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Late blooming Encarnacion heating up for the Indians

CLEVELAND – Clevelanders have certainly taken notice to the warmer weather that has crept into the forecast over the last few weeks. It may not be a coincidence that as the weather has turned around, so has the bat of Indians slugger Edwin Encarnacion.

The 35-year-old had himself one heck of a Memorial Day Weekend, which brought temps in the 80s to Northeast Ohio. It started Saturday, when Encarnacion went 3-4, drove in two on a fifth-inning homer and scored three times in an 8-6 win over Houston. Then despite going a forgettable 1-6 on the day of the Indians wild ninth-inning comeback and eventual 14-inning victory over the Astros, he led a comeback in Monday’s 9-6 win over the Chicago White Sox.

Top of the fifth, bases loaded: Encarnacion cleared them with a little help from lady luck, as his bloop-double into no man’s land down the first base line bounced out of the glove of a sliding Daniel Palka. What was once a 5-2, Chicago lead was suddenly a tie game. It was part of a five-run inning that saw Encarnacion come around to score one batter later. Just for good measure, he’d launch his 12th home run of the season into the left-field bleachers in the seventh. The solo shot helped keep the White Sox at a safe distance the rest of the way.

“It didn’t start off so good,” Indians manager Terry Francona said of his team’s rough start. “We were down 5-1 and we looked like we had chances, we scored one when maybe we were hoping to score two. And then Edwin’s ball was huge.”

Encarnacion’s four RBI are the second-most he’s driven in for a single game this season, behind only a six-RBI performance earlier this month. It was also just his fourth three-hit game of the season – all the others also came in May.

That’s not all. In his last 17 at-bats, the Indians DH has eight total hits, three extra-base hits, two home runs and six RBI. Don’t let his .228 average for the season fool you, his bat is coming to life.

“He’s picking it up, he’s getting closer,” Francona said. “He’s getting more dangerous, more often and we’ve all seen what he can do when he gets real hot. He’s working towards it.”

Dangerous is exactly what Encarnacion is becoming, and right on cue. In his 13 seasons in the majors, Encarnacion has been at his best in the month of June, posting the highest monthly batting average (.291), on-base percentage (.391), slugging percentage (.557) and OPS (.948) of his career. It’s also not a coincidence that April and May are historically his worst months in all those categories. He’s even struck out more in both those months than any others as well.

Something always clicks for Encarnacion at this time of year. Or maybe it’s just the change in the weather. Whatever it is, better days are ahead for the Indians cleanup hitter. This past weekend was just a taste of what’s to come this summer.

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