Covering the Bases: Game 132

828CookieFinal: Indians 3, White Sox 2

FIRST: The Indians hoped that Carlos Carrasco would carry the mentality of a late-inning reliever into his role as a starter in April. It took a rough opening act, and then a three-month stint back in the bullpen, for the big righty to figure out what that meant.

When Carrasco was sitting at 98-99 mph in the first inning on Thursday night, it was easy to see that he’s understanding and embracing what manager Terry Francona sums up nicely as “attack mode.”

“It’s something I learned in the bullpen: attack,” Carrasco said. “That’s what pitching’s about.”

It’s easy to say, and now Carrasco is making it look easy to do.

In one of the more incredible developments of this season — a story that once again has put the work of pitching coach Mickey Callaway and bullpen coach Kevin Cash on display — Carrasco has emerged as a formidable starting weapon for the Tribe. Four starts a season does not make, but it counts as a trend, and it’s the kind of trend Cleveland desperately needed in this season filled with starting pitching turmoil.

Against the White Sox, who dropped two of three to the Tribe this week, Carrasco spun 6.2 strong innings with his lone “mistake” an RBI single to slugger Jose Abreu (We’ll get to the quotation marks in the next item). Carrasco struck out seven, scattered four hits, walked one and ended with 71-percent strikes (73-of-103). It was the kind of line that has been the norm of late for the starter-turned-reliever-turned-starter-turned-reliever-turned-starter.

“He continues to do it,” Francona said. “He came out, he established his fastball, he held it. Especially when he kind of saw the end coming, he reached back for a little more. He had a good touch on his breaking ball and his changeup.”

The move to from the bullpen to the rotation was helped along by both a handful of off-days — allowing Francona to have a rested bullpen on high alert — and a steady showing by Carrasco. Over his last six games (the last four being starts), Carrasco’s pitch count has climbed in this manner: 21-59-77-79-90-103. Carrasco’s efficiency along the way has made this whole thing work.

“He’s in great shape. He’s a strong kid,” Francona said. “Fortunately, the way he’s pitched, he’s almost gone in increments, like 60, 70, 80, 90, 100. It’s worked out really well, where he hasn’t had a big increase in each game. And part of that is because he’s pitching so well. It’s been really good.”

Over his past four starts, Carrasco has gone 3-0 with a 0.73 ERA, 0.57 WHIP and a .131 (11-for-84) opponents’ average. In 24.2 innings in that span, the righty has 24 strikeouts, three walks and a 69-percent strike rate. Over his past 30 games, dating back to when he was pulled out of the rotation in April after going 0-3 with a6.95 ERA in four starts, Carrasco has a 1.73 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and .187 (45-for-241) opponents’ average in 67.2 innings (63 strikeouts against 12 walks).

“It’s miraculous, man,” Indians center fielder Michael Bourn said. “I’ve always thought he has great stuff. I’ve seen him since he’s 19. We came up in the Phillies organization almost together. So, I’ve been seeing him for a long time. People don’t understand, when you play at this level, it takes more than one years or two years to get adjusted to it.”

SECOND: I think we can forgive Cookie for the lone blemish on his pitching line.

The RBI single that Abreu delivered came on an 87-mph slider that was out of the strike zone. Chicago’s rookie slugger reached out and flicked the pitch into left-center, scoring Adam Eaton from third base. It was similar to Wednesday night, when Abreu saw seven cutters from Corey Kluber and sent the last one, on a full count, up the middle for the game’s decisive hit in the seventh.

“We’re finding out the hard way,” Francona said, “that with two strikes, you can’t expand the plate too much with Abreu. He can reach just about anything. That’s been a thorn in our side, and probably the rest of the league, too. That’s the only run he gave up.”

Carrasco was able to shrug it off, because he felt he executed the pitch.

“That was a good pitch,” Carrasco said. “I think he was looking for that, because I think I threw it before and I threw another one down and he took it.”

The Indians have found that the best way to attack Abreu is to try to mix things up vertically, or get him to offer at pitches with more up-and-down movement. That might explain why a pitcher as talented as Kluber — whose entire arsenal is more based on lateral movement — has struggled to the tune of a .462 average against Abreu.

In the three-game series, Abreu went 5-for-11 in the batter’s box with two doubles, two walks, two runs and three RBIs against Cleveland. On the season, the first baseman has hit .294 with five homers, 10 RBIs and a .627 slugging percentage in 13 games against the Indians.

Great, Paul Konerko is retiring, but the White Sox already have found their new Tribe killer.

THIRD: It appears that Bourn is feeling just fine these days, following all the left hamstring woes. He robbed Konerko of a hit on Tuesday night with a diving catch that required a perfect sprint. In the finale on Thursday, all the center fielder did was collect a pair of triples in the win over the White Sox.

“I got tested pretty well today,” Bourn said with a smile.

This actually marked Bourn’s second two-triple game of the season for the Tribe. He’s the first hitter in the Majors to have at least a pair of two-triple games in the same year since 2011 (Jose Reyes, 3; Austin Jackson, 2). Bourn and Kenny Lofton (3 such games in 1995) are the only Cleveland hitters to accomplish that feat since 1941.

The others to do so for Cleveland in the past 100 seasons: Gee Walker (2 in 1941), Earl Averill (2 in 1932), Lew Fonseca (2 in 1929), Bill Wambsganss (2 in 1920) and Larry Gardner (2 in 1920).

In the first inning, Bourn tripled and then scored on Jose Ramirez’s groundout to shortstop Alexei Ramirez. On the play, Bourn hesitated, but then sprinted for the plate as soon as the shortstop released the relay throw to first base. Bourn didn’t go on contact, because he had a bad angle and couldn’t tell right away if third baseman Conor Gillaspie had a shot at the chopper. But, as soon Ramirez gloved the ball, Bourn knew he still had time to score.

“I had a bad read,” Bourn said. “I didn’t know if the third baseman had a chance at making the play when he went at the ball. Once I saw it bounce and the shortstop got it, I knew he wasn’t going to be focused on me. As soon as I saw him release it, I was off and running. I felt like it was hard for him to make the throw all the way across and then all the way back home.”

That’s the Bourn Cleveland needs to see more often.

“He desperately wants to be that sparkplug,” Francona said. “And you can see — two triples — he’s pretty into it. He knows how important he is at the top of the lineup.”

HOME: And what about Cody Allen’s importance to the end of the game? In the eighth inning, Bryan Shaw gave up a two-out single and then third baseman Mike Aviles booted a ball for an error, putting runners on first and second base for Adam Dunn. As it happens, Allen entered Thursday holding lefties to a .125 average with 47-percent of the at-bats (104) ending with a strikeout (49).

“When you have a big lefty,” Francona said, “to be able to go to a righty is really valuable.”

Dunn won this battle, sending a duck snort into right field — just out of the reach of second baseman Jason Kipnis — to score a run to pull Chicago within one. No harm done. Allen recovered with four consecutive strikeouts — one to end the eighth and three to finish off the ninth for his 18th save.

A local reporter asked Francona is that was as dominant a four-out save as he’s seen in recent years.

“Oh boy, I don’t know,” Francona said sharply. “I think he had one the other day. He’s pretty good. You maybe need to get cable or something and watch him. He’s pretty good.”

Well, as it happens, it marked only the second four-out, four-strikeout save in the past 100 seasons for a Cleveland reliever. The only other one came on July 28, 1976, when Dave LaRoche achieved the rare feat. It’s happened three times in the American League this season. The other arms to do it are Josh Fields (Aug. 5) and Ernesto Frieri (April 14).

EXTRA: In the sixth inning, Kipnis came through with an RBI single and then went from first to third on a base his by Aviles. On that sprint to the hot corner, Kipnis slid in head-first and was accidentally kicked in the face by Gillaspie, as the third baseman fielded the relay throw. Kipnis was checked out by the trainers and stayed in the game. Said Francona: “He got like a heel to the nose, and I know it hurt and I know he’s probably going to be black and blue. But I was relieved, because I thought maybe it was a finger or something. He’s a pretty tough kid. He’ll be all right.”

NOTE: I will not be making the trip to Kansas City for the upcoming division clash between the Tribe and Royals. You’ll have to forgive me for taking a few days off. It’s MLBastian Jr.’s fifth birthday and it’ll be family time until I return to Indians.com coverage on Tuesday in Cleveland. Keep checking the site and following @Indians and @tribeinsider on Twitter for updates.

On deck:

Indians (68-64) at Royals (74-59)
at 8:10 p.m. ET Friday at Kauffman Stadium

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 131

827KluberFinal: White Sox 3, Indians 2

FIRST: What’s your dream pitcher vs. batter matchup right now in baseball? Clayton Kershaw against Mike Trout? King Felix against Giancarlo Stanton? How about an American League Central heavyweight bout? You could wager that Corey Kluber vs. Jose Abreu is worth the price of admission.

Through four rounds this season, Abreu has the edge.

On Wednesday night, Chicago’s rookie slugger went 3-for-4 with a double, a run and two RBIs against Kluber, who headed into the night ranked second only to King Felix (6.1) in baseball in fWAR (5.5). If you prefer a more basic statistical breakdown, well, Abreu now has a .462 (6-for-13) batting average this season against Kluber, who has held hitters to a .210 (77-for-367) over his last 14 starts.

“He does good against a lot of people, if you look at his numbers,” Kluber said. “He’s a good hitter. He covers a lot of pitches, so you’ve just got to kind of mix it up on him. Even when you make some good pitches, sometimes good hitters are able to get their hits.”

Here is a summary of their confrontations on Wednesday night:

First at-bat: Kluber sat at 96-97 mph with four two-seamers and mixed in one 92-mph cutter in the middle of the at-bat. On a 2-2 count, the right-hander went with a 97-mph sinker and Abreu came through with a double to right field.

