CLEVELAND -- After finishing the 2018 season in an offensive slump, all eyes have been on Jose Ramirez since the beginning of the year, as he’s continued to struggle in the batter’s box. But manager Terry Francona has never showed any concern through the slow start. Prior to Wednesday’s game, the Tribe’s skipper said, ‘I’m telling you, he’s going to be fine.”
It’s as if Francona knew Ramirez had a big day in store.
The All-Star third baseman recorded a season-high three hits and knocked in a season-high four runs in the Indians' 6-2 win over the Marlins on Wednesday afternoon at Progressive Field. It was the first time he’s driven in at least four runs since his five-RBI game on July 11, 2018 against Cincinnati.
“Just telling you, I know he’s going to be fine,” Francona said. “He’s a great hitter. Guys go through tough times. He won’t quit on himself. He won’t hang his head. He’ll keep plugging away. I’m telling you, you’re going to look up and he’s going to be among the league leaders. It’ll be fun to watch.”
Ramirez started on the strongest note he could, launching his second home run of the season on the first pitch he saw from Miami starter Sandy Alcantara before knocking in the Tribe’s second run of the day on a single to center in the third. Prior to Wednesday, Ramirez had been slashing .157/.237/.229 through his first 22 games.
“For some it's difficult, for some it's not,” Ramirez said through an interpreter of finding consistency early in the season. “I just gotta keep working and the most important part is to recognize who you are and keep working to be that person you know you are.”
Rodriguez delivers second stellar spot start
Ramirez gave Cleveland starter Jefry Rodriguez the early 2-0 cushion as he made his second spot start for the Tribe in place of an injured Mike Clevinger (upper back strain). When Clevinger landed on the injured list, there was concern that the fifth spot in the rotation would be hard to fill, but Rodriguez has offered the team two strong outings, including a career-high seven frames against the Marlins, allowing just one run on three hits. The Indians have now gone 11-2 this season when their starter goes at least six innings.
“It’s easy to see the glass being kind of half full with him,” Francona said. “He’s got velocity. Not necessarily swing-and-miss velocity, but he gets a lot of ground balls with the movement. But the two times he’s pitched here, he’s really pounded the zone really well. In Kansas City, I think I remember saying on some nights we’d be talking about how he pitched so well, but we didn’t score. So, he’s really encouraging. His development is fun to watch.”
The 6-foot-6 right-hander knew that he’d be optioned back to Triple-A following the game because the Indians don’t need a fifth starter until around May 7 thanks to a couple off days, but he wasn’t expecting to be given the King of the Hill crown.The Tribe’s starting rotation awards the crown to the starter who has the best performance from each series.
“It feels great. [Trevor] Bauer just explained that to me right now and I just received it. So it feels great,” Rodriguez said through an interpreter. “... Like I said before, I mean [getting optioned is] something that you cannot control. I just try to focus every outing and just do my best and I just keep doing it every time they give me the opportunity.”
The turning point
The Indians held a one-run lead when Rodriguez was pulled from the game after throwing 91 pitches, but the lead was not safe as he handed the ball to Nick Wittgren, who toed the mound to face his former team for the first time. Wittgren has been one of the Indians most reliable relievers this season, but after recording two quick strikeouts, he gave up a solo homer to Martin Prado to tie the game in the top of the eighth.
But in the bottom half of the frame with a runner on second, Jake Bauers delivered his fourth-career go-ahead RBI in the 8th inning or later on a single to center that increased his batting average in tie-game situations to .316. Ramirez stepped up to give the Indians even more breathing room four batters later, knocking in two more runs on a bases-loaded double.
“Their starter, he had a really good fastball today,” Prado said. “He's a tough guy. Then Wittgren, he just made outstanding pitches. The only mistake he made, I got a pretty good swing on it. Sometimes, in baseball, you live off mistakes. Unfortunately, they got a couple of ground balls through right away and came back."