By Shane Jackson and August Fagerstrom
CLEVELAND -- The Indians' offense struck early to back Carlos Carrasco's 11-strikeout gem in a 6-2 win over the Marlins in Friday night's series opener at Progressive Field. The Tribe maintained its 4 1/2-game lead in the American League Central, while Miami, which has lost six of its last seven games, remained three games back of the second National League Wild Card spot.
The Indians benefited from a disputed call in the first on a Jason Kipnis check swing, setting up runners at first and second with no outs. Cleveland went on to score three in the inning, which proved to be enough support for Carrasco.
Carrasco spun 7 1/3 scoreless frames, in which he allowed six hits and walked just one in the 10th double-digit strikeout performance of his career, and his third of the year. It was also his sixth straight start with eight or more strikeouts. That ties the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw for the longest such stretch in the Majors this season.
"We value our starting pitching so much," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "When guys go out and throw like that ... when you score, it certainly doesn't mean the game is over, but you have some wiggle room. He threw so many strikes with his fastball, and then he had his breaking ball and changeup to go with it."
Miami righty Andrew Cashner gave up six runs on six hits across five innings. He struck out six batters while also handing out six free passes. Cashner is still seeking his first win with his new team. The Marlins have lost all six starts by the former Padres hurler.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Close call: A crucial non-call in the first inning may have altered the fate of the game from the get-go. After Cashner walked Carlos Santana to open the frame, he appeared to get Kipnis to chase a 3-2 fastball, while catcher J.T. Realmuto threw out Santana at second base on what would have been a double play. On appeal, third-base umpire Andy Fletcher said Kipnis held his swing, though, rendering both players safe and setting the stage for a three-run inning, despite the Indians collecting only one hit.
"When I saw it, it really made me sick to my stomach," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. "I mean, we've got a young team that's fighting for a playoff berth, and we feel like we've got to win every game in September. And then in the first inning, because they're not ready ... I mean, Kipnis is walking back to the dugout, he's ready to go back to the dugout. It not only cost us three runs, it probably cost us 20 pitches on our starter. It changes the whole game."
Big first: The first four Indians batters reached safely against Cashner, three on walks. In fact, Tribe shortstop Francisco Lindor was the only one to get on base via a hit in the entire inning. The three runs scored on a bases-loaded walk, a fielder's choice and a groundout. Cleveland is now 54-16 when scoring first.
"It's the first inning, you want to get out to a good start," Kipnis said. "Cashner is a good pitcher. We have to get as many runs as we can off him. As an offense, you will take what's given to you no matter what the shape or form it comes in, and you move on and keep going."
Double trouble: Cleveland left fielder Abraham Almonte paved the way offensively with a pair of doubles. The first came in the third inning on a two-out knock to left, but he was left stranded. In his next at-bat, though, Almonte smacked an 0-1 fastball from Cashner into right, driving in a pair of runs to break the game open. Almonte has now hit in seven straight games. During that span, he is batting 10-for-28 with seven RBIs.
Real power: Miami's only runs of the night came on a two-run homer by Realmuto in the eighth inning off Indians reliever Jeff Manship. Realmuto's blast, estimated at 371 feet by Statcast™, scored Martin Prado, who reached on a ground-rule double. The homer was the eighth of the season for the Marlins' backstop, leaving him two shy of his career high, set last year.
"Their guy [Carrasco] was really good," Mattingly said. "J.T. gets the two-run homer, but their guy was really good. Obviously he pretty much handcuffed us all night long."
"My last start, I only went four innings and gave up seven runs. I was disappointed a little bit in myself with the way I pitched. I just went for five days working hard and tried to get my mind back, the same way I started the year, the same way that I did last year. That's what I did." -- Carrasco, on his bounceback outing
WHAT'S NEXT Marlins: Righty Jose Fernandez (13-7, 2.79 ERA) takes the mound on Saturday at 7:10 p.m. ET. Fernandez hasn't allowed a run in 14 consecutive innings dating back to his Aug. 18 start against Cincinnati, pushing his ERA into the top five among Major League starters.
Indians: Right-hander Trevor Bauer (9-6, 3.73 ERA) is slated to take the mound on Saturday night. He spun six shutout frames in a no-decision against the Twins his last time out. Bauer has never faced the Marlins, but he is 6-2 with a 2.50 ERA in 14 career starts against National League opponents.