CHICAGO: Home runs are again an issue for the Indians. But this time they are the opposing team’s problem.
Justin Masterson, earning his first win of the season, took advantage of an outbreak of power Thursday night, delivering 6⅓ solid innings, as the Tribe defeated the Chicago White Sox 7-5 at U.S. Cellular Field to take the series two games to one.
The Indians hit at least one home run in their first nine games of the season. An 11-game drought ensued after that, with the offense refusing to go deep even once. But beginning with the series in Chicago, the Indians shook off the little-ball blues and began pounding the ball over the fence again.
Including two Thursday night — one each by Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera — the Tribe hit five homers against Sox pitching, accounting for 10 of its 15 runs.
Then again, home runs aren’t the objective.
“It happens,” Indians manager Manny Acta said of his team’s streaky power this year. “We’re not counting. I could care less if we don’t hit home runs if we win the game.”
Before the first homer sailed over the fence, the Indians had a 3-0 lead.
With two out in the second inning, Michael Brantley slapped a high bouncer that starting pitcher John Danks failed to handle. When he finally got control of the ball, he threw it underhand over the first baseman’s head for a hit and an error that put Brantley on second. He scored on Casey Kotchman’s single.
One inning later, Johnny Damon led off with a double, his first hit as a member of the Tribe, and scored on Kipnis’ triple. Cabrera followed with a single to increase the lead to 3-0.
By the end of the fifth, the White Sox had closed to within a run, but Danks gave up a leadoff homer to Cabrera in the sixth. After the Sox scored in the sixth to trail 4-3, Kotchman began a seventh-inning rally with a one-out single and stopped at second on Jack Hannahan’s single. With two out, Kipnis locked onto a 3-and-1 pitch from Danks and drove it over the wall in right for three more runs.
In his past seven games, Kipnis is batting .444 (12-for-27) with a home run, triple, double, six RBI and two steals.
Does he consider himself an all-purpose kind of hitter?
“I try to be,” Kipnis said. “I think a 2-hole hitter has to be. Show a little power, gap-to-gap hitting, bunting and moving the guy over, maybe some steals.”
Kipnis started slowly but nobody was concerned.
“At the beginning of the season, everything is magnified,” Acta said. “Everybody puts a little pressure on themselves, especially a young kid. He’s able to relax now. He’s going to be a very good player for us.”
For the second start in a row, Masterson (1-2, 5.20 ERA) was on his game, allowing three runs, eight hits and three walks. He also struck out six. He was victimized by a bunt single that led to two runs and one or two seeing-eye groundball hits that seemed to know exactly how to find their way through the infield.
“Masterson did a fantastic job,” Acta said. “He struggled with his command near the end, but he threw 20-of-29 first-pitch strikes.”
The White Sox’s first runs came in the fifth, when Kosuke Fukudome drew a leadoff walk and Gordon Beckham bunted for a hit. After Eduardo Escobar’s sacrifice moved the runners to second and third, Alejandro De Aza bounced a single into right field (as Kipnis was breaking toward the second-base bag and away from the ball) to score both runs.
A.J. Pierzynski’s two-out double in the sixth was followed by Alex Rios’ RBI single to account for the White Sox’s third run.
In his past two outings, Masterson has allowed five runs and 12 hits in 14⅔ innings.
“The White Sox are a good-hitting team,” Masterson said. “But they’re nice enough not to hit well when I pitch.”
In eight appearances (six starts) at U.S. Cellular Field, he is 3-1 with a 2.09 ERA.
Of his first win of the year, Masterson said with a smile, “At least I have one, so people won’t talk about that anymore.”
He got in trouble in the seventh, when De Aza beat out an infield single with one out, and Alexei Ramirez singled him to second. Tony Sipp relieved Masterson and induced Adam Dunn to foul to the catcher on a 3-and-2 pitch. Then Sipp gave way to Joe Smith, who walked Paul Konerko to load the bases but retired Pierzynski on a pop fly to shortstop.
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.