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CLE@MIN: Lowe tosses a six-hit shutout vs. Twins

MINNEAPOLIS -- A visit to the Twin Cities appears to have served as a cure, at least temporarily, to the Indians' recent losing woes.

Backed by veteran starter Derek Lowe's first shutout in seven years, the Indians methodically dismantled the Twins, 5-0, on Tuesday afternoon to cap off a two-game series sweep.

The sweep drastically softened the sting from a tough stretch last week during which the Indians dropped five of six games. It also kept them firmly in first place in the American League Central.

Lowe baffled a lackluster Twins lineup with impressive efficency, allowing them to scatter only six hits. Relying on his sinker for most of the afternoon, he became the first pitcher to record a shutout without a strikeout since Scott Erickson did so in 2002, inducing a total of 18 groundouts.

"He was a ground-ball machine the whole day," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "I don't keep track of every game I've ever watched or anything like that, but I don't think I've seen too many complete-game shutouts without a strikeout. That's rare to see. He was great. Every time he needed a pitch, he got it."

Acquired in a trade with the Braves last October, Lowe has surpassed the expectations of many onlookers who believed the 38-year-old starter had reached the end of his career after posting a 9-17 record and a 5.05 ERA in 2011.

But through eight starts, Lowe has proven any doubters wrong. Tuesday's victory marked his sixth win and third scoreless outing of the year, lowering his ERA to 2.05.

"It's been a really gratifying start," said Lowe, who was notably at ease and jovial after the game. "Coming into the season, there were so many questions about 'Are you done? Are you going to retire? Blah, blah.' So I worked my tail off, not just to prove people wrong, but to get myself back to where I knew I should be."

The Twins mounted a threat in the seventh inning, loading the bases with two outs off a single from shortstop Brian Dozier. When Indians pitching coach Scott Radinsky went out to the mound, Lowe, whose pitch count was nearing 100, said he jokingly remarked, "Manny knows I'm going to be 39, not 19, right?"

The Indians stuck with Lowe, and as a result, he was able to work out of the jam, getting Alexi Casilla to fly out to right field to end the inning.

"He probably has the most sink I've ever seen," said Dozier, who accounted for three of the Twins' six hits. "He throws a good sinker. It's not too sharp, but at the same time, he misses barrels. He's being doing it forever, so that's why he's been one of the best throughout his career."

Lowe's job was made easier in the wake of strong performance from up and down the Indians' lineup. Twins starter Jason Marquis labored to get through the order as he was chased from the game after five innings. The struggling right-hander was tagged for five runs on nine hits.

A trio of home runs by the Indians in the fifth inning, including back-to-back jacks from Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana, capped off Marquis' rocky start.

The Indians began their scoring in the second inning. Santana led off with a double for the team's first hit of the game. He was later brought in to score on first baseman Casey Kotchman's two-out single.

Acta's decision to insert Shin-Soo Choo into the leadoff spot is paying off. Choo replaced Johnny Damon atop the Indians' lineup in the series opener on Monday and proceeded to drive in the winning RBI in the ninth inning.

Choo continued to validate his promotion Tuesday. The Indians took a 2-0 lead in the third inning after a single from Cabrera allowed Choo, who reached on a double, to score from second. Choo added an exclamation mark two innings later by launching a homer into the left-field bleachers, jump-starting the Indians' long-distance barrage.

"He's one of our key guys in our lineup," Acta said. "In order for us to go anywhere, he needs to produce. That's how important he is to our lineup."

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