The Cleveland Indians’ 30-16 record is the best in Major League Baseball, but don’t look now — the Columbus Clippers are one-upping big brother.
Columbus defeated the Durham Bulls, 5-3, for its fifth straight win Tuesday. The victory raised the Clippers’ International League-leading record to 32-14.
Second baseman Jason Kipnis delivered the big blow for the Clippers, drilling a two-run home run off the scoreboard in right-center to put Columbus up, 4-2, in the second inning.
“I was sitting fastball there,” Kipnis said. “Fortunately, I was ready for it and was able to hit it out.”
He said that was the first time he has hit a ball off the scoreboard in a game.
“Hopefully, it leads to a lot more to come,” Kipnis said.
Bulls starting pitcher Alex Torres entered the game with a league-high 11.23 strikeouts per nine innings pitched, but it was Clippers left-hander Scott Barnes who threw seven strikeouts in five innings to help secure his third win of the season. Torres threw two strikeouts in the game.
Manager Mike Sarbaugh said the slider was the key pitch for Barnes.
“With the movement on his fastball, sometimes hitters have trouble holding off on that slider,” Sarbaugh said. “I thought that was his best pitch.”
Barnes gave up his only two runs of the game on a two-run home run to Bulls right fielder Brandon Guyer in the first inning.
Columbus responded with back-to-back doubles by third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall and center fielder Jerad Head to cut the lead to 2-1.
The Clippers scored three runs off Torres to take the lead in the second inning, including a Kipnis homer.
Chisenhall added an RBI single in the fifth, scoring Kipnis to give Columbus a 5-2 lead.
A solo home run by Durham center fielder Desmond Jennings off reliever Marty Popham in the seventh was the only run allowed by Columbus pitchers over the final eight innings.
Left-hander Nick Hagadone, called up to Columbus from Akron last week, worked a scoreless 2 1/3 innings to finish the game and earn his first save.
With regular center fielder and leadoff hitter Ezequiel Carrera called up to Cleveland on May 20, the Clippers have had Kipnis hitting in the leadoff spot and Head playing center instead of his usual corner outfield position. Sarbaugh commended both players for their versatility.
“It’s nice to have guys who can do multiple things,” he said. “With (Head) being able to play all three outfield positions, that is important for our ball club. And Jason has done an excellent job in that leadoff spot.”
Kipnis said he is not used to being the leadoff hitter but that it is starting to grow on him.
“It’s a different mindset that I have to be in,” he said. “You have to set the table for everyone, but I’m up for the challenge and I’m willing to do it.”
Columbus begins a four-game series against the Norfolk Tides at 7:15 p.m. Thursday.