CLEVELAND -- The baseball that disappeared into the second tier of trees beyond the wall in center field was another sign that Edwin Encarnacion's bat is warming up with the weather. For an Indians team that has struggled to find its rhythm, that continues to be a welcomed development.Encarnacion is
CLEVELAND -- The baseball that disappeared into the second tier of trees beyond the wall in center field was another sign that Edwin Encarnacion's bat is warming up with the weather. For an Indians team that has struggled to find its rhythm, that continues to be a welcomed development.
Encarnacion is the kind of slugger that can hoist an offense on his back and carry his team to victory. On Friday night, his two-run homer in the fifth provided that kind of lift in a 7-3 win over the White Sox. Once his towering drive put Cleveland ahead, the team's top trio of arms -- Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen -- saw to it that the lead held.
"That was nice for him, and us," Indians manager Terry Francona said of Encarnacion's shot to the trees that stand behind Heritage Park inside Progressive Field. "To see him come up in that situation and do what we got him here to do, it's nice. I was happy for him."
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For the 11th time this season, Encarnacion raised his right arm and settled into his signature home run trot. The moonshot off White Sox right-hander Miguel Gonzalez soared a projected 430 feet to dead center after rocketing off his bat at 108 mph, per Statcast™. It came after a critical two-out walk from Carlos Santana -- now occupying the cleanup spot due to the struggles that plagued Encarnacion's first six weeks -- and put the Indians ahead for good, 4-3.
As has been the case throughout his career, Encarnacion's production has steadily climbed as the spring has turned to summer. Over his past 15 games, the Indians' designated hitter has turned in a .352/.397/.611 slash line to raise his OPS to .774 on the year. That is still below Encarnacion's usual level (.847 OPS for his career), but an improvement over the .199 average (.689 OPS) he held a little more than two weeks ago.
Encarnacion's teammates figured it was only a matter of time. After all, he had overcome similar slow starts many times with the Blue Jays before signing his three-year, $60 million pact with the Tribe this past offseason.
"He's done it numerous times throughout his career and put up the numbers he's put up," Kluber said. "I don't think we ever panicked or were doubting what he is capable of. I think there's a reason he has done it as consistently as he has for as long as he has. Some guys are quick starters, some guys are slow starters.
"I think throughout the course of the year, if you stay consistent, guys usually fall into the area where [they are expected to finish]."
On the night, Encarnacion churned out three hits -- his first such game as a member of the Indians. He reached on an infield single in the fourth inning and eventually trotted home on a bases-loaded walk by rookie Bradley Zimmer. In the eighth, he added a leadoff base hit to left field, which ignited a run of four consecutive hits in a three-run inning that put the game away for Cleveland.
It was a much-needed win for the Indians, who had dropped five of seven games heading into the night.
"Edwin's shot, that's a huge shot in the arm," Allen said. "When you're down one run, or two runs or three runs, it feels like 10 when you're not playing well."
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.