Second at-bat: Kluber again stuck with sinkers and cutters, staying in the 90-96 mph range for the entire five-pitch at-bat. This time, the righty went sinker, sinker, sinker, cutter, cutter. The final pitch in that sequence was a 91-mph offering on a 3-1 count that was shot up the middle for an RBI single.

Third at-bat: For the third time, Kluber and Abreu engaged in a five-pitch battle. Kluber threw five fastballs, staying in the 92-95 mph range. After three sinkers, he came back with a four-seamer and then finished Abreu off with a 2-2 two-seamer for a swinging strikeout.

Fourth at-bat: For their final meeting, Kluber stuck with his cutter for all seven pitches. The velocity was around 88-89 mph as Kluber pitch count climbed from 110 to 117. On the final pitch, Kluber sent a 3-2 pitch to center for another RBI single.

“He left a pitch there and I was able to connect and get the ball through the middle,” Abreu said. “A lot of respect goes to him. He’s one of the better pitchers in the Major Leagues I’ve faced.”

SECOND: When Kluber elected to pitch to Abreu, the White Sox had runners on the corners with one out. Lefty-swinging Adam Dunn was on deck and has hit over .300 in his career against Kluber, who gave up an RBI double to him earlier in the game.

Indians manager Terry Francona was asked if they considered walking Abreu in that situation.

“There were a lot of considerations,” said the manager. “If they had elected to run [opening first base], we would have walked him. That’s a tough situation. He’s hit into a number of double plays, but he’s a really good hitter. It’s tough, really tough. [Pitching coach Mickey Callaway] made a trip to the mound. We knew how we wanted to pitch him. The last pitch just caught too much of the plate. If we walk him there, it’s not the en of the world.”

After Abreu’s hit, Kluber was pulled from the contest and hung with a hard luck loss. Overall, he allowed three runs on nine hits in 6.1 innings. The righty ended with eight strikeouts, making him the first Cleveland pitcher since 1970 (Sam McDowell) to have at least 17 games with eight or more strikeouts in one season. At 213 strikeouts on the year, Kluber is now 19th on Cleveland’s all-time single-season list.

He’s also been the victim of some poor run support of late, getting three runs or fewer in six of his last seven starts and two runs or fewer in five of those seven turns.

“If we score five or six,” Francona said, “we’re talking ab out him cruising.”

Kluber also reached a career-high 193.2 innings on the season. it’s uncharted territory for the right-hander, who logged 159.2 IP in 2013 between MLB and the Minors. His previous innings totals (MLB and Minors combined) are 188.1 (2012), 155 (2011), 160 (2010), 154 (2009), 141.1 (2008) and 33.1 (2007).

Kluber was so strong from June 15-Aug. 15, turning in a 1.43 ERA and 0.88 WHIP in 12 starts, that his last two outings have made him look off. In his past two trips up the hill, he’s posted a 4.05 ERA and 1.57 WHIP with 16 strikeouts, 15 hits and six walks in 13.1 IP.

Is Kluber feeling fatigued?

“No, not at all,” Kluber said. “I feel as good now as I did at the beginning of the year. Stuff wise, I think my stuff has carried on throughout the year. I haven’t lost anything. I just made a couple mistakes today.”

THIRD: With no outs, runners on second and third base and Alexei Ramirez at the plate in the seventh, Kluber induced a chopper to third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall. He gloved the grounder and threw a strike to catcher Roberto Perez, who received the ball with plenty of time to apply the tag on Chicago’s Carlos Sanchez.

Initially, Perez appeared to block the plate, but the rookie catcher quickly stepped forward, and then stepped back in order to put the tag on. White Sox manager Robin Ventura came out of the dugout and requested a crew-chief review. The umpires obliged, but the out call was confirmed.

Given that it was an easy out, and Sanchez still had several steps before reaching Perez, it seemed like an iffy play to review. That said, the rules dictate that if a catcher is indeed blocking the plate, the runner can be ruled safe. For a moment, it appeared that could be the case in Chicago.

Perez said his quick move away from the plate was to give the runner a path.

“I was making sure I had the ball first,” Perez said. “I got it and went forward a couple steps and tagged him.”

Perez said he asked home-plate ump Rob Drake if, in that type of situation, the catcher can run towards the baserunner to apply the tag.

“He said, ‘Yeah, you can,” Perez said. “Now that that happened to me, when I get the ball I’m going to make sure I go right at him. I’m not going to try to [wait to] tag him. I’m just going to go right at him.”

HOME: The Indians were fine with the crew-chief review, but they were not too happy about what happened after the play was confirmed as an out. Kluber requested a handful of warmup pitches, but was denied by both Drake and crew chief Joe West. In previous review situations this season, Kluber has been permitted to do his warmup throws after the review’s conclusion.

“If it’s one of those four or five minute replays,” Kluber explained, “what’s the point of throwing as soon as they go over there and put the headset on? I’ve had instances where I’ve been out there this year and they’re standing out there for three, four, five minutes. Am I just supposed to figure out how long a replay is going to take? I’m not even sure why they looked at that play, to be honest.”

Francona wasn’t pleased with how the umpires handled the situation, either.

“That was disappointing,” Francona said. “Klubes doesn’t know how long they’re going to be over there, so he doesn’t want to keep throwing, because he was at a pretty high pitch count. I didn’t think a couple of pitches would make the crowd go away.  I thought some common sense would have prevailed a little bit.”

What was Drake’s explanation?

“He just said that’s the way he’s done it,” Francona said. “We said, ‘That’s a new one to us. I could’ve gone out and argued, but that would’ve made it go on longer.”

Said Kluber: “I understand that replay is part of the game now. Tonight, I don’t get the whole making up rules as we go thing. Every other time I’ve been out there for a replay, I’ve waited until they finish the replay and then have thrown a couple pitches. All of a sudden, tonight I’m told that you’re only allowed to throw pitches while they’re reviewing the play. If the umpires are making up stuff as we’re going, then the system needs to be looked at, I think.”

On deck:

Indians (67-64) at White Sox (60-72)
at 8:10 p.m. ET Thursday at U.S. Cellular Field

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 130

826WaltersFinal: Indians 8, White Sox 6 (10 innings)

FIRST: Zach Walters did two things that were out of character on Tuesday night. The rookie had a single in Cleveland’s win over the White Sox and he stood up for his postgame interview with reporters. He’s only been up with Cleveland for a few weeks, but this rookie is winning people over both on the field and in the clubhouse, with a potent bat and unique personality, respectively.

Walters likes to do interviews sitting down, leaning back and relaxed, if the situation allows for it. Fireside chats with Zach Walters. He likes to joke that his four gloves are just to make him look like a ballplayer, because he’s mostly been a DH with the Indians. In past winters, he’s played on the same softball team as Jose Canseco in Las Vegas. He swears he’s a good at bunting, even though he has misfired on two attempts this season … shortly before launching a game-winning home run. He enjoys the phrase “freaking awesome.” He’s dropped it multiple times since coming to the Tribe via trade from the Nationals.

What could this rook possibly do next? How about belt a two-run home run in the 10th inning to propel Cleveland to a win in Chicago, opening a stretch of 30 games in 30 days with style. Walters now has six homers in 48 at-bats with the Indians, and all six have either tied a game or given the Indians a lead.

“It’s for the kids,” Walters said of the home runs. “I eat my spinach and I drink milk. That’s the only reason why.”

Cleveland reporters already are calling this trade with Washington a win for the Indians.

Walters was stuck in a pinch-hitting role with the Nats, who sent him to Cleveland on July 31 for shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. Overall this season, the 24-year-old Walters has belted nine home runs in 87 at-bats in the Majors. Half of his 18 hits in the big leagues have been long balls this year, and he’s launching one every 9.67 at-bats on average. Combined with his Minor League showing this year, Walters has 26 homers in 355 at-bats, or one per 13.65 at-bats, and the shots account for 25.7 percent of his hits overall this season.

Walters hit .310 in the Minors this season, but only has a .208 average with the Indians and a .207 average overall in the Majors this year.

Still…

“He’s a strong kid and there’s a lot of life in that bat,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He’s that threat. His batting average might not be the highest, but there’s been a lot of home runs and they seem like they come at points in the game that really mean something.”

Walters is confident that the consistency will soon follow the power.

“It’s an unbelievable opportunity the Indians have given me,” Walters said. “I was in a tough spot [in Washington]. It’s been a night-and-day difference over here. They’re giving me kind of the keys to drive the car, I guess you’d say. They’re letting me play. All I ask for is just at-bats to get consistent and they’re giving me that and I’m happy with that.”

SECOND: About that bunt attempt…

After Lonnie Chisenhall delivered a leadoff pinch-hit double against White Sox reliever Jake Petricka in the 10th inning, Walters worked to a 2-0 count. He wanted to time Petricka’s fastball, so he offered at the next pitch, fouled it off and then decided to bunt on his own. Why? Because Francona gave him clear instructions.

“He didn’t have to bunt,” Francona said. “I just wanted him to make sure that that runner was on third when he was done. … I just wanted to make sure he pulled the ball.”

Walters was not able to get the bunt down and then slipped into a full count.

“Tito told me get him over however you want,” Walters said “I’m hitting down there in the lineup for a reason. I was like I’ll bunt first. I got to a 2-0 count and took a swing, kind of timed up his fastball, missed the bunt. I knew he was going to come at me, but I wasn’t expecting to hit a home run. I was just trying to put the ball in play. I got lucky.”

Lucky or not, the Indians will take it.

“I promise, I’m a good bunter,” Walters said. “I swear, I’m a good bunter. Maybe I had a little anxiety, being the rookie guy. I don’t know.”

Said Francona: “Fortunately, he didn’t get the bunt down.”

THIRD: Cleveland’s starting rotation has carried the club of late, posting a 1.71 ERA over the 13 games heading into Tuesday’s meeting with the White Sox. Lefty T.J. House had not given up more than three earned runs in eight straight starts, posting a 3.07 ERA in that span. Well, against Chicago, House hit a wall by allowing five runs on seven hits in 4.2 innings of work. He was chased after giving up a two-run homer to Alexei Ramirez to put the White Sox up 5-4 in the fifth inning.

