CLEVELAND — Indians starting pitchers keep setting them up and knocking them down.
Right-hander Trevor Bauer continued a dominating stretch for Cleveland’s rotation Sunday afternoon at Progressive Field, helping the Indians to a series-clinching 3-1 victory over the Astros.
“We haven’t been scoring a ton of runs and we’ve won a couple of series in a row because of (the rotation),” said manager Terry Francona, whose team has won nine of its last 13 games. “The hope is that the pitching stays strong and we start scoring runs and spreading a few games out.
“We have our work cut out for us, but if we pitch like that we can give ourselves a chance.”
The rotation has continued to breathe life into Cleveland’s playoff hopes — the Indians are six games behind Central Division leader Kansas City and five games out of the American League wild-card race. Since Aug. 9, Indians starting pitchers have posted a 1.70 ERA, limiting opposing batters to a .176 average.
“It’s been unbelievable,” said Bauer, who allowed no runs on four hits and three walks, striking out nine over six innings.
“Every day, you run a new guy out there and have this feeling that he’s going to post a really good start and we’re going to win the game.
“It’s nice to have that confidence as a team. Every day, you know your guy’s going to go out there and give you a chance to win. To post the numbers we’re putting up right now is pretty special.”
Per usual, Bauer had a high pitch count (115) for his innings of work, but his effectiveness outweighed his sporadic lack of command.
“He kept them off the scoreboard, a lot of swing and miss,” Francona said. “He’ll go through spurts where he’ll throw three or four balls in a row, but then you look up and he’s thrown a lot of strikes. He has periods when he kind of loses what he’s doing.”
“I was trying to throw strikes,” said Bauer, who tipped his cap to a rousing fan ovation upon departing in the seventh. “When I’m ahead, I’m better off than when I’m behind. That was kind of the focus all day long. It turned out well. I got away with a couple mistakes that helped out and the defense made some really nice plays that helped, too. It was definitely a step in the right direction.”
The Indians, the major league’s worst fielding team, were error-free in the finale, getting a couple diving catches from right fielder Tyler Holt that saved runs.
“I’m just playin’ D and just trying to help this team win. That’s about it,” Holt said.
A night after playing hero with a walk-off hit, shortstop Jose Ramirez was an offensive spark again, going 3-for-4 with a double and an RBI. He drove in Cleveland’s final run with a two-out single in the seventh inning.
“He’s starting to play with some confidence, you can kind of see,” Francona said of Ramirez, who is hitting .405 (15-for-37) with three doubles and five RBIs over his last 10 games. “He plays such a good shortstop. He’s all over the place at short. When he’s hitting second, he can get a bunt down, he’s getting some hits now. That’s a real help for us.”
In 10 games in the second spot in Cleveland’s order, Ramirez is batting .432 (16-for-37) with four RBIs.
Houston, which has lost seven of its last eight to Cleveland, scored a run off Bryan Shaw in the eighth to close the deficit to two runs before the Astros rallied again in their final at-bat off Indians closer Cody Allen.
All-Star Jose Altuve’s single loaded the bases with two outs before Allen struck out Dexter Fowler to earn his 17th save.