Cleveland Indians beat Houston Astros, 5-4, on Cesar Hernandez’s 16th home run

HOUSTON — Cesar Hernandez may or may not be wearing an Indians uniform by the time the July 31 trading deadline comes and goes. But in his two years in Cleveland, he’s made an impression.

Last year, during the 60-game sprint, he won his first Gold Glove and led AL second basemen in hits, runs, doubles and walks. This year the defense hasn’t been all that golden, but the power has.

Hernandez gave the Indians their first and only victory over the Astros this season Wednesday night with his 16th homer of the year. It was a tiebreaking drive to right field in the seventh inning that gave the Indians a 5-4 win at Minute Maid Park. The 16 homers are a career high for the switch-hitting Hernandez, who continued to help himself on the trade or free agent market if the Indians don’t exercise his club option for 2022.

“His batting average (.226) is lower than what he’s accustomed to, but he’s also hit 16 home runs and a lot of them have been big ones,” said manager Terry Francona. “They’ve certainly been helpful. He shows up every day.”

The win was the 721st of Francona’s managerial career with the Indians, tying Mike Hargrove for the second most in franchise history. Lou Boudreau leads with 728 wins.

The Indians finished the season series against Houston at 1-6. They were outscored, 37-21. They went 3-3 on this six-game trip through Oakland and Houston. Five of the six games were decided by two or fewer runs.

Rookie right-hander Eli Morgan turned in his fifth straight start of five innings. He retired 15 of the first 17 batters he faced. He couldn’t have pitched much better, but he made two mistakes and they both left the ballpark.

Relievers Bryan Shaw, Phil Maton, Emmanuel Clase and James Karinchak covered the last four innings. Karinchak pitched the ninth for his 11th save in 13 chances, while Shaw (3-3) earned the win despite giving up a couple of hits and a run in the Astros’ 2-run sixth that tied the game at 4.

“He had to pitch because he’s faced them before and they knew he had a good changeup,” said Francona, when asked about Morgan. “He threw his slider better, threw his fastball. But probably went to the well one too many times with the changeup on the second home run.”

Jose Altuve, who hit two home runs in Tuesday’s 9-3 win to celebrate his 10th year anniversary in the big leagues, kept the party going with a leadoff homer in the fourth to tie the score at 1-1. It was Altuve’s 23rd homer and fourth against the Indians this year.

Morgan retired the next four batters, mixing his fastball, slider and changeup, before Kyle Tucker sent a 75 mph changeup over the right field fence for a 2-1 lead with one out in the fifth.

Pitching coach Carl Willis was talking about his young starters on Tuesday. He said they were learning to compete, adjust and limit damage. Like veterans, he said, they would make mistakes with the difference being when those mistakes were made.

Perhaps he was referring to throwing Altuve a 92 mph fastball that landed in the left field seats when he was ahead in the count 1-2. The two Houston homers were the 10th and 11th Morgan has allowed in just 31 1/3 innings this season.

Or it could have been throwing Tucker four straight changeups in the at-bat that ended in a homer.

“I think Jose did a good job,” said Morgan. “We may have gone to that spot one too many times with the fastball, but I think I still put it in an OK spot. . .The one to Tucker was just a bad pitch. I threw him three changeups in a row before that and each one was worse in quality. That’s something I’ve got to get better at.”

Ernie Clement lessened the sting of those homers with a three-run double in the sixth to give the Indians a 4-2 lead. The Indians loaded the bases against right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. on singles by Franmil Reyes and Oscar Mercado and Bobby Bradley’s walk.

Bryan Abreu relieved McCullers with no outs and struck out Roberto Perez and Yu Chang. Clement lined Abreu’s first pitch off the wall in left center to clear the bases.

“I was being selective,” said Clement. “I wanted to hunt on the slider. It seemed like he’d fallen in love with the pitch throughout the inning. I knew I was going to get one and did my best not to miss it.”

The lead did not last.

Morgan, who finished with 77 pitches, came out for the sixth, but allowed a leadoff double to No.9 hitter Martin Maldonado. Shaw relieved and Altuve lined a double off the left field scoreboard to make it 4-3. A ground out by Michael Brantley and a single by Yuli Gurriel tied the score at 4-4.

The Indians took their first lead of the series courtesy of a 10-pitch at-bat by Hernandez against McCullers in the third. Chang, just promoted from Class AAA Columbus, opened the inning with a single. Clement bunted him to second and Bradley Zimmer walked.

McCullers struck out Amed Rosario, but Hernandez worked him to a 2-2 count before fouling off five straight pitches. On the 10th pitch of the at-bat, he bounced a ball down the third-base line with Houston’s defense over-shifted to the right. The ball bounced off third base for a double as Chang scored and Zimmer went to second.

Reyes struck out to end the inning, but the Indians had a 1-0 lead.

Morgan allowed three runs on three hits in five innings. It was a near replica of his start against the Astros on July 3 when he allowed three runs on five hits — including two homers — in a 3-2 loss at Progressive Field.

A variety of Cleveland Indians face masks available online today. (Fanatics.com)

New Indians face masks for sale: Here’s where you can buy Cleveland Indians-themed face coverings for coronavirus protection, including a single mask ($14.99) and a 3-pack ($24.99). All MLB proceeds donated to charity.

More Indians coverage

Chang recalled, P Justin Garza optioned to Columbus

Will ailing José Ramírez lead to a Nolan Jones opportunity? Podcast

Roberto Perez gets first taste of first base

Indians fall to Astros, 9-3, as Altuve celebrates with 2 HRs

On Jose Ramirez’s barking elbow and five other things

No. 1 pick Gavin Williams expected to sign by Friday

Plans A, B and C are all working for bullpen

Indians, Mejia lose to Astros, 4-3

Bieber throws a baseball for the first time since injury

Bieber, Kara Kavajecz announce engagement

Plesac discovers rhythm in second post-injury start