CLEVELAND -- The Indians desperately needed somebody -- anybody -- to solidify the starting rotation and give them a quality start.
Once again, it was Derek Lowe to the rescue.
Pitching on his 39th birthday, Lowe took a two-hit shutout into the seventh inning and helped the Indians to a 7-1 win against the Twins in the first game of a three-game series Friday night at Progressive Field. It was Lowe's team-leading seventh win of the season, a year after going 9-17 for Atlanta.
Lowe, who was rocked for eight runs in 2 1/3 innings last Saturday in Chicago, knew he had to quickly put the bad outing behind him and move on. Everybody in the rotation had been hit hard their last time around. To dwell on the past, Lowe said, would set him up for future failure.
"There was no panic," Lowe said. "In years past, I would have probably tried to look back too much at the last game. You just understand that, don't try and watch video to figure it out. Just admit that you did bad."
Lowe got plenty of help from his offense -- which produced seven runs in the first four innings -- but he gave the Indians a chance by keeping the Twins off the board early. Once the Cleveland bats started coming around with a Lonnie Chisenhall two-run home run in the second inning, Lowe's job became a lot easier.
"We've just had a tough time hitting him," said Twins shortstop Brian Dozier. "He's a veteran. He knows what to do. He had his sinker again tonight. When you can spot up as good as he did, it doesn't really matter how it sinks."
After Chisenhall hit his second homer in four games since being recalled from Triple-A Columbus on Monday, Michael Brantley made it 3-0 in the third with an RBI double.
Chisenhall got another rally going in the fourth when he singled, and the bases were loaded for Jason Kipnis after Lou Marson walked and Shin-Soo Choo blooped a single to center. Minnesota pitching coach Rick Anderson made a trip to the mound to try and calm starter Carl Pavano down, giving Kipnis time to think about the upcoming at-bat.
"He throws that changeup a lot and he's gotten me to roll over a lot of times," Kipnis said. "With guys on, I figured he was going to his offspeed, so I wanted to make sure that I saw it up if he was coming with it."
Pavano did come with it, Kipnis did see it up, and he didn't miss it. The Indians' second baseman blasted his first career grand slam to the bleachers in right-center field, his team-leading ninth home run of the season. All of a sudden, an Indians offense that had been close to dead in the final two games against Kansas City on Wednesday and Thursday was very much alive.
Chisenhall and Kipnis, two young players around the infield, provided a combined five hits and six RBIs in the offensive breakout.
"We've been talking about these kids being part of our future," manager Manny Acta said. "We are pretty sure these two guys are going to be main guys here for awhile. These guys are going to be the core of this ballclub for years to come. I'm glad that people are starting to see that we're not just talking up these guys to talk them up. They're pretty good. They can be good players here."
But it all goes back to Lowe. Unlike most of Cleveland's starting pitchers during the team's slide, Lowe gave the Indians a chance. When they faced big deficits early against the White Sox and Royals, the energy was essentially zapped from the lineup.
"He was huge for us, especially since he didn't make us play catch-up baseball," Acta said. "We're human. Regardless of what people say about the energy level, it's always better when the game is 0-0 and you have a chance to get the lead instead of having to mount a five-run rally."
Much like he did against the Twins in a complete game shutout on May 15, Lowe cruised for much of the night. He sent the Twins down in order in three of the first six innings and he got two inning-ending double plays. Nothing could faze Lowe -- not even a hard-hit line drive that hit directly off his right calf in the second inning.
"That's kind of a sensitive area," Acta said. "Those really hurt back there, but he didn't even flinch. He just told us to go back into the dugout, that he was fine."
Lowe collected the ball and threw to second on the play to get the lead runner.
"Not at all," Lowe said when asked if it bothered him. "Being a ground ball pitcher, we get hit all the time. I'm not really the most fleet of foot, so I couldn't really get out of the way."
Lowe only ran into trouble in the seventh when he gave up three hits and a run before being removed from the game. He could have gotten out of the inning after only one hit and no runs, but he dropped a throw from Asdrubal Cabrera when covering first.
"I was trying to win the ERA title," Lowe joked, "but I guess that's out the window."
Justin Albers is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.