Covering the Bases: Game 130

KipnisWinSome notes and quotes from Monday’s 1-0 win over the Twins

FIRST: The signs were all there. It was the 10th inning. Brandon Kintzler threw a 1-0 pitch to Jason Kipnis. Given the binary-code nature of the past week for Cleveland, the stars were aligned for a 1-0 victory.

Before we get to the celebration, let’s look at the setup.

“Probably the biggest at-bat of the night, honestly,” Indians starter Trevor Bauer said.

Bauer was referring to the 10th-inning meeting between Indians right-hander Zach McAllister and Twins rookie Max Kepler. That’s the same Max Kepler that hit .500 with four homers and 10 RBI in a four-game series against the Tribe in Cleveland earlier this month.

With the game caught in a 0-0 deadlock, Cody Allen worked the ninth and part of the 10th for the Indians. The righty allowed one hit and issued two walks with two outs in the 10th, running his pitch count to 37. With the bags full, Indians manager Terry Francona called McAllister in from the bullpen.

“I was worried that I left Cody in a little bit too long,” Francona said. “That’s a lot to ask of somebody. And then Mac came in and fell behind, but then really made some good pitches to get out of the inning and give us a chance.”

McAllister fed Kepler a steady stream of fastballs. All seven pitches clocked in between 93-95, and the big righty tried to stay middle-away and up and away. After falling behind, 2-0, McAllister got Kepler to foul off four straight fastballs before finally inducing a flyout to center to end the top of the 10th.

Here’s a look at McAllister’s approach vs. Kepler:

KeplerMap

And here’s Kepler’s 2016 zone map for fastballs from RHP:

KeplerZones

“Mac comes in, starts off 2-0 to a dangerous guy who’s hit us well,” Bauer said, “and comes back and gets him out. Just for team morale, having him come in and be able to get out of a situation like that, it’s great. It enabled us to win and I think it was good for
everybody involved.”

After escaping that jam, McAllister said he felt confident that the game’s momentum had shifted.

“[You get that feeling] in certain situations throughout the game,” McAllister said, “like a big out happened, or a situation where you kind of feel like no matter what the offense is going to score. I felt like that was one of those situations.”

SECOND: The Indians were blanked for the first nine innings by Hector Santiago, Ryan Pressly and Kintzler. This is a Twins team that came in having lost 10 straight, with the last six including at least eight runs scored by the opposition.

On the other side, though, the Indians had scored one or zero runs in six of seven games on their recent road trip. And that’s now seven of the past eight games with this 1-0 win (the second 1-0 win in that span). Cleveland has featured a great offense overall this year, but is currently searching for some kind of spark.

Maybe a win like this can help.

“Hopefully,” Kipnis said. “At this time, it’s nice to get a win in any form. Hopefully the more wins we get, the more relaxed we can be. Not to say guys are pressing, but guys are still trying to find the adjustments that are working.”

One form of “pressing” is trying to do too much. Take Francisco Lindor in the eighth inning, for example. On a two-out single to right from Mike Napoli, Lindor sprinted hard through second with his sights on third. Kepler made a pinpoint through from right field and Lindor was thrown out easily.

“I like the idea that he’s hustling, because he cares,” Francona said of Lindor’s dash. “If a guy’s not hustling, that’s not good. And I think he knew right when he did it that it wasn’t the time to go. But again, they’re aware we’re not putting a bunch of runs up. And that’ll change. You’ve got to kind of weather it, play through it.

“Winning 1-0 in extra innings is a heck of a lot better than losing 1-0.”

Abraham Almonte got things started in the 10th with a bunt single up the first-base line. Chris Gimenez — after failing to get a bunt down twice — then singled to right. Rajai Davis also struggled to get a bunt down, and then chopped a pitch to third on a fielder’s choice. Almonte was tagged out on the play. Cleveland challenged with the hope that third baseman Miguel Sano had missed with his swipe tag, but the call stood.

“I actually think Abe was safe,” Francona said. “I just think we didn’t have a good enough angle to show it.”

Kipnis rendered that moment moot with a walkoff single to left-center.

“Kip with a nice piece of hitting,” Francona said. “Everybody goes home happy.”

THIRD: Bauer set the tone with six shutout innings for Cleveland. The right-hander scattered five hits, struck out four and walked one in the no-decision. Over the course of his past five starts now, Bauer has a 2.45 ERA with a 1.12 WHIP and .228 opponents’ average in 33 innings for the Tribe.

“Trevor pitched great tonight,” McAllister said. “He went down there and battled. He made it easy for the bullpen, as far as getting deep in the game and doing his job. He pitched tremendous and had a good mix.”

Bauer said it was important for the Indians to get this win from the Twins, who seemingly had their way with Cleveland during their previous stop at Progressive Field.

“What are you going to say about last series?” Bauer said. “It was one of those things that happens during a year that a team just hits everything. Balls. Strikes. In. Out. Up. Down. Offspeeds. Fastballs. Whatever. That’s a credit to them.

“So, being able to limit the offense and get off to a good start in the series, especially
after the road trip we had, it’s definitely big.”

HOME: After Bauer’s exit, the bullpen was strong for the final four innings, sidestepping the potential harm of six baserunners in that span.

McAllister, of course, got the final out. He now has a 1.88 ERA with 17 strikeouts and four walks in his past 13 games (14.1 innings). We’ll just ignore that .311 opponents’ batting average in that same span for the time being.

Allen worked 1.2 innings before being lifted. Thanks to McAllister, Allen was able to lower his ERA to 2.06 over his pasty 38 games (39.1 innings). Five of the nine earned runs he’s allowed in that span came on Aug. 17. That’s four earned runs in the other 37 appearances.

Bryan Shaw worked the final two outs in the eighth inning and got them on just four pitches. He now has 15 shutout innings in his last 16 games, dating back to allowing four runs on July 18. In fact, Shaw has 29 scoreless appearances in his past 30 games for a 1.24 ERA in that span.

And then, there’s Miller.

“He’s been great. He’s been great all year,” McAllister said. “To be able to see him in person is kind of special.”

Brian Dozier saw him in person, and is the latest victim of Miller’s ankle-breaking slider. the lanky lefty worked 1.1 innings, racking up three strikeouts and allowing a pair of weak singles. With Cleveland, Miller now has a 1.38 ERA with 22 strikeouts and one walk in 13 innings (11 games).

As for that strikeout against Dozier…

“We’ve seen it before,” Kipnis said. “Khris Davis in Oakland. Go down the list. He goes in with that slider to righties. The ball comes in to their back legs. It’s a wipeout slider, a nasty pitch and I love watching it from second base. It’s a much better perspective than at the plate.

“Usually I watch it as it goes by my bat and then I walk with my head down back to the dugout.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 129

KipnisDiveSome notes and quotes on Sunday’s 2-1 loss to Texas

FIRST: Jason Kipnis reads the papers. The Indians second baseman is also very active on Twitter. He’s got his finger on the pulse, and he doesn’t like how fast hearts are beating back in Cleveland right now.

Even in the wake of this 2-5 trip through Oakland and Texas — a venture that saw the lineup produce one or zero runs in six games — Kipnis wants everyone to take a deep breath for a moment.

“We played like [crap] and we’re still 4 1/2 up,” Kipnis said. “I know you guys and a bunch of the people back home are writing about how worried you are. That’s your job as media people, and people who don’t understand inside the locker room. Our job is to stay confident and stay focused.

“Having played so well in the first half and up to this point, we have the luxury of having that lead that we do have. That allows us to, I guess, shoot ourselves in the foot and still be OK in the end. We’re doing the shooting part right now. Now, it’s time to, this home stretch, it’s going to be good to get home and we’ve got some games we need to win.”

After Cleveland took the first game against the A’s on Monday, the Tribe increased its lead atop the division to 7 1/2 games. That has since been whittled down by three games in the wake of the Indians’ 1-5 showing over the past six. Texas blew out the Indians on Thursday and Saturday.

Was it any easier to swallow this loss, given that it was a more competitive game?

“The only thing that makes it easier is that Detroit lost, to be honest,” Kipnis said. “We want these games. We want the wins. As it comes down to the home stretch, and to getting into the playoffs, it all comes down to winning games. And we need to start doing more of that.

