CLEVELAND — Óscar Mercado’s gamble paid off for the pitching-rich, hitting-poor Indians.
“It probably wasn’t the smartest of plays, but it worked out,” Mercado said.
Mercado scored from second base on a ball that didn’t leave the infield and Mike Clevinger delivered another strong start by Cleveland’s staff as the Indians blanked the Cincinnati Reds 2-0 on Wednesday night in their fourth game without manager Terry Francona.
Clevinger (1-1) worked around five walks, including three in the sixth. The right-hander’s solid outing — he gave up just two hits — continued a pattern for the Indians, who have had great pitching while their offense remains in a team-wide funk.
The Indians got just four hits after winning with only three Tuesday in Cincinnati. Cleveland came in hitting just .183 as a team and scoring has been a struggle for weeks.
César Hernández hit an RBI single off Reds rookie Tejay Antone (0-1) and Mercado scored with some daring on the base paths to give the Indians a 2-0 lead in the fifth.
Making his first major league start, Antone blanked Cleveland on just two hits, when his third straight walk to open an inning finally bit him.
Antone walked Jordan Luplow to start the fifth and was lifted with one out by Reds manager David Bell, who didn’t want to push his right-hander any further. Reliever Michael Lorenzen came on and walked Mercado before Hernandez delivered a run-scoring single.
José Ramírez followed with a slow grounder that shortstop Freddy Galvis fielded and threw to second for a force, but Mercado never slowed at third, running past new coach third-base coach Tony Mansolino and beating second baseman Josh VanMeter’s relay to the plate with a headfirst slide.
“Once I made my mind up, I was going for it,” Mercado said. “In the game of baseball, sometimes you gotta take some chances. The way things are going for us right now, sometimes you gotta manufacture runs any way possible. I kind of blacked out and went for it.”
Cleveland played its fourth straight game without Francona, who remains away from the team to rest while dealing with a gastrointestinal problem he’s had for months. Team president Chris Antonetti expects Francona to be absent for a least “a few more days,” so it’s likely he’ll skip the team’s upcoming trip to Chicago.
After Clevinger left, the Indians’ bullpen did their part with 3 1/3 scoreless innings to close the combined three-hit shutout. Brad Hand struck out two in the ninth for his fourth save.
Cleveland’s relievers have not given up a run in 14 consecutive innings.
Clevinger, who had to tune out former teammate Trevor Bauer’s playful taunting, got himself into trouble with the three walks in the sixth. But after he left, Dominic Leone came in and struck out Nick Senzel with two on.
Antone was pleased with his performance, but regretted the walks.
“They were leadoff walks which are the worst of the worst,” he said. “I was setting myself up for failure and trying to be a little too cute. Mixture of me trying to do too much and not making the adjustments.”
Francona’s absence led to a re-alignment across Cleveland’s coaching ranks. First-base coach Sandy Alomar is filling in for Francona and assistant Kyle Hudson has taken Alomar’s spot. For Wednesday’s game, third-base coach Mike Sarbaugh moved into the dugout to help Alomar and Mansolino was brought over from the Indians’ alternate site.
Clevinger wouldn’t divulge it, but it appears he has added a cutter to his nasty repertoire.
“It kind of has a mind of its own,” he said. “But it’s definitely a fun one to throw.”
Bell noticed that Clevinger was throwing something different.
“Clevinger’s stuff was good,” he said. “Looked like he had a new cutter. We knew he was good coming in but we also know we have to score runs, especially when we get walks.”
Reds: 2B Mike Moustakas sat out with a deep left quadriceps bruise sustained in Tuesday’s game. Bell said the injury “could be a lot worse” and that Moustakas may return to the lineup as early as Thursday or Friday.
Indians: C Roberto Pérez (shoulder) continues to make progress. He has been doing some light throwing and hitting at the club’s alternate training site. … OF Tyler Naquin (hairline toe fracture) is also nearing a return as is Delino DeShields, slowed since testing positive for coronavirus before reporting to camp. He could be activated this week.
Carlos Carrasco starts for Cleveland and Luis Castillo for Cincinnati as the teams complete their four-game, home-and-home series dubbed the Ohio Cup since interleague play began in 1997.