The Cleveland Indians came into Friday night looking to make it three straight coming fresh off their first two walk-off wins of the season in back-to-back victories.
Danny Salazar took the ball for the Tribe and as he’s been most of the season, Salazar was excellent again on the bump against the Kansas City Royals.
Salazar cruised through the first two innings before allowing a leadoff home run in the third to Royals catcher and nine-hitter, Drew Butera.
Following that solo shot, Salazar was lights out for the Tribe.
“I tried to throw a slider. It was just like I put it there instead of throwing it down in the zone,” Salazar said of the pitch Butera took out of the park. “After that I got a little bit mad and just started being aggressive.”
Aggressive he was and everything was clicking for Salazar on his way to eight innings of three hit ball. In those eight innings he conceded only one earned run on three hits and five walks on his way to nine strikeouts.
“Even though he had some walks, his stuff was so good,” Tribe skipper Terry Francona said of his starter. “Even his last pitch I think was 97 or 98. When you’re throwing that hard and he starts throwing that breaking ball and the changeup, that’s a lot of good weapons.”
Salazar continues to be one of the best pitchers in the American League. He is now second in the AL in strikeouts (81) and also holds the second best ERA in the league at 2.24. Walks have been about the only problem this season for Salazar as he’s given up 33 free passes but holding opposing hitters under .200 has allowed the walks to be a non-issue thus far in 2016.
Yan Gomes got the Indians on the board in the second inning when he clubbed his seventh homer of the season to the bleachers in left to give the Tribe a brief 1-0 lead before Butera’s home run in the third.
The Indians responded in the bottom half of the third by putting up three more runs for a 4-1 lead. The Tribe strung together four straight hits in the inning and scored their final run of the frame on a wild pitch by Edinson Volquez.
Tyler Naquin hit his first career home run when he went opposite field over the 19-foot wall in left to leadoff the seventh inning for the Indians.
“I knew when I hit it, I hit it well enough to get it out,” Naquin said of his solo shot.
Naquin was asked about his feelings as he rounded the bases after his first big league blast. He responded, “I couldn’t really feel anything, it was pretty special.”
A Jason Kipnis single with one out in the seventh would put an end to Volquez’s night.
Volquez lasted 6.1 innings for the Royals allowing five runs (all earned) while surrendering seven hits (two home runs) and four walks as he struck out five.
The Indians tacked on one more run in the eighth after Jose Ramirez doubled down the line in left, stole third and advance home on a throwing error.
Bryan Shaw came on in relief of Salazar for a 1-2-3 ninth to give the Tribe a 6-1 victory.
The Royals came into their series with the Tribe holding a 2.5 game lead over the Indians for first place in the Central Division. After a thrilling come from behind victory on Friday, the Tribe made it two straight against their division rivals to move within a half game of first.
The Indians will try to reclaim first place on Saturday when the two square off in game three of four in Cleveland. The Tribe sends Josh Tomlin (7-1, 3.79) to the mound to face Ian Kennedy (4-3, 3.03) of the Royals. First pitch is schedule for 7:15.