CLEVELAND — The Indians couldn’t have expected much better from right-hander Aaron Civale in his major league debut Saturday afternoon at Progressive Field.
Looking as though he had been facing big league hitters all season long, Civale allowed just two hits over six scoreless innings as Cleveland did just enough offensively to turn back the Tigers 2-0 in front of 30,103 fans.
The Indians won for the 12th time in 17 games — seven of their last nine — and will go for the sweep of their Central Division rival today.
Civale, 24, was in control from the get-go, striking out the side in the opening inning and retiring the first eight batters he faced before walking Dawel Lugo and allowing an infield single to Christin Stewart.
“I thought the first time through (the order), I thought, fortunately, they chased some balls out of the zone,” manager Terry Francona said. “The second time through, I thought he really commanded the strike zone a lot better. I think it was like the fourth inning until he actually got even (with) strikes and balls, but he only had one walk. He just ran a lot of deep counts.
“But, man, I’ll tell you what, to the kid’s credit, he had a ton of poise, he competed like crazy. He did a heck of a job.”
Civale’s poise was on full display in his final inning of work.
With the game well in reach for the Tigers, he walked two straight with two outs before getting Brandon Dixon to pop out and end the threat.
“That’s the one thing that I’ve been impressed with with everybody that’s come up is they seem to have poise,” said Francona, who has had to use 10 starting pitchers due to a wealth of injuries to the rotation. “That’s not easy to do under today’s circumstances for that kid. You can say all you want, ‘Hey, relax, have fun.’ This is the kid’s first major league start. I’m sure it’s going fast, but he did a terrific job.”
Civale had plenty of support in the crowd. It included his brother Nic, who flew in from Hawaii, his aunt and uncle from Oklahoma, his mother and other family members from Connecticut, his girlfriend from Boston and his host family from his time at Class A Mahoning Valley.
“Pretty much everyone you could think of,” Civale said.
Needless to say, it was an emotion-filled day.
“Nerves, joy, a lot going on,” he said. “I got about 15-20 people in the stands, traveling pretty far away to come out here, so it’s a pretty special day.
“Just a testament to all the work I’ve put into everything, everyone around me. It’s not just me out there. I’m trying to get the job done for everyone around me. It’s a great group up here. Happy to be a part of it.”
The Indians, who came in averaging over six runs in their last 16 games, didn’t do much offensively, either, matching the Tigers with six hits.
Jose Ramirez drove in Jason Kipnis with a triple in the second inning and Oscar Mercado’s single in the third scored Mike Freeman. Mercado and Freeman each had two hits.
“We made the most out of it. I mean, their guy’s good,” Francona said of Tigers starter Spencer Turnbull, who the Indians tagged for six runs in an 8-0 win last Sunday in Detroit. “I know we scored over there against him, but he’s a good pitcher. We had a couple opportunities early. We had a couple baserunning mistakes that didn’t help, but he’s got good stuff, too.
“Getting on the board was great because you know as the game gets going, those 4 o’clock games, it’s hard to see.”
Civale’s story carried the day, though.
He joined Zach Plesac as starting pitchers who have made their major league debuts with the Indians this year. Jefry Rodriguez, who is on the injured list, didn’t make his debut with Cleveland, but he had made only 14 appearances in the big leagues before joining the rotation.
“These are the days where I think the player development people should be like bursting at the seams. They should be proud because of their hard work,” Francona said. “It doesn’t guarantee that guys are always going to pitch good, but they know how to act and they know how to compete.”
Civale and Plesac were part of the Indians’ 2016 draft class, which included right-hander Shane Bieber.
“They did a pretty good job with that one,” Civale said.