“That being said, that will require us to play better baseball and to show up a little bit better. We have that small cushion, but we can’t rest on it forever. We need to start doing our part here.”

Kipnis also wanted to remind fans that a 4 1/2-game lead isn’t easily overcome against a team like Cleveland.

“Guys are still confident. They’re not losing hope,” Kipnis said. “We still have 4 1/2. You can’t take that lightly, how hard it is to catch us if we start playing our game. So, we’re really focused on what’s going on in here, and not trying to be too focused on what’s behind us.”

SECOND: The Indians could at least walk away from Sunday’s game with this silver lining: Danny Salazar looked a lot more like himself. It wasn’t just the pitching line, either. Anyone can look at that and see he performed better in terms of results.

Salazar’s demeanor on the mound was markedly better. The righty looked more aggressive out of the chute, firing fastballs with more conviction. He still left some up in the zone, but the attack mode helped create a couple quick innings right away, and made his secondary stuff more effective.

“It was a lot better,” Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said. “I thought he did a really good job of maintaining his tempo and really repeating his delivery, which was something he didn’t do the last couple with the long break and no rehab outings. It’s good to see him go out there and do that, repeat his delivery and throw the ball over the plate and give himself a chance to have success.”

After Salazar’s outing in Oakland on Tuesday, both Callaway and manager Terry Francona made a point to mention that the pitcher’s between-start routine to use some improvement. Callaway said Salazar needed to “shore up” some things, and Francona reminded that the season doesn’t end at the All-Star break.

Salazar, who had a 15.55 ERA in his previous four starts and a 9.31 ERA in his previous seven, seemed to get the message.

“I think it’s just getting back to some things I was doing earlier in the year,” Salazar said. “They help a lot, but I was getting a little bit too much stress in my arm when I was doing it. But, it was helping. I think what I’m doing now, I’m getting back to it.”

Callaway said there were aspects of Salazar’s throwing program that help emphasize keeping the ball down and over the plate. When the righty dealt with elbow soreness a few weeks ago, he stopped doing some of those drills. Salazar is feeling better health-wise now, so he got back to work on some of those things over the past few days.

“It was really good,” Callaway said. “We made sure that he went about things the right way. We started implementing some things that he had kind of gotten away from in the last three weeks, and I think it really paid dividends.”

Over 5 1/3 innings, Salazar struck out 10, scattered five hits, walked two and gave up two runs. Both walks came around to score on singles, which both came on first-pitch fastballs. The pitcher said the biggest change was that he was focusing more on his mind-set than making any in-game tweaks with his delivery after a bad pitch.

“I’m working really hard,” Salazar said, “and I’m going to try to just get that confidence back. And, I’m trying to — when I’m losing it during the game — trying not to make an adjustment with my delivery. I’m just trying to make the adjustment in my head and stay really aggressive.”

The Indians liked what they saw against Texas.

“I thought it was significantly better than we’ve seen, which is really good,” Francona said. “It’s wasn’t enough to win the game, but to see him make those strides was really good, because now we can hopefully get him on a roll.”

“That’s the Danny we remember,” Kipnis added. “That’s the Danny we want to see every time out. That’s the Danny that’s capable of going and winning a bunch of games, that got him to the All-Star Game. He can play a big factor for us down the stretch here if that’s the pitcher that we’re going to have back on the mound every fifth day. So, we’re encouraged by that.”

THIRD: Cleveland has been one of the top-scoring offenses in the AL this season, but was absolutely manhandled this week (with the exception of Friday’s blowout win).

The Indians saw these seven starting pitchers: Andrew Triggs, Sean Manaea, Kendall Graveman, Cole Hamels, Martin Perez, A.J. Griffin and Derek Holland. That group combined for a 1.79 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, .204 opponents’ average and 6.2 strikeout-to-walk ration in 45.1 innings (more than 6.1 per start) against the Indians this week.

So, was this a run of good pitching, or a lineup failing to make adjustments?

“A little bit of both,” Kipnis said. “Some of the guys, you can tip the caps to their side for certain at-bats. But, there were definitely at-bats we didn’t make the adjustments on, at least not quick enough. We’ll just have to go back up there with a better game plan. I know a bunch of guys are looking forward to going back home right now.”

HOME: … is apparently where the runs are for the Tribe. For whatever reason this year, Cleveland features one of baseball’s best offenses at Progressive Field, but has looked rather mediocre on the road.

Here’s how Cleveland has fared:

Home (39-23): .293/.357/.482, 358 R, 122 wRC+, 9.1 BB%, 19 K%
Road (34-33): .239/.296/.398, 273 R, 85 wRC+, 6.8 BB%, 22.2 K%

The good news is that the Indians play 19 of their last 33 games at home. On top of that, Cleveland has gone 34-19 this season against its remaining opponents, excluding a Miami team that the Tribe hasn’t seen yet.

“You’d be surprised,” said Kipnis, asked how much the team wanted to getting back home. “Every time we go home, it’s like we’re a different team. Not to say we can’t win on the road, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you see some high-scoring games from us as soon as we get home. It’s just the way it happens, or the way it’s been going.”

A few more things before we call it a day…

Brandon Guyer was hit by a pitch again! That’s now 28 this year for Guyer, who is closing in on Don Baylor’s American League record of 35, set in 1986. Guyer’s 28 are the most in the AL since Baylor also had 28 in 1987.

That means I had to update this handy-dandy HBP graphic:

Cleveland Indians v New York Yankees

Also, there have been a lot of fans asking why Mike Napoli has been DHing more than usual lately. We spoke again with Francona on the matter today, so CLICK HERE for more on that topic.

Sunday also provided a classic example of how an early-inning call by an umpire can have a carryover effect for hitters later in the game. In the first inning, home-plate umpire John Tumpane called Kipnis out on strikes a pitch that popped in the glove off the plate. It’s No. 6 in this graphic.

KipK1

In the fourth inning, Holland worked Kipnis in a very similar manner and, once again, went middle away, off the plate with his sixth pitch. This time, with that first-inning at-bat in his memory bank, Kipnis swung through the pitch for his second strikeout of the afternoon. Here’s a look at that sequence:

KipK4

Kipnis tried to make the adjustment, but he wasn’t adjusting to the pitcher. He was trying to adjust for the strike zone. The Indians second baseman did break through in the sixth, pulling a low sinker two pitches into his third meeting with Holland into right for an RBI single.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 128

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Texas RangersSome notes and quotes from Saturday’s 7-0 loss to Texas

FIRST: Carlos Carrasco wanted to send a slider breaking hard and inside to Mitch Moreland. The idea, with two outs and Texas threatening with the bases loaded in the first inning, was to generate a chase swing or create a ground ball.

Instead, here’s what Carrasco threw:

“A terrible pitch,” Indians manager Terry Francona said.

Carrasco’s first offering to Moreland stayed elevated and over the heart of the plate. And Moreland, being the professional hitter that he is, swatted it down the right-field line and into the seats for a grand slam. Just like that, Texas had a five-run lead right out of the chute.

SlamBreakdown

In the stills above, you can see where catcher Roberto Perez set up (low) and then see how he had to raise up to the elevated pitch. Carrasco made no excuses about the poorly-executed breaking ball.

“For the homer, I threw a slider,” Carrasco said. “It came back a little bit to the middle. I was supposed to throw something in.”

Here is the spot where the pitch wound up:

GrandSlam

And here is how Moreland has fared vs. sliders from righties in his career:

plot_h_profile

It’s not hard to see why Francona called it a “terrible” pitch when Moreland is slugging between .575 and .875 in the area where that slider hung. There was a lot that happened leading up to the slam that was not on Carrasco, but the best pitchers in the game often find ways to escape, or at least execute the first pitch of a critical at-bat.

“You just learn for your next start,” Carrasco said. “And you try to be better than that inning.”

SECOND: Only one run in the first was earned, thanks to an assortment of issues that happened on the mound and behind Carrasco. It had a similar feel to the five-run blown save Cody Allen had against the White Sox, who dinked and blooped before they blasted.

