Miller puts out fire in 8th as Indians hold off KC
Ace reliever K's 3 straight after first 2 batters reach in 1-run game
CLEVELAND -- Andrew Miller was not toying with the Royals. It only looked that way in light of the end result.
On Friday, Miller came out of the bullpen in the eighth inning for the Indians and -- after flinching momentarily -- put on an overpowering display that helped Cleveland hold on for a 3-2 victory in its home opener. The big lefty struck out three consecutive batters to escape his own jam, electrifying the Progressive Field crowd on a cold day.
"It's like he's his own reliever," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "Once he has to start attacking, it's like he gets better. That's a good feeling."
Following six solid innings from Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland's bullpen was tasked with preserving the one-run advantage. Nicholas Goody held up his end of the bargain with a scoreless seventh, setting the stage for Miller's entrance, which -- due to the windy conditions -- did not include the ballpark's towers of fire that might have warmed the fans in the bleacher seats.
Both teams' pitchers struggled at the outset of their outings. Carrasco allowed two runs in the first inning before cruising through the next five frames unscathed. Royals lefty Danny Duffy walked three and allowed three runs in the first, but then settled down as well.
Michael Brantley, who came off the disabled list prior to the game, delivered a two-run single in the first to push the Indians ahead, 3-2. From there, Duffy limited Cleveland's lineup to a 1-for-20 showing.
When Miller entered, the Indians' relief ace also struggled out of the chute.
Jonathan Jay drew a walk on five pitches and then Whit Merrifield drove a 2-2 offering from Miller into left field for a single. With Kansas City threatening, Miller then found another gear.
"He's one of the best relievers in the game, I'll say it," Brantley said. "He doesn't want to brag about himself, but I will. We have pure confidence every time he comes in. He's a competitor. He loves going out there and competing, and I'm glad he's on our team."
First, Miller struck out Mike Moustakas with an 0-2 slider that tailed away from the left-handed hitter and ducked under his bat. Next came Lucas Duda, who also fell behind, 0-2, before swinging through an elevated fastball. Miller then fell into a full count against Cheslor Cuthbert, but fired a slider low and away, getting close enough to the edge to prompt a called third strike.
"When I got Moustakas back in the box," Miller said, "I got a lefty and kind of was able to change my sights. I think I made a nice adjustment. Again, it's not how I'd want to do it. I'd rather go out and have a clean inning, but at the end of the day, a zero is a zero."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Brantley's first swing: When Brantley stepped into the batter's box in the first inning, Duffy had thrown 15 balls within his first 20 pitches. Normally, a batter might watch a few pitches under those circumstances, but Brantley -- who came in hitting .320 in 25 career at-bats against the lefty -- opted instead to be aggressive. Brantley went after a first-pitch two-seamer and sent it into shallow right for his two-run single.
"Usually, it's take some pitches and make sure he gets in the zone," Brantley said of the typical approach in that situation. "But for myself, personally, I had a lot of at-bats against Duffy in the past and I was just trying to get a fastball early and trying to put a good swing on it. I had some nervous jitters in my first AB of the year. I was excited.
"He made a great pitch, I was just able to get enough of it to get it over [the second baseman]. I'll take it all day."
Carrasco's escape: The Royals snapped out of an 0-for-13 skid against Carrasco with consecutive singles from Andrew Butera and Jay to open the sixth. The Tribe starter later issued a one-out intentional walk to Moustakas to load the bases, giving Kansas City a chance to swing the momentum. Carrasco then halted the rally. First, he froze Duda with a low four-seam fastball for a called third strike. Cuthbert followed with a flyout to left to leave the bases loaded.
"That was really important," Carrasco said. "I just tried to not walk [Cuthbert] right there, because it would have tied the game. We ended up, 3-2. I threw a fastball and got a fly ball to Michael Brantley, so I'm glad we did that."
"I think we're starting to come to expect it. It'd be nice if we just have him every day for the rest of the way. That's the big goal, because we know he can hit. We know he can play. He's a big part of this lineup. You put him in there and he's a daily guy that you just count on to get big hits." -- Miller, on Brantley coming through in his 2018 debut
"He's an easy guy to bet on. I could give you pages and pages of why. He's the heart and soul of our team. He does everything the way you're supposed to. If people saw the way he works to get healthy, it would be hard to bet against him." -- Francona, on Brantley
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Indians have won two straight home openers for the first time since winning three in a row from 1997-99. Cleveland is now 61-57 all time in its 118 home openers in franchise history.
FRANCONA ARGUES FOR BALK
There was some confusion in the first inning with runners on first and second when Edwin Encarnacion called for time in the batter's box without it being granted by home-plate umpire Roberto Ortiz. While Encarnacion raised an arm, Duffy started and stopped his delivery. Francona became heated as he argued for a balk call to no avail. According to MLB rule 6.02(b): If after the pitcher starts his windup or comes to a "set position" with a runner on, he does not go through with his pitch because the batter has stepped out of the box, it shall not be called a balk.
Indians: Right-hander Trevor Bauer is scheduled to take the mound on Saturday, when the Indians host the Royals in a 4:10 p.m. ET American League Central clash at Progressive Field. Bauer went 10-4 with a 3.93 ERA in 17 home starts last season.
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