Civale scuffles as bats held quiet in Seattle

May 15th, 2021

A two-run rally in the ninth inning of Friday night's 7-3 loss to the Mariners fell four short of the Indians completing a comeback to put themselves in a two-way tie for first place in the American League Central. 

After a mostly quiet night only managing one run on seven hits, Cleveland used its remaining three outs to cut into Seattle’s six-run lead. The burst forced Seattle to lift reliever JT Chargois for Rafael Montero with two outs after Eddie Rosario was plunked on his right foot, Josh Naylor hit a two-run homer and pinch-hitter Harold Ramirez reached first base on two defensive miscues to put runners on the corners, a glimmer of hope of a comeback still alive. 

The momentum came to a halt when César Hernández grounded out to first base, leaving the Indians in the loss column for the first time in a week.

"We don't stop playing ever, that’s part of it, but when you get down that much, it can almost be a little cosmetic,” manager Terry Francona said. “I'm glad we made them bring their last reliever in because maybe that'll help us win a game tomorrow. But we kind of let this one slip away tonight.”

Starter Aaron Civale has been key for the pitching staff so far this season. Entering his eighth start of the year, the team won six of seven games he started -- due in part to good pitching (he entered Friday’s start with a 2.91 ERA) and run support (Cleveland averaged 7.3 runs in Civale’s prior seven starts). 

But Friday played out differently from what the numbers predicted. The offense that experienced a power surge in its last dozen games couldn’t materialize much run support for Civale. 

To that end, Jordan Luplow was Cleveland’s only source of production during the first eight innings, and his run-scoring at-bat in the fifth inning nearly ended in a different manner.

Luplow stepped in the right-handed batter’s box against Seattle’s Chris Flexen in the fifth inning with Naylor on first and immediately ducked. Flexen lost control of an 88.6 mph four-seam fastball that missed Luplow’s head by mere inches, causing Naylor to move up a base as catcher Luis Torrens couldn’t corral the ball that fired into the backstop. Luplow shook off the near hit to the head, let two cutters and a curveball pass by, then drove a cutter to center field to put Cleveland on the board with a run. 

And that was all for the night, until the ninth inning. 

Seattle’s defense played the Indians well all evening, particularly second baseman Dylan Moore. With hits being hard to come by throughout the game, the occasional crack of the bat felt like the tide was finally turning ... only to have José Ramírez and Jake Bauers see their hard-hit line drives speared by Moore, who was positioned perfectly in the shift.

Only supplied with one run of offense in support, Civale was accountable for five of Seattle’s seven runs, dashing his attempt to join Dennis Martinez, Shane Bieber, Josh Tomlin and Cliff Lee as the only Cleveland pitchers in the Wild Card Era to start the season with six consecutive wins. 

Civale worked his six-pitch arsenal to the best of his ability, with Seattle not being hesitant to make contact in the zone. His fastball and sinker recorded 25 swings, while his four other pitches accounted for the other half, but generated just eight whiffs among them. 67 of Civale’s 107 pitches against the M’s landed as a strike. 

"Besides the pitch [Kyle Seager] hit out and the last pitch I threw to [Sam Haggerty], I was happy with a lot of the execution that I had today and a lot of the pitches that I threw,” Civale said. “I've just got to be a little bit more careful with those."