By Jordan Bastian and August Fagerstrom
CLEVELAND -- Kevin Pillar provided the Blue Jays with a clutch hit and a stellar catch, helping lead Toronto to a 5-1 victory over the Indians on Thursday night in the opener of a four-game series at Progressive Field.
"That's his game," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "He plays to win, and plays like that help you win."
The loss wrapped up the worst April for the Indians (7-14) since 2003, which was the last time the club won no more than seven games through the first month of the season.
The Blue Jays (11-12) broke through for five runs in the fourth inning against lefty TJ House, who did not record an out in the inning and picked up his fourth loss in as many starts this year. During that outburst, Danny Valencia contributed an RBI single, Russell Martin came through with an RBI double and Pillar delivered a two-run double of his own.
"They made an adjustment," House said. "And I definitely didn't make one fast enough to keep them off-balance a little bit. They did what they did. I just reacted a little too slow."
Michael Brantley had three hits, including two doubles and an RBI single off Blue Jays lefty Jeff Francis in the fifth, but the Tribe's lineup went mostly quiet. Ryan Raburn also had three hits for the Indians.
Toronto starter Daniel Norris exited after 78 pitches in three subpar innings, but he worked out of a handful of jams to keep the Indians at bay. Francis (1-0) earned the win, as four Toronto relievers combined to allow only one run over six innings.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
House collapse: After opening with three shutout innings, which included nine groundouts and no hits allowed, House unraveled in the fourth. Following a leadoff walk to Jose Bautista, the Cleveland lefty gave up four consecutive hits -- capped off by Pillar's two-run double. Toronto wound up with a five-run frame and chased House, who walked three, struck out none and saw his season ERA climb to 13.15 through four starts (13 innings). More >
"The first time through the order," Indians manager Terry Francona said, "even though he wasn't pounding the strike zone, he was staying down with everything and keeping the ball on the ground, which is exactly what he needs to do. The second time through, they adjusted and they started shooting the ball the other way and staying on balls, and it happened in a hurry. It ended up being too much for us."
Pillar you kidding? In the fifth inning, Tribe slugger Brandon Moss drilled a pitch from Francis to deep center field. Pillar, who has been making a name for himself with highlight-reel catches this season, tracked the ball down on a dead sprint and made an incredible catch as he slammed hard into the wall and fell to the ground. The impressive grab ended a potential rally for Cleveland, which scored one run in the inning. More >
"He made a great catch," Moss said. "That's not an easy play for anybody to make. On a cold night, your legs probably aren't as loose as you'd want [them] to be, and then he had a long way to run. I didn't hit it that high. He made a great play."
"That's a positive I've got to look at," Norris said. "It was a bit of a frustrating night, but anytime you come out with three zeroes, or zeroes up there, you have to appreciate that. Big league outs are big league outs. I obviously wish I could have gone a little more to help the bullpen out, but I'm just looking at the positives right now and I put zeroes up there, so it's alright."
"We got their starter out in the third inning. What more could you ask for as an offense? To get into the bullpen that early. We had guys on all night and balls were hit hard. Plenty of balls were hit hard, but there was nothing to show for any of it. Trust me, it's frustrating." -- Moss, on the Indians missing out on opportunities to score
WHAT'S NEXT Blue Jays: Lefty Mark Buehrle (3-1, 4.94 ERA) will be looking to rebound after allowing five earned runs on 13 hits in 5 2/3 innings during his last start against Tampa Bay when he faces the Indians in a 7:10 p.m. ET start Friday. Buehrle had posted quality starts in each of his first three starts this season, but his peripheral numbers have been less than stellar. He's struck out just 10 batters in 23 2/3 innings this season and has already allowed four home runs in four starts this season after giving up just 15 all of last year.
Indians: Right-hander Carlos Carrasco (2-2, 4.60 ERA) takes the mound looking to bounce back from his worst start of the young season. On Sunday in Detroit, Carrasco took the loss after giving up five runs on nine hits in 4 1/3 innings against the Tigers. The righty has 23 strikeouts against three walks (only one unintentional) in 15 2/3 innings this year.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. August Fagerstrom is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.