CLEVELAND — In the past 12 months, T.J. House said the biggest improvement in his game is something that at times is hard to quantify. That would be poise.
For most pitchers, if they came away with an 0-2 record in their first six Major League starts despite holding teams to two or less runs in four of them, the anxiety level might be a little high. For House, it was another reminder to just focus on the things that he could control.
On Saturday, everything finally clicked. House got his first victory and the Indians gave him enough run support as they beat the Royals 7-3 at Progressive Field.
"I wasn’t getting too nervous (about when that first win was going to come). My job is to go out there and give the team a chance at a win," House said. "It came at the right time at home and in front of the fans."
House went 6 2/3 innings and allowed three runs on nine hits along with no walks and three strikeouts. House is the first left-hander to get his first Major League win with the Indians since David Huff on June 7, 2009, against the White Sox. Besides getting showered with beer by teammates after the game, House will be getting four baseballs and the lineup card that he will send to his parents in Picayune, Miss.
In his two stints with the Indians House has pitched well. He has allowed two runs or less in four starts and left the game with it either tied for the Tribe leading in all but two. The problem has been lack of run support as the Indians scored three runs or less in three of his first six starts.
House didn’t have that problem on Saturday as the Indians had 14 hits and scored three runs each in the third and fifth innings. Michael Brantley went 3 for 5 while Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall each had two hits.
"He kept the ball down. Even when they scored it up he kept it for a chance of getting a double play," Terry Francona said. "The only ball that was elevated was the home run (to Danny Valencia in the sixth)."
House ran into some trouble early. He gave up a leadoff double to Lorenzo Cain, who then stole third. Last year in Triple A that might have resulted in a four or five-run inning but House retired the next three batters and limited the damage to just one run.
"The first half of last season in Triple A I struggled adjusting to new hitters. One day it just kind of clicked and I made sure not to worry about things I couldn’t control. It was only going to hurt me and it was going to get worse," House said. "So if I give up a leadoff double all I can do is get the next guy out. If he scores, so be it. Limit the damage and not worry about it. Once you get the grasp of it, it becomes an easy process."
After giving up two singles to lead off the second, House retired the next eight batters and the Indians gave him a bit of a cushion with a 3-1 lead.
"Every game he’s pitched he’s given us a chance. That’s not an easy thing to do," Francona said. "He shows he can compete and get hitters down. He worked ahead well and used the breaking ball."
There are still things that House needs to work on, but he has shown that he could be a consistent part of the rotation depending on how things shake out. After the All-Star break, House could be sent down again to open a spot for Zach McAllister.
There are still things House needs to work on, like expanding his strike zone and also do a better job against the big left-handed hitters like Baltimore’s Chris Davis and Seattle’s Robinson Cano, who have homered off him. But House does realize it is a work in progress.
"I have to aggressively attack the zone, mix it up and get them out in less pitches," House said. "If I throw 20 pitches in the first two at-bats and there’s a runner on second in the sixth the odds are he is going to take me out."