MINNEAPOLIS — The surprising Minnesota Twins have had at least a share of first place in the AL Central since May 11. However, their lack of starting pitching depth might be starting to show.
Carlos Carrasco pitched one-hit ball into the sixth inning, Jose Ramirez had three hits and Edwin Encarnacion homered as the Cleveland Indians beat the pitching-thin Twins 8-1 Friday night.
The Indians pulled a game behind the Twins at the top of the division standings, and they certainly have the pitching advantage in this four-game weekend series. Minnesota’s first three starters began the series with 13 combined career starts, while Sunday’s starter, Kyle Gibson, was demoted to Triple-A earlier this year after a poor start to the season.
“We talked about shaping up the rotation a couple of weeks ago,” said Twins manager Paul Molitor, who’s lost starters Phil Hughes and Hector Santiago due to injury. “I didn’t think we’d be running the guys out there that we are.”
Minnesota’s top two starters, Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios, are pitching like potential All-Stars thus far. But they started Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, leaving the Twins scrambling for starting pitchers this weekend amid a stretch of 35 games in 34 days going into the All-Star break.
On Friday they turned to Nik Turley (0-1), a 27-year-old journeyman who was making his second major league appearance. The lefty allowed eight runs on nine hits with four walks and a hit batter in 4 2/3 innings. Encarnacion’s upper-deck blast came on the first pitch after Turley had set the table by walking Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor.
“You can’t defend walk, walk, homer,” Molitor said.
Meanwhile, Carrasco (7-2) was rolling. He gave up four hits in 6 1/3 innings, with three walks and seven strikeouts. The only run he allowed came on Eddie Rosario’s solo homer leading off the sixth, but by then his offense had already given him eight runs to work with.
“Those guys went out there and got some runs, so the only thing we had to do as a pitching staff is come in there and throw up zeroes on the board,” Carrasco said. “That’s what we try to do every game. That’s what we’re here for.”
Indians manager Terry Francona praised his starter for battling through early command problems and pitching into the seventh inning, allowing him to use only two relievers on the night.
“He got us deep enough into the game where, when you’re going into a four-game series with a doubleheader (Saturday), the last thing you want is to be going to your bullpen early,” Francona said.
Encarnacion’s home run was his 14th of the season and continued his hot streak the past month. He stumbled out of the gate in his first season after coming over from the Toronto Blue Jays, hitting just .198 with five home runs in the first six weeks of the season.
But since May 16, Encarnacion is hitting .337 (30-for-89) with nine homers and 19 RBIs.
“He had a really slow start,” said Francona, “but that slow start’s over.”
The Indians were without starting left fielder Michael Brantley, who left the team Thursday to attend the birth of his son. Brantley will miss the entire series against the Twins and is expected to rejoin the team on Monday in Baltimore.
The team filled the roster vacancy by recalling right-handed pitcher Adam Plutko from Triple-A Columbus. He will provide depth in the Cleveland bullpen as the teams play four games in a 48-hour span this weekend.
Indians: OF Brandon Guyer, who has been sidelined list since May 13 with a sprained left wrist, began a rehab assignment Friday at Columbus.
Twins: Santiago will throw again in the bullpen on Saturday before the Twins decide on his next steps. Santiago was put on the 10-day DL on June 7 with a strained left shoulder.
Indians: RHP Steve Clevenger (2-3, 4.09 ERA) and LHP Nate Merritt (making his 2017 debut) will be Cleveland’s starting pitchers in Saturday’s day-night doubleheader at Target Field. The team did not announce which pitcher will start which game.
Twins: LHP Adam Wilk (0-1, 1.86) will start Game 1 and fellow lefty Adalberto Mejia (1-2, 5.75) will take the mound for the nightcap against Cleveland.