“The way we’ve pitched lately,” Francona said, “it was nice to see the hitters kind of pick us up a little bit.”

HOME: Tito’s bullpen army helped out, piecing together the final 5.1 innings and giving up just one run. Hey, they’re allowed to flinch every once in a while. With closer Cody Allen unavailable (Francona wanted to give him two days off in a row), Bryan Shaw handled the final 2.1 innings to seal the win. Among the five arms used was lefty Nick Hagadone, who continues to quietly be one of the best stories of Cleveland’s season. Over his past 20 appearances, Hags has turned in a 0.52 ERA, 0.58 WHIP and .138 opponents’ average, piling up 18 strikeouts against two walks in 17.1 innings along the way. The left-hander has a 1.37 ERA in 25 outings overall this year.

On deck:

Indians (67-63) at White Sox (59-72)
at 8:10 p.m. ET Wednesday at U.S. Cellular Field

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 129

824BauerFinal: Indians 3, Astros 1

FIRST: Cleveland claimed its third series in a row and has now won or split seven of its past eight sets. The Indians have won nine of 13 and continue to hang within earshot of the American League playoff picture.

What has been driving it of late? The rotation.

“It’s been unbelievable,” Indians starter Trevor Bauer said. “Every day, you run a new guy out there and have this feeling that he’s going to post a really good start and we’re going to win the game. It’s nice to have that confidence as a team.”

On Sunday, it was Bauer who grabbed the torch and carried it through another outing for the Tribe.

Over the recent 13-game stretch, Cleveland’s starting staff — three starts apiece for Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Bauer; two for Danny Salazar; and one each for T.J. House and Josh Tomlin — has logged a 1.71 ERA, .176 opponents’ average and 0.90 WHIP. Across 79 combined innings, that group has surrendered 15 earned runs and piled up 87 strikeouts against 22 walks.

“We haven’t been scoring a ton of runs,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “And we’ve won a couple series in a row because of [our pitching].  The hope is the pitching stays strong, we start scoring a few more runs and we stretch a couple of games out. We have our work cut out for us, but if we pitch like that, we’ll give ourselves a chance.”

SECOND: Bauer logged one of his best outings of the season, lasting one batter into the seventh inning, blanking Houston’s bats and ending with 115 pitches, 73 strikes, nine strikeouts, four hits, three walks, one hit batsmen and a partridge in a pear tree. Those first-inning troubles that have been so well-d0cumented? Non-existent.

Well, OK, let’s be fair. Bauer escaped the first inning on only 12 pitches, but he did give up a single and stolen base to Jose Altuve, and right fielder Tyler Holt rescued the frame with a diving catch to rob Marc Krauss of a hit. That said, Bauer was more aggressive with his fastball out of the gates, which is something pitching coach Mickey Callaway hoped to see from the young righty.

Here’s what Callaway said on Wednesday in Minnesota: ” What we talked about …. was make a little bit different of an approach, as far as the way he’s attacking hitters early in the game. Get more on the plate. Don’t try to be so fine. Setting up more on the plate with the catcher and letting his stuff play a little bit better.”

Bauer throws so many pitches that it sometimes takes him a little bit of time to figure out which ones he has the best feel for on any given day. That can lead to some feeling-out in the early innings. That said, Callaway hoped to see the pitcher leave a few pitches in his back pocket early on, establishing his fastball before beginning to mix in everything and the kitchen sink.

In the first inning Sunday, Bauer threw 10 of 12 pitches for fastballs and eight of 12 for strikes.

“I had a pretty good feel for my fastball early, so I used it,” Bauer said. “That’s kind of my mindset going into every game. Find what I have a feel for and use it. Sometimes I pick the wrong pitch, or I don’t know what I have a feel for yet, so I have to throw a couple different pitch types to find out what I do have a feel for. I had a feel for my fastball and my cutter early and it worked out.”

In his previous start, Bauer threw 15 fastballs within his first 23 pitches (only 12 strikes) and allowed five runs during that five-batter stretch. Since then, though, the righty has given up no runs and held hitters to a .114 (4-for-35) showing.

THIRD: Holt made not just one, but two potential run-saving catches for Bauer on Sunday. As mentioned, he made a diving catch to steal a hit away from Krauss with two outs and a runner on second in the first. Then, in the sixth, Holt ran in hard and to his left, dove and once again stole a hit from Krauss with no outs and a runner on first.

“The first one, [center fielder Michael] Bourn pulled me a little bit towards him,” Holt said. “It was an easier catch straight on. The other one was more difficult, where it was slicing away. Bourn was backing me up. I don’t know if he thought I would catch it or not.”

Francona was impressed.

“He played a really good right field,” said the manager. “Everybody sees the dives, but the jumps to get to the point where he could dive was impressive. He works hard. That’s the one position he’s probably played the least, but his jumps are really good.”

Bauer quipped: “I kind of felt bad for Marc.”

Did Holt?

“Not at all,” he said with a laugh.

HOME: After trading veteran shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera to the Nationals on July 31, the Indians made it clear that they wanted to take a good look at youngster Jose Ramirez as a starter. After hitting .182 (8-for-44) in his first 15 games for Cleveland this season, Ramirez has hit at a .306 (19-for-62) clip in 19 games since the trade with Washington.

“He’s starting to play with a little confidence,” Francona said. “You can see that in his body language. He got a couple of hits today and he’s pretty excited. That was the kid we saw last year when he got called up. He plays such good shortstop. He’s all over the place at shortstop. When he’s hitting second, he can get a bunt down. He’s getting some hits now. That’s a real help for us.”

Ramirez did make one blunder on Sunday, getting thrown out at the plate to end the third inning. A pitch in the dirt did not get too far away from catcher Carlos Corporan, Ramirez misread the situation and was a dead duck as he tried to score. No matter, Ramirez ended the afternoon with three hits, including a double off the wall in left in the third and an RBI single in the seventh.

Ramirez hit .538 (7-for-13) in the three-game set with Houston, has hit .405 (15-for-37) over his past 10 games and has a .432 (16-or-37) average as Cleveland’s No. 2 hitter.

“He’s coming up big,” Holt said. “Every time I go down to the video room he is watching his hits. His confidence is up there. He’s having great at bats and keeping us in the game.”

Today’s links…

On deck:

Indians (66-63) at White Sox (59-71)
at 8:10 p.m. ET Tuesday at U.S. Cellular Field

–JB

Month in review: July

asdrubaltrade copy

Change was in the air for Cleveland in July.

The team’s position in the standings, combined with the below-average seasons and contract situations of starter Justin Masterson and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, led to a pair of trades at the Deadline. Masterson was sent packing to St. Louis for outfield prospect James Ramsey. Cabrera (shown in the Progressive Field tunnel in the above photo from Brian Dulik of the Chronicle-Telegram) was dealt to D.C. for infield prospect Zach Walters.

Behind near-All-Star Corey Kluber (he fell short in the Final Vote) and rookie Trevor Bauer, the rotation turned into a fluid group of five. Center fielder Michael Bourn hit the shelf again with a left hamstring injury, the Tribe traded for outfielder Chris Dickerson to help out and Michael Brantley made his first All-Star team and shifted to center. Carlos Santana continued his mid-summer surge. Nick Swisher continued to slump.

Through the ups and downs, the Indians turned in a winning month. The offense — despite its own peaks and valleys — was one of the American League’s best groups for July. Kluber continued to assert himself as an ace-in-the-making, going undefeated, flirting with perfection and delivering historical footnotes with every step.

Kluber’s stellar season aside, what has held the Indians back to this point has been their starting staff. For the month of July, Kluber went 4-0 with a 1.54 ERA and 0.68 in 41 innings. The rest of the rotation (a mix of six other arms) went a combined 5-7 with a 5.35 ERA and 1.58 WHIP in 111 innings.

Meanwhile, the Tigers went out and traded for ace lefty David Price to bolster their already strong staff.

Inside the Indians’ clubhouse, the players did what they could to shrug off the lack of Major League additions made by the Tribe at this year’s Deadline.

“You can look at it two ways,” Indians closer Cody Allen said. “You can look at it as, we have the pieces here that we feel like we can win with. We’re still right there within striking distance of that second Wild Card spot. We’ve got a lot of guys here that this organization is going to build itself around for the next few years and if you add a guy, it may push a guy out.

“So, the way I look at it is, we’ve got the pieces we need already here.”

We’ll see. There are two months left to put that theory to the test.

Here is a glance at the month that was for the Tribe…

AL Central standings heading into August:

1. Tigers 58-47 (–)
2. Royals 55-52 (4.0)
3. Indians 53-55 (6.5)
4. White Sox 53-56 (7.0)
5. Twins 48-59 (11.0)

Overall: 14-12
Record at home: 7-6
Record on road: 7-6

Offense (AL rank)

.269 AVG (4)
.328 OBP (6)
.425 SLG (2)
.754 OPS (2)
122 R (3)
247 H (2)
47 2B (5)
2 3B (12)
31 HR (2)
121 RBI (2)
17 SB (2)
78 BB (5)
196 K (t-8)
391 TB (1)

Notes: The Indians enjoyed an offensive renaissance in July, led by first baseman Carlos Santana, catcher Yan Gomes and outfielder Michael Brantley. The club ranked within the top three in the league in multiple categories and enjoyed its best July in a decade in terms off offensive output. The last Cleveland team to have at least 17 stolen bases, 31 homers, 122 runs and 391 total bases in July was the 2004 club. In-between the Indians only hit those marks in a single month in May 2007 and May 2013.