Here’s what happened leading to the grand slam on Saturday:

  1. Ian Desmond punched a pitch up the middle, where it dropped into center between Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis. A soft single.
  2. Cleveland moved into a pull shift against Carlos Beltran, who chopped a pitch the opposite way. Third baseman Jose Ramirez got to the ball, but not in time to have a play at first or second base.
  3. Carrasco missed a sign and thought there was a pick-off play on, so he spun and went to throw to first base on an 0-1 pitch to Adrian Beltre. First baseman Carlos Santana was playing off the base, so there was no throw from Carrasco, who was charged with a balk.
  4. Beltre pulled a pitch to Ramirez, who made a nice grab. Now, had there not been a balk, maybe Ramirez could’ve tried to turn a double play. At the very least now, he could get the out at first. Ramirez did his job by looking Desmond back to third, but the runner hesitated. Ramirez decided not to throw to first, because he felt he could nab Desmond, who retreated with a dive and made it back before Ramirez’s own diving tag attempt. Bases loaded.
  5. Rougned Odor then sent a sharp two-hopper to Santana, who waited on the ball, which took a wicked bounce at the last second. The ball clanked off Santana’s glove and chest, resulting in a run-scoring error. Bases still loaded.

Carrasco struck out Carlos Gomez to move one good pitch away from an escape. Instead, one bad pitch broke things open.

“Just a get- me-over breaking ball and Moreland hit that,” Francona said. “That was a crushing [blow]. A lot of things led up to it, but that really hurt.”

THIRD: Should we expect the Indians to blow the Rangers out on Sunday afternoon? Texas won on Thursday with a 9-0 drubbing. Cleveland countered with a 12-1 laugher on Friday night. The Rangers then ran away with Saturday’s 7-0 rout.

Who held the Indians in check this time? None other than A.J. Griffin, who entered the night with a 4.68 ERA, dealt with shoulder issues earlier this year, didn’t pitch in the big leagues in the last two years (thanks, Tommy John surgery) and hadn’t thrown a quality start since May 2.

Naturally, he held the AL’s second-best scoring offense to no runs over six.

“Their guy tonight, he’s certainly not a power pitcher,” Francona said, “but he’s throwing a real slow breaking ball and then kind of lulling us in and then beating us with his fastball in. If you can stay close, you think maybe, ‘Well, we can string a couple hits together.’ But, once they spread it out, that makes it tough.”

HOME: To illustrate how bad things got on this night, catcher Chris Gimenez was on the mound for the Indians in the eighth inning. For all the conspiracy theorists tracking Cleveland’s late-inning bullpen movement, no, this doesn’t mean Gimenez is the new eighth-inning man.

What this came down to was this: Cleveland was going to be forced to make a roster move postgame had Gimenez not chewed up an inning for the bullpen.

“And, I don’t think anybody deserved to lose their job,” Francona said.

Carrasco didn’t have a one-two-three inning in his abbreviated start. Relief ace Andrew Miller needed 12 pitches to get through the seventh. Gimenez, emergency pitcher extraordinaire, needed only 10 pitches to retire Elvis Andrus, Robinson Chirinos and Nomar Mazara in order in the eighth.

“[Miller] struck three guys out, though,” Gimenez said with a laugh. “And threw about three times harder than I did.”

All kidding aside, it was an admirable effort for Gimenez. He also logged two innings to end Cleveland’s 17-1 loss to Toronto on July 3. The catcher said he has told Francona that he is always available if those types of situations come up.

“Ultimately, that’s really what it’s all about is saving those guys down there,” Gimenez said. “We still have a game tomorrow that’s just as important as the one tonight. I told Tito early on, ‘Listen, if it comes to it, I’ll gladly do it.’ I don’t care what my ERA is, you know what I mean? I couldn’t care less. It’s about saving the guys down there for the bigger innings, when we need them.”

ICYMI: As the all-time, single-season hit-by-pitch king for Rampart High School, I enjoyed putting this one together…

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 127

KluberSome notes and quotes from Friday’s 12-1 win over Texas

FIRST: Would you just look at that smile on Kluber’s face? That just about sums up Friday night in Arlington. Even the Klubot was grinning.

There have been plenty of reasons for concern lately. Josh Tomlin and Danny Salazar have looked like shells of themselves of late, putting a few chinks in the rotation’s armor. The offense has ranked near the top of the league in scoring this year, but had suddenly been eerily quiet on this trip.

All those worries disappeared for one night in Texas.

“It was a good night for us,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “It let guys breathe a little bit.”

This was also another reminder that a baseball season is long, and it includes a lot of peaks and valleys. Overreacting to small sample sizes — They stink! Wait, they’re good again! No, wait, they stink! — is ill-advised. Shoot, let’s not even go and make too much of Friday’s 12-1 win. It doesn’t erase all the bad that’s happened lately, but man, if you’re the Indians, or a Tribe fan following along, it felt good.

Through it all this year, the Indians have not lost more than three games in a row. No other team in baseball can still say that this season. So, while there have been dramatic highs and lows, Cleveland has been one of the most consistent teams in the Majors in 2016.

“Throughout the course of a long season,” Kluber said, “you’re bound to have a stretch where the offense doesn’t score, or the pitching [struggles], like that series against the Twins, where the pitching was awful. It’s bound to happen. I think it’s just a matter of keeping trust in each other and not getting down or anything like that.”

SECOND: On Thursday night, Cole Hamels showed why he’s a Cy Young candidate, blanking the Indians over eight innings in a 9-0 laugher. On Friday night, Kluber showed why he’s a Cy Young candidate, turning in six strong innings in a 12-1 laugher.

As much as the postseason races will be fun to watch down the stretch, the American League Cy Young battle will be intriguing to follow, too. There is no one pitcher separating himself from the pack (which is why there are some people starting to state Zach Britton’s potential case for the annual award).

If Kluber winds up winning, it will probably be for two main reasons: He will have continued his current run through September, and he is the face of Cleveland’s highly-touted rotation. The preseason narrative was that it would be the Tribe’s rotation that carried the team to the postseason. Well, Kluber has been the leader of that group.

Three starts into this season, it wasn’t so pretty. Kluber was 0-3 with a 6.16 ERA. In the 23 starts that have followed, he has gone 14-5 with a 2.70 ERA, .209 opponents’ average, 1.00 WHIP and 159 strikeouts in 156.2 innings. Kluber has a 2.55 ERA in his last 17 turns, a 1.75 ERA in his last nine and a 2.20 ERA in August.

“He’s our ace,” Indians catcher Roberto Perez said. “Every time he steps on the mound, we’re really confident that he’s going to give us six or seven or eight innings. He came out today and it was a battle. They put great ABs against him. They fouled off a lot of pitches. That’s why his pitch count went up, but he was awesome today.”

Texas got Kluber out of the game after six innings, pushing his pitch count up to 113. Francona noted that the Rangers did a good job of laying off some of the breaking stuff, and then fouled off a lot of fastballs. In the end, Kluber allowed one run on five hits, ending with seven strikeouts and two walks.

The Rangers had the leadoff man on in each of the first four innings, but Kluber held them to a 1-for-12 showing with men on.

“They had a lot of tough at-bats,” Kluber said. “They fought off a lot of pitches, made me work. I tried not to get too caught up in it. I tried to keep going out there and execute pitches.”

THIRD: It certainly helped that Kluber had a wealth of run support.

After Thursday’s loss, Jason Kipnis was in a great mood, and he mostly shrugged off the recent offensive woes before saying this: “Tomorrow’s going to be a good day to say we’re just going to get back to the basics of some good line drives, put it in play, get some guys on base and have a little bit more fun.”

Talk about backing up what you say.

In the third, Kipnis stayed with an outside slider and shot it down the left-field line for a double. Perez, who singled two hitters earlier, scored from first base on the play to give the Indians a 1-0 lead. It was the first run scored by Cleveland not via a homer since the sixth inning on Sunday.

Take a look at pitch No. 4, which Kipnis hit:

Kipnis

As you can see by the chart below, Martin Perez didn’t necessarily make a bad pitch. A breaking ball from a lefty to that part of the zone has been a weak area for Kipnis throughout his career. But, give Kipnis credit on this one. He made the adjustment, took the pitch the opposite way and got Cleveland’s offense rolling.

