CLEVELAND, Ohio — When it comes to offense, the catching position for the Indians has been a wasteland in this coronavirus-shortened season.
The Indians’ three catchers through the first 24 games of the season were hitting a combined .081 (6-for-74) with one homer and one RBI.
Beau Taylor changed all those negative vibes Thursday night as the Indians beat the Pirates, 2-0, to complete a three-game sweep at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park.
The Indians have won six straight — all of them coming on this trip through Detroit and Pittsburgh — and 11 of their last 14 games.
Shane Bieber (5-0, 1.11) pitched six scoreless innings, striking out 11, for the win. In his only other start against the Pirates, Bieber allowed seven runs in 1 2/3 innings on July 24, 2018. Quite a different pitcher was on display Thursday night as he recorded his fourth game with 10 or more strikeouts and ran his MLB-leading strikeout total to 65 in his first six starts of the season.
All those strikeouts wouldn’t have meant much without Taylor. Making his first start since Aug. 8, Taylor ended an 0-for-16 start to the season with an RBI single in the second inning. Taylor delivered the second run in the eighth when he sent a weak grounder to Josh Bell at first base with the bases loaded. Franmil Reyes would have been out by 15 feet, but Bell made a bad throw to catcher Jacob Stallings as Reyes slid home for a 2-0 lead.
“I said gosh-dang it seems like it has been a year (since I had a hit),” said Taylor. “It felt good. The big thing was the RBI. I told (Mike) Freeman when I got to the dugout, ‘Dude, I just had so much weight come off my shoulders right now.‘ Then the shutout. . .thank you.”
Bieber’s record on the road improved to 20-5, but the Pirates made him work, especially in the sixth.
Kevin Newman opened with an infield hit to third base. Bell sent Newman to third with a run-and-hit single in the sixth to put runners on the corners with no outs.
Bieber pitched out of the jam as he struck out Adam Frazier and Jose Osuna and retired J.T. Riddle on a fly ball to right. But that was the end of the night for Bieber, who threw 99 pitches, 66 (67%) for strikes and didn’t walk a batter. Bieber has walked just six batters in 40 2/3 innings.
“He wanted to go back out there (for the seventh inning),” said Indians acting manager Sandy Alomar. “But he had to work very hard in the sixth inning. We felt like that was enough. He was at 99 pitches and we felt we had enough in the pen to cover that bridge. The guys did a good job.”
Taylor gave the Indians a 1-0 lead in the second with his first hit of the season. He singled to right with two out off Trevor Williams (1-4, 3.70). Reyes and Tyler Naquin started the rally with one-out singles. Reyes sent a slow roller down the third baseline that hit the bag instead of going foul. Naquin singled to left to move him to second.
Domingo Santana lined out to right, but Taylor put the Indians in front with his single to right. Williams ended the inning by getting Bradley Zimmer on a grounder to first.
“Beau came up huge for us at the plate and behind the dish as well,” said Bieber. “We were sitting and watching the game on Wednesday. He was taking notes as we were talking over the lineup. I can’t say enough about him and the preparation that goes into it. It’s a difficult to not play for a week-plus and then get in there and play as well as he did.”
It was another solid performance by the Indians’ bullpen. Oliver Perez, Nick Wittgren, James Karinchak and Brad Hand completed the seven-hit shutout with three scoreless innings. Hand retired the Pirates in order in the ninth for his seventh save in seven chances. The Pirates have lost four straight and 14 of their last 16 games.
The Indians have posted five shutouts this season.
The night was a study in frustration for the offense. They left the bases loaded twice, stranded 12 runners and went 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position.
The Indians missed a chance to stretch the lead in the fourth. Naquin singled and Domingo Santana walked to start the inning. Taylor advanced the runners with a sacrifice bunt and Zimmer walked to load the bases.
Williams came back to strike out Cesar Hernandez with a pitch that was below the strike zone. Then he retired Jose Ramirez on a weak fly ball to left on a high fastball. Hernandez struck out twice with the bases loaded.
The Indians missed another chance in the sixth when Domingo Santana and Taylor walked with one out. Lefty Brandon Waddell retired Zimmer on a grounder to second and Hernandez on a bouncer in front of the plate.
The Indians open a three-game series against the Tigers on Friday night at Progressive Field. RHP Adam Plutko (1-1, 3.95) will face Detroit RHP Michael Fulmer (0-0, 7.56) at 7:05 p.m. The game will be carried by SportsTime Ohio, Channel 3 and WTAM/1100.
Plutko and Fulmer faced each other Sunday at Comerica Park. They each registered a no decision, failing to get through three innings in an 8-5 win by the Indians.
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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