Pitching (AL rank)

14 wins (t-6)
3.44 ERA (6)
4.32 rot. ERA (12)
1.88 rel. ERA (3)
6 saves (t-8)
238.1 IP (2)
228 H (9)
96 R (6)
91 ER (t-7)
22 HR (8)
59 BB (3)
228 K (t-2)
.252 AVG (8)
1.20 WHIP (6)

Notes: Rotation issues aside, this was an historic month for the Tribe’s pitching staff as a whole. Cleveland hadn’t registered at least 228 strikeouts in July since 1964. This was the first time in team history for any month that the Indians had at least 200 strikeouts and fewer than 60 walks. In fact, the list of teams ever to achieve at least 220 strikeouts and fewer than 60 walks in a single month is a short one: Indians (July 2014), Angels (July 2014), Dodgers (June 2013), Phillies (August 2010), D-backs (August 2008 and August 2001).

Player of the Month: 1B Carlos Santana
Stats: .313/.407/.615/1.022, 8 HR, 13 XBH, 20 RBI, 15 R, 15 BB, 26 games

Notes: Santana continued his season turnaround in July, becoming the first Indians batter to turn in a .300/.400/.600 slash with at least eight homers, 15 walks and 20 RBIs in a single month since Travis Hafner did so in August 2006. The last switch hitter to achieve that feat in the Majors was Chase Headley in Sept/Oct 2012. The last switch hitter have that slash line with at least 15 walks in a month was Roberto Alomar, who enjoyed that type of showing in June 2001 and July 1999.

Previous ’14 winners: OF David Murphy (April), OF Michael Brantley (May), 3B Lonnie Chisenhall (June)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Corey Kluber
Stats: 4-0, 1.54 ERA, 41 IP, 43 K, 4 BB, .169 AVG, 0.68 WHIP, 5 starts

Notes: Only 33 times in the past 100 seasons has a pitcher enjoyed a month with at least 40 innings, and ERA, WHIP and opponents’ average marks as good or better than Kluber did in July. The last five such occurrences before Kluber were Clayton Kershaw (June 2014 and July 2013), R.A. Dickey (June 2012), Felix Hernandez (August 2012) and Cliff Lee (June 2011). The last and only other Cleveland pitcher to have no losses, 40-plus innings, a 1.54 ERA or better and no more than four walks in a month was Eddie Fisher in August 1968. That’s only been accomplished 16 times in the past 100 seasons in the Majors. The last four on that list include: Kershaw (June 2014), Esteban Loaiza (August 2006), Mike Mussina (Sept/Oct 2001) and some guy named Greg Maddux (June 1998).

Previous ’14 winners: RHP Zach McAllister (April), Kluber (May, June)

Reliever of the Month: RHP Cody Allen
Stats: 0.00 ERA, 11 IP, 16 K, 3 BB, .179 AVG, 0.91 WHIP, 6 saves, 12 games

Notes: Allen became the first pitcher in Indians history to allow no runs, record multiple saves and appear in at least 12 games in one month for the club. If you remove the save element, the only others to have 12 scoreless outings in a single month are Bryan Shaw (September 2013), Vinnie Pestano (July 2012), Scott Sauerbeck (August 2005), Matt Miller (August 2004) and Paul Assenmacher (May 1998 and July 1997). This marked the 28th time in the past 100 seasons that a Major League pitcher gave up no runs with at least six saves, 12 appearances and 16 strikeouts. Recent names on that list also include Francisco Rodriguez (April 2014), Craig Kimbrel (August 2013 and Sept/Oct 2012) and Fernando Rodney (Sept/Oct 2012).

Previous ’14 winners: RHP Bryan Shaw (April, May), Allen (June)

Game of the Month (hitter): 1B Carlos Santana
July 27 at Royals: 3-for-3, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 2 R, 1 BB, 1 HBP

Notes: With his two blasts, Santana equaled a franchise record with five home runs in a single series, joining Travis Hafner (2004), Matt Williams (1997), Albert Belle (1995), Joe Carter (1989) and Hal Trosky (1934) on that short list. Santana also became the first Cleveland batter to have at least one walk, one homer and two extra-base hits in three straight games since Elmer Smith in 1921.

Game of the Month (pitcher): RHP Corey Kluber
July 30 vs. Mariners: 9 IP, 3 H, 0 R/ER, 0 BB, 8 K, 85 (69), 89 game score

Notes: Kluber became one of seven Indians pitchers to record a “Maddux” (a nine-inning shutout with fewer than 100 pitches) since 1988, when MLB first began tracking pitch counts. He was the first to achieve the feat since Cliff Lee on June 14, 2009. The others are Greg Swindell (1988), Charlie Nagy (1992), Bartolo Colon (1998 and 2002) and Paul Byrd (2007). Kluber’s 85 pitches were the fewest in that group. Kluber also became the first pitcher in Major League history to face 28 batters or fewer in back-to-back starts of at least nine innings. The righty also set a single-season franchise record with his 10th start consisting of at least eight strikeouts and no more than one walk issued. CC Sabathia had nine such outings in 2007. Kluber is the first Indians pitcher to have back-to-back outings with no walks, no earned runs and at least nine innings since Dick Donovan in 1963. The last American League pitcher to accomplish that feat was Rob Guidry in 1977. The last pitcher in the Majors to do so was Maddux in 2000. The MLB record is three such outings in a row, a record shared by Randy Jones (1980), Allie Reynolds (1951) and Pete Alexander (1916).

———————————————————————————–

Minor League standouts for July

Triple-A Columbus

Player of the Month: 3B Giovanny Urshela
Stats: .321/.398/.526/.923, 2 HR, 11 XBH, 16 RBI, 15 R, 24 games

Previous ’14 winners: 1B Jesus Aguilar (April), OF Matt Carson (May), C Roberto Perez (June)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Tyler Cloyd
Stats: 3-1, 2.63 ERA, 41 IP, 24 K, 6 BB, .255 AVG, 1.12 WHIP, 6 starts

Previous ’14 winners: RHP Trevor Bauer (April), LHP Nick Hagadone (May), RHP Austin Adams (June)

Double-A Akron

Player of the Month: OF Anthony Gallas
Stats: .269/.347/.546/.893, 7 HR, 15 XBH, 20 RBI, 18 R, 13 BB, 29 games

Previous ’14 winners: 3B Giovanny Urshela (April), OF Tyler Naquin (May, June)

Pitcher of the Month: LHP Giovanni Soto
Stats: 0.61 ERA, 14.2 IP, 8 K, 1 BB, .125 AVG, 0.48 WHIP, 9 games

Previous ’14 winners: LHP Kyle Crockett (April), RHP Tyler Sturdevant (May), RHP Bryan Price (June)

Class A (high) Carolina

Player of the Month: INF Yhoxian Medina
Stats: .379/.434/.505/.939, 10 XBH, 13 RBI, 20 R, 10 BB, 6 SB, 24 games

Previous ’14 winners: SS Erik Gonzalez (April), OF Anthony Gallas (May), OF Luigi Rodriguez (June)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Jacob Lee
Stats: 0.00 ERA, 16.1 IP, 16 K, 5 BB, .186 AVG, 0.98 WHIP, 10 games

Previous ’14 winners: LHP Ryan Merritt (April, May, June)

Class A (low) Lake County

Player of the Month: OF Clint Frazier
Stats: .309/.414/.543/.957, 6 HR, 9 XBH, 13 RBI, 20 R, 15 BB, 25 games

Previous ’14 winners: OF Cody Farrell (April), INF Paul Hendrix (May), INF Claudio Bautista

Pitcher of the Month: LHP Wander Beras
Stats: 1.62 ERA, 16.2 IP, 18 K, 5 BB, .158 AVG, 0.84 WHIP, 7 games

Previous ’14 winners: RHP Jordan Milbrath (April), RHP Robbie Aviles (May), RHP Ben Heller

Class A (short season) Mahoning Valley

Player of the Month: OF Bradley Zimmer
Stats: .287/.365/.446/.811, 2 HR, 11 XBH, 16 RBI, 20 R, 11 BB, 5 SB, 26 games

Previous ’14 winners: OF Jorge Martinez (June)

Pitcher of the Month: LHP Sean Brady
Stats: 1-1, 1.69 ERA, 32 IP, 22 K, 13 BB, .207 AVG, 1.16 WHIP, 6 starts

Previous ’14 winners: RHP Justin Garcia (June)

Arizona (Rookie) League

Player of the Month: 1B Bobby Bradley
Stats: .379/.460/.644/1.104, 4 HR, 14 XBH, 27 RBI, 18 R, 11 BB, 21 games

Previous ’14 winners: 1B Emmanuel Tapia (June)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Cortland Cox
Stats: 0.00 ERA, 10 IP, 12 K, 1 BB, .152 AVG, 0.60 WHIP, 1 save, 9 games

Previous ’14 winners: LHP Thomas Pannone (June)

Dominican Summer League

Player of the Month: OF Gabriel Mejia
Stats: .347/.463/.396/.859, 4 XBH, 4 RBI, 28 R, 22 BB, 26 SB, 26 games

Previous ’14 winners: Mejia (June)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Luis Jimenez
Stats: 1-1, 0.75 ERA, 24 IP, 20 K, 5 BB, .163 AVG, 0.75 WHIP, 5 starts

Previous ’14 winners: RHP  Cesar Ventura (June)

———————————

Month in review: April
Month in review: May
Month in review: June

–JB

Indians made right move with Masterson

MastersonSelfishly, I didn’t want Masterson to get traded. I wanted the Indians to sign him to a long-term contract and give him whatever kind of money that required. That’s selfishly, as a reporter, because Masterson was as good as it gets in that regard.

Good or bad, he’d put on a smile, always have a quip readied and never turned down an interview or a casual chat. Whether we were talking about his outings, his pitching mechanics, his charitable endeavors, his wife’s cookie business or about people helping people, Masterson was a joy to cover for media members.

I wish nothing but the best for Masterson, but the Indians made the right decision by trading him to the Cardinals for Double-A outfielder James Ramsey on Wednesday afternoon. This was a business decision and it was the right one and, really, it wasn’t a move that screamed “seller” if you take the time to examine it.

