CLEVELAND -- The Indians just needed an opening. Right-hander Zach McAllister was doing his part on the mound, working swiftly and efficiently to keep San Diego's offense in check. His performance bought time for a cold Cleveland offense to warm up.
The Tribe got its chance and took advantage.
Jason Kipnis capitalized on a fielding error by the Padres in the sixth inning, launching a two-run home run that gave McAllister and the Indians all that was required for a 2-0 win in the first game of a doubleheader on Wednesday. The victory sealed a win of the three-game Interleague set at Progressive Field.
"He was good," Indians manager Terry Francona said of McAllister. "He came out of the bullpen with a fastball-changeup combination that was really strong. And he pretty much used it the entire way. That's probably one of the better changeups we've seen him have."
Cleveland's rotation had struggled for most of the past week, but McAllister turned in a strong outing one day after Corey Kluber did the same for the Tribe. McAllister breezed through 7 2/3 innings against the Padres, scattering five hits and ended the afternoon with no walks and seven strikeouts.
Three of San Diego's five hits were doubles, but McAllister sidestepped harm at each turn.
Seth Smith doubled with one out in the first inning, and then watched McAllister induce a flyout from Yonder Alonso before striking out Yasmani Grandal. Alexi Amarista added a one-out, two-base hit in the third, but McAllister recovered with a strikeout against Everth Cabrera and a groundout from Smith. Nick Hundley doubled with two outs in the fifth, but he was stranded when Amarista flied out to right field.
"I was able to get ahead of hitters, and they were aggressive," McAllister said. "Being an aggressive team, if you're falling behind, that works in their favor, because they know you're probably going to be throwing a heater and they can jump right on it. So, if you get ahead and you're able to mix a little bit, it definitely helps out."
McAllister's showing served as a solid comeback from his first outing of the season. Facing the A's in the second game of a doubleheader on April 2, McAllister struggled with his fastball command, yielding three runs on six hits in four innings. McAllister walked four in that start and left after his pitch count reached 86.
This time, McAllister needed only 82 pitches to work through seven frames against San Diego. He registered a first-pitch strike to 20 of the 28 batters he faced and ended the day with 99 pitches thrown.
"You hear it said all the time," Francona said. "The fastball is the best pitch. When he's commanding his fastball, and then when he had the changeup to go with it, it made him really tough."
Amarista and Cabrera reached on consecutive singles with two outs in the eighth inning, convincing Francona to turn to setup man Cody Allen. McAllister received a standing ovation as he walked off the field, tipping his cap to the crowd.
"It's definitely a good feeling to know the fans have your back," McAllister said. "They did today, and it was great."
Allen then finished what the big righty started by striking out Smith to end the inning. Cleveland closer John Axford gave up a single and issued a walk in the ninth, but he held up his end of the bargain, escaping unscathed for his fourth save of the season.
Padres lefty Eric Stults did what he could to keep pace with McAllister, holding the Indians off the scoreboard for the first five innings. Cleveland threatened in the second -- loading the bases with one out -- but Stults got Mike Aviles to pop out and then induced an inning-ending groundout from David Murphy to escape the jam.
"He pitched a really good game," Francona said of Stults. "He can add and subtract. We had a chance in the second inning and didn't cash in. We had a chance to add on, and we didn't. Some of that, you tip your cap to the pitcher, because he did a really good job."
It was not until the sixth inning that San Diego flinched enough for the Tribe to pounce.
With one out, Nick Swisher pulled a pitch from Stults sharply up the third-base line, where Amarista made a slick back-handed grab to snare the grounder. The third baseman rifled the ball across the diamond, but it struck the dirt and evaded the glove of Alonso for an error, allowing Swisher to jog to second base.
One pitch later, Kipnis drove an offering from Stults deep to right-center-field and over the wall. It appeared as though the blast might stay in the outfield, but it carried just far enough to bounce over the top of the wall for a two-run home run -- the first long ball of the season for the All-Star second baseman.
"I left a pitch up," Stults said, "and he did what good hitters do."