October 24, 2014

Medina
Mostly clear
40°F

Tribe: Outfielder stays hot with three-run homer and four RBIs

CLEVELAND — It was another chilly night at Progressive Field on Tuesday. Thankfully for the Indians, their bats were plenty warm — at least the ones that David Murphy and Nyjer Morgan were swinging.

With temperatures below 50 degrees once again at first pitch, the pair of unlikely catalysts heated up Cleveland’s offense, propelling the Indians to an 8-6 win over the Padres.

Cleveland catcher Yan Gomes fails to hang on to a pop foul by San Diego’s Yonder Alonso in the sixth inning. (AP PHOTO)

Cleveland catcher Yan Gomes fails to hang on to a pop foul by San Diego’s Yonder Alonso in the sixth inning. (AP PHOTO)

Murphy, who started slowly after the worst offensive season of his career last year, had his second consecutive big day at the plate, going 2-for-3 with a double, his first home run of the year and four RBIs. It came on the heels of a four-hit effort Sunday in a loss to Minnesota.

“It just kind of goes to show you at the beginning of the year how things can get skewed,” Francona said of Murphy’s early-season scuffles. “I do think (a hot streak) allows new guys a chance to relax and play their game, which is good.”

Morgan, who played in Japan last year, has looked comfortable since the outset of the season, making the team with a strong spring training performance and filling in admirably in center field and atop the order in place of an injured Michael Bourn.

He had a season-high three hits against the Padres for his third multi-hit game of the year and is batting .398 (7-for-18) with four RBIs in six games.

“He’s been on base more than half the time. That’s the biggest thing,” Francona said of Morgan, who owns a .520 on-base percentage and a .909 OPS. “After that, he can’t really control whether we drive him in, but he’s been on base a ton. That’s been great.

“We knew Bourny wasn’t going to play. We thought in the short-term having him lead off, with his energy and his ability to change the game with his legs, might pay off for us, and it has.”

The Indians didn’t get a sparkling effort from starting pitcher Corey Kluber, but it was much better than his debut. Notching his first win of the season, the right-hander allowed three runs on nine hits while striking out eight over six innings.

“I threw a lot more strikes tonight,” said Kluber, who lasted only 3 1/3 innings and allowed five runs in his debut against Oakland. “I was working ahead in the count. I felt like I was working behind everybody the other day.”

Despite allowing the leadoff batter to reach in each of the first three innings, Kluber didn’t allow a run until the fourth.

“As he got into about the third inning he started using his changeup and it really kind of opened things up for him,” Francona said. “There were a lot of hits. I don’t think he had any walks, though. Even though he pitched behind in the count, the hits, when you don’t add the walks into it, he survived.”

Kluber’s effort was a welcome sight for the Indians, whose rotation has scuffled out of the gate. He and Justin Masterson are the only pitchers to offer up quality starts over the first seven games.

“I think as a rotation as a whole, we’re not satisfied with the way we started off the year,” Kluber said. “It’s a long year. It is what it is. We’ve just got to move forward, make the adjustments and look to improve.”

Cleveland led by just a run after the top of the fourth, with Murphy extending the lead to 6-2 on a three-run blast to right in the bottom of the inning.

Though they held a six-run advantage, things did not go smoothly for the Indians in the ninth.

Beleaguered reliever Vinnie Pestano allowed three runs, including a solo homer to the first batter he faced, pinch hitter Xavier Nady. Through three outings (2 2/3 innings) this year, Pestano has allowed six runs on eight hits.

John Axford had to be employed to get the final out and earn his third save in three chances.

“I just think when he makes a mistake right now, he’s paying for it,” Francona said of Pestano. “Right now he’s just leaving some balls over the middle.”

Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him @CAwesomeheimer on Twitter.