KipMap

HOME: There contributions up and down Cleveland’s lineup, but the bottom of the order was especially productive. Abraham Almonte and Perez — batting eighth and ninth, respectively — went a combined 7-for-10 with seven RBIs in the win for the Indians.

Much has been made among Indians fans about the fact that Almonte will be ineligible for the playoffs, if Cleveland gets there. Said Almonte: “I think I’ve got a huge responsibility to do my best every day that I come out there. I think when Tito puts me in the lineup, he expects me to try to do my best. This is what I’m trying to do.”

Much has also been made of the offensive struggles of Perez, who came in hitting .104. On his four hits, Perez said: “Oh man, I feel good. It feels good. I’ve been working really hard on my batting. I kind of changed stances and everything, so finally today, it paid off.”

Since rejoining the Indians in July, Perez’s average exit velocity on balls in play has been 89.9 mph, per Statcast. Over the past 10 days, the average has ticked up to 91.8 mph. On Friday, the three hits recorded by Statcast were 88.6, 102.1 and 96 mph. It’s a very small sample, but it’s definitely a good trend.

“I feel like I’m seeing the ball pretty good,” Perez said. “It’s a matter of staying with it. I think I’m pulling off with a lot of pitches, even fastballs down and away, and I’m rolling over a lot. So, I’ve been working on trying to hit the hole. I had success last year doing that. So, I’m just trying to hit the second baseman. I found the hole today.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 126

TomlinSome notes and quotes from Thursday’s 9-0 loss to Texas

FIRST: Here’s the deal with Josh Tomlin and home runs: Josh Tomlin is going to give up home runs. He always has. He always will. What has made Tomlin good in stretches is the fact that he limits them mostly to solo shots.

“Those usually don’t beat you,” Tomlin said.

So, Tomlin controls what he can. He pumps strikes, limits walks and typically eliminates the running game when men do reach. Lately, though, the homers have not just come in bunches, but they’ve come in multi-run bunches. That’s a problem. Solos don’t usually beat a pitcher, but two three-run shots will get the job done for the opposition.

That’s what the Rangers delivered on Thursday night. Texas enjoyed a six-pack of runs off two big swings — one each from Carlos Gomes and Adrian Beltre. Cleveland was down 3-0 by the second and 8-0 by the fifth. And, making matters worse, the Tribe’s limping lineup was tasked with facing Cole Hamels and his 1.59 second-half ERA.

It was a bad combination all the way around, but it all started here:

“The past few turns I’ve been out there,” Tomlin said, “I haven’t really given our team a chance to win.”

In the second, the traffic jam came on with two outs. Jonathan Lucroy got it going with a single up the middle (Blame Lucroy!) and then Tomlin walked Mitch Moreland on five pitches. And then, bang! Gomez smacked a 1-0 cutter over the left-field wall at 107 mph.

Let’s take a look at that pitch:

GomezHR

And now let’s take a look at Gomez’s 2016 SLG on fastballs:

GomezMap

So, the guy with the .322 SLG on the year is slugging .500 against fastballs to that spot. Whoops.

In the fifth, traffic arrived with one out. Elvis Andrus, Nomar Mazara and Ian Desmond each singled. Then, Carlos Beltran chopped a pitch to first baseman Mike Napoli, who air-mailed it over Francisco Lindor and into left field. Rather than a potential double play, another run scored, and it opened the door for Beltre to whack another three-run shot.

“It was kind of a rough inning all the way around,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “Nap was trying to figure out should he throw over or around, and let it fly. And then they hit another one, which obviously hurt.”

Let’s take a look at the location of the cutter to Beltre:

BeltreHR

And, now, Beltre’s SLG on fastballs this season:

BeltreMap

OK, yeah, Tomlin probably should not have missed there.

I know not everyone likes an arbitrary end point, but I’ve been drawing a line through Tomlin’s season after his July 1 start. Why there? Well, he was 9-1 with a 3.21 ERA through 15 starts at that point, and he gave up eight runs (five earned) the next time out. When you scan his game log, it just looks like the place to draw the line.

In those first 15 starts, Tomlin gave up 19 homers (1.8 HR/9) and allowed 25 total runs on those shots. He gave up 13 solos and six two-run blasts. In the nine starts that have followed, Tomlin has given up 15 homers (2.7 HR/9) and allowed 30 total runs on those long balls. That includes six solos, eight two-run shots, four three-run blasts and one grand slam. He’s gone 2-7 with a 7.51 ERA in that span.

Tomlin reiterated what it seems like he’s said so many times throughout his career: “You’re always concerned when you’re giving up this many home runs, what’s going on. For me, it’s limiting the damage before that, trying to prevent the crooked numbers as best as I can. I don’t rely on stuff, so for me, it’s kind of limit the walks, limit the guys on base and try to do the best I can with nobody on base.”

SECOND: This is where Angry Tribe Fan On Twitter types in all caps at me: BUT YOU CAN’T WIN IF YOU DON’T SCORE ANY RUNS.

Yeah, about that. You see, here’s the thing: Hamels was pitching on Thursday. Now, I get it, Cleveland scored three total runs over 27 innings in Oakland. That was bad, and hard to explain. Thursday? They ran into an ace lefty who is on a tear and currently in the mix for a Cy Young Award.

“He’s got the whole thing,” Francona said. “He’s got a fastball, and he can cut it. A great changeup. A great feel for pitching. He had everything working tonight and you give him a lead, and he knows what to do with it, because he’s not going to walk people.”

That said, Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis tipped his cap — “He’s one of the better ones, and maybe one of the better left-handed starters in the game.” — while also putting the onus on the offense to do more.

“We probably just waited to long to make the adjustment, and we’ve got guys just kind of all collectively going through a little skid right now. That’s going to happen. You keep working. It’s tough this time of year, because you don’t want to overwork. You want to save what energy you do have for the game, so you try to find a nice little balance between those two. But, I wouldn’t be surprised if we come out of it here soon. I think tomorrow’s going to be a good [day] to say we’re just going to get back to the basics of some good line drives, put it in play, get some guys on base and have a little bit more fun.”

Added Francona: “Well, we haven’t swung the bat the last three or four days. But, I think we’re [near the top] in the league in runs. It’s not realistic that you’re going to hit the ball all over the ballpark all year. You have down periods. We had a week where the pitchers had a tough time. It happens. We’ve just got to fight through it together, and we will.”

THIRD: This marked Cleveland’s first meeting with Lucroy since the catcher blocked the trade that would have put him in an Indians uniform. And, what’d he do? He singled to ignite Texas’ first rally and then helped guide Hamels through eight shutout innings (two hits, no walks, eight strikeouts).

Kipnis quickly said, “No,” when asked if the team had discussed the Lucroy situation at all ahead of this series.

“I think collectively, as an organization and as a team, we moved on pretty fast from that,” Kipnis said. “The only reason we could be mad at him is because he’s a good player and we wanted him to play for our team. If it goes past that, there’s personal stuff, and no one has any of that, any reason to dislike the guy. As the business side of it, we completely understand what he was going through. That doesn’t mean he’s a bad guy. It doesn’t mean anything about him. A lot of us probably would’ve made the same choice if we were in his position. So, we’ve moved on real fast from him. That doesn’t concern us anymore.”

We’ll try to catch up with Lucroy at some point this weekend.

HOME: There was a moment of levity within this ugly loss for the Tribe.

In the bottom of the fifth, Rougned Odor slid hard into second base at the front end of an inning-ending double play. Kipnis was at the bag on the play and, as Odor began to get up, the Indians second baseman playfully backed away slowly. Kipnis then laughed and jogged off the field, and Odor smiled, too.

If you need a refresher on why Kipnis did that, CLICK HERE.

Some fans might be rubbed the wrong way that Kipnis was joking around for a moment during this tough defeat. I actually think it shows some of the mind-set of this Indians team. I’ve said this before, but a veteran (one with a World Series ring) told me many years ago that the best teams don’t just learn how to win. They also learn how to lose.

More than other recent years, this Cleveland club has shown the ability to shake off losses pretty well. In previous seasons, the postgame clubhouse was funereal. Take Thursday, for example, not only did Kipnis have that fun moment on the field, but he willingly met with reporters, covering a wide range of topics, and was candid while injecting humor. It’s not making light of the situation. It’s realizing there is still a long way to go and the best teams still endure nights like this one.