What the trade signifies is that Cleveland — rightly so — already made the determination that it was not going to extend Masterson a Qualifying Offer this coming offseason. That price tag was $14.1 million last winter and will probably jump to in the neighborhood of $15 million this coming winter.

The Indians have two reasons for not extending such an offer. First, Masterson’s performance simply isn’t worth that type of salary. Second, there’s a risk that Masterson accepts the deal to use 2015 as another chance to net a larger, long-term deal in the following offseason. Cleveland surely doesn’t want to risk the latter, because the point of extending the qualifying offer is to gain Draft pick compensation for the player leaving via free agency.

So, once the Indians determine that a QO simply won’t be a part of the equation in the offseason, they’re essentially accepting that Masterson would have the ability to leave without the organization receiving any type of compensation. That makes a trade right now a sensible move, because Cleveland completes a one-for-one rather than a one-for-none, and there is a reduction in risk by taking a high-level Minor League prospect instead of rolling the dice on a high-round Draft pick.

On the surface, this looks like a white flag move. Masterson is, after all, the No. 1 starter, or at least he was when the gates opened for the 2014 season. He helped chew up innings over the past several years and helped the Tribe to the postseason a year ago. He was an All-Star. He’s not a Cy Young winner, but certain Cleveland fans might see this as another move to shed salary and plan for next year. Take a look at where Masterson currently fits in the rotation. Is this really a white flag?

Corey Kluber has clearly unseated Masterson as Cleveland’s No. 1 starter. Righty Trevor Bauer is arguably the No. 2 on the staff at the moment. Would you slot in Masterson as the third arm right now? I’m not sure I would. Unfortunately for the Indians, Masterson, Zach McAllister, Josh Tomlin, Danny Salazar and T.J. House have almost become interchangeable in terms of reliability and value.

So, you’ve got a group of arms under control who are giving you the same level of performance (or better) than Masterson, who is a free agent at year’s end, unlikely to net the team compensation on the open market and currently coming back from a knee injury. Dealing him right now doesn’t upset the rotation. It was already operating without him for much of the past month, and keeping Cleveland on the edge of the postseason discussion.

jramsey13toppsherminorsAccording to Fangraphs.com’s WAR, Masterson ranked third among Indians rotation members this year with a 0.9 rating. Bauer (1.0), McAllister (0.8), Tomlin (0.8) and Salazar (0.7) are all right in the same range and each have fewer innings than the big fella this season. According to Fangraphs’ monetary value calculation, Masterson has been worth $4.9 million to date this season. Cleveland’s already paid him roughly $6.5 million, while St. Louis will be on the hook for the near $3.2 million that remains on his contract for 2014.

We all know what Masterson can do — it was evident in his strong showing last year — but let’s take a look at what he’s done. Among the 134 starters with at least 75 innings pitched this season, entering Wednesday, he ranked 133rd in WHIP (1.65), opponents’ OBP (.386) and walks per nine innings (5.14). His 68 ERA+ was tied for the third-lowest in that group and his 5.51 ERA was the fifth-highest.

And what did the Indians get in return for Masterson? As one evaluator told me, it was “essentially for Tyler Naquin.”

Naquin is the 23-year-old, left-handed-hitting outfielder that Cleveland took in the first round (15th overall) in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. Ramsey is 24, he hits left-handed and St. Louis grabbed him in the first round (23rd overall) of the 2012 Draft, too. Both players have three professional seasons under their belt and they have nearly the same amount of plate appearances (Naquin has 1,085 to Ramsey’s 1,024).

It’s a good comparison, too. Here’s a look at what Naquin and Ramsey have done:

Naquin
2012-14 slash: .283/.353/.408/.760 (238 games)
2012-14 stats: 14 HR, 53 2B, 13 3B, 91 RBI, 33 SB, 154 R, 92 K, 231 BB

2014 slash at AA: .313/.371/.424/.795 (76 games)
2014 stats at AA: 4 HR, 12 2B, 5 3B, 30 RBI, 14 SB, 54 R, 29 BB, 71 K

Ramsey
2012-14 slash: .266/.368/.434/.802 (235 games)
2012-14 stats: 30 HR, 39 2B, 8 3B, 101 RBI, 23 SB, 161 R, 129 BB, 246 K

2014 slash: .300/.389/.527/.916 (67 games)
2014 stats: 13 HR, 14 2B, 1 3B, 36 RBI, 4 SB, 47 R, 31 BB, 66 K

Immediately, you can see that Ramsey has a little more power, but Naquin offers more in the speed department. Ramsey will join Triple-A Columbus on Thursday, getting his first extended look at that level. He played one game at Triple-A in the Cards’ system last year. Naquin, meanwhile, has been out since having surgery on his right hand earlier this month.

It’s certainly plausible that Naquin becomes trade bait, considering the wealth of lefty-hitting outfielders in Cleveland’s system right now. The Indians have shown interest in Red Sox veteran John Lackey, for example. The Indians are trying to balance a mix of buying and selling with an eye on the rest of this season and beyond. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera (earning $10 million and eligible for free agency at season’s end) is in a similar boat as Masterson, so don’t be surprised if Cleveland tries to complete a similarly-structured deal.

For now, in examining the Masterson trade, this was a good deal from where Cleveland sits. The best-case scenario would’ve been a dynamic season from the sinkerballer, worthy of a long-term deal or, at the very least, a Qualifying Offer. That did not come to fruition, so the Indians made the right move.

–JB

Covering the Bases: July 18-20

TomlinHere are four takeaways following the Indians’ series win over the Tigers this weekend. Cleveland dropped Sunday’s finale, 5-1, but claimed three out of four games, including the Tribe’s first doubleheader sweep in Detroit since 1966.

FIRST: Quick, give me your Indians rotation in order from top to bottom. As we sit here today, I’d list Corey Kluber first, followed by Trevor Bauer and then a couple coin flips.

Kluber and Bauer, pray for a rain shower?

Rookie lefty T.J House is arguably Cleveland’s third-most reliable starter at the moment. I think there is no doubt that the Indians will be targeting a top-tier arm as the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches. The rotation has simply been too volatile to this point for a club hoping to contend.

In Sunday’s loss to the Tigers, right-hander Josh Tomlin exited after 4.1 middling innings. He wasn’t awful, but he wasn’t that good. Tomlin assessed the outing himself as “not sharp” and was kicking himself over a couple mistakes that were magnified due to a lack of run support. Really, though, this was a continued downward trend for Tomlin.

Tomlin flashed his potential — and his peak — during the June 28 near-perfecto in Seattle. That said, in five of his past six outings (the exception being the brilliant shutout against the Mariners, the righty has given up at least four runs, posting a 7.86 ERA in 26.1 innings in that sample. He’s allowed as many hits as the number on his back (43) in that span with seven homers surrendered.

Home runs have always been a part of Tomlin’s career due to the fact that he pounds the strike zone, sometimes, to a fault. His rate of 1.5 homers per nine innings in 2014 is only a touch above his 1.4 career rate. This season, though, he’s allowed 1.8 runs on average per home run. In 2012, when Tomlin struggled and eventually needed elbow surgery, he averaged 1.9 runs per home run allowed. In his best season in 2011, Tomlin’s 24 homers yielded netted only 34 runs (or 1.4 runs per long ball).

“It’s limiting the guys that get on base,” Tomlin said. “It’s the two-run, three-run shots that really irritate me. Home runs in general irritate me, don’t get me wrong, but me being around the plate as much as I am, that stuff’s going to happen every now and then. I still have to do a better job of limiting those home runs. I think I’m averaging a home run a game and that’s not OK. That’s not right.”

This brings us back to the current state of the rotation. Here is what we know in terms of who will start in the coming days:

Monday at Twins: House will be recalled from Minors
Tuesday at Twins: Danny Salazar will be recalled from Minors
Wednesday at Twins: Bauer on normal rest
Thursday at Twins: Kluber on normal rest
Friday at Royals: Zach McAllister (recalled from Minors) or Justin Masterson (activated from DL)
Saturday at Royals: House, Tomlin, McAllister, Masterson are options
Sunday at Royals: House, Tomlin, Salazar, McAllister, Masterson are options
Monday: Off-day

Masterson is scheduled to do a Minor League rehab start for Triple-A Columbus on Sunday night. Following that outing, when Cleveland makes its Friday starter known, things will be more clear for Saturday and/or Sunday. What is apparent is that the Indians have multiple directions they could go next weekend. They could option someone back down, give a guy extra rest, take their time with Masterson, keep House or McAllister going on regular rest in the Minors, etc;

“We’re really not sure who might be our five all the time,” Francona said before Sunday’s game. “But I don’t think we don’t feel like we can win with whoever is pitching. … I know [players] don’t like coming up and going down, but it makes our roster bigger and it helps us.”

Kluber is the clear-cut No. 1 on this staff right now. In his last outing, he pitched into the ninth and racked up his fourth start of the season with at least 10 strikeouts and no more than one walk (tying a single-season club record for such starts). Over his last five, Kluber has a 1.96 ERA with 38 strikeouts and six walks in 36.2 IP. Since the start of May, he’s 8-3 with a 2.53 ERA in 103.1 IP.

Bauer has been a pleasant surprise, looking like the Tribe’s second-best starter at the moment. The young righty has a 3.13 ERA in his last five starts across 31.2 IP. House has turned in a 3.57 ERA in his last four starts after having a 5.48 ERA in his first four starts this season. McAllister has turned in a 2.92 ERA in 12.1 IP in his last two turns, following a six-start stretch in which he went 0-4 with a 9.51 ERA. Salazar hasn’t pitched for the Indians since going 1-4 with a 5.53 ERA in his first eight starts of the season.

In the Detroit series, Bauer, Kluber and McAllister (up from Triple-A for one game) all performed admirably in guiding the Tribe to three wins.

