PITTSBURGH — Cleveland Indians catcher Roberto Pérez challenged starter Aaron Civale to get through eight innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday night to give the team's hard-working bullpen a break.
Civale did Pérez one better, throwing the first complete game of his young career as the Indians rolled to a 6-1 victory. Civale (3-2) allowed just five hits against six strikeouts without issuing a walk, narrowly missing a shutout when Pittsburgh pushed across a run on Josh Bell's sacrifice fly in the ninth.
“Bebo asked for eight innings before the game, so I gave him one more,” Civale said.
Civale kept the floundering Pirates off balance with a series of changeups and cutters mixed in with a fastball the National League's worst offence couldn't seem to figure out. Pittsburgh mustered just three hits — all of them singles — and didn't even get a runner in scoring position through the first eight innings.
“That was great, man,” said Cleveland first-base coach Sandy Alomar Jr., who is filling in while manager Terry Francona recovers from a medical procedure. "That was what the doctor ordered right there.”
Pérez's return from a stint on the injured list due to a right shoulder issue certainly helped. The Gold Glove winner deftly guided Civale through Pittsburgh's struggling lineup.
“I’m so happy for him,” Pérez said of Civale. "I think he’s got great stuff, and he just put it on display today.”
Carlos Santana broke open a scoreless game with a three-run homer in the sixth inning, one night after slamming a towering three-run blast to lift Cleveland to a 10-inning victory. Domingo Santana added a bases-clearing double in the eighth as the Indians improved to a season-best six games over .500 (15-9).
Santana turned on a full-count cutter from reliever Dovydas Neverauskas (0-3) and sent it over the right-field seats for his third home run of the season.
“I know I started slow, but right now I’m feeling much more comfortable,” Carlos Santana said. "Right now I feel more comfortable than before.”
Pittsburgh's National League-worst batting average dropped to .211 when it failed to muster much of anything against Civale. The Pirates have dropped 13 of 15.
Cleveland's offence is no better than Pittsburgh's, but a little goes a long way for AL Central contenders. The Indians, whose .200 team batting average is dead last in the majors, are now 12-0 this season when scoring three or more runs.
Having a dominant pitching staff helps. Civale's quick work dropped Cleveland's team ERA to 2.61, the best in the majors.
Pittsburgh starter Steven Brault matched Civale out for out over five scoreless innings. Brault needed 29 pitches to get through a shaky first but quickly settled down. He didn't allow a hit until consecutive singles by Franmil Reyes and Jordan Luplow leading off the fifth but escaped the jam by turning a double play in which he caught a line drive with a 110 mph exit velocity off the bat of Domingo Santana then threw to first to double off Luplow.
WORK TO DO
The Pirates are in the middle of a reboot under first-year manager Derek Shelton, but the loss dropped Pittsburgh to a major-league worst 4-16.
“There’s been some positive things,” Shelton said. "Obviously the record’s not a positive thing. But we have a lot of teaching we still have to do and a lot of development we still have to do.”
Indians: Pérez took a pitch the forearm in the eighth. He stayed in the game after getting checked out by trainers and said he “should be good.”
Pirates: RHP Kyle Crick (right shoulder strain) threw a live bullpen on Tuesday and is nearing closer to a return. ... RHP Mitch Keller (left oblique strain) is playing catch and could begin throwing off the mound early next week. ... IF Phil Evans, whose season ended following a scary collision with outfielder Gregory Polanco on Aug. 8, will have surgery to repair his fractured jaw.
Indians: RHP Shane Bieber (4-0, 1.30 ERA) will look to stay unbeaten in the series finale on Thursday. Bieber, who leads the American League with 54 strikeouts, is coming off seven shutout innings in a victory over Detroit last Saturday.
Pirates: RHP Trevor Williams (1-3, 3.98) picked up his first win of the season last Friday against Cincinnati. Williams is 6-3 with a 3.47 ERA in 14 career interleague starts.
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Will Graves, The Associated Press