CLEVELAND — One brilliant pitching performance deserved another, and right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez was happy to oblige Sunday afternoon at Progressive Field.
On the heels of a gem from ace Justin Masterson, Jimenez matched his rotation mate with a sparkling effort that helped the Indians blank the Rangers 6-0 and complete a three-game sweep of their potential wild-card competitors from the American League West Division.
Cleveland won for the fourth straight time and ninth in 13 games to remain three games off the pace of the first-place Tigers in the Central Division standings, while recording its major league-leading 14th shutout (11 at home).
Much of the credit goes to Jimenez, who offered up what might have been his finest performance of the season, holding a vaunted Texas lineup without a run on just two hits and three walks — six strikeouts — over eight innings.
The right-hander retired the side in order in six innings, pitching out of both jams he encountered in the first and fifth — the latter after he allowed a leadoff single to A.J. Pierzynski, then walked David Murphy with the game still scoreless.
“I thought he threw his fastball in, more aggressive than he has been in the past,” manager Terry Francona said. “He elevated it, kept it down, threw it left, threw it right, and when he had to pitch out of traffic, he did.”
Jimenez (8-5, 4.17 ERA) agreed that attack-mode served him well against a talented group of Texas hitters.
“I think it was the fastball and staying aggressive,” he said. “I’ve been aggressive at the start of games (before), but I wasn’t able to stay aggressive.”
It’s the main reason why Jimenez’s time on the mound has been brief in the majority of his outings this season. Though he’s allowed three runs or fewer in 16 of 21 starts, Sunday was just the fourth time Jimenez has pitched more than six innings.
The Indians will take the end result on most occasions.
“He’s kept us in just about every game,” Francona said.
After a 1-0 win for Cleveland on Saturday in a game started by both team’s aces — Masterson and Texas’ Yu Darvish — it appeared another pitching duel was on tap for the series finale, with the game scoreless through the first four innings.
After threatening in nearly every inning, the Indians finally got to Rangers starter Alexi Ogando in the fifth on a two-out RBI single from Jason Kipnis that chased the right-hander, who retired the first two batters of the inning.
“We made Ogando work for everything,” Francona said. “We got his pitch count up and they had to take him out. Sometimes that’s how you beat good pitchers.”
Cleveland went back to work with two outs in the following inning — Yan Gomes making it 2-0 with a base hit and Michael Bourn scoring two more on a double over the head of center fielder Leonys Martin.
Mike Aviles provided the final count with a towering two-run home run to left field off Texas reliever Ross Wolf in the eighth.
The Indians are clicking while the Rangers are scuffling, with Texas losing its fourth straight and for the ninth time in 11 games.
“Sometimes you catch teams at a good time,” Francona said. “Teams have so many ups and downs. Fortunately, we took advantage of it.”
“It’s just a lot of fun to come to the ballpark,” said first baseman Nick Swisher, who had three hits for his sixth multi-hit game of the month. “It seems like everything is moving forward for us.”
Cleveland’s recent successful stretch (9-4) has done little for the Indians in the division race, where they have actually lost ground to Detroit — from 2½ to three games — in the standings.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at (440) 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.