A single pitch separated the Indianapolis Indians from twin shutouts at Columbus’ Huntington Park on Saturday evening: Kris Johnson’s sixth-inning offering to Clippers’ designated hitter Matt Carson in game one of the International League doubleheader.
Carson connected with Johnson’s middle-of-the-plate fastball and drove it over the left-field wall, turning a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 victory and registering the only significant blemish on Johnson’s second consecutive solid start. The Indians came back in the nightcap and suffocated Columbus’ offense almost completely; the combined forces of Brooks Brown, Ryan Reid and Victor Black limited the Clippers to one hit and one walk in a 5-0 win.
Carson’s home run notwithstanding, Johnson, a former first-round pick, unlocked another achievement in his budding career resurgence. The lefthander followed up a five-scoreless-inning stint against Columbus last Sunday by allowing the Clippers only four hits and three walks over six innings. With a fastball generally registering 88-89 miles per hour per the ballpark scoreboard—and peaking at 91 miles per hour in the first inning—Johnson did not overpower the Clippers, but he allowed little solid contact. Outside of the Carson home run and two line-drive singles by right-handed hitting Mike McDade, most of Columbus’ plate appearances resulted in lazy fly balls or ineffectual grounders.
Unfortunately for Johnson, his teammates mustered little offense against a fellow former first-round pick, Columbus starter Trevor Bauer. Bauer—who the Arizona Diamondbacks drafted third overall in June 2011, promoted to the major leagues less than a year after being drafted, and traded to Cleveland less than five months after that—started the 2013 season in the major leagues, but the Indians optioned him to AAA after one start. Indianapolis’ Brett Carroll drove a 92 mile-per-hour Bauer fastball clear out of the ballpark for a 1-0 lead in the second inning, but overall Bauer stymied the Indians’ offense through a variety of off-speed offerings.
Indianapolis twice threatened to expand its lead against Bauer, but maladroit base running hindered the first effort and poor clutch hitting short-circuited the second. In the fourth inning, a caught stealing erased Felix Pie and Jeremy Hermida’s strong throw to the plate on Matt Hague’s single to right gunned down Brandon Inge at the plate by several steps. Two innings later, Pie led off with a double and moved to third with one out, but strikeouts by Inge and Hague left him stranded.
Brown, Reid and Black left nothing to chance in the nightcap. Brown, starting for the first time in 2013 after two relief appearances, allowed only one baserunner in four innings: Hermida’s solidly-struck double to left center in the second. Deploying a fastball measured at up to 94 miles per hour, the offseason minor league free agent acquisition struck out four in four innings, his effectiveness enduring despite a brief delay caused by the failure of one of Huntington Field’s light towers.
Reid followed Brown with two hitless and walkless innings, recording four strikeouts. Black pitched the final inning of the seven-inning contest and reached 97 miles per hour with his fastball; Darren Ford supported him with an excellent running catch on a Hermida drive into the gap in left center.
The Indianapolis offense likewise left nothing to chance: their four-run first inning outburst effectively decided the game. Jordy Mercer—who contributed solid work at shortstop in both games—lined a double to left field to score the first two runs; Tony Sanchez—struggling with a 1-for-15 start to the season—drove in the other two with a ground ball between the third baseman and shortstop. Inge concluded the scoring with a seventh-inning home run of former Pirates’ closer Matt Capps. (The home run represented Inge’s only solid contact of the night; he finished 1-for-6 with four strikeouts.)
The series concludes at 1:05 on Sunday.