Covering the Bases: Opening Day

This season, I’m going to bring back the “Covering the Bases” feature I used a few years ago. After each game I cover, I will hit on four important aspects, whether it be news, in-game events or performances. Here’s a quick look at Thursday’s Opening Day game.

Final:

Blue Jays 7, Indians 4
16 innings at Progressive Field

FIRST: Indians Opening Day starter Justin Masterson was masterful. Pun intended. The big righty limited the Blue Jays to one run on two hits and ended with 11 outs via grounders, 10 strikeouts and one walk. His game score of 83 was the best for an Indians starter on Opening Day since 1968. Masterson showed exactly why Cleveland believes he’s an ace in the making. If only he had a win to show for it, which brings us to …

SECOND: With Masterson at 99 pitches, and the Indians holding a 4-1 lead, manager Manny Acta opted to hand the ball to closer Chris Perez in the ninth inning. I have absolutely no issue with that decision. Could Masterson have gone nine? I’m sure he’d say yes and Acta might even say yes, too. But Masterson didn’t throw more than six innings in Spring Training and this was the first game of the season. Beyond that, it was a three-run lead. Pulling him under these circumstances were a completely understandable decision, and I think it was the right one.

Of course, we now have the benefit of hindsight. Perez labored to the tune of three runs allowed on three hits with two walks mixed in. It was quick and it was ugly, and the blown save sent the game on a slow march through 16 innings — the longest Opening Day game in baseball history. It’s just one outing, though, so it’s way to early to start wondering if Perez should still be the closer.

While I am of the belief that the save stat has done more bad than good to the game, the fact of the matter is that Cleveland is paying Perez $4.5 million to close games. He was an All-Star last year, when he saved 36 of 40 games. Vinnie Pestano might look like a closer in waiting, but that’s Perez’s job for the forseeable future.

Perez said his struggles had nothing to do with the left oblique injury he suffered in Spring Training.

Worth noting: Jose Valverde, who was perfect in 49 save chances last year, blew a save on Opening Day. It’s also worth noting that both Justin Verlander (105 pitches through 8 IP) and Doc Halladay (92 pitches through 8 IP) were pulled before the 9th inning on Thursday. Blaming Acta is not the way to go in this situation.

THIRD: Two aspects of the 2012 Indians will be under the microscope this season — Ubaldo Jimenez and the team’s offense. We’ll get our first official look at Jimenez on Saturday, but we’ve already had our initial taste of the Indians’ lineup. It’s only one game — sample size alert — but there were certainly some worrisome developments. Cleveland went 3-for-6 in its four-run second inning, but went just 4-for-43 in the other 15 frames. On the bright side, Jack Hannahan launched a three-run home run and the Tribe drew 11 walks. Then again, 1-for-9 with RISP and 10 runners stranded is no way to live.

HOME: In the 15th inning, Blue Jays pitcher Luis Perez threw a pitch in the direction of Shin-Soo Choo’s head, knocking him to the dirt. Choo scrambled to his feet and threatened to charge the mound. Benches emptied, but the situation was calmed quickly and the umpires allowed both Perez and Choo to stay in the game, even though warnings were issued earlier. Remember, it’s the umpires’ discretion after warnings.

Here’s what Choo, who had been hit in the back by Ricky Romero earlier in the game, had to say about the matter: “I had a hit by pitch last year — a broken thumb. Maybe that’s the reason why I’m very sensitive right now, but it’s part of the game. Pitchers need to throw inside. I understand that.”

On deck:

Toronto Blue Jays (1-0) at Cleveland Indians (0-1)
1:05 p.m. ET Saturday at Progressive Field

–JB

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