Josh Tomlin was brilliant for seven innings and Cleveland hitters lit up their old friend Jake Westbrook as the Indians took the series opener from the Cardinals 6-2 Friday night at Busch Stadium. The win improved the Tribe’s record to 31-26 (on pace: 88-74) and narrowed Chicago’s AL Central lead to just half a game as the White Sox lost to Houston, 8-3. Meanwhile, St. Louis fell to 30-29, three games back of the first-place Reds as Cincinnati beat Detroit, 6-5.
It didn’t take the Tribe long to get to Westbrook. Shin-Soo Choo led off the game with a groundout, but Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis followed with back-to-back singles to set the stage for Carlos Santana‘s RBI double, which scored Cabrera and moved Kipnis to third. Kipnis then came home on Michael Brantley‘s groundout to give Cleveland a quick 2-0 lead.
After that neither team scored until the fourth, when the Indians got to Westbrook again. Santana led off with a walk before moving to second on Brantley’s single, heading to third as Johnny Damon hit into a fielder’s choice, and scoring on Casey Kotchman‘s groundout. An inning later, Kipnis’ RBI single scored Choo, who had reached on an error, to put the Tribe ahead 4-0.
But the Indians weren’t done—with two outs in the top of the seventh, Brantley got a base hit before Damon took Maikel Cieto yard for a two-run homer. St. Louis finally responded in the bottom of the inning with Matt Adams‘ two-run single, which was the only blemish on Tomlin’s line for the night. Joe Smith and Nick Hagadone shut the Cardinals down in the eighth and ninth as the Indians breezed to a 6-2 victory.
The Good: Josh Tomlin. A struggling, homer-prone contact pitcher facing a great lineup seemed like a recipe for a slugfest. But Tomlin went seven strong innings, taking a shutout through six and limiting one of the best offenses in baseball to just two runs on eight hits and a walk. It was a rough week for Tribe pitching in Detroit, and Tomlin’s strong outing hopefully set a better tone for this weekend.
Scoring six runs was a good showing from the offense, too. Johnny Damon’s bat was the biggest as he slugged a two-run homer, but Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Kipnis, and Michael Brantley all had multihit games and Kipnis, Carlos Santana, Brantley, and Casey Kotchman all earned RBI.
The Bad: We’re nitpicking here, but Shin-Soo Choo went 0-for-5 with a strikeout—it’s just one game and it’s nothing to worry about, but he was the only player in the starting lineup who did not get a hit. Also, Josh Tomlin got only one strikeout in seven innings, which isn’t a good sign but is just how he operates.
The “Huh?”: I am not a member of the Indians training staff (and there are probably hundreds of good reasons for why that is the case), but given how cautious the team was with him this week after he returned from his concussion (he DHed all three games against the Tigers) it was a surprise to see him back behind the plate so soon. Again I’m not a medical expert, but when dealing with an injury this serious it might have been better to let Lou Marson catch again and put Santana at first.
Interesting Tidbit: When Jake Westbrook rung Josh Tomlin up in the second inning, it marked the first time in Tomlin’s three-year MLB career that he had ever made an out while batting. The only other game in which he batted was June 28 in Arizona, when he went 2-for-2.