CLEVELAND (AP) — The Indians aren’t waiting on José Ramírez any longer. They’re again counting on him.
Ramírez hit a two-run homer in the seventh inning — just Cleveland’s third hit — to send the Indians to a 2-0 win over the Texas Rangers on Wednesday in the first game of a doubleheader.
Ramírez connected on a 2-0 pitch from Ariel Jurado (6-7), who had blanked the Indians on two singles before allowing the third baseman’s 15th homer.
After struggling for three months, Ramírez, a two-time All-Star, has found his groove at the perfect time for the hard-charging Indians, who have baseball’s best record over the past two months. Ramirez batted .320 in July and has raised his average by nearly 50 points since June 20.
Even when Ramirez was batting below .200, Indians manager Terry Francona never lost faith he’d come around.
“He’s a great player,” Francona said. “He just got caught up in some bad habits hitting and it took him a while, and his confidence took a hit.”
The Indians are 12-2 when Ramirez homers and 33-5 when he drives in a run.
Nick Goody (3-0) replaced rookie starter Zach Plesac in the seventh and pitched two scoreless innings. All-Star closer Brad Hand struck out the side in the ninth for his 28th save.
The Indians are an MLB-best 38-16 since June 4, when they trailed first-place Minnesota by 10½ games in the AL Central. They’re now within 2½ games following the Twins’ 11-7 loss to Atlanta on Wednesday.
Cleveland manager Terry Francona will turn to his bullpen, which came in with the majors’ lowest ERA, to handle Game 2. Texas will start right-hander Lance Lynn, one of the AL’s best pitchers this season.
Jurado, who went 1-3 last month, baffled the Indians for most of his outing. He didn’t allow a hit until the fifth, when Mike Freeman grounded a single to center.
“That’s a pretty good lineup he basically mowed down,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said. “He was one pitch away from shutting them down through seven innings. He got a lot of weak groundballs. He gave us a chance to win the game. ”
The Indians finally got something going in the seventh as Carlos Santana led off with a single. One out later, Ramírez launched Jurado’s 91-mph fastball deep into the right-field seats as the Indians scored their first runs in 15 innings. They were shut out 1-0 by Texas on Monday.
For six innings, Plesac matched Jurado, allowing five hits.
Jurado’s bid to pitch baseball’s fourth no-hitter this season — and the first by a Texas pitcher since 1994 — was kept alive in the fourth by shortstop Elvis Andrus. He charged and grabbed rookie Oscar Mercado’s high chopper barehanded before throwing out Cleveland’s center fielder on a close play.
The Indians have 12 shutouts, tying the Los Angeles Dodgers for the most in the majors.
Newly acquired Indians right fielder Yasiel Puig showcased his strong arm in the second.
With a runner on first, Delino DeShields hit a double that bounced off the wall and was grabbed by Puig on the warning track. He quickly fired a strong throw — the ball traveled over 250 feet — toward the plate. It was caught on the fly by catcher Roberto Pérez, who took several steps up the first-base line as runner Logan Forsythe held at third.
Rangers: RHP Shawn Kelley (sore biceps) was activated from the 10-day injured list. He had been sidelined since July 21.
Indians: Francona said the plan is for RHP Corey Kluber to throw “50-ish” pitches in his rehab start Thursday for Triple-A Columbus, a significant step for the two-time Cy Young winner in his recovery from a broken right arm. Francona added that Kluber, who was struck by a line drive on May 1, is cleared to throw his full array of pitches.
Rangers: Rookie LHP Kolby Allard will be recalled from Triple-A Nashville and make his debut for Texas on Friday in Milwaukee. He was acquired from Atlanta at the trade deadline.
Indians: Begin a four-game, showdown series against the Twins with RHP Mike Clevinger (6-2, 3.07 ERA) starting against RHP Kyle Gibson (11-4, 4.02). Clevinger is 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA in his last three road starts.