Zach Plesac had what his manager called “the best game we’ve seen from him.”
But all Plesac and Cleveland skipper Terry Francona wanted to talk about was the rookie pitcher’s defense.
“That play he made, that was athletic,” Francona said. “That was a great play.”
Plesac (5-3) gave up just an unearned run and six hits in seven strong innings as the Indians beat the Kansas City Royals 8-3 on Friday night.
“That play” was a diving catch on a foul popup near the Royals dugout with no outs in the sixth inning. Plesac sprinted into foul territory and made a headlong dive.
“I took a peek and JB (first baseman Jake Bauers) was not there. I realized that I was going to be the one closest to the ball,” Plesac said. “I just had to make a play. I knew my feet were still on the grass, so I had room to dive if I had to.”
Jose Ramirez homered for the second consecutive game, a three-run shot that gave Plesac a comfortable cushion.
“When you’re a little more selective, it allows you to get a better pitch,” Ramirez said about his surge at the plate this month. “It also allows you to show the results of your work. I’m excited for the second half.”
Francisco Lindor had three hits, including an RBI triple, as the Indians stayed two games behind first-place Minnesota in the AL Central. Cleveland has won three straight and nine of 11, improving to 16-4 in July.
Ramirez’s drive in the sixth inning made it 5-1. The switch-hitting slugger, busting out of a season-long slump lately, also launched a tiebreaking homer in the 14th inning of Cleveland’s 5-4 win over the Royals on Thursday night. He has seven home runs and 21 RBIs this month, and the Indians are 30-3 when Ramirez drives in a run.
Tyler Naquin also had three hits and an RBI.
Jakob Junis (6-9) gave up six runs and 10 hits in six-plus innings after coming off the paternity list.
“I got through the first five,” Junis said. “Some double-play balls helped out. That sixth inning, ahead in the count, hit (Jason) Kipnis, put him on base. Then Ramirez dug out a slider low and in, took it deep for a three-run home run. Anytime you give up a three-run home run it’s going to hurt.”
The Indians threatened in the first two innings before finally getting to Junis in the third. Naquin hit a one-out single before Lindor ripped a triple down the right field line. Jorge Soler had trouble picking it up in the corner, allowing Lindor to get to third easily. He scored on Mike Freeman’s two-out single.
Center fielder Bubba Starling ran down Kipnis’ drive at the wall, saving another run.
The Royals closed within one in the fifth with an unearned run. Whit Merrifield reached on a throwing error by Freeman at third base, moved to third on a single by Alex Gordon and scored on a single by Hunter Dozier.
The Indians got another run in the seventh. Junis gave up hits to Naquin and Lindor before being removed. Freeman sent a sacrifice fly to center, scoring Naquin.
Kansas City avoided more damage when Starling threw out Lindor trying to score on a flyout.
“It was a really good night (for Starling),” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “He made some good plays. He made a nice diving catch. The throw to throw the runner out at the plate was phenomenal. He made a great play in the gap between him and Soler, taking charge and running that ball down.
“That’s kind of what we expect out of Bubba, great defense out there. From the minute he was drafted, he’s been a very athletic player, and he uses that athleticism to provide plus defense in center field.”
The Indians tacked on runs in the eighth and ninth. The Royals got two in the ninth.
Starling extended his hitting streak to 10 games in his 11th major league game.
Indians: All-Star 1B Carlos Santana was scratched from the lineup with left shoulder soreness. He was in the original lineup as the DH. He is considered day-to-day. … RHP Jefry Rodriguez, on the injured list since June 2 with a right shoulder sprain, is improving. He’s scheduled to throw a bullpen Saturday at the team’s Arizona training facility. … Naquin missed the previous three games with right hamstring tightness.
Royals LHP Richard Lovelady was recalled from Triple-A Omaha. RHP Jake Newberry was optioned to Omaha, and LHP Brian Flynn was designated for assignment.
RHP Mike Clevinger (4-2, 3.61 ERA) starts Saturday for Cleveland. He is 7-0 in his career against Kansas City, tied for the most wins against the Royals without a loss. He’ll face RHP Glenn Sparkman (3-6, 4.67) in the third game of the four-game series. Sparkman has a 1.76 ERA at home, compared to 8.73 on the road.
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports