May 2012

Covering the Bases: Game 50

Final:

Royals 6, Indians 3

FIRST: The Indians’ latest tumble to second place is not on the offense. This recent slide is on the starting rotation. The offense, even throughout all the injuries of late, has held up its end of things for the most part.

In Wednesday’s loss, Cleveland received another subpar performance from its starter and the result was a second straight series loss against a division rival. Following a sweep of the Tigers, the Tribe has been swept on the road by the White Sox and has now dropped two of three to Kansas City at home.

Jeanmar Gomez was the latest to turn in a forgettable outing. The right-hander allowed five runs on 10 hits over five innings. Over his past two outings, Gomez has surrendered 11 earned runs across 10.2 innings. Gomez is only part of what has been an ongoing problem, though.

Here is the output by Cleveland’s rotation over the past six games:

May 30: 5 IP, 5 ER, 10 H (Gomez, loss)
May 29: 6 IP, 7 ER, 9 H (Justin Masterson, loss)
May 28: 5 IP, 4 ER, 4 H (Josh Tomlin, win)
May 27: 4 IP, 7 ER, 7 H (Ubaldo Jimenez, loss)
May 26: 2.1 IP, 8 ER, 10 H (Derek Lowe, loss)
May 25: 5.2 IP, 6 ER, 6 H (Gomez, loss)

Totals: 1-5, 11.89 ERA (37 ER/28 IP) with 46 hits allowed

“It was like everybody was bit by the same bug this last week,” Indians manager Manny Acta said.

In the 10 games prior to the recent six-game slide, Indians starters combined to go 5-1 with a 2.31 ERA (17 ER/68.1 IP) and 50 hits allowed.

Cleveland can’t survive atop the American League Central, or in a postseason setting for that matter, if its rotation isn’t consistently eating innings and holding the opposition in check. Now, a 2.31 ERA over a long stretch isn’t realistic. Neither is an 11.89 ERA, though.

Some consistency with the quality starts is what the Tribe needs.

“The pitching sets the tone,” Acta said. “Right now we’re not setting the tone very well.”

SECOND: Johnny Damon (hitting .171) served as the designated hitter for the Indians on Wednesday. Other options while Travis Hafner is sidelined for the next 4-6 weeks consist of Shelley Duncan (.204), Jose Lopez (.256) and Lonnie Chisenhall (promoted from Triple-A on Monday).

Could help be on the way from the Minors?

“Everybody on the Triple-A roster is an option,” Acta said.

Well, we know that’s not entirely true. The top two candidates for promotion would seem to be right-handed hitters Matt LaPorta and Russ Canzler. Both have experience at first base, left field and DH. Of the two, LaPorta is having the better season.

A lot of Indians fans have taken to Twitter and my inbox crying for LaPorta to be called up already. After all, he is hitting .304 with 13 homers and 30 RBIs through 44 games. He’s also hit .321 against left-handed pitching. Might he be on the way? It’s possible, sure. Acta said the team would go over in-house options on Thursday’s off-day.

Keep something in mind, though. LaPorta has always hit Minor League pitching well. It’s the jump to the big leagues that has typically presented the issue. It’s also fair to point out that LaPorta’s season stats are heavily influenced by a strong April showing at home.

Consider that LaPorta was hitting .228 (18-for-79) with a .794 OPS in May and .236 (17-for-72) with a .665 OPS on the road, entering Wednesday.

THIRD: The Indians stole three more bases in Wednesday’s game, giving them 42 on the season. Through 50 games last year, Cleveland had 29 stolen bases. It’s all in an effort to try to create as much offense as possible. The Tribe has turned 19 of their 42 stolen bases (45.2%) into runs. Jason Kipnis stole two bases on Wednesday, giving him a team-leading 11 thefts on the year.

HOME: Cleveland had a great chance at a comeback in the ninth inning. With one out, K.C. closer Jonathan Broxton lost his command and quickly found himself in a bases-loaded jam. Shin-Soo Choo walked, Kipnis singled and Asdrubal Cabrera drew a free pass to set up a potentially game-changing situation.

That was until Jose Lopez hacked at the first pitch and grounded into a game-ending double play.

