WASHINGTON (AP) Facing a 3-0 count with a runner on third in a game his Cleveland Guardians were trailing, and against a pitcher having some control issues, José Ramírez might have just taken a pitch to see whether he'd draw a walk.
Or if he was considering swinging, Ramírez could have been looking for a fastball.
Based on two earlier at-bats Saturday, Ramírez thought something off-speed would be the choice - and indeed it was. So he turned on an 85 mph slider and drove it into the second deck in right field for his first homer of the season, a two-run, go-ahead shot in the fifth inning, helping Cleveland erase a deficit for the second consecutive game in a 6-4 victory over the Washington Nationals.
Swinging away on a three-ball count?
“Anytime we can tie the game or take the lead,” manager Terry Francona said, “he doesn’t even have to look.”
As for figuring to focus on a slider?
“He’s very smart. Smart. He’s very smart,” Francona said. “The skills are there, but he’s a pretty smart player.”
Ramírez, a four-time AL All-Star with five top-six finishes in MVP voting, had surgery in November to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb but his hitting has been just fine so far: He is first or second on the Guardians in average (.310), RBIs (nine), slugging percentage (.500) and OPS (.923) in 2023.
“He’s MVP in my mind. He’s MVP in a lot of other people’s minds, too,” said Guardians starter Zach Plesac (1-0), who fell behind 3-0 but got the win after going five innings and giving up four runs, two earned. “It’s beautiful to have him on our team.”
That homer off Chad Kuhl (0-1) was Ramírez’s 193rd with Cleveland, putting him one ahead of Al Rosen and alone in 10th place in franchise history. Hall of Famer Jim Thome holds the club mark with 337.
“I didn’t see that list, in particular, but I knew I was going to hit homers, because that’s what I worked for. That’s what I know my talent is,” Ramírez said.
As for hitting his first of the year, he said: “It feels good, I can’t deny it. But I’ve been working on that, especially this last week, and I know things are going to come slowly. Then when they happen, they’re going to continue happening for me.”
After a rain delay of 1 hour, 40 minutes at the outset, Washington went ahead 3-0 in the first inning with the help of a throwing error by third baseman Ramírez and run-scoring hits by Keibert Ruiz, Jeimer Candelario and Joey Meneses. Ruiz finished with three hits and two RBIs.
The Nationals led 3-0 after four innings Friday, before while their bullpen gave it all away in a 4-3 victory for Cleveland.
On Saturday, Kuhl (0-1) allowed five earned runs on seven hits and three walks - each of which came on four pitches.
Former Nationals player Josh Bell tacked on an insurance run with his second double of the day in the ninth.
Myles Straw had three singles, two RBIs and one of Cleveland’s three stolen bases - raising the team total to 24 in 15 games in 2023.
“With the rules changes, we’re just going to go more. We’re going to be aggressive. This team’s hungry,” Straw said. “We just want to win games. And we know that’s what it takes.”
WHAT A RELIEF
After Plesac exited, four Cleveland relievers finished up with four scoreless innings. James Karinchak got out of a runners-on-the-corners jam by striking out Lane Thomas and CJ Abrams to end the eighth, and Emmanuel Clase threw a perfect ninth for his fifth save in six chances.
The Guardians send RHP Shane Bieber (1-0, 2.37 ERA) to the mound against Nationals LHP Patrick Corbin (1-2, 7.71). --- AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports
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