CLEVELAND, Ohio — Mike Clevinger looked ready for MLB’s 60-game sprint on Monday night at Progressive Field. So did several of his teammates.
The Indians fell behind early, but rallied to beat the Pirates, 11-7, in the middle game of a three-game exhibition series between the teams. The series ends Wednesday at PNC Field.
In his last start, Clevinger said he was having trouble trusting his surgically repaired left knee during his delivery. There was no sign of that Monday as he allowed three runs on four hits in five innings. Pittsburgh’s three runs came on a two-run homer by Phillip Evans in the second and a leadoff homer in the fifth by Guillermo Heredia.
Clevinger struck out five of the last eight men he faced and looked ready to assume the second spot in the rotation. Shane Bieber will pitch the season opener Friday night against Kansas City at Progressive Field. Clevinger walked one and threw 67% of his pitches (43 of 64) for strikes.
“I thought he was much better,” said manager Terry Francona. “A couple of fastballs leaked back over the middle, but his breaking balls was really good and he held his velocity through all five innings. I thought it was a good step in the right direction.”
Right fielder Jordan Luplow looked ready for the season as well. Luplow, after missing last week with a sore back, homered in his first at-bat of the night to complete a four-run fifth inning. He just missed another home run in the seventh.
Luplow felt there was a chance he might not be ready to open the season.
“There was a couple of days where it was tough to get out of bed,” said Luplow. “I thought it was more serious than it was. The training staff stayed with me and showed confidence that we’d get through it. So far so good.”
Cesar Hernandez, Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor were three other candidates calling for the season to start in the next five minutes. Hernandez started the fifth with a single. Ramirez walked and Lindor homered into the right field seats off Richard Rodriguez for a 6-3 lead. Luplow’s homer made it 7-3.
Hernandez, Ramirez and Lindor, the top three hitters in the lineup, went 5-for-8 with five RBI. Lindor finished with four RBI. When Hernandez, Ramirez and Lindor left after the fifth inning, the top of the order stayed hot. Mike Freeman, who replaced Hernandez at second base, homered in the sixth and doubled in the eighth.
The bottom of the first started with Hernandez singled in a 12-pitch at-bat.
“I told him that was the best at-bat I’ve seen all year,” said Francona. “He probably saw 20 pitches tonight. That at bat in the first leads directly to us getting runs.”
Bradley Zimmer had some fun as well. He doubled and singled in his first two at-bats out of the nine hole. He entered the game hitting .556 (10-for-18) with four homers and seven RBI in eight intrasquad games since the start of Spring Training II.
He was robbed of a third hit on a great catch by Cole Tucker against the wall in left center field in the sixth. Tucker, normally a shortstop, is the older brother of Indians No.1 Carson Tucker.
The Indians pushed the lead to 10-5 in the seventh. Yu Chang, who replaced Lindor at short, singled to start the seventh. Jake Elmore scored him with a double off the left field wall. Greg Allen singled to score Elmore.
The bullpen couldn’t put the Pirates away. Brad Hand allowed a home run to Josh Bell in the sixth. Nick Wittgren issued a bases-loaded walk in the seventh. Adam Cimber started the eighth and allowed four straight Pirates to reach base. Colin Moran hit a leadoff homer, while Evans doubled and scored on an infield hit and a throwing error by third baseman Christian Arroyo to make it 10-7.
Hunter Wood relieved and gave up an infield hit to Socrates Brito to load the bases and then retired the next three batters. James Karinchak arrived in the ninth and struck out the side in order.
Jake Bauers’ leadoff homer in the eighth to make it 11-7. It was the Indians’ fourth homer of the game. They finished with 15 hits, including two each by Hernandez, Freeman, Lindor and Zimmer.
The Pirates took a 2-0 lead in the second on Evans’ two-run homer. Colin Moran singled to start the inning before Clevinger left a 2-2 fastball over the middle of the plate for Evans.
The Indians tied the score with two runs in the third. Zimmer doubled down the left field line with one out. Hernandez, who opened the game with a 12-pitch at-bat that ended in a single off Trevor Williams, flied out to deep right as Zimmer went to third.
Chris Stratton relieved Williams and Ramirez singled to the wall in right to make it 2-1. Lindor, with the Pirates defense shifted to the right, doubled off the left field wall to score Ramirez and make it a 2-2 game.
If you’re scoring at home, Ramirez recorded his first official lost helmet of Spring Training II on the way home.
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