“Jose was trying to ambush them there on the first pitch,” Acta said. “It was just a poor swing. The ball ate him up.”

Lopez said he was looking for a fastball and he got one. The problem was it was too high in the zone and he went after it anyway. At least Lopez owned up to it and admitted he should have taken the pitch.

Said Broxton: “I just wasn’t getting the ball over the plate. I was missing by a good bit. It wasn’t even close and luckily he swung at it right there.”

On deck:

Twins (18-32) at Indians (27-23)
at 7:05 p.m. ET on Friday at Progressive Field

NOTE: Covering the Bases will return on Sunday. I’m off Friday and Saturday, so make sure you are following Justin Albers (@Justin_Albers) on Twitter and checking Indians.com for updates in my absence.

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 49

Final:

Royals 8, Indians 5

FIRST: Asked how he would evaluate his season up to this point, here is what Indians sinkerballer Justin Masterson had to say following his latest inconsistent outing.

“Decent,” Masterson said. “That’s how I’d evaluate it. Couple bad ones, and quite a few good ones.”

Now, it’d be easy to scoff a bit at Masterson’s personal evaluation, considering he walked away from Tuesday’s game 2-4 with a 5.14 ERA for Cleveland. But, you know, when you crunch the numbers, it’s easy to see where Masterson is coming from in terms of that response.

Masterson has had three poor outings:

April 17 at Seattle: 8 R/8 ER in 3.2 IP
May 13 at Boston: 6 R/6 ER in 6 IP
Tuesday vs. Kansas City: 8 R/7 ER in 6 IP

Within each of those starts, Masterson has suffered an inning with at least four runs allowed. He gave up six runs in the fourth inning on April 17, four runs in the first inning on May 13 and five runs (four earned) in the second inning on Tuesday. That’s 14 earned runs in just three innings.

Let me put it another way: Masterson has given up 36 percent of his earned runs (14 ER) in only 4 percent of his innings (3 IP) this season. That’s a 3.44 ERA on the year if you remove those big innings. If you toss out those three worst starts, Masterson has a 3.08 ERA on the season.

I know, you can’t just toss out innings or starts. They happened. They’re in the books. My only point is that there is a very small sample of extremely ugly innings that skew Masterson’s overall statistical line. He hasn’t been inconsistent so much as he has been brutally bad very briefly here and there.

So what’s the issue? Masterson said he has been struggling with getting underneath the ball on both his sinker and slider this season. As evidenced on Tuesday, when he gave up seven runs in the first two innings and only one in the next four, it has sometimes taken Masterson a couple innings to get a good feel for his signature two-seamer.

Without that pitch (and PitchFX data also shows he’s down about 2 mph on his fastball), Masterson is limited in the weapons he can turn to on the mound. When the sinker is flat, lefties lick their chops. That’s what was witnessed on Tuesday night.

On the plus side, Masterson gave the Indians and their six-man bullpen six innings and he ended with eight strikeouts against no walks. In fact, Masterson became the first Indians pitcher since Aug. 31, 1990 (Greg Swindell) to strike out at least eight while giving up at least eight runs.

As for that bullpen, it looks like an additional arm is on the way up from the Minors for Wednesday. Following Tuesday’s game, it appeared shortstop Juan Diaz was saying his farewells to his Indians teammates. Once Asdrubal Cabrera was cleared to resume manning the field following his left hamstring issue, it was a foregone conclusion that Diaz would be sent back down.

SECOND: When the Indians struck for two runs in the bottom of the first inning to pull the game into a 2-2 tie, it seemed like we were in store for a tightly-contested battle. Instead, the Royals pounded out five runs in the second and killed the energy on Cleveland’s  side in the process.

“That had to be the most boring game I’ve ever been a part of,” Acta said. “Everything happened in the first two innings. It was just pathetic. The second inning just pretty much sucked the energy out of everybody. It was a deep hole and we couldn’t get out of it.”

THIRD: The Indians managed just one hit in their final 21 trips to the plate and dropped to 4-10 against left-handed starters this season. Lefty Will Smith gave up two runs in the first inning and was shaky to the point that Kansas City had a reliever warming up in the bullpen.

But then the Tribe’s offense went flat and Smith collected his first Major League win.

