
Francona didn’t regret the steal attempt.
“He didn’t get a real good jump,” Francona said. “But I like it when he runs.”
Deduno did not come out for the seventh, having giving up just one run, three hits and four walks.
After the Tribe bullpen posted a 1.24 ERA on its nine-game trip, the relief corps gave up three runs in three innings to the Twins.
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.