A year ago, Cleveland went with a six-man rotation for stretches over the final two months and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a similar approach this time around. If the Indians do not add a front-line starter — even if they do — the club has a few options it can cycle in and out of the rotation to help with the depth. The biggest key will be finding a way to get Masterson (an All-Star a year ago) back on track and eating innings.

SECOND: The Indians have had a habit this season of saving their offense until late in the game. Heading into Sunday’s game, Cleveland ranked first in the Major Leagues with a .410 slugging percentage and .728 OPS in Innings 7-9. That trend was present throughout the series in Detroit.

On Sunday, the Tribe’s lone run came courtesy of a seventh-inning home run from catcher Yan Gomes. In the four games combined, Cleveland hit .377 (20-for-53) with four home runs, seven doubles and 16 runs scored in Innings 7-9. In Innings 1-6, the Indians hit a combined .214 (18-for-84) with two homers, three doubles and five runs scored.

THIRD: There were a few offensive positives throughout the series. All-Star Michael Brantley had a four-hit game on Friday night and seven hits in the series. Chris Dickerson belted two homers off Max Scherzer in Game 2 on Saturday. Nick Swisher had four RBIs in the series and Carlos Santana delivered a critical three-run double Saturday night. Ryan Raburn came up with a key hit in the seven-run seventh on Friday.

Perhaps the most encouraging development, though, was the continued turnaround from second baseman Jason Kipnis. He finished 5-for-15 in the four games with two homers (in consecutive at-bats Friday night after a homerless drought of 218 plate appearances), three runs, four walks and six RBIs. In July, Kipnis has hit at a .303 clip through 66 at-bats across 16 games.

HOME: The biggest takeaway from this series is the fact that the American League Central is still within reach for the Indians. By taking three of four, Cleveland pulled within 5.5 games of Detroit in the standings. That’s still a big gap, and Kansas City is right on the Tribe’s heels, but the Indians are hardly out of this thing. Cleveland needs more from some key players on offense and the team certainly needs to shore up the shaky state of its starting staff. If the Tribe can do that, September could be fun for Indians fans.

For us, we feel good about where we are right now, especially coming out of this set,” Swisher said. “Coming into this road trip right after the break, this is a huge road trip. It’s kind of crazy to say that games mean a lot here in July, but this road trip for us is crucial. … You’re playing all division guys. On a road trip like this, we have to play well.

“We did a great job here. It’s a good start for us in the right direction. We want to just continue to keep that going.”

On deck:

Indians (50-48) at Twins (44-53)
at 8:10 p.m. ET Monday at Target Field

NOTE: I will not be making the trip to Minnesota. Continue to check Indians.com for updates and give a follow to @Indians on Twitter. I will pick up the coverage in Kansas City for the four-game series later this week, beginning Thursday.

–JB

Antonetti: “We’re exploring all avenues to improve.”

Chris AntonettiIndians general manager Chris Antonetti pinch-hit for manager Terry Francona for Sunday’s morning media session. With the arrival of the All-Star break on Monday, Antonetti used the 25-minute Q&A with reporters to discuss a wide variety of topics surrounding the ballclub at the season’s midpoint. Here is the full transcript from the sit-down with the Tribe’s GM.

Q: What can you tell us about the lefty you traded for on Saturday?

CA: Nick Maronde is a big, physical left-handed pitcher that we’ve liked for quite a while. Recently, he’s had some trouble throwing strikes, but we think that there’s significant upside there and a guy worth taking a chance on. We’re in the process of working with him to put a plan in place and get him back to the guy he was a couple years ago. At one point, I think he was the second-rated prospect in their organization from Baseball America and a couple years ago was a guy we tried to trade for.

Q: Will Maronde go to Triple-A?

CA: We’re still working through that. Some of it will be dependent upon his plan.

Q: Did he have any injuries?

CA: Very minor injuries. Nothing major. More delivery-related. They aren’t big misses. They’re more small misses around the zone. He has a history, when his delivery was in a good spot, of actually throwing strikes and throwing the ball over the plate. We’ll work with him to get him back there.

Q: Are you still in an in-between mode as you approach the deadline, wanting to see which way the team’s going to head?

CA: We’re exploring a lot of different things, opportunities to improve our team for the balance of this season and then position us better moving forward, too. We’ve spent a lot of energy on fits for acquiring guys that we’d have control over beyond this year, not just guys that would just be here for the balance of the year.

Q: How far are Justin Masterson and Michael Bourn from returning?

CA: Justin is well ahead of Michael. We would expect Justin to be back sooner. It could be within a week after the break. A lot of it will depend on how his throwing goes as he ramps it up.

Q: Is it a mental break for Masterson, too?

CA: A little bit. I think what we’d like Justin to do is get to a point where he feels 100-percent healthy so he can get back to executing his delivery the way he was last year and not have anything lingering that could negatively affect that. He’s made progress on that with [pitching coach Mickey Callaway] already. He’s feeling good physical. He has thrown a couple of bullpens and the early results have been really encouraging.

Q: Did you see any warning signs in the spring?

CA: It’s hard in Spring Training, because no player is in mid-season form. That’s part of the reason it’s there, is to get guys build up and ready for the season. You have to be cautious, especially with guys who have had long track records of making any type of evaluations in Spring Training, but when you look back at it retrospectively, you can point to things and say, ‘Oh, there was this, there was that.’ At the time, there was nothing that was that glaring.

Q: Will he go on rehab starts before he returns?

CA: Potentially. He may have to go on one rehab start. We’re in the process of working through that.

Q: Is Bourn’s hamstring a concern?

CA: It’s a concern in the fact that he’s had two injuries to the same hamstring. In talking to our medical staff, they aren’t necessarily interrelated. At the time he had his hamstring issue last year, we walked through whether that predisposes him to future hamstring issues and everybody concurred that it doesn’t. Obviously, he’s had another one and we now need to manage it and figure out what some of the underlying causes are, if any.

Q: Will you be slower with bringing him back?

CA: When Michael has had injuries, especially to his legs, we’ve tried to make sure he gets back as close to 100-percent as possible, because his legs are such an important part of his game. I would anticipate we’ll take a similar approach this time. We’ll want to make sure he’s strong and ready to not only come back, but contribute at the level he’s capable of.

Q: Before the latest setback, did you think he had moved past the injury?

CA: That was the tough part, in talking to Michael. The days preceding this injury were the best he’s felt really since the beginning of last year with his lower body. He was starting to feel like he had that explosiveness back and his legs were completely normal. And then, unfortunately, he had another setback.

Q: Do you have a ballpark estimate on when he could return?

CA: Nothing has changed from the initial assessment, so it’s about the same. We won’t really know until he aggressively ramps up activity. We don’t expect it to be much less than the four weeks that was initially talked about.

Q: What will the rotation be coming out of the break?

CA: We have a sense of it. The first two will be: Trevor will start on Friday and Kluber will start the first game of the double header. After that, we’re not quite ready to disclose yet.

Q: How would you assess the rotation?

CA: It’s still in flux a little bit. We feel we have a good, talented group of guys who are capable of excelling at the major league level. We just need to get a little more consistency out of them. Individually, we’ve seen a lot of progress from a lot of the guys. The first half that Corey [Kluber] had was an All-Star caliber first half. Trevor [Bauer] has made strides. T.J. House came up and contributed. [Saturday] was an encouraging start for Zach [McAllister]. We need to get Masty back on track.

Q: Is the rotation something you’re looking to address through trades?

CA: Potentially. We’re exploring all avenues to improve. The one thing we continue to believe is we have quality major league starting pitchers. Anytime you acquire a guy, you have to think about who it displaces from the team and the rotation, in that case. You have to have a high degree of confidence that it’s an improvement.

Q: What would you like to see in the second half?

CA: Consistency, overall. First and foremost, with our defense. That’s been our one area that has been most challenging for us in the first half. If you were to ask anyone in the clubhouse, that’s the area we feel we have the most opportunity to improve, because we feel we’re a better defensive team than we’ve [shown].

Q: Is that the hardest one to explain?

CA: It is. It’s not for a lack of work. You guys are out there and you see guys taking ground balls and working at it. Guys that have been good defenders in the past, too.

Q: What did you see from Chris Dickerson that made you want to acquire him?

CA: He’s a left-handed hitter with some success against right-handed pitching. A versatile outfielder who can play all three [positions], so he was a guy we felt could complement our team well, especially once we lost Michael [Bourn].

Q: Have you had your eye on him for a while?

CA: We talked about him as a free agent this winter. Ultimately, the way things came together, we didn’t have those at-bats to commit to him in Triple-A or as a major league opportunity, because the way our outfield was set up, we already had three left-handed-hitting outfielders that were going to get a lot of at-bats, with [Bourn], [Brantley] and [David] Murphy. But we had interest in him. We didn’t have the right fit at the right time.

Q: Is there anything new with Nyjer [Morgan] and his timeline?

CA: He got a second opinion last week. We’re still in the process of gathering information from that. All accounts are that they concur with the opinion of our medical personnel. It’s going to be a while. Whether that ends up being at some point in August or September or the end of the season, we really don’t know yet.

Q: So, longer than initially projected?

CA: Probably. The recovery from his knee has been a little bit on the slower end of what was expected, but we don’t have a clear timetable at this point.

Q: What have your impressions been of Brantley?

CA: He’s been really inconsistent. He hasn’t been very good in the first half. Nothing good to say about him. No, it’s been really fun to watch Michael’s continued development. It’s not an accident he’s having the success he’s having. The work he puts in every day to improve himself as a player, it’s evident to all of us who get to watch it. It’s fun to see all the work you put in pay off on the field, in terms of performance. He’s remarkably consistent in everything he does. His at-bats, every time up, he gives a quality at-bat, whether it ends up as a good result or not, it’s a quality at-bat. He takes great pride in preparing and playing left field as well as he does. His arm has been a weapon and has continued to improve over the years. There’s really not a facet of the game where Michael hasn’t improved or an area where he doesn’t contribute. He does all the things you’re looking for in a player and a teammate and a person.