That said, Detroit is now 4.5 back in the standings, and the red-hot Royals are now 6.5 back.

“It’s why you’ve got to finish the whole season,” Kipnis said. “The same way you’ve got to finish all nine innings, it’s the same way you’ve got to finish all 162. We knew [the Tigers] weren’t going to roll over and die. We know Kansas City’s right behind them. They weren’t going to roll over and die. It’s a long enough season to where you can have enough peaks and valleys to make runs and get yourself back into it. It’s going to be a fun month of September. That’s what we wanted it to be. We wanted to have some important games, and we’re definitely going to get that.

“We’ve got the lead right now. We’ve gone through some stretches where we haven’t played that well, and they still haven’t caught us. So, hopefully, we get another nice stretch here where we start playing games and can put some more distance [between] us. We know the big games will be versus them. That being said, these are all big games right now.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases:Game 125

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Oakland Athletics

Some notes and quotes from Wednesday’s 5-1 loss to the A’s

FIRST: The Indians and A’s were greeted by a bright blue canvas above the Coliseum for Wednesday’s clash in the East Bay. Manager Terry Francona used an old baseball term, calling the conditions a “high sky” for the game in Oakland.

It didn’t take long for it to come into play, either.

In the second inning of the second straight loss for the Tribe, first baseman Carlos Santana charged in to try to catch what looked like a routine pop fly off the bat of Danny Valencia. With two outs and runners on second and third, the A’s were off to the races, even though Trevor Bauer looked like he was about to escape a crooked number.

“The pop up was a little high,” Santana said later. “I missed. I lost it in the sun. I tried to catch it, but sometimes that happens in baseball. I have to continue to get better.”

Santana overran the fly ball and whiffed in his attempt to reach back behind him to make the catch. Rather than minimizing the damage to three runs, Bauer was hung with a five-spot and that wound up being all she wrote for Cleveland. The pitcher took a moment to collect himself behind the mound before continuing on. And, after he finally did escape, Bauer walked extremely slow off the mound and back to the dugout. He did not hide his frustration in that moment.

“I thought I was out of it,” Bauer said. “I tried to minimize and it didn’t work out. So, I tried to keep going out there and keep throwing innings after that. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to come back today. We’ve [come back] a lot lately.”

The official scorer (incorrectly) called it a two-run single for Valencia, and that call held until moments before the game’s conclusion. In the ninth inning, it was announced that the ruling was changed to an error after the scorer consulted the teams about the play. It looked like an error right away and the scoring change was the right way to go.

So, rather than needing to instruct you to look behind Bauer’s pitching line, it should be pretty easy to see that — aside from one rocky inning — the righty turned in an admirable effort. He wound up with a quality start (three earned runs in 6.2 innings) and saved the bullpen some work in the process.

“Luckily, I was able to throw some innings up there and help save the ‘pen,” Bauer said. “I guess maybe that’s a slightly bright spot on a down day.”

Francona agreed.

“To his credit,” said the manager, “when it looks like it’s going to be an unload-the-bullpen day, he stayed out there going into the seventh inning. … So, I give him credit for that. Sometimes, you don’t see a guy pitch that deep after that kind of an inning.”

SECOND: Santana’s gaffe in the second had a lot of people asking: Why has he been playing so much first base lately?

Wednesday’s game marked Santana’s fourth start in a row at first and his eighth in the past 10 games for the Indians. After Tuesday’s game, Mike Napoli exited the clubhouse with a significant wrap around one of his legs, but Francona indicated that the first baseman was fine. Napoli said the same on Wednesday.

That said, it’s probably not out of line to say he might be a little banged up.

“Nap [has been] on his feet so much,” Francona said. “There was that period there where he was on the bases so much and diving and getting banged around. He’ll play first [on Thursday in Texas]. I just wanted to give him [some days off]. I thought it’d be good for him.”

Napoli said he has appreciated how the manager has tried to balance his workload.

“I’m on a streak where I’ll probably play the most games I’ve ever played in a season,” Napoli said. “Everything is good. Obviously, [Francona and I] talk about it. We’re trying to do what’s best for all of us. With these long stretches [of games] with only a couple of days off, we’re trying to be smart and do what’s best for us to stay healthy and finish the season strong.”

Napoli has logged 503 plate appearances in 117 games this season. His career highs are 578 and 139, both set in 2013 with the Red Sox.

There were a few fans in my Twitter feed today saying that Napoli is clearly the better fielder than Santana. Well, over their careers as first basemen, that holds up. This year, however, Santana has rated better via some advanced metrics.

Prior to Wednesday, Santana had 1 DRS with a 5.9 UZR/150 this year, compared to -6 DRS and a -8.4 UZR/150 for Napoli. Now, defensive stats are still a bit fuzzy, especially within the confines of one season. So, yes, Napoli (13 DRS, 13.4 UZR/150) has been better over the broader sample of his career than Santana (-8 DRS, -0.6 UZR/150). But, Santana has graded out as the better defender this season. Take that for what it’s worth.

THIRD: Besides Danny Salazar’s rough outing on Tuesday, the pitching held up its end of things for the most part in Oakland. Carlos Carrasco’s eight strong innings helped Cleveland steal a 1-0 win on Monday and, Santana’s error aside, Bauer gave a solid effort on Wednesday.

Where the Indians went awry this week was in the batter’s box. In 27 innings, Cleveland scored a whopping total of three runs, and all via solo homers (Santana on Monday, Chris Gimenez on Tuesday and Roberto Perez on Wednesday).

“Hopefully we just have three days of amnesia,” Francona quipped.

Now, I know you might be feeling like this:

oh-noes-everybody-panic.gif

Take your finger off the panic button and remind yourself of this:

Indians’ Offensive Ranks in AL, entering Wednesday
1st in stolen bases (102)
2nd in runs scored (618)
3rd in batting average (.265)
3rd in slugging percentage (.441)
3rd in OPS (.767)
3rd in wOBA (.329)
4th in on-base percentage (.326)
4th in wRC+ (104)

OK, do you feel a little better?

“They pitched us tough. We just couldn’t get it going,” Napoli said. “We’ve been on a good streak of getting a little rally going and scoring runs. It’s just one of those days. They flat-out beat us. We had some good pitching. We just couldn’t get anything going.”

HOME: To narrow the focus a little more, Oakland’s rotation flat-out beat the Tribe.

The trio of Andrew Triggs (four career starts), Sean Manaea (19 career starts) and Kendall Graveman (46 career starts) confounded Cleveland over the past three games. Over 19.2 innings combined, those three turned in a 0.92 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and .179 opponents’ average, piling up 16 strikeouts against five walks with 12 hits scattered.

It felt familiar to Cleveland’s series in Baltimore, where the Orioles’ starters executed an approach that knotted the Indians’ bats. Francona wouldn’t delve into the details of what the A’s were doing to the Tribe.

“I don’t think they have a secret,” said the manager. “But, they executed very well.”

ICYMI on Indians.com…

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 123

Cleveland Indians v Oakland Athletics

Some notes and quotes from Monday’s 1-0 win over the A’s

FIRST: How about we start where this one ended?

Andrew Miller fired an 86-mph slider low and inside to slugger Khris Davis, who is in the midst of a memorable season (32 homers and 79 RBIs), but struggled through a forgettable night. Davis’ donned the golden sombrero in this one, culminating in an embarrassingly feeble attempt at a check swing, which ended with him crumpling to the dirt for a game-ending strikeout.

Just take a look at this filth from Miller:

Here is the Gameday screengrab of the at-bat:

DavisK

Really, though, Digital Davis should be collapsed in the batter’s box there.

Miller’s save consisted of 13 pitches and three strikeouts. It marked his Major League-leading fifth outing consisting of three punchouts and only three batters faced. His nine such outings over the past two seasons combined also lead MLB. Miller is first in the American League this year with 11 games of three strikeouts in one inning, and his 17 such games over 2015-16 are tops in the big leagues.

