The Cleveland Indians were almost no-hit Thursday night, they have managed just one run in their last two games, and star slugger Jose Ramirez has missed two of the last three games with a swollen left thumb.
Not exactly the kind of momentum you want heading into a key three-game weekend series with the defending American League Central champion Minnesota Twins in Minneapolis.
But acting manager Sandy Alomar Jr. remained optimistic after Thursday night’s 11-1 home loss to the Kansas City Royals despite being no-hit for 7 2/3 innings by rookie Brady Singer.
“Two days ago, we scored six runs,” Alomar said referring to an 8-6 loss, the first game of Cleveland’s three-game losing streak. “Then we got shut down the last two days. It’s been like most of the year. We’re still in a very good spot. We’ve just got to stay positive and keep pushing and keep pushing the envelope until the season is finished.”
Despite the recent difficulties, Cleveland (26-18) is just one-half game behind second-place Minnesota (27-18) and 1 1/2 games behind the Central-leading Chicago White Sox (27-16) — and in good shape for a playoff spot. Better yet, the Indians have right-hander Shane Bieber starting Friday’s series opener.
Bieber (7-0, 1.25), the front-runner for the AL Cy Young Award, is 2-0 against the Twins this season, including a dazzling 2-0 victory on July 30 at Target Field that saw him allow just three singles over eight innings while striking out 13.
“I thought his breaking ball was phenomenal,” Josh Donaldson, the 2015 AL MVP, told MLB.com afterward.
Bieber also picked up the win in a 4-2 victory over the Twins in Cleveland on Aug. 25, allowing two runs on four hits and three walks while striking out 10, one of six games this season that he has struck out at least 10 batters. Bieber leads the majors with 94 strikeouts in just 57 2/3 innings.
Minnesota has won seven of its last nine games and will start right-hander Kenta Maeda (4-1, 2.77), who has won both of his starts this season against the Indians.
Maeda took a no-hitter into the fifth inning in a 3-0 win on Aug. 1, allowing one hit and a walk over six innings while striking out six. He also picked up the win in a 3-2 victory at Cleveland on Aug. 24, allowing five hits and a walk while striking out seven in five innings to give him a 0.82 ERA in his two career starts against the Indians.
Minnesota had a two-day break after splitting a doubleheader on Tuesday at St. Louis heading into a rough seven-game stretch that features three home games with Cleveland followed by four at the first-place White Sox.
“We haven’t had many days off,” Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli told twincities.com. “To get one right now, after playing a bunch of games, it’s well deserved for all the guys.”
Alomar is hopeful the switch-hitting Ramirez, who has no discomfort batting from the right side but is bothered by the sore left thumb when hitting left-handed, will be ready to go Friday.
“When you have swelling, it means you have a contusion, and your body is letting you know that there’s something wrong with you,” Alomar told MLB.com before Thursday’s game.
“We’re just trying to calm down the situation before we go back out there and decide, ‘OK, you’re ready to go.’ He’s gonna let us know. He’s normally a guy that doesn’t want to come out of the lineup, but we have to take this chance right now and do that,” Alomar said.
Ramirez leads the Indians in both home runs (nine) and RBIs (26).
–Field Level Media