Q: How rewarding is it to lock up a guy to a long-term extension, and then he demonstrates why you committed to him?

CA: You’re always hopeful that’s the case. Different players react to it differently. Whether or not that’s had an impact on Michael, that’s probably a better question for him. But it’s been his continued maturation as a player. That’s why we felt comfortable making that investment, is because we believe so strongly in the person and his approach to things. He’s rewarded that by the effort he’s put in to continue to improve and not rest upon what he did in the past. It’s been fun to see how that’s translated this year and the results he’s showed.

Q: During the spring, you said wanted to distribute the quotes from his press conference to the Minor Leaguers. Did you guys follow through on that?

CA: Yeah, we did.

Q: What do you make of [Ryan] Raburn’s first half?

CA: He’s had a tough time getting it going so far. He was coming off a pretty good spring, where he was swinging the bat pretty well. Once the season started, he had a tough time getting back into the rhythm he was in last year. He’s another guy who works really hard. He’s in there with [both hitting coaches] every day trying to get his swing a little more consistent and translate that to success on the field.

Q: Speaking of maturation, what’s it been like to see Lonnie Chisenhall’s growth this year, especially with how he bought into his role early on?

CA: That process started probably last year. I remember a few conversations Tito had with Lonnie and talked about expectations and how Tito envisioned him contributing to the team. I think that process started last year, carried forward in the winter and then Lonnie came into Spring Training really on a mission. And that was to do everything he could in his power to prepare himself for success and then find some way to contribute to helping the team win the game that night. I think we’ve seen it not only with his at-bats, but if you watch him run the bases right now, he’s arguably one of our best baserunners. He may not be the fastest guy on the team, but he’s very attentive. He looks advanced on dirt balls, he runs first-to-third well. So, to see his continued evolution and development as a player has been really fun to see. Again, it’s not coincidentally. It’s because of the work that Lonnie’s put in to do that.

Q: Is Nick Swisher making good progress?

CA: He is. It looks like his at-bats have improved, I think, over the last few weeks. They’ve become a little bit more consistent. I think we’ve seen, even though he hasn’t always had results, he’s starting to use the whole field a little bit more. He’s had some hard outs to left field and left-center field, hitting left-handed, meaning he’s going the other way a little bit with authority, which has been encouraging to see. Hopefully, he’s heading in the right direction.

Q: Are his knees still a factor?

CA: They were earlier. I think they’re starting to feel better now. Hopefully, that trend continues.

Q: Was the move to put Jason Giambi on the 60-day DL on Saturday more based on being able to add a player to the 40-man roster?

CA: It was. It was to add Nick to the 40-man, but G’s not quite yet to the point where he’s ready to be activated. So, that was the move that made the most sense for us.

Q: Francisco Lindor was moved up to Double-A around the All-Star break last year. Would you consider a similar path this year with moving him up to Triple-A?

CA: It could. It’s something that we’re thinking through right now. I think our focus is trying to really understand and think through what the best developmental environment for Francisco, and there are a lot of things that go into that. A promotion to Triple-A could be something we consider in the second half.

Q: What have you thought of his steady development at each level?

CA: He has. Every step along the way, Francisco continues to get better. It’s especially impressive when you consider he’s always been and continues to be one of the youngest players at his level. That continues to be the case, but he’s a guy that, again, puts in the work and tries to get better in every facet of his game. Whether it’s hitting left-handed, hitting right-handed, his defensive play, on the bases, he’s constantly trying to get better and be the best in all those aspects of the game. He takes such great pride in being a good player.

Q: It sounds like Danny Salazar has been throwing better at Triple-A?

CA: He has. He’s in a much better spot now than he was earlier in the year. His delivery is much more consistent and in line with where it was in the second half. Now, what we’re trying to do is have him repeat those mechanics not only from outing to outing, but inning to inning and pitch to pitch. And, when he starts to veer off, make sure he has enough awareness to regain it quickly, rather than it taking 15, 20, 25 pitches or waiting until his side session after the game to try to address it. He’s made a lot of progress and we’re expecting him to be a big part in contributing in the second half.

Q: Did his fast rise last season possibly throw off his development?

CA: He’s still young and inexperienced. The start of this season was the first time he had any adversity since he came back from the injury. So, he had to work through things and he had to figure out, once things went off the path, how he and we could help him correct those more quickly. I think Danny’s learned a lot about himself going through this process. Hopefully, it’ll allow him to be more consistent moving forward.

Q: Jason Kipnis has been hitting better and stealing bases more lately, but is there a way to explain his drop-off in power production?

CA: It’s probably a better question for Kip. Obviously, he had the oblique injury earlier in the year, which may have affected things. But, I’m not sure that’s still an issue. I think for Kip, it’s just continuing to put the barrel on the ball. I think we’ve seen him do that more consistently over the last few weeks, and using the whole field. When Kip’s at his best, he’s the guy using the whole field and hitting a lot of balls into the left-center and right-center field gaps. I think we’re starting to see signs of him getting back to that point.

Q: Any thought of Carlos Carrasco moving back to rotation?

CA: I think that would be more dictated based upon the situation of our rotation and who our alternatives were there. But, we’ve been really pleased and encouraged by the progress Carlos has made in the bullpen. He’s excelled in that role. We continue to think that, if there was an opportunity to start and we had a need, he potentially could go and succeed in that role. But, right now, he’s played a meaningful role in the bullpen and that’s where we viewhis best fit at the moment.

Q: Why do you think he’s been so good as a reliever and struggled as a starter over the past two years?

CA: Again, it’s probably a better question for Carlos, because I think his stuff is the same. I think the thing we’ve tried to encourage with him is, ‘Have that same approach.’ When [he]s] in the bullpen, he kind of let’s it go, doesn’t have to worry about, ‘OK, how am I going to get this guy out three times or four times? I just need to get him out once.’ So, he he kind of has all-out intensity from the first pitch and he doesn’t have to worry about conserving anything. And I think as a starter, you have those four days to prepare and then, on your start day, you’re thinking not only, ‘OK, I need to get three outs or six outs, but I need to get 21 outs or 18 outs.’ That’s potentially a lot more challenging.

Q: If you make any additions from outside, is there one area of the team that really needs to improve?

CA: It’s actually one of the interesting challenges that we have. I think there are teams out there that have glaring holes at particular spots, that it’s clear, ‘Hey, go out and get a right fielder, or go out and get a third baseman, or a shortstop.’ I think with us, we’re in a little bit of a different position in that we’ve got guys in those roles that are capable of contributing. So, for us to improve, we need to improve upon a higher standard. And, in some cases, we’re counting on guys that we’ve already made commitments to rebounding. So, it’s a little bit of a different dynamic for us as we look to try to improve our roster.

Q: How do you feel about how Francona has handled the playing time and positions situation with Chisenhall, Swisher and Carlos Santana?

CA: He’s done an extraordinary job of managing the entirety of the roster — not just that component of it — because there have been a lot of different moving parts. At different times, we’ve had a lot of different transactions and player moves. It’s been incredible, the way he’s handled that. His primary focus, he’s always thinking about, ‘How do I put players in a position to be successful?’ He spends a lot of time thinking about that. He talks with his coaches about it and he talks with players themselves, too, so they have an understanding of what he expects of them and why he thinks this is the best direction to go.

Q: Given all the turnover in the offseason, has the bullpen been a pleasant surprise?

CA: Coming into the year we thought we had a lot of talent in the bullpen and had some depth there, not only because of the guys coming in externally, but some of the guys we had internally, both those at the Major League level and guys we felt were on the immediate horizon at Triple-A. So, it’s been good to see that group perform so well together. I don’t think you ever expect things to go perfectly as planned. You know there are going to be guys who exceed your expectations, guys that kind of meet your expectations and other guys that may fall short of that. When those guys fall short, that’s when you need to make some adjustments. We’ve been fortunate that we’ve got a group out there that’s really performed well.

Q: Do you think Santana has found a home at first base? It looks like the work he put into third base coming into this year has translated across the diamond. Is first where you see him going forward?

CA: I think that’s one of the great things about Carlos and why he’s so valuable. In addition to being a switch-hitter that can hit in the middle of the lineup, he’s more athletic than it may first appear or for a typical catcher. We think he’s capable of not only catching, but playing first base, third base. Shoot, if we had a need in the outfield, I wouldn’t rule out that he could go out there and play. But I do think we’ve seen the benefit of his work at third base translate into how it’s helped him as a defender at first. He’s actually played really well over there, an above-average first base.

Q: You’re still referring to him as a catcher?

CA: He’s very versatile. His most recent bulk of experience had been as a catcher coming into this year, so we wouldn’t rule that out.

Q: So, you don’t see his days as a catcher being over?

CA: We’re not making any sort of declarative decisions on that. I think with the way our roster is currently constituted, we obviously have a backup catcher here that’s going to fill that role. But, if circumstances change, we’d revisit things. He certainly has the skills to be a very good catcher and he’s demonstrated that over the last three or four years.

Q: Given what Roberto Perez went through last year, what have you thought of not only his comeback, but the season he’s had this year?

CA: Yeah, Roberto, when you think back a year ago and some of the things he was having to deal with that he tried to persevere through, the Bell’s palsy he had and not being able really to close his eye or sleep at night, he was trying to everything he could to manage it with his eyes. He perservered through that, continued to work, made some adjustments actually with his swing. Last year, he started those, continued those this spring with Ty and that’s led to a very productive first half. He’s always been an extraordinary defensive player. He’s a great receiver, good arm strength, quick release. Now, for him to continue to develop and evolve into a player we feel can also contribute offensively, it’s been one of the more exciting stories in the organization, and fulfilling, because of how hard Roberto’s worked at it.

Q: What did he change with his swing?

CA: It gets somewhat technical, but he’s tried to get into a more athletic position for him. His setup’s a little bit different. His hand position is a little bit different, but it’s freed him up to be a little bit more athletic and use the whole field.