During the recent series against Toronto, Miller didn’t see the mound, so he was fresh for his outing against the A’s. Cody Allen, meanwhile, logged 30 pitches on Sunday and had worked four games in a five-day span, with the final in that series of appearances being the draining, five-run blown save on Wednesday.

Needless to say, when Cleveland headed to the ninth with a one-run lead Monday, it made sense to send Miller out for the save.

“It’s the coldest weather I’ve pitched in probably since April or May, but it felt pretty good,” said Miller, referring to the sub-60-degree temps in Oakland. “When you have a layoff like that, you want to go out and be sharp and, fortunately, I was. I went out there and put the ball where I wanted to for a little while. That gave me confidence.”

Confidence shouldn’t be an issue at this point.

Heading into the outing, Miller ranked first in the Majors in K-BB% with a mark of 39.8. His left-on-base percentage was 99.4. He was second among MLB relievers in WPA (3.58), K% (43.7) and K/9 (14.7). Miller also ranked second in the Majors with a 41-percent O-swing%, meaning hitters chase pitches outside the zone at that rate. Davis can attest to that, too.

“It was a good sequence,” Miller said of the knee-buckling slider. “I executed some pitches early. [Catcher Roberto Perez] came out and asked what we wanted to do. I put a breaking ball in the dirt and, fortunately, it worked out.”

Since joining the Indians, Miller has racked up 16 strikeouts against one walk in 10 2/3 innings, holding batters to a 4-for-36 showing. He has entered into the game in the sixth (once), seventh (three times), eighth (twice) and ninth (three times) for manager Terry Francona.

So far, Miller has liked the look of the Tribe’s bullpen, and how Francona has utilized the group.

“It seems like we’re all going to be flexible, and I think that’s good for us,” Miller said. “I think we’ve got a good group of guys and, as a unit, I think we’ve pitched really well top to bottom since I’ve been here. If we can give Tito as many options as possible, I think we’re better for it.”

SECOND: This one began with Carlos Carrasco.

“The key was just the start,” Miller said. “Carrasco is just so darn good.”

Against the A’s, Cookie collected nine strikeouts with no walks, giving him 28 whiffs and zero free passes in his past three outings. He has a 37:2 strikeout-to-walk ration over his past four turns for the Tribe. That quartet of starts comes after Carrasco allowed eight runs in 3 2/3 innings on Aug. 2. Needless to say, he has bounced back.

“He was terrific,” Francona said. “Command of his fastball and then off of that, the breaking ball. And he had to be good, because their guy was every bit as good.”

Indeed, A’s rookie Andrew Triggs was handcuffing the Indians’ bats all evening, too. In only his fourth Major League start, the righty blanked Cleveland for six frames. Carrasco matched him zero for zero, though, and added two more for good measure.

The potentially great news for Cleveland is this: Carrasco looks like he’s in mid-season form. He missed all of May due to a hamstring injury, but kept his arm in shape while sidelined. At 124 innings, Carrasco doesn’t have the same season mileage as many of the game’s top workhorses.

Should Cleveland keep its reservation for the October stage, having Carrasco feeling stronger than some other starters could be an advantage.

“Everybody has probably 40 more innings than him — somewhere around there,” Francona said. “But, you can tell his tank is not anywhere close to empty. I think with the repetition, you’re seeing his secondary pitches getting sharper.”

Carrasco agreed that his slider and changeup have continued to improve as the season has worn on.

“Right now, I feel fresh,” Carrasco said. “When I was on the DL, Kluber, Tomlin, Bauer and Danny were trying to do their best. Now that I took six weeks on the DL, it’s like the middle of the season for me. The more important thing is to work really hard and get on the same level as everyone else.”

THIRD: It was a cool night at the Coliseum, so much so that reporter Andre Knott (@DreKnott) took plenty of heat on Twitter for the coat he was wearing. Check his feed and mentions for a few laughs.

Fly balls were dying, giving an edge to Carrasco and Triggs, who can generate grounders. It was either going to take a pitcher losing command, a string of line-drive or ground-ball hits, or someone to get a hold of one down one of the lines to win this one. In the middle of the game, a local reporter quipped: “First one to zero wins.”

It certainly felt like one was probably going to do it.

“[Hits] were certainly hard to come by,” Francona said. “Both teams really pitched well.”

The one arrived in the eighth inning.

Oakland reliever Ryan Dull threw a 1-1 fastball and Carlos Santana pounced. He yanked the pitch down the right-field line, but stayed put at the plate. As the ball carried towards the stands, Santana leaned over the dish, cringing a little as he tried to will it to stay fair.

“It was in-between,” Santana said. “Is it foul? Will it stay fair?”

It stayed fair. The shot rocketed out with an exit velocity of 108 mph, per Statcast, and represented Santana’s 27th home run of the year. That ties his career high for one season, set in 2011 and again in ’14. He had 658 and 660 plate appearances, respectively, in those campaigns. Santana has 522 PAs right now.

“He’s been good all year,” Francona said. “He plays first. He DHs. He hits first. He hits cleanup. He’s been good for us all year.”

HOME: Oakland’s best shot at breaking through against the Indians came in the sixth, when Carrasco faced a two-out situation with runners on first and second base. He escaped by striking out Davis with hard slider.

Where the inning really went south for the A’s, however, was with one out. Coco Crisp stepped up to the plate and roped a pitch into the right-field corner. Crisp had a chance at a triple and, given the way the game was going, sprinted around second with his sights set on third.

“It was a good play,” Indians right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall said. “He made the right play, trying to get to three with one out. It was a good baseball play all around.”

Of course, Chisenhall probably felt a little better about that last statement, given that Cleveland’s defense cut down Crisp at third on the play. Chisenhall grabbed the ball in the corner and fired it to second baseman Jason Kipnis, who made a quick relay to third baseman Jose Ramirez.

Cleveland Indians v Oakland Athletics

Crisp slid head-first, Ramirez slapped on a tag, and the umpire called the runner out.

“It got to third in a hurry,” Francona said. “Lonnie fielded it cleanly and when Kip got it, that was a perfect throw. It was as bang-bang as you can get.”

The A’s challenged the call, which stood after a quick replay review.

“It was probably one of those where, if they call him safe, they probably don’t overturn either way,” Francona said.

“There might not have been enough evidence either way to call it,” Chisenhall added.

Asked about the play, Carrasco smirked.

“He was out,” said the pitcher, still smiling.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 102

Corey Kluber

Some notes and quotes from Sunday’s 8-0 win over the A’s

FIRST: It was not the easiest of transitions when Roberto Perez was pressed into duty last year. After Yan Gomes was shelved in April with a right knee injury, the backup catcher was thrust into a starting role at the Major League level for the first time.

Perez’s inexperience back then was most glaring when he was catching Corey Kluber, who has formed a great working relationship with Gomes. Kluber was coming off a Cy Young season. Perez was getting his feet wet for a team expecting to compete.

“We’ve all seen where that’s the case,” Indians manager Terry Francona said, “where you’ve got a starting pitcher that’s got a pretty good resume and he makes the guy behind there nervous. That doesn’t help anything.”

Perez said he was just nervous in general early on last year.

“Last year, I put a lot of pressure on myself,” Perez said. “I went through it last year. But, this year, I told myself I went through that already, so I’m not going to put pressure on myself and try to go out there and simply play the game, try not to do too much.”

Circumstances have heaped more duties on Perez once again. Gomes went down with a separated right shoulder earlier this month, forcing Cleveland to activate Perez off the disabled list before the team initially planned. As part of his return, Perez would be asked to catch Kluber, who had worked with Gomes for 40 consecutive starts.

It has gone much better this time around.

In their first five games together in 2015, Kluber posted a 6.10 ERA and allowed an .843 opponents’ OPS. The righty said at the time that they were having trouble getting on the same page with pitch sequencing. In their final three starts together, following that ugly stretch, Kluber issued one walk, gave up two runs and struck out 37 in 25 innings.

“We went through some struggles at the beginning,” Kluber said. “We worked at it and got to the point where we were comfortable with each other. I think that he’s told me, and would probably tell you as well, that he was a little hesitant at first. He didn’t want to put down the wrong fingers.

“I told him, ‘Hey, just go out there and call the game like you normally would. If I don’t like it, I’ll shake it off.’ I think once we got to that point, he was a lot more comfortable, I was a lot more comfortable, and it’s worked well.”