“Offensively, we also had our chance in the first inning,” Acta said. “They already had a guy warming up, getting ready to come into the game. We let the kid Smith off the hook. After that, he was pretty good.”

HOME: In the second inning, Humberto Quintero chopped a pitch to Indians first baseman Jose Lopez with runners on second and third base with one out. Lopez gloved the ball and threw to home plate in an effort to nab Eric Hosmer. Catcher Luke Carlin caught the relay in front of the plate, but it was ruled that Hosmer slid in safely before being tagged.

Carlin was asked if he felt in hindsight that he could’ve blocked the plate better.

“I’ll have to look at the video,” Carlin said. “I thought that I was standing just in front of it. I took it away att he last second. I tagged him on the head. [The home-plate ump] said he got in there behind me, but I couldn’t see it because my head was turned the other way. It was a close play either way. He had the best view, so I can’t argue with that.”

Carlin did achieve a unique feat in the loss.

The catcher went 0-for-4, but he reached base via an error three times. Carlin became only the second Indians player since 1960 to have at least three ROE’s in a single game. The last player to do so was Walt Williams on Sept. 11, 1973 (also three times in an 0-for-4 showing). The last big leaguer to reach three times via ROEs in one game was Braves catcher Brian McCann on Sept. 2, 2009.

On deck:

Royals (20-28) at Indians (27-22)
at 12:05 p.m. ET on Wednesday at Progressive Field

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 48

Final:

Indians 8, Royals 5

FIRST: The Lonnie Chisenhall Era might be upon us, Cleveland.

Indians third baseman Jack Hannahan has played great this season, and he’s garnered a bit of a cult following within the fan base, but the reality is he’s hurt, on the disabled list and Chisenhall has a grand opportunity in front of him. As the third baseman of the future, a strong performance in Hannahan’s absence could go a long way in keeping him in the big leagues.

“He feels that he belongs here,” Indians manager Manny Acta said. “A lot of us think that he’s pretty close to being an everyday guy up here. It’s just that the situation didn’t arise in Spring Training. As I told him, ‘There’s going to come a point where you’re going to be the everyday guy here.’

“‘Only you can make it happen. Get out there, have some fun, take it one day at a time and maybe you won’t have to come into my office to come and go anymore.”

Last year, the Indians summoned Chisenhall to the big leagues on June 27, when he was hitting just .267 at Triple-A. This season, Chisenhall was called up on Monday, when Hannahan (left calf and back) landed on the 15-day DL. This time around, Lonnie Baseball was hitting .324 with four homers, 12 doubles, 16 runs and 17 RBIs in 28 games at Triple-A.

“Do you know what I’m excited about?” Acta said. “I know it’s only been two months and he spent some time on the DL, but he has gone down there and done what we asked him to do, what we wanted to see. In the past, we have always talked about Lonnie being the future here, but he hasn’t, over the last couple years, gone down and dominated in any league.

“This year, he’s hitting over .320. He’s got a bunch of extra-base hits. His on-base percentage [.353] is up. That’s a good sign. That’s what we wanted to see. It’s not about just talking about potential, but seeing him do some damage. I’ve been excited the whole two months just seeing what he did down there.”

In his first game back with the Indians, the 23-year-old Chisenhall launched a home run on his first swing.

“What a beautiful swing,” Acta said with a smile. “This kid has just got a beautiful swing.”

SECOND: You can make all the jokes you want about the Indians’ lineup right now (And you have. I’ve seen a lot of your wisecracks on Twitter.), but what the offense has done over the past three games has been no laughing matter. Try 21 runs on 32 hits over the past three games without Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana and Travis Hafner.

“It’s been amazing,” said Indians closer Chris Perez.  “Honestly, you take away any team’s three-four-five hitters and see how many runs they can score.”

And good news is around the bend. Cabrera and Hafner could be back in the lineup within the next couple of days (maybe by Wednesday, but it says here that Thursday might be more realistic). Santana (on the seven-day disabled list) could also be activated by this weekend.

The Indians are just trying to weather the storm, and so far the offense has held up its end of the bargain.

