By Sheldon Ocker
Beacon Journal sports writer
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CLEVELAND: Shocking usually isn’t an appropriate word to describe what happens at a baseball game. But if Asdrubal Cabrera were to hit a home run, that would be shocking.
And so shocking came to pass Saturday night at Progressive Field.
Only minutes after the bullpen gave most of the Indians’ lead back to the New York Mets, Cabrera drove a no-doubt-about-it home run over the wall near the right-field line to add three runs to the Tribe’s total and ensure a 9-4 win.
Hitting home runs used to be a habitual part of Cabrera’s repertoire as a hitter. Last year he hit 16 and the season before he amassed 25.
But that was then. This year, Cabrera has gone deep 10 times. Until Saturday night, he hadn’t hit a home run since Aug. 9 against Jered Weaver of the Los Angeles Angels, and he has only two homers since July 24.
Among the fans, his all-around hitting swoon has generated calls for him to be traded. Whether that comes to pass might depend on how the front office evaluates the development of top shortstop prospect Francisco Lindor.
But for now, manager Terry Francona hopes that Cabrera breaks out of his slump.
“Cabby had a big, big hit,” Francona said. “It would be good if we could get both of those guys hot.”
The other guy is Nick Swisher, who hit his second homer in two nights and appears to be snapping out of his months-long skid.
Asked if he thought Cabrera’s home run might mean his fortunes are about to turn upward, Francona said, “That was a pretty good pitch, and he had to take a good swing at it to keep the ball fair. Sometimes that’s all it takes: one good swing.”
Cabrera did not indicate that he has discovered a breakthrough remedy for his struggles at the plate.
“I just keep doing what I’m doing,” he said. “I just go out and try to help the team. I feel really good. I never lose my focus. But this game is not easy.”
Francona cautioned that Corey Kluber was not going to be an iron man in his first start since Aug. 5. He wasn’t kidding.
When Kluber (8-5, 3.86 ERA) walked the leadoff batter, Eric Young, in the sixth inning, the manager was quickly out of the dugout motioning to the bullpen.
Kluber used only 57 pitches to complete five innings, which is just about peak efficiency for anyone this side of Greg Maddux. Kluber’s command didn’t seem to suffer from the long layoff.
“I was surprised myself the way my command has been,” he said. “But it continued tonight. They’re an aggressive team, and they swung at some pitches early in the count.”
By the time he finished walking Young, Kluber had thrown 64 (45 strikes) pitches, which ordinarily would be no cause for alarm. But he was on the disabled list for more than a month with a sprained middle finger in his right hand.
With Justin Masterson out of action for an indeterminate amount of time because of a strained oblique, Francona isn’t taking any chances with Kuber, who was charged with two runs, five hits and one walk in five innings.
“He looked pretty much like he hadn’t skipped a beat,” Francona said. “Maybe he had a little rust on his fastball, but after a layoff like that, he was outstanding.”
The sixth turned out to be a disaster inning for the Tribe bullpen. After Kluber left with Young on first, Rich Hill struck out the first two batters he faced but walked Lucas Duda to mark his exit.
Then it was Vinnie Pestano’s turn. Pestano was making his first big-league appearance since returning from Triple-A Columbus last week. It was short but far from sweet.
Justin Turner launched a drive that landed at the foot of the wall in left-center for a double that scored both runners. Juan Lagares followed with a stinging single to right that scored Turner.
“Vinnie made a couple of good pitches and hung a breaking ball,” Francona said. “Two were good and one was not so good, and he paid for it.”
Francona didn’t wait for Pestano to settle in. He summoned Nick Hagadone from the bullpen, and he struck out Matt den Dekker to retire the side.
What had been a safe 6-1 lead was reduced to 6-4, and it took four pitchers to get three outs. Since Francona has 14 relievers at his disposal, it was no big deal but it was far from pretty.
By the end of the seventh, the sinful sixth had been forgotten, thanks to Cabrera.
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.