Apr 20, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians relief pitcher John Axford (44), left fielder Michael Brantley (center) and right fielder David Murphy (7) celebrate a 6-4 win over the Toronto Blue Jays at Progressive Field.
CLEVELAND – With the Indians offense struggling for most of the season, the two players who have managed to perform well helped the Tribe end a three-game losing streak on Sunday.
Michael Brantley had two hits with two RBI and David Murphy’s three-run double in the sixth ended up being the difference as the Indians hung on for a 6-4 win over Toronto at Progressive Field.
While the first four spots in the lineup have struggled — Jason Kipnis is the only one hitting .230 or higher – the lower half has been picking up the slack. Brantley and Murphy have combined for 31 RBI and are the two batting average leaders among the regulars. Murphy is hitting .288 and Brantley .284.
"It’s been huge. When things start clicking… we talk all the time about not giving pitchers an at-bat off and when you can make them battle every inning hopefully that’s a formula for us to win," Terry Francona said.
Brantley got the Indians on the board in the second with his team-leading third home run. Facing a full count from Blue Jays starter Brandon Morrow, Brantley hit a fastball into the right-field bullpen. That came on the ninth pitch of the at-bat, which is the most pitches Brantley has gone in his career against a pitcher to hit a home run. Brantley also doubled to right in the fourth for his team-leading 16th RBI.
With two outs in the sixth, Aaron Loup walked the bases loaded and Murphy cleared them with a double down the left-field line. The Indians came into the day batting just .208 with runners in scoring position but Murphy is 7 for 13 with 14 RBI.
Apr 20, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis (22) scores beside Toronto Blue Jays catcher Josh Thole (22) on a double by left fielder Michael Brantley (not pictured) in the fourth inning at Progressive Field.
Last Sunday in Chicago, Murphy had a bases-loaded triple in the ninth that gave the Indians a fleeting lead before the White Sox rallied. For his career, he is batting .342 (27 of 79) with the bases loaded. The thing that also pleased Francona and Murphy is that Brantley and Asdrubal Cabrera were able to draw walks after eight- and nine-pitch, at-bats against Loup. Murphyâs double was on an 0-1 fastball.
"The walks before the double, those were tremendous at-bats," Murphy said. "In a situation like that, for me, that’s about as tough as a lefty as I’m going to face. A guy throwing from that angle really forces me to stay on the ball. Fortunately he gave me a good pitch to hit."
The Murphy double also marked the only time in the series where the Indians got a hit with runners in scoring position. The Tribe was 1 for 18 and 5 for 39 over the past five games.
Carlos Carrasco retired the first nine Toronto hitters he faced but struggled over the last 1 2/3 innings. In the fourth, the first three hitters singled as the Blue Jays scored three in the inning to take a 3-1 lead. After Brantley’s double brought the Indians within one, Carrasco couldn’t have a shutdown inning as the Blue Jays put their margin back up to two.
Carrasco did not factor into the decision as he is still seeking his first win as a starter since June 29, 2011, against Arizona. In the 16 starts since then, Carrasco is 0-11 with an 8.28 ERA. Sunday’s win marked only the third time in that span that the Indians have won when Carrasco has started.
"As he started to get into the game he was fighting his mechanics again a little bit. The lead arm was coming down lower and lower and that coincides when he starts giving up hits," Francona said. "He competed and threw some real good offspeed pitches especially when he got ahead."
In Carrasco’s first time through the Toronto order, he got ahead on eight of the nine hitters. In the last 2 2/3 innings, he got behind on 10 of the final 16 and nine reached base. In three starts this season, Carrasco is 0-2 with a 7.31 ERA, but the right-hander was more encouraged after this start.
"I feel better right now and I’m working on my mechanics and everything and I feel today that I did (better)," he said. "I gave up four runs but really I feel good with everything."
Josh Outman, who pitched a third of an inning, got the win to improve to 3-0 and John Axfor got his sixth save in seven chances. Axford did make it interesting though in the ninth as the bases were loaded before Edwin Encarnacion grounded to second.
The Tribe avoided a sweep but have dropped two of three series at home. With a 4-7 record in day games, one possible saving grace is that three of the four games against Kansas City are at night.