Brantley, Swisher spark turnaround in Tribe's win
Key rally in sixth inning preserves victory for Jimenez in series opener
BALTIMORE -- This has been a trying month for first baseman Nick Swisher, as the Tribe's cleanup hitter and vocal leader has battled a shoulder issue that has taken a toll on his offensive performance and forced him to miss a handful of games.
Sitting in the visitors' dugout at Camden Yards prior to Monday's 5-2 victory over the Orioles, manager Terry Francona was quick to remind that one or two subpar months do not define a player's season. That might be true, but Cleveland can hope that one good game might trigger a turnaround.
"We have so much confidence in him," Francona said. "Nobody wants to see him struggle, just because we care about him, and when he produces he helps us win. He'll be just fine."
Swisher played a key role in a three-run outburst in the sixth inning on Monday, helping swing the game in Cleveland's favor in the first tilt of this daunting, 11-game road trip. Michael Brantley matched a career high with four RBIs, starter Ubaldo Jimenez put on a clinic in damage control and and the Indians claimed their ninth win in the past 12 games.
Cleveland's bullpen sealed the victory with 3 2/3 shutout innings in relief of Jimenez. Interim closer Vinnie Pestano rounded out that showing by inducing a game-ending lineout off the bat of Manny Machado with two runners onboard in the ninth, picking up his fourth save of the year.
"Our bullpen took over," Swisher said. "We had a lot of contributing parts tonight. That's the way we have to have it."
The game-swinging push was ignited by Cleveland's hottest hitter.
In the sixth, Jason Kipnis pulled a pitch from Orioles lefty Zach Britton into the right-field corner for a leadoff double. For Kipnis, who has reached base in 26 consecutive games and is now hitting .392 in June, it was his fifth extra-base hit in the last three games (39-36).
That set the table for Swisher, who slashed a 90-mph fastball up the middle and into center field for an RBI single that scored Kipnis to cut Baltimore's lead to one run. Carlos Santana followed with a double and -- after a brief mound visit to go over the situation -- the Orioles opted to have Britton intentionally walk slugger Mark Reynolds to load the bases with no outs.
"Obviously, they're playing strategy," Brantley said. "There's a lefty on the mound, I'm a left-handed hitter, and I just want to make sure I can do what I can for my team -- get that run in from third base however I can do it."
Brantley, who has been a specialist with runners in scoring position this season, made the Orioles pay by sending a sharp chopper up the middle for a two-run single. That pushed Cleveland in front, 3-2, and improved Brantley's average with RISP to .357.
That's where the breakthrough ended, but it was enough to send Britton to the showers and the Indians on their way to the win. Britton had been brilliant through the first five frames, holding the Indians to just a pair of singles, before falling apart in the sixth and being hung with the loss.
Jimenez (6-4) earned the win after limiting the Orioles (42-35) to two solo homers -- by Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters -- in his 5 1/3 innings. The right-hander scattered eight hits and issued a pair of walks but found a variety of ways to keep Baltimore from crossing the plate.
"I'm very happy," Jimenez said. "This is a tough lineup and a tough stadium to pitch in. I got in some trouble, some big trouble with bases loaded or two guys on base, and I was able to minimize the damage. It was good. It was good for the team to keep the score close."
In the eighth inning, Brantley drilled a 2-2 offering from reliever Darren O'Day deep to right field for a two-run homer that put Cleveland ahead, 5-2. It was Brantley's fifth home run of the season and the third time in his career that he drove in four runs in one game.
"He's such a pro hitter, man," Swisher said.
For Swisher, it was hardly a career night, but it was the kind of steady showing Cleveland expected to see on a more consistent basis when the club inked him to a four-year, $56 million contract over the winter. The switch-hitter has been bothered off and on all season by an injured left shoulder, which convinced Francona to sit him for seven straight games recently.
In his return to the lineup on Sunday, Swisher went 0-for-5, including a game-ending groundout in a loss to the Twins.
Heading into Monday's game, Swisher had hit just .100 in his previous 16 games. His two hits against Baltimore marked his first multihit game since May 29, and he reached base at least three times for the first time since June 1.
"Man, I've been trying to keep a smile on my face," he said. "This game is frustrating. I've said it before: I know what type of player I am. I know what I'm capable of doing. Just being able to get back out there and contribute, man, that felt good. It's nice getting back out there and feeling healthy again.
"When you take that time off from the squad, you kind of feel like you're kind of out from everything. To be back in the lineup, and to be back with the guys every single day, it's just great."