Kepler hits 3 homers, Twins edge Indians 5-4 to avoid sweep

CLEVELAND — Max Kepler homered three times and José Berríos locked up Cleveland’s lineup into the seventh inning as the Minnesota Twins avoided a sweep — and their first three-game losing streak — by beating the Indians 5-4 on Thursday night.

Kepler, who entered hitless in his previous 21 at-bats, connected in the first, third and seventh innings off Indians starter Trevor Bauer (4-6). Kepler also walked in the fifth.

The 26-year-old outfielder came up in the ninth with a chance to become the 19th player in history to hit four homers in one game — a feat rarer than a perfect game. But left-hander Josh Smith kept the left-handed swinging Kepler in the park, getting him to hit a hard grounder to the right side that he beat out for a single.

It was Kepler’s second career three-homer game. The other one also came against the Indians on Aug. 1, 2016.

The AL-Central leading Twins took the series finale and again moved 10½ games ahead of Cleveland, whose run of three straight division titles could be coming to an end.

Berríos (8-2) had another strong outing against the Indians. The right-hander allowed just one run — a homer by Roberto Pérez — and two hits before being replaced after a leadoff error in the seventh. Berrios beat Cleveland on opening day, when he struck out 10 in 7 2/3 shutout innings.

Indians rookie Oscar Mercado’s pinch-hit homer in the ninth pulled Cleveland to 5-4 before Taylor Rogers retired Pérez on a groundout for his sixth save.

Baseball’s biggest surprise in 2019, Minnesota has only lost two in a row four times this season. Just one Twins team has gone longer without losing three straight this late: the 1970 squad, which dropped three in a row from June 17-20.

The Indians were hoping to cut into a deficit they never imagined would be so big, so early. But Bauer wasn’t sharp again and the right-hander remained winless since April 30 — a span of seven starts.

Bauer gave up a home run to Kepler on his second pitch and finished allowing five runs and five hits in eight innings. Not bad, but not what Cleveland needed with three full-time starters sidelined with injuries.

Kepler’s second homer gave the Twins a 3-0 lead in the third. After No. 9 hitter Willians Astudillo singled leading off, Kepler ripped a 1-2 pitch just inside the foul pole in right.

Kepler made it 5-1 in the seventh, hitting Bauer’s first pitch over the wall in right-center for his 15th homer.

Bauer has given up 13 homers in 91 2/3 innings. He allowed just nine over 175 1/3 innings in 2018.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Twins: DH Nelson Cruz was not in the starting lineup. The club is being cautious with his workload after he missed 18 games with a strained left wrist.

Indians: RHP Mike Clevinger (strained back muscle) threw 58 pitches in a rehab start at Triple-A Columbus. He’ll likely pitch again for the Clippers before being activated. … OF Bradley Zimmer had another setback in Goodyear, Arizona. Slated to start a rehab stint this week, Zimmer felt something in his surgically repaired right shoulder while throwing last weekend. Zimmer was nearing a return in March before straining an oblique.

UP NEXT

Twins: Manager Rocco Baldelli hasn’t decided on his starter for the series opener in Detroit, but a likely option is RHP Michael Pineda (4-3, 5.34 ERA), who is eligible to return from the injured list after being sidelined with right knee tendinitis.

Indians: Rookie RHP Zach Plesac (0-1, 1.46 ERA) makes his third career start in the opener of a three-game series against the New York Yankees, who will send Domingo Germán to the mound.

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.