Mike Clevinger was searching for the success he experienced late last season, long before a balky back forced the Indians right-hander into an extended stay on the injured list.
He found it by changing – well, he didn't change much of anything.
"I looked at tape, a lot of different things, but it was not changing what it was that got me here," Clevinger said, shortly after tossing six dominant innings of four-hit ball in Cleveland's 4-0 win over the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday night.
"That could happen to anybody, especially what I was doing," Clevinger added. "How can I get back to myself? That was really the key."
Clevinger (2-2) struck out nine without a walk in his second start since his return from his injury. He struggled in his first game back but dominated the Royals on a picture-perfect night at Kauffman Stadium, improving to 7-0 with a 2.03 ERA in his career against them.
"It was by far the best he's been," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "He reached back for a fastball, at times he probably tried to reach back too much. Batted down a ball that he shouldn't have, but he got out of it – got a pop up and a ground ball, so that was good. He could have kept going but I thought that was a good spot for him. We didn't push it too much and he can go from here."
Danny Duffy (3-5) kept his command issues at bay long enough to last 6 2-3 innings for Kansas City. The left-hander allowed two runs on five hits, five walks and a hit batter.
Both starters had stumbled into the game, and the teams had combined for 25 hits in the series opener. So of course that rarest of treats these days would unfold: an old-school pitchers' duel.
Duffy retired the first six batters he faced, then kept grinding outs when he couldn't seem to find the plate. And he did it despite two defensive miscues that cost him a run in the third.
The first came when Perez appeared to be caught stretching a double into a triple, but Hunter Dozier's high tag allowed him to sip underneath safely. The second flub came when Perez should have been caught trying to score on a wild pitch but again the tag was missed.
"Two bang-bang missed tags," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "He couldn't have got away with that."
There was no one to blame but Duffy for Santana's homer in the fourth.
The veteran first baseman cranked a 1-2 pitch into the bullpen in left field to extend his Major League-leading on-base streak to 26 games. It was also the 193rd home run for Santana with the Indians, breaking a tie with Al Rosen for the ninth-most in club history.
"I've come to learn that if I hang my slider, it's just a donation," Duffy said. "It's my best pitch when I locate it and it's my worst pitch when I don't. I didn't locate it."
Duffy was finally lifted after loading the bases with two outs in the seventh inning, but Kevin McCarthy got Santana to ground into an easy putout to keep the Royals in the game.
He left trailing 2-0, thought that's hardly new. Only once in the eight starts since Duffy's last win May 19 have the Royals scored more than two runs while he was in the game.
Meanwhile, two runs were plenty for Cleveland with Clevinger and Co. on the mound.
The right-hander with the funky delivery worked around singles in the first and second, then watched his defense cut down Alex Gordon stretching a single in the fourth. The other hit Clevinger allowed came in the sixth, and he responded with a pair of punch-outs to end the frame.
"Ninety-seven miles per hour, that's not easy to hit," Yost said. "He has a really good slider that he commands well. I went over his last start pitch-by-pitch when he didn't last long in Baltimore. He was erratic, all over the place. I was hoping that would be the same today but it wasn't."
The Indians acquired utility man Andrew Velazquez from Tampa Bay for international pool money and assigned him to the Triple-A Columbus injured list, where he will rehab left thumb and right hamstring injuries. In a corresponding move, right-hander Chih-Wei Hu was designated for assignment.
The Royals send Homer Bailey (7-6, 4.87 ERA) to the mound and the Indians counter with fellow right-hander Zach Plesac (3-3, 3.61) as the clubs wrap their three-game set with a Thursday matinee.