CLEVELAND -- If you had examined the Indians' lineup before Saturday night's game against the Rays, you might not have expected a lot of offensive production. Second baseman Jason Kipnis and designated hitter Travis Hafner -- the Indians' normal three and four-hitters -- had scheduled days off, and Cleveland went with backup catcher Lou Marson behind the plate.
The Indians' bench players came through in a big way, though, as they helped Cleveland to a 7-3 victory over the Rays in the third game of a four-game series at Progressive Field. The Indians, winners of seven of 10, remained three games behind the White Sox for first place in the American League Central after Chicago beat Toronto earlier Saturday.
The Indians got a combined three hits and four RBIs from Shelley Duncan, Marson and Aaron Cunningham -- the six, seven and nine hitters in the lineup. If those guys continue to produce like they did on Saturday night, the Indians may have solved their ongoing issues against lefty starters. Cleveland is just 10-16 against southpaws this season, but they've now won four in a row against lefties.
"We need everybody to contribute," said Indians manager Manny Acta. "We don't have a powerhouse here, and we know that. We need guys that have roles that take advantage of the opportunities. Everybody here needs to chip in for us to continue to be a club that is going to compete and win the division. It's as simple as that. We just do have what some of the clubs have -- five, six, seven guys that are going to be there every day and just terrorize pitching.
"We're expecting them [right-handed bench players] to hit those lefties. Over the last few games, they have come alive."
The Indians' bats did so early against Rays starter Matt Moore. The Tribe got on the board in the second when Marson scored Michael Brantley with an RBI double to left field. Rays left fielder Desmond Jennings made a diving attempt on Marson's line drive, but he was barely able to get a glove on it before it rolled past him.
Jack Hannahan knocked in another run with a groundout, and the Indians made it 3-0 when Cunningham ripped a line drive to short. The ball hit off the glove of Tampa Bay shortstop Sean Rodriguez, and then rolled into shallow center field. Cunningham made a hard turn at first, and then slid in safely at second when the Rays struggled to get to the ball. Acta called Cunningham's hit "the biggest of the game."
"I didn't realize that it just stopped out there," Cunningham said, "so when I was making that big turn I realized I had a shot at two, so I went."
The Indians added two more runs in the third on an RBI groundout by Brantley and an RBI double from Carlos Santana. Cleveland had only five hits against Moore. All five were doubles, and all five came in the second and third innings.
Duncan provided some insurance with a two-run blast in the eighth inning off Wade Davis. It was Duncan's fourth home run in his last five starts, and his eighth on the season.
"They came out patient, but ready when I did come in the zone with something," said Moore, who hadn't allowed as many as five runs since May 6. "I just wasn't doing a very good job of giving them different looks in the zone."
The early cushion was plenty for Indians starter Ubaldo Jimenez, who was dealing on a hot July night. The right-hander pitched six dominating innings, allowing only two runs while striking out eight. The only blemish on Jimenez's line was a two-run homer from Luke Scott in the fourth, on a pitch Jimenez left up in the zone. Jimenez, who seemed to get stronger as the game went on, walked only one batter. He improved to 8-7 with the win and has a 2.93 ERA in his last seven starts.
"He stayed consistently down in the zone," the Rays' Rodriguez said. "It doesn't matter how good a hitter you are, it's going to be tough to hit."
Jimenez worked mostly with his breaking pitches -- especially his slider -- because of the aggressive nature of the Rays lineup. He said he probably threw fewer than 50 percent fastballs.
"In the first inning, I was able to locate [the slider] really good," Jimenez said, "and then we just kept throwing it. ... They don't give you a break with the fastball. If you're able to locate your breaking balls, why not throw it?"
The bullpen shut it down after Jimenez exited, but the Indians pitchers were never really pressured, thanks to the offensive production of the bench players.
"We're just trying to be ourselves, not hit home runs," Cunningham said. "We're trying to do what we can to help out."
Justin Albers is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.