The Indians’ bats were silenced by Seattle starter Felix Hernandez Thursday night, but thanks to a ninth-inning rally and a terrific performance by Josh Tomlin, Cleveland (6-5) came back to beat Seattle (7-7), 2-1, in the rubber match of a three-game set at Safeco Field.
Hernandez and Tomlin breezed through the first several innings—both pitchers were at their best Thursday and neither lineup could make any early inroads. Seattle finally got on the board in the fifth when Michael Saunders led off the inning with a double and scored on John Jaso‘s fielder’s choice to give the Mariners a 1-0 lead; it was the only run Tomlin would give up.
Meanwhile, the Indians simply could not touch Hernandez. The Mariners’ ace threw eight frames of shutout ball, holding the Tribe to just five hits and one walk while racking up 12 strikeouts. No Cleveland batter even got as far as third base until the eighth inning.
But the Tribe put together a rally in the ninth. Carlos Santana worked a leadoff walk off of Seattle closer Brandon League. Travis Hafner followed it up with a single and Casey Kotchman laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to make it second and third—the tying run was 90 feet away and the go-ahead run was right behind—with just one out. Jack Hannahan then delivered with a two-run single to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead.
That was all the Indians could manage, but it was enough. Chris Perez took the mound in the ninth and sent the Mariners down 1-2-3 to earn a relatively worry-free save and give the Indians a well-fought 2-1 victory.
The Good: Josh Tomlin. He’d looked a little shaky in his first two outings of the year, but he put that behind him tonight. He threw eight very solid innings, allowing just one run on five hits while racking up seven strikeouts (he rang up Dustin Ackley three times) en route to earning the win; true to form, he didn’t allow a single walk. He was incredibly efficient as well—it took him only 96 pitches (71 of which were strikes) to get through eight frames, while Felix Hernandez 126 offerings to put the Indians down eight times.
Jack Hannahan also deserves some props for his clutch game-winning hit (look how quickly that win probably line tanks!) but the other player I was most impressed with was Chris Perez. He didn’t seem to have his full velocity back (he topped out at 94 mph) but he showed good command of both his fastball and his slider. Part of this might just be retroactive association, but he really looked like a different pitcher Thursday than he did during his near-meltdown on Tuesday.
The Bad: You can’t really blame the lineup for not hitting against Felix Hernandez and it didn’t matter in the end, but it wasn’t a banner night for the Indians’ lineup. There’s no real reason to be seriously concerned here—if you’re nervous, just close your eyes and think back to the Kansas City series—but Cleveland has scored just three runs the last two games.
The “Huh?”: Shelley Duncan saw his usual No. 6 spot in the lineup usurped by…Casey Kotchman. Now, Duncan has a reputation for being a better hitter than Kotchman, and just watching them play Duncan clearly looks like the better bet at the plate. Not to mention that Duncan entered Thursday’s action hitting .290/.463/.516 (171 wRC+) while Kotchman was struggling to the tune of a .195/.250/.366 triple-slash (76 wRC+).
The season stats are a small sample size and Kotchman theoretically has the platoon advantage (though Duncan mashed right-handed pitchers last year so take that with a grain of salt), but come on—Duncan is the better hitter. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to keep him at his normal spot?
Interesting Tidbit: Tomlin’s no-walk start Thursday was the 27th consecutive outing in which he gave up one free pass or fewer—a streak that dates back more than a year. The last time he allowed more than one walk: April 10, 2011…against the Mariners at Safeco Field.