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Top-shelf pitching from 4 of 5 Indians makes up for sagging offense

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    FILE -- Indians starting pitcher Josh Tomlin stands on the mound as Los Angeles' Luis Valbuena, background left, rounds the bases after hitting a home run April 3 during the Angels' win in Anaheim, Calif.

    AP

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Not much changed for the Indians last week.

They continued to get top-shelf pitching from four of the five members of the rotation and from nearly everyone out of the bullpen.

And, on the downside, they continued to get little to no production from nearly everyone in the lineup.

Yet, the Tribe finished the week in first place.

The lone member of the starting staff who hasn’t fallen in line is right-hander Josh Tomlin, who like last year, has struggled out of the gate, owning an 0-3 record and allowing 14 runs and 22 hits, including a major league-leading eight home runs, over four appearances (three starts) covering 12 2/3 innings.

Tomlin was able to turn it around in the second half last season and he rose to the occasion at the end of 2016 and into the World Series, but there’s other options for the fifth starter.

Left-hander Ryan Merritt, a 2016 ALCS hero, is close to leaving the disabled list, and right-hander Danny Salazar, an All-Star two years ago, is progressing from his latest injury and could begin a minor-league rehab stint early next month.

Also coming into play here is that Merritt is out of minor-league options, so if the Indians can’t find a big-league roster spot, they risk losing him.

It’s a good thing Cleveland’s pitching has been so good because its offense has been so, so bad.

The Indians, who’ve owned the majors’ worst team batting average for much of the season, recently climbed to second-to-worst in front of Baltimore, batting .218 in 22 games through Thursday, while scoring the fourth-fewest runs (77) in the big leagues (3.5 per game).

There have been a few bright spots, though.

Left fielder Michael Brantley has gotten off to a positive start and stayed steady since leaving the disabled list to start the season, batting .315 (17-for-54) with a home run and eight RBIs in 13 games.

And Jose Ramirez, an MVP finalist last year, has been the only regular to emerge from a season-starting slump, batting .400 (20-for-50) with six homers and eight RBIs over his last 13 games through Thursday.

There was also some news from last week that could help the Indians’ sagging offense.

The team announced that it had signed veteran outfielder Melky Cabrera, a .286 hitter over 12 seasons, to a minor-league contract.

Cabrera, 33, hit .285 with 17 homers and 85 RBIs in 156 games last year for Central Division rivals Chicago and Kansas City.

He is in Goodyear, Ariz., for extended spring training and is expected to report to Triple-A Columbus within the week.

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The Indians finish a four-game series against the Seattle Mariners today and Sunday before wrapping up the homestand with a two-game set against the Texas Rangers on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Cleveland is off Thursday, starting a three-game series against New York at Yankee Stadium on Friday.

Contact Chris Assenheimer at (440) 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him @CAwesomeheimer on Twitter.

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