The Guardians are always going to be a tough at-bat.
Even though they have struggled this year, Cleveland entered Friday with the second-highest contact rate and second-lowest strikeout rate in the majors. It’s an organizational formula, one carried out by the players who fit that mold.
They used that skill to grind out a 5-2 win Friday at Fenway Park to begin a weekend set with the Red Sox.
Nick Pivetta yielded just five hits in defeat. Yet it was all relentless at-bats and long innings, a meaty 100 pitches needed to finish five frames.
“He couldn’t put hitters away,” manager Alex Cora said.
It started immediately.
Pivetta fell behind, 2-0, to leadoff hitter Steven Kwan, but fought back to even it up. Pivetta missed with a curveball in the dirt, bringing the count full, before Kwan dumped another curveball below the zone into right field for a single.
After a popout came a 12-pitch battle against José Ramírez.
“I’m just trying to get out of the at-bat no matter what,” Pivetta said. “Whether it’s a hit, hopefully it’ll be weak contact. But I’m just trying to get that at-bat over as soon as I possibly can by throwing strikes and seeing what he can do with my pitches.”
Ramirez’s wasn’t weak contact, his lined single to right field putting runners at the corners. Josh Naylor’s sacrifice scored the first run of the game, and Josh Bell’s double off the Green Monster extended the deficit to 2-0.
After a 32-pitch first, the Guardians made it 3-0 in the second. Pivetta tried to snap off a 1-2 breaking ball to Will Brennan that hit the Guardians’ right fielder. Brennan then stole second and scored on Myles Straw’s RBI single to right.
In the end, Pivetta would allow four runs, the last on a Mike Zunino sky-high solo shot in the fourth that just made it over the Green Monster. His ERA is 5.11 through five starts, and Friday raised the rotation’s to 6.44, still better than only that of the rotten Athletics.
“I think it’s been a mixed bag,” Pivetta said when assessing his start to the year. “I feel like I’ve been competitive, making small increases as I go forward and staying healthy, which I’m happy about. I feel like I’m close to taking a step in the right direction.”
The Sox chipped away at Guardians starter Shane Bieber, reaching the 2020 American League Cy Young for single runs in the second — a walk, the first of three Jarren Duran doubles, and Kiké Hernández’s RBI single — and fifth — a Hernández single, Enmanuel Valdez double, and Alex Verdugo groundout.
Bieber made it through seven innings on his 99 pitches, though, allowing the five hits and two walks that Pivetta did. The Red Sox had traffic late, but couldn’t convert it.
Duran’s second double led off the seventh, but he was stranded there. A one-out Masataka Yoshida double and Justin Turner single put runners on the corners in the eighth against Trevor Stephan, bringing up Rafael Devers. Cora flipped Yoshida to second and Devers to fourth in Friday’s lineup, seeking just that sort of RBI opportunity for him.
Devers struck out on a pitch in the dirt, Triston Casas ground out to second, and the Guardians tacked on an insurance run on a Pesky Pole homer by Brennan in the ninth. Cleveland closer Emmanuel Clase worked around Duran’s third double for his ninth save.
“We had traffic and put pressure on them,” Cora said. “That’s what we do, but obviously, not every day we’re going to cash in.”