CLEVELAND -- Carlos Carrasco took the mound on Wednesday unsure how much margin for error he would have against the Tigers. Over the past several days, as the Indians' offense went as cold as the temperature around Progressive Field, Cleveland's pitchers knew even one mistake could prove costly.
Carrasco made one mistake in a complete-game performance, but it mattered little on this night. The Tribe nine produced what must have felt like an avalanche of run support en route to a 5-1 victory over the Tigers. A four-run fourth gave Carrasco plenty of room to breathe and, in turn, allowed the team's hitters to let out a collective sigh of relief.
"We knew it was coming," Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis said. "Guys are too good of hitters to have it go on for too much longer. I think you're going to see guys start warming up as the weather does, too."
Cleveland's lineup managed just 10 runs total over its previous five games, but the club's pitching limited the damage that drought could have caused. Carrasco continued the rotation's recent run of dominance by going the distance and holding the Tigers to one run, a solo homer off the bat of Leonys Martin. In fact, with the exception of Martin (3-for-4 on the night), Carrasco held Detroit to an 0-for-25 showing.
Carrasco's outing lowered the starting staff's ERA to 1.04 over the past six games. In that 5-1 stretch for Cleveland, the rotation has piled up 37 strikeouts against nine walks in 43 1/3 innings (or more than seven innings per game on average). Carrasco stuck with a heavy four-seamer and curveball mix, but worked in his split-change, slider and two-seamer enough to keep Detroit's hitters guessing.
"He pitched a heck of a game," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "He pounded the zone. His offspeed is so effective coming off of his fastball, and he stays down with it so consistently that he just gives himself a chance against every hitter."
Carrasco was overpowering to the point that, if Cleveland's lineup stayed cold, the team was still in a position to find the win column.
For the first three frames, it felt like more of the same from the Indians' order. In the fourth, though, the Tribe broke through against lefty Daniel Norris, who replaced Jordan Zimmermann after a first-inning liner back to the mound forced the starter out of the game. Cleveland churned out four runs on six hits in a span of nine batters. The Indians had six hits combined in the previous 14 innings.
Earlier this week, Indians hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo held a meeting for his hitters, displaying some numbers to show that things were not as bad as they seemed. For example, Cleveland carried a .284 team slugging percentage into Wednesday's game but had an expected slugging percentage of .475, per Statcast™.
"Hopefully," Van Burkleo said, "we're not going to get too many guys starting to press and trying to do too much and trying to swing harder and trying to get hits on pitches that aren't good pitches to hit. So, today was a nice day to kind of move in the right direction. And, as the weather warms up, I think it's going to get better."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Four score: Throughout the Tribe's recent offensive drought, the team has preached aggressiveness on the basepaths to help manufacture runs. In the fourth, following their consecutive singles, Jose Ramirez and Michael Brantley successfully pulled off a double steal. That helped set the stage for Yonder Alonso's two-run single to right, igniting the Indians' four-run outburst.
"That was really heads-up," Francona said of the double steal. "We've kind of come to expect that with Jose, [if they] either forget about him or one-look him and go. He's so good at [taking advantage of] that."
Cookie Monster: While Carrasco held eight of the nine batters in Detroit's lineup hitless, he had no answer for Martin, who fell a triple shy of the cycle. That included a tape-measure solo homer to right field off a Carrasco slider. Statcast™ estimated the sixth-inning drive at 421 feet.
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
With the win, the Indians claimed a series win, marking the 14th consecutive series victory for Cleveland over American League Central foes. According to STATS LLC, that is the longest such streak for any MLB team in the divisional era (1969-present).
Zimmermann left the game after just seven pitches with a right jaw contusion caused by a Kipnis line drive that hit him on the side of his face. Zimmermann cleared concussion protocol, but was sent out for X-rays to determine if there was any further damage. Kipnis' liner had a 105.6-mph exit velocity, according to Statcast™, giving Zimmermann too little time to get his glove up.
"You never want that," Kipnis said. "Everyone's out there competing. You want it to be decided by talent and skill and all the other stuff. You don't want it to be because someone got injured or anything like that, so you never root for anyone to get injured. It was a scary moment, [he's tough] just to walk off like that. He's got a strong jaw."
Right-hander Trevor Bauer is slated to take the mound on Thursday, when the Indians look to sweep the rival Tigers in a 6:10 p.m. ET tilt at Progressive Field. Bauer went 10-4 with a 3.93 ERA in 17 starts at home last season.
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