CLEVELAND — His teammates call Bradley Zimmer “The Machine.”
On Saturday night, the rookie was a flying one.
Zimmer made a jaw-dropping catch in center field and broke up Jason Hammel’s bid for a perfect game, leading the Cleveland Indians to a 4-0 win over the Kansas City Royals.
Mike Clevinger pitched six sharp innings, Roberto Perez hit a two-run homer off Hammel (6-10), and Edwin Encarnacion and Carlos Santana also connected as the defending AL champions moved a season-high 16 games over .500 at 72-56.
Clevinger (7-5) struck out a career-high nine and matched Hammel pitch for pitch before giving way to Cleveland’s bullpen.
But if not for Zimmer’s catch, Clevinger might not have gotten past the fifth.
With a runner at first and two outs, Kansas City’s Lorenzo Cain sent a drive to center that seemed destined for extra bases. Zimmer slipped on his first step, but the speedy, 6-foot-5 outfielder launched himself and fully extended his body and glove before making the grab and crash landing.
“It’s like he kind of willed himself,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I know there wasn’t a whole lot to spare. But my goodness, considering the timing of the play, the score — that was a great catch.”
When Zimmer rolled over and showed the ball in his glove, Clevinger raised both arms and applauded his teammate. In the dugout, Clevinger showed Zimmer more love.
“I just grabbed him,” he said. “Wasn’t a lot to be said, it’s kind of speechless after that catch.”
Cain, too, thought his ball had cleared Zimmer.
“I thought it was going to get over his head,” Cain said. “I’d say he used every bit of that 6-5 frame to make a play out there.”
Zimmer’s circus-like catch was similar to a diving one he made in Detroit earlier this season.
“Just that feeling of selling out and giving everything I have there, so I mean it was definitely one that I’ll remember,” he said.
The Royals fell eight games back in the AL Central and were shut out for the second straight night. They have not scored in 25 innings and have been blanked a major league-high 12 times.
Hammel was perfect for 5 1/3 innings, retiring the first 16 batters with relative ease before giving up his first hit when Zimmer grounded a 2-2 pitch through the middle.
Two pitches later, Perez, Cleveland’s No. 9 hitter, connected for his third homer, a shot to left-center.
One of Cleveland’s most laid-back players, Clevinger had “Sunshine” — a nickname given to him a few years back — on of his jersey for Players Weekend. And while he was delivering a glowing performance, Hammel was even brighter for a while.
The right-hander, who came in 3-0 against Cleveland this season, coasted into the sixth, going to a three-ball count just once before the Indians finally got to him with three consecutive hits producing two runs.
An inning later, Encarnacion hit Hammel’s first pitch deep into the left-field bleachers for his 30th homer. Santana then connected for his 19th.
“I’ve got to keep the ball in the yard. It’s been kind of a confusing year for me,” said Hammel, who has given up 22 homers. “I feel like the majority of the runs I’ve given up have been on homers. I’ve got to keep the ball on the ground.”
Encarnacion is the only major leaguer to hit at least 30 homers in each of the past six seasons. He’s the first player to have a streak that long since Miguel Cabrera from 2007-13.
“He’s such a professional hitter and dangerous,” Francona said. “I still think he probably has a good hot streak in him, too. He studies and he’s ready and he’s so dangerous.”
Kansas City last scored in the second inning on Thursday.
“We’re having trouble scoring runs,” manager Ned Yost said. “We had an opportunity in the fourth — first and third with one out. Bases loaded with two outs.”
Royals: LHP Danny Duffy returned to Kansas City to undergo an MRI on his sore elbow. Duffy has pitched with the condition for the past month, and while the club doesn’t think it’s anything serious, the Royals want to get him checked out.
Indians: OF Lonnie Chisenhall will play in three minor league games over the next four days, perhaps the final steps in his recovery from a calf injury sustained before the All-Star break.
Carlos Carrasco starts the series finale for Cleveland against rookie Eric Skoglund, who will replace Duffy and make his first appearance for the Royals since June 9.
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