CLEVELAND – Mike Zunino‘s critics have been silenced – for a day or two.
Mired in a miserable slump in May, Zunino connected for a two-run homer in the eighth inning to help Hunter Gaddis get his first major league win and lead the Cleveland Guardians over the Chicago White Sox 3-0 on Monday night.
Zunino was just 1 for 31 with 21 strikeouts this month – he recently struck out in 17 straight games – before delivering his biggest moment since signing a $6 million, one-year contract with Cleveland as a free agent in the offseason.
With the Guardians, who have played an MLB-high 22 one-run games, clinging to a 1-0 lead and rookie Gabriel Arias on first with two outs, Zunino drove a pitch from Gregory Santos to right. The ball barely crept over the wall for his third homer, one that must have felt for Zunino like it went 500 feet.
“Hopefully that’s one of those that turns the corner here,” he said.
Cleveland fans have been clamoring for the team to bring up catcher Bo Naylor from Triple-A Columbus to start. And while that still may be the case, Zunino finally gave the Guardians a return on their investment.
“I was so happy,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “You could hear our whole dugout. He shows up every day and he’s been working like crazy and hasn’t had a lot to show for it. You grow pretty fond of these guys and you want them to have some success, and it made me feel good when I saw the way the dugout reacted.”
Gaddis (1-1) was recalled from Triple-A Columbus and gave the Guardians a badly needed quality start after they were swept over the weekend in New York, losing all three to the Mets by one run.
The right-hander gave up just two hits, combining with four relievers on a three-hitter to end Chicago’s modest three-game winning streak.
It was personally satisfying for Gaddis, who was torched for five homers in just four innings against Chicago on Sept. 15 – his second major league start.
“I would be lying if I didn’t think of that,” Gaddis said. “So yeah, it definitely makes it a little better.”
Sam Hentges, Nick Sandlin and Trevor Stephan combined for two scoreless innings before Emmanuel Clase worked a perfect ninth for his major league-leading 16th save in 21 chances. Clase has had his own issues lately, blowing his fifth save on Friday.
“It’s always keeping your head up,” Clase said through an interpreter. “This is a difficult game. They’re going to be ups and downs and the other teams are also competing. I know sometimes we’re not going to get our way, but the important part is to be able to go there with a head up and compete in the best way we can.”
The Guardians scored their first run in the second on a wild pitch by Jesse Scholtens (0-2), who was otherwise solid in allowing just two hits in five innings. The right-hander recalled to replace Mike Clevinger, who went on the injured list with wrist inflammation.
“He pounded the strike zone and made some good pitches when he needed to,” said Sox manager Pedro Grifol. “He did a nice job for us. He’s a good guy to have around, especially in the minor leagues in case something like this happens. He can pitch a little bit.”
The Guardians observed a pregame moment of silence for legendary Browns running back Jim Brown, who died last week at the age of 87. Brown played nine seasons in Cleveland and led the NFL in rushing eight times.
White Sox: RHP Liam Hendriks (cancer treatment) threw his second bullpen session in four days as he continues to work his way back. Grifol stood in the batter’s box to observe the shape of Hendriks’ pitches, and was impressed with wat he saw. “His slider was really, really good,” Grifol said. He’s getting really close.” Hendricks, who is in remission for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, will likely throw again Thursday in Detroit.
Guardians: RHP Triston McKenzie (shoulder strain) is scheduled to make a second rehab start for Triple-A Columbus on Thursday. President of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said McKenzie will throw four innings or 60-65 pitches. He’s eligible to come off the injured list on May 29. RHP Aaron Civale (oblique strain) is also nearing his return. He’ll start for Columbus on Tuesday.
Guardians rookie LHP Logan Allen (1-1, 3.04) starts against Chicago’s Dylan Cease (2-3, 4.79), who lost to Cleveland last week.