ST. PETERSBURG -- Tampa Bay's bats remained silent Saturday night. Cleveland's Mike Clevinger had a lot to do with that in the Indians' 3-0 win over the Rays at Tropicana Field.
Making his first start since July 31 after a brief stint in the bullpen meant to keep the rest of the rotation's schedule in order, Clevinger blanked the Rays for seven innings on four hits and a walk while striking out nine to move to 6-4 on the season.
"I think it was all in the way you kind of like looked at it," Clevinger said of his time in the bullpen, which followed a pair of outings in which he gave up five earned runs. "It wasn't really like a banishment, it was kind of like a breather. [I tried] to take advantage of that time and find where I was going wrong in those two starts, and I can move on from there."
Cleveland (62-52) increased its lead atop the American League Central to 4 1/2 games over Minnesota, which lost to Detroit. The Rays (59-59) remained three games in back of the Yankees for the top AL Wild Card, but they fell one game behind the Angels for the second spot amid a crowded field of hopefuls. Tampa Bay also fell to eight games behind AL East-leading Boston.
Corey Dickerson said Clevinger effectively mixed it up and threw strikes against a Rays team that was shut out for the fifth time in eight games.
"That's what they've been doing lately, throwing strikes and that keeps their pitch count down, able to go deep into the game and save the 'pen," Dickerson said.
The Rays are 2-6 on the current homestand. They have scored eight runs in their last eight games.
"More of the same," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "I don't have an explanation. We're in an offensive funk. It is what it is. ... Good pitching and us not having our timing at the plate right now. Those two things happen at one time and you're going to spiral a little bit offensively. And I think that's kind of what we've done here the last five or six games."
Meanwhile, the Indians' offense hardly roared, but they managed to provide enough runs to get the job done.
Jay Bruce's RBI double in the first off Rays starter Chris Archer staked the Indians to a 1-0 lead. Francisco Lindor scored on an Archer wild pitch in the third, and Bruce singled home another off Archer in the sixth to build a 3-0 lead.
Sporting an early lead over Archer was important for Indians manager Terry Francona, given the righty's pedigree.
"His stuff is so filthy," Francona said. "His slider is one of the best in the game. One of the ways [to try to beat him] is trying to make him work, trying to get that pitch count up and taking advantage of everything, because he's hard to hit. The ball moves all over the place."
Archer brought into the game a streak of 15 starts in which he'd gone at least six innings. That ended when he made his exit with one out the sixth, leaving him one start shy of tying Jeff Niemann's franchise record established from April 13-July 6, 2010. Archer allowed three runs on seven hits and two walks while striking out eight en route to his seventh loss of the season.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Tough beginning: Archer walked Jose Ramirez with two outs in the first and Edwin Encarnacion followed with an infield single before Bruce hit a pop fly along the left-field line. Third baseman Trevor Plouffe first appeared like he would try to make the play, but at the last minute, he pulled up. The ball landed in between Plouffe and left fielder Corey Dickerson, resulting in an RBI double for Bruce that put the Indians up 1-0.
"The infield was in a shift, and I wasn't playing too shallow, so it was a pretty good run," Dickerson said. "Plouffie said he lost it and I could have taken charge there. It was kind of a tough play there, but I should have recognized they were in a shift. That was probably more likely the shortstop's ball if the shift wasn't in play."
Archer "walked the guy that scored then gave up the hit," said Cash when asked about the righty's tough luck. "We play this all together."
Lindor hustle: Lindor is one of the most electric players in baseball, and he showed why in the third. He doubled to right to lead off the inning and moved to third when Bradley Zimmer grounded out to first. One out later with Encarnacion batting, Archer uncorked a wild pitch, and Lindor raced home to score the Indians' second run, shaking off a collision with the pitcher.
"I mean, look. I don't know. What would I do? Take all nine of them out? We want to give some guys some days off, but at the same time, we're playing the lineup that we feel gives us the best chance to win right now. And sometimes you have to kind of see it through with some of these struggles." -- Cash, when asked if he still believes in being patient with his lineup, given the Rays' offensive woes
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Rays are the first team to be shut out five times in one homestand since the Orioles were blanked seven times on a 13-game homestand from June 14-26, 1955.
WHAT'S NEXT Indians:Corey Kluber (10-3, 2.65) will close out Cleveland's four-game series at Tropicana Field on Sunday at 1:10 p.m. ET. The ace is coming off back-to-back complete-game, three-hit wins, and he has struck out 11 or more in five straight. One more game with 11 K's would tie Randy Johnson's MLB-record streak.
Rays:Austin Pruitt (6-3, 5.14) gets the nod in the finale against the Indians on Sunday. He has made four Major League starts and has yielded one run or fewer in three of those four. The opposing pitchers in his previous three starts: Masahiro Tananaka, Dallas Kuechel and Chris Sale.