CLEVELAND, Ohio – Shane Bieber was razor sharp early and Carlos Santana snapped out of a slump by driving in a pair of runs for the Cleveland Indians in a 4-1 win Sunday against the Milwaukee Brewers at Progressive Field.
The victory kept the Indians in second place in the American League Central Division, a half-game behind the White Sox, who defeated Kansas City, and a game ahead of third-place Minnesota, which lost at Detroit.
Bieber was unhittable in the game’s early innings, retiring the first 11 Brewers hitters he faced, including seven on strikeouts. But he needed 58 pitches combined to get through the fourth and fifth as Milwaukee hitters forced him to go deep into counts to get outs.
He allowed a run on an infield hit by Jacob Nottingham in the fifth before striking out Keston Hiura and Christian Yelich to end his afternoon at 103 pitches. Bieber gave up five hits and walked one, striking out 10 batters for the sixth time, the most double-digit strikeout games in the majors this season. His seven wins tie Yu Darvish of the Cubs for the Major League lead, while his 94 strikeouts, 1.25 ERA and 57 2/3 innings are the best in baseball.
Bieber said he was hoping to go deep into the game, but things changed after the third.
“In the fourth and fifth I just got elongated and I had to work a little bit more than I would have liked,” Bieber said. “But that’s what happens when you walk a guy and then give up a couple hits in a row and have to work out of it.”
Indians acting manager Sandy Alomar Jr. said Milwaukee’s approach the second time through its batting order forced Bieber to throw more pitches, but in the end he was able to make the right adjustment to escape damage.
“They were just looking in one area and gave up part of the plate,” Alomar said. They were more looking for spin and reacting to fastballs. A couple of the hits they got, they were late on the fastball, but it seemed like they were looking for a spin and reacting.”
Four Indians relievers, including Phil Maton, Dominic Leone and Nick Wittgren combined to hold Milwaukee scoreless over the final four innings. Brad Hand pitched the ninth for his Major League-leading 11th save in 11 opportunities. It was the 100th save of Hand’s career.
Bieber now has at least eight strikeouts in each of his first nine starts, matching Bob Feller (1946) for the most by an Indians pitcher to begin a season. Randy Johnson did so in 15 straight games to start the 2000 season for the Major League high.
José Ramírez got things started with a dazzling defensive play in the top of the first, ranging far into foul territory to field a hard grounder behind third base by Hiura. With his momentum carrying him away from the play, Ramírez made a strong, high throw to Santana at first to beat Hiura by a step.
The play even impressed Brewers third base coach Ed Sedar, who clapped, while Bieber added his approval.
“Those guys picked me up in a big way today, not only offensively but defensively,” Bieber said. “That play Josey made, I’ve watched it probably like 50 times already. It’s nice to be able to have him on the hot corner making those plays for you and talking smack and enjoying playing baseball, honestly, that’s what he does best, better than anybody, and it shows.”
Santana then sparked Cleveland’s offense with a two-out RBI double into the left field corner off Brewers starter Brett Anderson in the bottom of the first that scored Ramírez from second base. The double snapped an 0-for-13 skid for Santana and tied Lou Boudreau for seventh all-time on the Indians extra-base-hit list. Santana now has 495 extra-base hits in an Indians uniform.
Anderson entered the game 4-0 lifetime against the Indians with a 0.94 ERA in six starts, but he allowed a run in the fourth when Francisco Lindor singled and scored on a two-out RBI base hit by Jordan Luplow. Santana added an RBI single in the sixth after Ramírez walked and Lindor doubled off the wall in left. Lindor later scored on a double-play grounder by Franmil Reyes.
Alomar said Santana looked more relaxed batting right-handed against the lefty Anderson.
“Left-handed, he seems to be too jerky and too much body into his swing,” Alomar said. “We were able to manage some runs and extended the score to 4-1 and give us a little breathing room.”
With 20 games remaining, Cleveland improved to 19-2 when scoring at least four runs.
Next: The Indians welcome Kansas City back to Progressive Field on Monday for the opener of a four-game series. Right-hander Zach Plesac (2-1, 1.33 ERA) will start for Cleveland, while the Royals send righty Brad Keller (3-1, 1.93) to the mound. First pitch is scheduled for 6:10 p.m. The game will air on SportsTime Ohio, MLB Network, WTAM 1100 AM and WMMS 100.7 FM.
New Indians face masks for sale: Here’s where you can buy Cleveland Indians-themed face coverings for coronavirus protection, including a single mask ($14.99) and a 3-pack ($24.99). All MLB proceeds donated to charity.
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