Q: Did you consider placing him on the DL last year? Did he insist on playing?

CA: It was hard, because he was able to play through it, but Bell’s palsy, you just need time for it to get back and there’s no clear timeframe and there’s no way to really expedite it. Roberto had to let it run its course. We talked about it with him and he wanted to continue to try to play.

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 93

AdamsFinal: White Sox 6, Indians 2

FIRST: The Indians were trailing by one run in the ninth inning on Saturday. Due to hit for the White Sox were the Nos. 5-7 batters: Dayan Viciedo, Conor Gillaspie and Gordon Beckham. In Cleveland’s bullpen, rookie Austin Adams was awaiting his first taste of The Show.

It was at this crucial juncture that Tribe manager Terry Francona decided to hand the ball to the 27-year-old Adams, who was called up from Triple-A Columbus on Friday. The righty had dominated with the Clippers and Cleveland wanted to get a look at him before the All-Star break.

The decision to debut Adams backfired.

“What I didn’t want to do is let him go until next week without pitching,” Francona explained. “[Sunday] is our last game before the break and you’ve got to figure Cody [Allen] or [Bryan] Shaw are going to pitch. So, we had the bottom of the order and it was a clearn inning, and it didn’t work very well.”

Adams surrendered a leadoff single (Viciedo) before giving up back-to-back doubles to Gillaspie and Beckham. The right-hander then induced a groundout to Tyler Flowers before being pulled from the contest. Needless to say — with his parents, grandfather and girlfriend in the stands — this was not what Adams had in mind.

“First time, you get a taste of it,” Adams said. “The results weren’t there, but you can only go up from there.”

It’s easy to see why Adams, who was admittedly nervous, is prominent on Cleveland’s radar. The right-hander showed off a fastball that sat in the 96-98 mph range and also displayed an 86-mph slider. At Triple-A this year, he had a 2.29 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 35 strikeouts against eight walks in 39.1 innings. He missed all of 2012 after shoulder surgery, returned as a reliever, and has posted a 2.48 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 3.00 K:BB with 111 strikeouts in 94.1 innings over the ’13-14 campaigns.

Not to pile on the poor kid here, but it was the first time since Aug. 5, 2001, that an Indians reliever allowed at least three runs and three hits in his Major League debut. Mike Bacsik went six innings in that game, though. You have to go back to Sept. 20, 1946, to find that last Cleveland reliever (Ray Flanigan) who allowed at least three runs and three hits in his debut. For no more than one-third of an inning, you have to go all the way back to Sept. 21, 1922, when Doc Hamann’s name pops up. That said, Doc didn’t record an out.

“It was good to get the first out of my big-league career,” Adams said with a shrug. “It’s going to get better.”

SECOND: Today’s tip o’ the cap goes to Indians starter Zach McAllister, who gave his team seven solid innings. The big righty induced 13 outs via grounder, scattered four hits, allowed three runs and ended with two strikeouts and a pair of walks. In his first start in the Majors since May 21, McAllister looked fine. He was effective with his fastball and took a hard-luck loss due to a lack of run support.

“I was extremely happy with it,” said McAllister, who gave up 18 runs on 18 hits and toiled through 182 pitches across 7.2 innings in his previous three big league starts. “It’s kind of what I had in mind and was hoping I was able to accomplish. Obviously, it would’ve been a lot better if we were able to get the ‘W.’ We didn’t today, but again, it’s a good step in the right direction.”

THIRD: Cleveland’s offense went mostly quiet on Saturday, especially against White Sox righty Scott Carroll, who blanked the Tribe over five innings before exiting with a back injury. The Tribe’s two runs came courtesy of a bases-loaded walk from Jason Kipnis in the seventh and a solo homer from All-Star Michael Brantley in the eighth. With that shot, Brantley tied his dad Mickey’s single-season career best of 15 (set in 1988 with the Mariners). It seems fair to say Junior will have the family bragging rights.

“I just put the barrel on the ball as much as possible,” Brantley said. “I’m not a home run hitter. I put good swings on the ball and whatever happens after is out of my control.”

HOME: You know who is a home run hitter? Jose Bleepin’ Abreu. He launched a two-run homer down the right-field line in the fourth inning off McAllister, giving him five this season against Cleveland. Abreu now has 29 homers, 50 extra-base hits and 73 RBIs in the first half. The Indians have never had a player reach those plateaus in a first half. The White Sox have only had one other hitter do so — some guy named Frank Thomas in 1994. In baseball’s long, storied history, Abreu is the first first-year player to reach those milestones in a first half.

“He’s obviously very dangerous,” Francona said. “That’s probably the understatement of the year.”

On deck:

White Sox (45-50) at Indians (46-47)
at 1:05 p.m. ET on Sunday at Progressive Field

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 92

SwisherFinal: Indians 7, White Sox 4

FIRST: Let’s not go as far as declaring that Nick Swisher is back, but the Indians can at least take some comfort in the fact that it looks like he is returning to form as the All-Star break approaches.

Energy has been Swisher’s signature over the year and it’s fair to say that attribute has been picking up again lately. Prior to Friday’s win, Swish expressed excitement over the return of LeBron James and the things happening for Cleveland. During the game, he provided a go-ahead, two-run home run.

Brohio was back in business for at least one day.

“Regardless of the situation right there,” Swisher said of his momentum-swinging at-bat in the fifth inning, “I just wanted to come through in that spot. I didnt necessarily want to try to hit a home run.”

Over his past 10 games, Swisher has launched three homers and collected 11 RBIs. Prior to that stretch, it took 27 games for the first baseman/DH to have as many as 11 RBIs (he had 12 in that span to go along with a .177 average in 96 at-bats. In the more recent 10-game stretch, Swish has hit .297 (11-for-37). There’s still the matter of the seven-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio, but Cleveland will happily accept the run production.

Now, the goal for Swisher will be to carry this personal momentum through the final two games and hope it holds beyond the break. At the moment, he is just savoring feeling healthier (“I think DHing, taking a little break, not being out there all game, letting my knee rest a little bit, has been awesome.”) and coming up with more big hits.

“I almost felt like I should take some powder and just throw it up in the air,” Swisher beamed about his home run.

Swisher spoke about LeBron’s return to the Cavs prior to Friday’s game and was asked if he felt that development might negatively impact the Tribe’s attendance. Unsolicited, Swisher revisited that topic following the Indians’ win.

Being a competitor of the Cavs is not something Swisher has in mind. He hopes fans in Cleveland will embrace all three teams in what is an exciting time for the city.

“Absolutely plenty,” said Swisher, referring to the fanbase. “I think that a lot of people take a lot of pride in all three aspects of baseball, football, basketball. Just the excitement level for us right now, even in here in this locker room, is just amazing. I know everybody outside this stadium is absolutely super stoked about what’s to come, and so are we.”

Call him an optimist, but Swisher has been a proud supporter of Cleveland (“It’s hot in the 2-1-6 right now!” he exclaimed before the game) since he signed with the club prior to last season. Say what you will about his contract, or his inconsistent production, but Swisher’s arrival helped pave the way for the success experienced by the Indians over the past two seasons, especially during last summer’s Wild Card run.

“Kind of with the way things are going right now,” Swisher said, “it kind of feels like we’re getting that attitude back, that confidence back and all aspects of the game — offensively, defensively. It’s been a lot of fun.”

SECOND: Instant replay helped the Indians avoid being no-hit by the Dodgers earlier this season. It’s also helped Cleveland turn a triple play. On Thursday, replay rewarded rookie Roberto Perez with his first Major League home run.

This time around, instant replay gave Cleveland second life and fueled a game-changing rally.

“Obviously you like it,” Indians manager Terry Francona said, “especially when it helps you. But I do think it’s in place for the right reasons.”

With two outs in the fifth inning, Asdrubal Cabrera attempted a steal of second base. Cabrera was ruled out, but replays showed that Chicago shortstop Alexei Ramirez actually missed the tag. After a challenge by Francona, the call was overturned with a review. The Indians took full advantage, too.

“Calls like that can really kind of turn a game around,” Swisher said. “So, rather than just assuming that a call’s right, we’re making sure they’re absolutely right.”

Lonnie Chisenhall followed with an RBI single that pulled the game into a 4-4 deadlock. That is when Swisher stepped to the plate and launched the go-ahead, two-run home run to dead center field. The Indians did not look back, making the replay review a critical moment in the contest.

THIRD: Right-hander Corey Kluber did not win the American League’s All-Star Final Vote, finishing fourth in balloting that ended on Thursday. One day later, Kluber wasn’t his sharpest, but still managed to gut his way through six innings for Cleveland.

“Location wasn’t that great,” said Kluber, who gave up four runs on eight hits and ended with five strikeouts against two walks. “But, the important thing was that we got a win. The offense did a good job. They would bounce right back and score and answer. Then the bullpen came in and shut them down.”

Kluber gave up two runs in the top of the second, and the Indians answered with two in the bottom half. He allowed one in the fourth, and the offense scored one of their own in the same frame. The White Sox plated one off Kluber in the fifth, and then the Indians had their three-run burst in the same inning to pave the way to the win.

Francona liked seeing that kind of fight and support.

“Klubes didn’t have his sharpest stuff tonight,” Francona said. “They had a lot of hits early, but we kept answering. If you’re going to be down, coming back’s important.”

HOME: Let’s take a moment to tip the ol’ cap to Good Guy David Murphy, who belted a two-run home run in the second inning for Cleveland. That marked Murphy’s first home run since May 21, when he was batting .294 with five home runs and 30 RBIs through his first 43 games (143 at-bats). In the 41 games following that solid start, Murphy hit .190 with no homers and just 12 RBIs in 142 at-bats. His 1-for-3, two-RBI showing on Friday was a welcomed sight for the Tribe.

On deck:

White Sox (44-50) at Indians (46-46)
at 3:05 p.m. ET Saturday at Progressive Field

–JB

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