During Sunday’s win over the A’s, Kluber spun seven shutout innings with Perez behind the dish. It’s the second time in as many starts that the pitcher logged seven shutout innings with the catcher. In their three pairings since Gomes landed on the DL, Kluber has turned in a 1.29 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and .213 opponents’ average, with 23 strikeouts and six walks in 21 innings.

“That’s not the easiest thing in the world,” Francona said. “Going into a couple starts ago, Yan had caught, I want to say, almost every inning of every game [Kluber] pitched. I’m sure ‘Berto knows that, and he’s worked hard to find a comfort zone. And I also think Kluber has done a good job of allowing Roberto to relax back there, and not feel like he’s on pins and needles.”

Indians backup catcher Chris Gimenez praised Perez’s work with Kluber.

“He’s done a great job,” Gimenez said. ” The ability to come in and just kind of pick up right where Gomer and Klubes left off, I think, is a big attribute to have. Because, I know
[Kluber] is very particular about that. When you’ve worked with a guy so many times, it’s like second nature. Those two guys [Kluber and Gomes], I don’t even know if they put down signs half the time. They know what they’re going to do.

“With ‘Berto coming back there, you might not have that sense of clarity and that sense of comfort, but I don’t see Klubes shaking too much, so he’s doing something right. And that’s big.”

SECOND: The bottom third of Cleveland’s lineup (Tyler Naquin, Abraham Almonte and Perez on Sunday) came up big against the A’s.

That trio combined to go 5-for-8 with two RBI, three walks and five runs scored for the Indians. Almonte, specifically, continued his recent offensive turnaround for the Tribe. Want to have some fun with a small sample size? On July 20, Almonte was batting .143 with a .468 OPS (Oh no!). Well, he’s gone 7-for-16 since then and is not batting .270 with a .786 OPS (hmm, not too bad).

“Abe’s given us a big lift the last couple days,” Francona said. “And again, I know it’s kind of common sense, but we need to be that kind of team where we’re getting contributions and not giving a pitcher an inning off and things like that. Even when you don’t score, if you make them work, you’ve got a chance.”

THIRD: Jason Kipnis stayed hot at the plate on Sunday, ending 1-for-3 with a two-run single and a run-scoring sacrifice fly. His wRC+ for July was 179 going into Sunday, up from .135 in June and 91 in May. Likewise, Kipnis OPS had gone up to 1.036 (July) from .876 (June) and .712 (May).

Kipnis also came around to score on a towering two-run homer from Mike Napoli in the third inning.

“He’s a good baseball player,” Napoli said of Kipnis. “Before I got over here, I always liked the way he played and I always thought he was a good ballplayer. It’s huge, having guys at the top of the lineup to be able to get on base and cause havoc for the defense of the other team, and have RBI situations. It’s something you need to be a winning ballclub. He’s been able to do it all year.”

HOME: It’s easy to say after a win, but it sure looked like the Indians were a bit energized on Sunday morning.

“I think there was definitely a good vibe in the locker room,” Kluber said. “You could tell that there was a little more excitement than normal at nine o’clock in the morning.”

That was due to the news spreading in the clubhouse before the game that Cleveland had acquired lefty Andrew Miller from the Yankees. Gimenez said, “You should’ve seen the smiles on guys’ faces. Everyone had their phones out, screaming, ‘We got Miller!'”

Here are Sunday’s stories on the Miller trade and more:

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 100

AlmonteSome notes and quotes from Friday’s 5-3 win over the A’s.

FIRST: The Indians’ bullpen is working underneath a magnifying glass right now. Every pitch, every mistake is being scrutinized, as it is no secret that Cleveland is on the hunt for relief reinforcements before Monday’s non-waiver Trade Deadline.

On Friday night, the bullpen held up its end of the bargain.

“Guys did an unbelievable job,” Indians closer Cody Allen said. “Good teams, championship teams, you see a lot they score late and their bullpen holds down leads. It was definitely good to do that.”

Indians starter Trevor Bauer wasn’t having an awful night, but he ran into trouble in the sixth, while Cleveland’s offense was stuck in neutral. Josh Reddick and Khris Davis launched back-to-back homers and then Bauer issued a one-out walk, followed by a base hit to Yonder Alonso.

With the A’s up, 3-0, manager Terry Francona felt it was time to go to his ‘pen.

“Trevor was throwing the ball good,” Francona said. “I was trying to stay with him, but after [the home runs] you’ve got walk-hit and he’s up over 100 [pitches]. The way [Kendall] Graveman was throwing, it seemed like we better try to hold it right there.”

Enter Dan Otero. The reliable righty induced a flyout to right field off the bat of Marcus Semien and then generated an inning-ending grounder from Ryon Healy. Rally over. With that two-batter showing, Otero lowered his season ERA to 1.31 for the Tribe.

“He’s given us a lot,” Allen said of Otero. “He can pitch anywhere. That’s the thing. He can give you multiple innings. He can come in and get righties out. He can get lefties out. A guy like that is key to having a good bullpen. Without him this year, we’d kind of be stuck a little bit, because we haven’t gotten a lot of innings out of lefties. But, Dan can sink the ball and cut the ball. He does a lot of things. He’s been huge for us.”

Then, it was Cody Anderson’s turn. The big right-hander opened the year as Cleveland’s No. 4 starter, but struggled led to a trip back to the Minors and now the Indians are seeing if he can help in relief. The Indians got one run back in the home half of the sixth, and then Anderson sidestepped the potential harm of a leadoff walk with a clean seventh.

The Indians then struck for four in the home half to grab a 5-3 lead. Bryan Shaw, who has been scrutinized more than any of his fellow Tribe relievers this year, then gave Cleveland a one-two-three eighth inning on a dozen pitches. And that set the stage for Allen, who allowed a pair of singles, but escaped harm to seal the win.

There was a touch of drama on the final play.

Reddick gave an Allen curveball a ride 373 feet to dead center. Rookie center fielder Tyler Naquin backpedaled through the grass, across the warning track and then settled just short of the wall. He gloved the deep fly for the 27th out.

“I think Naquin was probably the only guy in Cleveland that knew that ball wasn’t going to quite get out,” Allen said. “It was a little nerve-racking.”

SECOND: Rajai Davis has been receiving a lot of his playing time of late against left-handed pitching, but Francona likes to pick spots for working him into the mix against right-handers. Friday was one of those nights.

Why? Davis, as you may have heard, is pretty fast.

“It’s why he played tonight,” Francona said. “In close games, he can change the game with his speed. We don’t play [him] against every right-hander, but again, that speed plays all the time.”

It paid off at the start of the Tribe’s rally in the seventh. Davis hit a chopper up the middle and Semien ranged over for what looked like a routine groundout. The shortstop bobbled the ball, though, and Davis reached safely.

“I think I should have one-handed it, try to catch it and give yourself a chance,” Semien told reporters. “I didn’t give myself a chance there, so it’s frustrating that it led to a big inning. Rajai’s a fast runner. Maybe I thought about that and didn’t focus on the catch.”

It’s an example of how speed plays a role other than in stolen bases or taking an extra base. Speed can force mistakes.

“His speed will make guys rush on plays,” Allen said. “If he doesn’t hit a two-hopper right at you where you can kind of take your time, a little chopper like that, guys have to rush and try to make a good play. Sometimes you can force guys into a tougher play than it actually is.”

So, instead of no runners on with two outs, the Indians had a man on first with one out. Cleveland went on to score four in the frame to put the game away.

THIRD: Bauer’s outing wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great, either. The Tribe’s lack of early offense just made his mistakes more glaring.

Bauer’s final line looked like this: 5.1 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 2 HR.

Those two home runs came on back-to-back pitches in the top of the sixth. Reddick crushed a 3-1 fastball and Davis delivered on a first-pitch changeup. Over his past two starts, Bauer has given up four homers in 9.1 innings, compared to eight homers in his first 107 innings on the season.

“I feel like I pitched really well today, actually,” Bauer said. “I know it doesn’t look like I did.”

