KANSAS CITY, Mo.: What slump?
Weren’t Indians batsmen in a crash and burn phase? Isn’t this the same team that scored 12 runs in five games through Sunday afternoon?
Hard to remember any of that now, inasmuch as the Tribe has scored 19 runs the past two games, starting Sunday night in the second game of a doubleheader.
Monday night, the Whacking Wahoos buried the Royals 9-0 to split the four-game set at Kauffman Stadium.
Keeping to the formula established Sunday night by Mike Aviles, a reserve proved to be the offensive star. This time it was Ryan Raburn, who homered twice and singled twice, driving in four runs and scoring two.
“That’s partly what these guys can do,” manager Terry Francona said, referring to his bench. “We can be productive with the guys on this team. But we might need more than nine of them.”
Raburn has been getting regular at-bats because of the absence of Michael Bourn, who is on the disabled list.
“I wouldn’t put that much into it,” Raburn said. “I had regular at-bats going into tonight. There are going to be good nights and bad nights. It’s been a little while [since I had one like this], but you take them when they come and enjoy it.”
Altogether, seven of the Indians’ 14 hits went for extra bases.
Doubles and home runs were flying all around the yard, and thanks to Ubaldo Jimenez, Royals hitters were responsible for none of them.
Jimenez’s ERA had ballooned to 11.25 three starts into the season. His fourth start, against the Astros last week, was a little more professional. He gave up four runs in five innings, two at each end of the outing, but he retired 14 consecutive batters in the middle.
Who knew that such a modest period of success would foreshadow his performance Monday night?
The Royals had little chance against Jimenez (1-2, 7.13 ERA).
Until the eighth inning, the only hit he gave up was a sharp ground ball deep in the shortstop hole, too deep for Asdrubal Cabrera to have any chance of throwing out Billy Butler.
“I felt really good tonight,” said Jimenez, who hadn’t pitched in a week. “I think the extra day [or two] really helped me. My fastball was running a lot in the bullpen, and I had to take advantage of it.”
When Jimenez gave up a double and a single to start the eighth, Francona went to the bullpen. Nevertheless, it was arguably Jimenez’s most effective outing since June 10 of last year, when he gave up one run and five hits in seven innings in a 4-1 win over the Cardinals.
Jimenez has fooled expert evaluators and amateur analysts before.
But at the moment, he strongly resembles what a winning pitcher should look like when he has a baseball in his hand.
“You always look to be encouraged,” Francona said. “But tonight flew right past encouraged to exciting.”
There’s the heat-seeking fastball that roared to the plate at 94 and 95 mph Monday night. One or two even hit 96.
There was Jimenez’s judicious use of the breaking ball and most important, his ability to throw quality strikes.
There have been nights — many nights — since the Tribe acquired him from the Rockies in the middle of 2011 when he wasn’t able to do any of these things.
Pulling together all of the elements of his delivery seemed as difficult as getting Republicans and Democrats to agree on whether Derrick Rose should play now or wait until next year.
From the first batter of the game, the Tribe offense was in kill mode.
Jason Kipnis homered in the first inning, and the Indians surely would have gotten more runs if Cabrera hadn’t been thrown out at the plate trying to score from second on Nick Swisher’s single.
No matter. After scoring a run in the third on Michael Brantley’s double and Cabrera’s single, the Indians went on a binge in the fifth, scoring six times. Cabrera and Carlos Santana contributed RBI doubles, Mark Reynolds drove in a run with a single, and Raburn capped the rally with a three-run homer.
He made it a two-home run night in the eighth to account for the Tribe’s final run of the game.
Special mention should be made of Nick Hagadone, who relieved Jimenez with runners on second and third and no outs in the eighth. Hagadone struck out two and forced a bouncer back to the mound, preventing anyone from crossing the plate.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at https://ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.