July 25, 2016

Partly cloudy

‘Sonny’ struggles in loss to Tribe

Chris Assenheimer

The Gazette

CLEVELAND — The third time was finally a charm for the Indians, and it only took close to two months and 48 games.

By virtue of its 12-7 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday night, Cleveland won its third straight game for the first time this season. It’s a minor accomplishment, but of large significance for a team fighting to stay alive in the Central Division race.

“It’s been a hump we’ve been trying to get over,” said Indians manager Eric Wedge, whose team has won two or more straight games just three times this year, entering the night trailing the first-place Tigers by 7½ games in the division standings. “Now, we just have to come back and keep fighting.”

The Rays’ woes in Cleveland continued with Tampa Bay dropping its 16th straight game at the Indians’ home park.

The start to the game was delayed one hour and 55 minutes by rain, with both teams coming out slugging and exchanging five-run innings over the first two frames.

Tampa Bay scored five times in the first, the Indians plating five in the second off Rays starter and Wadsworth native Andy Sonnanstine, who lasted just three innings, allowing eight runs on nine hits.

Sonnanstine, who starred at Kent State, has not fared well back home, losing all three of his starts in Cleveland, while posting a 10.93 ERA.

Indians outfielder Ben Francisco has been particularly ruthless to Sonnanstine, going 8-for-9 with five home runs and 12 RBIs off the right-hander. Francisco’s three-run homer in the second was his fourth long ball in his last four plate appearances off Sonnanstine dating back to last season. He added an RBI single off Sonnanstine in the third.

“It’s just baseball,” said Francisco, who came up a triple shy of the cycle as one of four Cleveland players to produce multihit games. “Some guys you have success against, some you don’t. I try not to think too much about it.”

Indians starter Zach Jackson had little to do with his team’s good fortune, allowing seven runs (six earned) on eight hits over four innings of his first big league start of the season. The left-hander earned a spot on the opening-day roster as a long reliever before being optioned back to Triple-A Columbus.

He was recalled prior to the game, allowing seven of the first eight batters he faced to reach base — six on hits. Jackson allowed two more runs over his final three innings of work, allowing the Rays to get within a run of the Indians’ advantage on a solo homer from Evan Longoria in the fourth.

While Jackson labored in the first, a fan who remained following the delay could be heard yelling to the pitcher, “Hey buddy, we waited two hours for this?”

Jackson was the ninth different starting pitcher Cleveland has employed through 48 games.

The Indians fought through to take control with a four-run fifth inning that capped the scoring. All four of the runs came on consecutive hits from Victor Martinez (two-run double) and Shin-Soo Choo (two-run homer).

“I was real pleased with our approach, the way our guys fought back, got the lead then separated,” Wedge said.

While the Indians tacked on, Cleveland’s bullpen prevented the Rays from doing the same, Greg Aquino and Luis Vizcaino combining to hold Tampa Bay scoreless over the final five innings.

Aquino got his first big league victory since 2006, allowing two hits over two innings.

Vizcaino pitched the last three innings for his first save of the season and his first since 2004. He allowed just a hit, while striking out four and retiring the side in order twice.

The relief effort put a positive finish to a significant win for the Indians, who go for the four-game sweep of the Rays in the series finale today at 12:05 p.m.

“It was a big win for us,” Francisco said. “We’re all feeling confident right now.”

Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com.