CLEVELAND -- Indians reliever Bryan Shaw did not care how, he just wanted an out. When he took over in the seventh inning in Sunday's 5-4 win, tasked with stifling a late push by a pesky Royals lineup, his objective was to minimize the developing damage.
Shaw fired a 1-1 cutter that ran outside and continued beyond the edge of the strike zone. Alcides Escobar was at the point of no return with his swing, which chopped the pitch into the ground for precisely what Shaw required. The Indians turned an inning-ending double play and Shaw pulled off a crucial escape in the rubber game.
"That's huge," catcher Yan Gomes said of Shaw's performance. "I said it before: When that kind of situation comes in, whether he had his miscues early in the year, we're going to need him in the end. Especially against a team like this. Shutting down any kind of momentum they can get is huge."
No one inside Cleveland's clubhouse panicked about Shaw's early-April setbacks.
Manager Terry Francona trusted that Shaw was mentally strong enough to shake off the ugly outings that led to a bloated ERA. Pitching coach Mickey Callaway pointed to Shaw's increased velocity this year as a sign the reliever's stuff and condition were in fine form. Shaw shrugged off the early issues as nothing more than a couple of bad days at the office.
Last week, Shaw even quipped that everything would be fine now, because the calendar had flipped one page forward.
"April's gone," Shaw said with a smirk. "We're into May, so it's all good."
At the core of that lighthearted comment was the fact Shaw has endured tough Aprils in the past. Even last year, he struggled out of the gate before settling in and turning in a pristine ERA through the heart of the summer. After his recent string of strong outings, it looks as through Shaw might be on a similar kind of run.
Francona was confident enough on Sunday to take that sentiment one step further.
"This is as good as we've seen him throw the ball," he said.
After giving up nine runs in 3 1/3 innings in his first four appearances of the season -- causing an unsightly 24.30 ERA -- Shaw has relinquished only one run in his past 10 games (9 1/3 innings). Over his past six outings, the setup man has spun 6 1/3 shutout innings with seven strikeouts and one walk, limiting batters to a 1-for-17 showing in that span.
"When we need him at the end or any time," Gomes said, "he's going to come in and shut the door for us and we're going to believe that he's going to do that."
Shaw did that in the seventh, getting Escobar to chop that cutter to second baseman Jason Kipnis, who gloved the ball and flipped it to shortstop Francisco Lindor to begin the rally-halting twin killing. Shaw did it again in the eighth, when he and Gomes teamed for a strike-'em-out, throw-'em-out to end the inning. The righty fanned Kendrys Morales, and the catcher nabbed Eric Hosmer on a would-be stolen base.
"Everyone knows Yan can throw," Shaw said. "I wasn't really expecting it, but we were going away a little, so I kind of elevated [the pitch]. Obviously, it worked out the way it did."
Cleveland is expecting more of the same from Shaw from here on out.
"He definitely has a little bit of a chip on his shoulder right now," Gomes said. "[He knows] that he needs to start doing what he's supposed to do. It's really good to see his velocity is up. It gives everybody pretty good confidence when he comes in."
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.