Kipnis misses cycle, but leads Tribe to victory
Kluber gives up three runs on two homers in 5 2/3 frames
CLEVELAND -- The day might come when Jason Kipnis hits for a cycle. The Indians second baseman certainly boasts the necessary blend of power and speed to accomplish the rare feat. That statistical accomplishment can wait.
Cycle or not, Cleveland is content with having Kipnis firing on all cylinders.
On Saturday night, Kipnis flirted with history against the Twins, serving as the motor behind an offensive engine that led the Indians to an 8-7 victory at Progressive Field. The Tribe capitalized on a rough first inning for Minnesota, Indians starter Corey Kluber continued his recent run of success on the mound and Cleveland claimed its fourth straight win.
"He's definitely a catalyst," Indians reliever Vinnie Pestano said of Kipnis. "When guys like Kip get hot, they can carry a team. And he's definitely been a guy we've looked toward for that, for that big hit and that big at-bat."
It also marked the eighth win in the past 10 games for the surging Indians (38-35), who have been working hard to erase the damage done during their early June slump. Kipnis has played a key role in the recent turnaround with a stellar showing this month, doing his part in making up for the offensive struggles he dealt with in the season's first month.
Given Kipnis' recent play, April seems like it was ages ago.
"That's what happens," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "We talked about that in April. We said, 'Hey, just let him play, and he'll get to his level.'"
The second baseman's latest performance for the Tribe included three hits, a pair of RBIs and a stolen base in the win over the Twins (33-38). Kipnis finished a home run shy of a cycle after collecting a double in the first inning, a single in the second and a triple in the fourth. It marked the seventh time in his brief big league career that he has fallen a hit shy of the feat.
Needing a home run for the cycle, Kipnis drew a walk in the fifth inning and grounded out in the eighth.
"I was hoping that he'd be swinging out of his shoes every chance he got," Pestano said.
Travis Hafner -- now with the Yankees -- accomplished Cleveland's last cycle on Aug. 14, 2003.
Kluber surrendered a two-run home run to Twins catcher Joe Mauer in the first inning. In the home half of the first, Twins right-hander P.J. Walters took the mound armed with a two-run lead and quickly saw it fade away. Walters walked Michael Bourn to open the frame and then hit Mike Aviles with a pitch.
That set the stage for Kipnis.
Kipnis worked into a 3-2 count and then sliced a 79-mph slider down the left-field line and into the corner, giving Bourn and Aviles ample time to sprint home and tie the game. From there, Walters labored to find the strike zone and fell apart. The righty issued five walks, including two with the bases loaded, in the disastrous inning.
"Walters just didn't really have it tonight," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He couldn't throw the ball over the plate. We haven't seen that in a while. Hopefully, we won't see that again."
Following Walters' walk to the showers -- after he threw 28 of his 46 pitches for balls -- Minnesota reliever Anthony Swarzak gave up a two-run single to Bourn to put the Indians ahead, 6-2. That put the final touch on the pitching line for Walters, who became the first pitcher since 1954 (Bob Turley) to have at least five walks and six runs in one inning or less in a start against Cleveland.
The Indians added some insurance (Drew Stubbs and Bourn each chipped in an RBI single in the fifth), which proved important given the Twins' late push. Against the Tribe's bullpen, Minnesota plated four runs in the final three innings. Two of those came off the bat of Chris Parmelee, who belted a solo shot off Bryan Shaw in the eighth and another against Pestano in a two-run burst in the ninth.
Pestano survived a drama-filled, 34-pitch ninth to collect his third save of the season.
"We won the game. That's the bottom line," Pestano said. "If I go out there and give up five runs, and we win by one, we win by one. I obviously can't keep putting my personal misfortunes, my lack of execution, in front of the team."
Minnesota's late rally was not enough to keep Kluber from the win column
Over his past eight turns for the Indians, Kluber has gone 4-2 with a 2.77 ERA and 49 strikeouts against seven walks in 48 2/3 innings. Against Minnesota, Kluber yielded three runs on eight hits in 5 2/3 frames, ending with four strikeouts and one walk. The righty gave up two home runs: Mauer's two-run shot in the first and a leadoff blast to Oswaldo Arcia in the fourth.
It seemed fitting that Kluber and Kipnis paved the way to this win. Earlier this week, they were named the American League's co-Players of the Week for the period that ended on Sunday. Kipnis hit at a .524 clip during that seven-day period, and he has continued to churn out hits this week.
With Saturday's showing, Kipnis has now reached base via hit, walk or hit-by-pitch in 24 consecutive games. For the month of June, the second baseman has hit .379 (25-for-66) in 19 games. After hitting .189 through May 1, Kipnis has hit .312 (54-for-173) with eight home runs, 13 doubles, three triples, 27 runs, 36 RBIs and 12 stolen bases over his next 46 contests.
"He's doing some damage," Francona said. "He's not just getting hits. He's stealing bases, hitting the ball in the gap, hitting the ball out of the ballpark. He's doing a lot of good things."
As for completing a cycle, Kipnis will have to keep trying.