MINNEAPOLIS — Having Michael Brantley back in the middle of Cleveland’s lineup has produced some promising early returns.
The multiskilled Indians left fielder is cautiously content.
Brantley homered and drove in two runs and Danny Salazar finished six innings strong after a shaky start to lead the Indians to a 3-1 win over the Minnesota Twins on Monday night.
Salazar (1-1) struck out seven and retired 15 of his last 18 batters. Brantley’s groundout tied it in the third, and Edwin Encarnacion’s single gave the reigning AL champions the lead on their way to only their third win in their last 10 games.
Brantley took Kyle Gibson (0-2) deep on a four-seam fastball left over the plate in the fifth inning.
“He looks like Brantley, which is a big compliment to him and his work ethic,” Indians manager Terry Francona said.
“It’s one thing to come back, but you’ve got to still hit major league pitching, and he really doesn’t look like he missed a beat.”
Brantley hurt his right shoulder in Minnesota on Sept. 22, 2015, after diving for a ball. He had surgery but never completely healed and later needed an operation on his right biceps and was limited to 11 games last season.
He’s hitting .268 with two doubles, two homers and eight RBIs in 11 games this year.
“I’m getting there,” Brantley said. “Let’s put it that way. It’s going to take some repetition. It’s going to take some time.”
Cody Allen loaded the bases in the ninth on a carefully pitched walk to Miguel Sano, but he completed his third save in three attempts by getting Joe Mauer to fly out to center field. Sano hit a sizzling line drive that hooked left of the third-base line before taking ball three.
“Fastball, I don’t see it,” Sano said. “You know, if he throws me a breaking ball in the middle, I swear to God, I crush it.”
The Twins left 12 runners on base. Salazar allowed five hits and one walk over a seven-batter stretch spanning the first two innings, with the only run allowed on Eddie Rosario’s single with none out in the second.
“If they get three or four there, it might be too much,” Francona said. “But he kept them in check and really battled, which was good to see.”
Predictably for the Twins and their missed opportunities, the right-hander went on a roll from there. Salazar struck out the side in the sixth, despite a one-out walk. He sent Rosario back empty after missing an 87 mph change-up that dived down and out of the strike zone to finish the frame.
“He’s a very good pitcher,” said Rosario, who had two hits to raise his average to .186.
Getting Gomes going
Catcher Yan Gomes, who was 2-for-30 entering the game, reached base all three times against Gibson and is batting .444 (8-for-18) against him in his career.
“Little things can help,” Francona said. “I’m sure it did a lot for his spirit.”
Going deep on Gibson
Gibson pitched into the sixth for the first time in three starts, getting one out that inning before being pulled. In 14 1/3 innings, he’s allowed four home runs.
“That’s just something that can’t happen,” Gibson said, adding: “That’s just not who I am. Let’s keep the ball on the ground and let the defense work.”
Cleveland: In the best-case scenario according to Francona, 2B Jason Kipnis (sore right shoulder) would rejoin the team for his season debut Friday in Chicago to face the White Sox. The two-time All-Star’s rehab assignment was interrupted last week when he was hit on the left hand with a pitch.
Minnesota: CF Byron Buxton, off to an abysmal 4-for-43 start with a majors-most 23 strikeouts, was on the bench for just the second game. Max Kepler played CF, with Robbie Grossman in RF.
Cleveland: RHP Josh Tomlin (0-2, 18.47 ERA) will make his third start after two ugly turns. He allowed 18 of 36 batters to reach base.
Minnesota: RHP Phil Hughes (2-0, 3.86 ERA) will take the mound for the third time this year, seeking his first 3-0 start since going 5-0 in six turns in 2010.