HOME: Maybe some of you feel for what Abraham Almonte has gone through this season, or maybe you don’t. He was suspended 81 games to start the year for testing positive for a banned PED. He has said he doesn’t know how it got into his system, but, as they say, it is what it is. It was discovered and he got suspended. Believe him or don’t. No one knows the truth by Almonte.

What I can tell you is Almonte has been a model clubhouse citizen since his return to the Indians and he has never shied away from discussing about his suspension. He has always been great to deal with for reporters. The outfielder also played a key role down the stretch last year and has been given a second chance here in the second half this season.

Almonte’s past aside, it was good for the Indians to see him come up big on Friday night. And I’m sure it felt good for him, personally, given the .172 batting average he carried into the game against the A’s.

In the seventh inning, Almonte delivered a pinch-hit RBI single, scoring Davis and moving Naquin from first to third. It helped ignite the Tribe’s four-run inning, which included Almonte also scoring from third on a wild pitch. Jason Kipnis (RBI single) and Francisco Lindor (sac fly) also came through.

“It feels great,” Almonte said. “It was a big situation for the club. I was able to get a hit and keep things rolling there in a good way. I always feel excited to help the team win.”

EXTRA: And for a good laugh…

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 98

LindorSome notes and quotes from Tuesday’s 7-6 win over the Nationals

FIRST: There was some angst around the Tribe Twittersphere when the lineup was posted prior to Tuesday’s game. With lefty Gio Gonzalez on the hill for Washington, Tyler Naquin and Lonnie Chisenhall were on the bench for the Indians.

Anyone who has followed manager Terry Francona in his time in Cleveland should know how much he values being able to match up, especially in later innings. Against the Nationals, there could be chances for Naquin or Chisenhall to come off the bench in a key situation.

“Obviously, Tito likes to use the bench,” Indians backup catcher Chris Gimenez said. “And the way that our roster is kind of constructed, that’s going to happen. We’ve got some flexibility where we’ve got some guys that he can do some match-ups and stuff with. … You just never know. You can’t just sit on the bench and take the day off if you’re not in the lineup, because you never know when you might be in there.”

Chisenhall’s opportunity arrived in the seventh inning, when he pinch-hit for Roberto Perez against righty Blake Treinen. Chisenhall answered the call with a slashed grounder to the left side for a single, scoring Abraham Almonte to cut the Nationals’ lead to 5-3.

Naquin got his chance in the ninth, when Washington handed the ball to closer Jonathan Papelbon with a 6-4 lead. With Jose Ramirez on first base, Naquin sliced a pitch into the left-center gap, where it skipped to the wall for a double. Ramirez — sans helmet once he sprinted around third — scored to pull the Indians within one run.

“That obviously really changed the game,” Francona said of Naquin’s hit. “We’re trying to extend the inning any way we can, maybe get the tying run to second or something. It looked like he hit a split and he stayed on it. That really changed everything.”

Next up was Gimenez, who took over behind the plate after Perez was lifted. Gimenez pushed a pitch up the first-base line for what he intended to be a sacrifice bunt. First baseman Ryan Zimmerman charged and gloved it, but then fired wildly beyond first base. Naquin scored to pull the game into a 6-6 deadlock.

“He tried to throw me a fastball up and away, hoping I’d kind of pop it up,” Gimenez said. “I just thought it wasn’t high enough that I couldn’t go get it. Just nice and easy, bunt it to first base. It turns out that [Zimmerman’s] had some minor issues I think in the past with making a throw and stuff like that. Thankfully, for us today, it worked out.”

Later in the inning, the stage was set for Francisco Lindor, who stepped to the plate with the bases loaded. The Indians shortstop sent a pitch through the hole on the right side, scoring Gimenez on a walkoff single. After the game, Lindor didn’t hog the spotlight, either. He quickly pointed to all the contributions that led to his moment.

“We trust in ourselves. We trust in the team have,” Lindor said. “Gimenez wasn’t starting today. Huge at-bat. Naquin wasn’t starting today. Huge at-bat. Chisenhall wasn’t starting today. Huge at-bat. Guys aren’t playing, but they were in the game. They helped us.”

SECOND: Before Lindor’s heroics, Rajai Davis delivered a critical hit to set things up for the game’s decisive blow.

Gimenez was on second and Chisenhall, following an intentional walk, was on first base with one out in the final inning. On the first pitch from Oliver Perez, Davis saw Zimmerman and third baseman Anthony Rendon crashing hard as he squared around to bunt.

“I was taught to, when that happens, you slash,” Davis said. “You try to keep it in the middle of the field. So, in the ninth, that was my first opportunity to actually do that in a game.”

Davis held firm to the bat and pushed the pitch hard and into the air. As Rendon ran in aggressively, the baseball popped up and over his head, dropping into the infield grass to the left side of the mound. With shortstop Trea Turner sprinting to cover this, the baseball was in no-man’s land.

“Huge credit to Raj,” Gimenez said. “That was pretty much the play of the game right there. A lot of people don’t think he did that on purpose, but he absolutely did that on purpose.”

Even Francona wasn’t sure that was an intentional technique by Davis.

“I’d like to say yeah. I’m going to doubt it,” Francona said. “They were so aggressive on that play that, again, I don’t know if he tried that or not. They had no play, because they were so aggressive. That’s one where, being that aggressive, you’d almost like him to pull back and hit because there’s no way we can get ‘G’ to third on that.

“They were so aggressive. But, when you’re that aggressive, put the ball in play, sometimes some good things can happen.”

Davis said he didn’t have that type of play in mind when he walked to the plate. He knew he was going to bunt, but the slash bunt — or “slug bunt” as he jokingly called it — was not on his mind.

“That’s just something you instinctively know from through the years. You either do it or you don’t. You have that knowledge or you don’t have it. You’re either brave enough to do it or you’re not. I was fortunately enough to have it work out for us.”

 

THIRD: This was a good win for the Indians in the sense that it was really close to being an ugly loss.

To begin with, Danny Salazar lasted only four innings and one batter for Cleveland. The right-hander just didn’t look like himself in the outing. That was especially true in the fourth, when Rendon tattooed an elevated split-change on an 0-2 count. With Salazar at 85 pitches, and the bullpen rested, Francona pulled the plug.

“Everything was hard for him tonight,” Francona said. “It just didn’t look like he was in sync with anything. … I just thought, you know what? We’re going to obviously lean on him the last two months. Sometimes, rather than make him slug his way through another inning, let’s go ahead and get him out and see if we can make it work.”

Defensively, Cleveland didn’t do itself many favors, either. OK, so there was this Lindor gem…

There were also three errors. Third baseman Juan Uribe made a pair of miscues that helped Washington to runs. Uribe botched a grounder from Daniel Murphy in the first, and the Nationals went on to score two runs. In the ninth, Uribe and Mike Napoli each made an error, helping Washington tack on an insurance run.

With the win, Cleveland avoided the storyline revolving around all the mistakes.

“That was, I thought, uncharacteristic of us a little bit,” Francona said. “They were all tough [plays].”

HOME: For the past week, the Indians have talked a lot about how much they were looking forward to getting home. Cleveland spent the bulk of June and July on the road, and just came off a grueling 10-day swing through Minneapolis, Kansas City and Baltimore. By the end of that trip, the team looked drained.

“There’s nothing better than being home,” Gimenez said. “We kind of had a rough month of being on some 10-day road trips. A West coast swing. Stuff like that. It grinds on you. It absolutely grinds on you. There’s nothing better than being home, where everything is comfortable.”

And, of course, home is where the last at-bat is. Tuesday’s game was the perfect example.

“I know this going to be a shocking announcement: That’s not how we drew it up,” Francona said. “There were so many things that happened in that game that were kind of peculiar that, again, hitting last sure helps.”

Including Tuesday’s game, Cleveland is in the midst of a stretch of 20 home games in a 25-game span. It’s 30 out of 42 at home, stretching into early September. As of right now, Cleveland is 27-16 at home (15-4 in its last 19) with five walkoff wins.

“Huge. It’s huge,” Lindor said of being back in Cleveland. “We’ve been on the road for a while. It’s nice to be home with our families, get that little off-day and be in this clubhouse. It changes everything a little bit. The fans today, they were a little quiet at first, but it got loud as the game went on. That’s what we play for. For them.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 107 other followers