CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Indians pitched well enough in their first series of the season over the weekend that they could have have swept the Kansas City Royals at Progressive Field.
They went 2-1 and may have indeed engineered a sweep if not for a quirk of this coronavirus-delayed season — the rule that puts a runner on second base in each half inning of every extra inning game. Along with going 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position, and striking out 15 times, that was enough to cost the Indians the middle game of the series Saturday.
But that had nothing to do with the pitchers.
Starters Shane Bieber, Mike Clevinger and Carlos Carrasco did just fine. They went 2-0 with a 1.89 ERA (four earned runs in 19 innings). Manager Terry Francona’s first three starters struck out 30, walked two and allowed 12 hits.
The bullpen had reason to celebrate as well. The nine-man pen did not allow an earned run in the series. They struck out 10, walked three and allowed three hits in nine innings.
The 40 combined strikeouts were the most by the Indians in the first three games of a season since April 11 through April 16, 1966 when they struck out 42 in 31 innings.
“As I said before, we have a good rotation,” said Carrasco. “We know we can strike out a lot of people. I like to strike out people, too, that’s what happened today (Sunday).”
Bieber set a franchise record with 14 strikeouts on opening day Friday. Clevinger struck out six in seven innings on Saturday. Carrasco, in his first big-league start since May 30, 2019, struck out 10 in big innings. It was the 26th time in his career he’s struck out 10 or more batters.
This was Carrasco’s first start since he was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia last year. He missed three months of the season while being treated. When he returned to the mound on Sept. 1, it was as a reliever.
It made Sunday more than another statistic for Carrasco and his teammates. If you’re into statistics, it was the 172nd start of his career.
“I was a big fan of Cookie’s since I was in the minors,” said Franmil Reyes, who started in left field for the Indians on Sunday. “I had the opportunity to be there when he returned (last year in Tampa on Sept. 1). It made me really excited to see the return of Cookie.
“Seeing him today and doing the great job he did today, it made me feel happy for him. Especially when he returned from a tough year last year.”
Bieber went six innings in the season opener. He was at 97 pitches when manager Terry Francona went to the bullpen. How many innings Clevinger and Carrasco would give Francona was unknown.
Clevinger hadn’t made a big league start since last September. He underwent left knee surgery in February and didn’t pitch in games until the start of Spring Training II on July 3. Carrasco, of course, was returning from the trauma and treatment he went through last year. In his last intrasquad on Tuesday he went four innings.
Both pitchers were more than ready for the first real start of 2020.
Clevinger, who allowed consecutive homers in the first inning Saturday, went seven innings. He retired 14 of the last 15 Royals he faced.
Carrasco started the game with 10 straight outs. He struck out the side in order in the sixth and came out for the seventh, but left after Maikel Franco’s leadoff double. The first turn through the rotation continues this week when Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac face the White Sox on Monday and Tuesday night, respectively, at Progressive Field.
Francona used seven of his nine relievers in the series. Set-up man Nick Wittgren was the only one who had to pitch more than once. He delivered scoreless innings Friday and Saturday.
Adam Cimber, closer Brad Hand, James Karinchak, Oliver Perez, Dominic Leone and Cam Hill were able to get their seasons started as well.
Karinchak pitched two innings on Saturday, but took the loss when the Royals scored an unearned run in the 10th for a 3-2 win. Hill made his big-league debut with a scoreless ninth inning on Sunday. Then there was Perez, who relieved Carrasco in the the seventh.
Perez, 38, retired the three straight to begin his 18th season in the big leagues. It made him the longest-tenured Mexican-born player in MLB history. For perspective: While Hill, 26, made his first big-league appearance on Sunday, Perez made his 671st.
This story has been updated to correct the number of consecutive hitters that Clevinger retired before leaving the game Saturday.
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