THIRD: The line wasn’t exactly pristine for right-hander Josh Tomlin, but I didn’t think it was all that bad under the circumstances. Making his first start since May 7 (due to a stay on the disabled list with a right wrist injury), Tomlin held Kansas City to four runs on four hits in five innings. He was working on a limited pitch count and kept Cleveland in the game. It was a good step forward for one of the important pieces within the Tribe’s rotation.

HOME: Perez notched his 17th save of the season with a clean ninth inning. He has a save in each of the past five home wins for the Tribe, and one in each of the four home games since The Comments Heard ‘Round Cleveland.

“With all the crap I’ve been talking, I’ve got to back it up,” Perez said with a laugh.

For those who asked via Twitter, yes, Perez did do John Cena’s “You can’t see me” move after striking out Jarrod Dyson for the second inning in the ninth. Alas, Perez declined to discuss the gesture, or his reasoning behind it. Maybe Perez was just amped up. They don’t call him Pure Rage for nothing.

The Royals do have small bit of history with Perez, who drew a fine from Major League Baseball after he called out Kansas City in a postgame tweet after the clubs had a bench-clearing incident on April 14.

Perez has backed up all his actions and comments, though. Dating back to April 7, the closer has 17 saves in 17 chances with a 1.37 ERA (19.2 IP/3 ER), a .151 opponents’ average (11-for-73) and 20 strikeouts against five walks over 21 appearances in that span.

That Opening Day blown save seems like ancient history.

On deck:

Royals (19-28) at Indians (27-21)
at 7:05 p.m. ET on Tuesday at Progressive Field

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 47

Final:

White Sox 12, Indians 6

FIRST: Well, this series felt like a punch to the mouth, didn’t it?

After sweeping the Tigers at home earlier this week, the Indians were swept in overwhelming fashion this weekend by the White Sox. Chicago clobbered Cleveland’s pitching and did everything possible to make fans forget for a moment that the Tribe is actually a first-place ballclub.

“That’s why you can’t be doing backflips in May,” Indians manager Manny Acta said. “It’s way too early. Yeah, so what? We swept the Tigers three days ago and now [the White Sox] swept us. That’s how the game goes. You just have to stay positive and come out every single day and try to win every game regardless of where you’re at.”

I won’t sugarcoat things for you. I’ll just present you with some numbers.

The Indians allowed 35 runs on 42 hits, including 17 extra-base hits, over the past three losses in Chicago. Along the way, the White Sox hit .478 (22-for-46) with runners in scoring position.

This marks the first time since June of 1938 that the White Sox have scored at least nine runs in four consecutive games. For the Indians, this marks the first time since June 4-6, 2002 that the team has given up at least 35 runs in a three-game series. They also gave up 35 in that set a decade ago against the Twins.

“It was a tough series,” Johnny Damon said. “We also have to remember that we’re in first place.”

By a half-game now.

SECOND: Good Lord, will the Indians ever be thrilled to get away from Paul Konerko. Enjoy these next 105 games, because they will not include Killer Konerko or the Walloping White Sox.

In these three games against the Tribe, Konerko went 7-for-12 with one home run, three doubles, five runs and six RBIs for the White Sox. He’s hit .565 (26-for-44) over his current 13-game hitting streak.

“I don’t think I’m the only one who has an issue with Paul Konerko,” Acta said. “Paul Konerko is just a professional hitter and he has been for years. I mean, there’s only so much you can do. He’s a good one.”

Konerko is the active leaders in games (222), home runs, RBIs (166), runs (118), hits (232) and doubles (46) against Cleveland. His blast on Sunday was his 44th career shot against the Tribe.

Check out this incredible Top 10 list for career home runs vs. Cleveland:

1. Babe Ruth (82)
2. Ted Williams (79)
3. Lou Gehrig (73)
4. Jimmie Foxx (67)
5. Mickey Mantle (65)
6. Harmon Killebrew (56)
7. Yogi Berra (53)
8. Norm Cash (51)
9. Carl Yastrzemski (51)
10. Paul Konerko (44), Al Kaline (44)

“Everything he touches is finding pasture or finding the bleachers,” Damon said.

THIRD: This might normally be where I’d tell you Ubaldo Jimenez (4 IP, 7 R) pitched terribly again, but let’s focus on something else for a change. How about the fact that the Indians’ offense didn’t look too bad the last two games without its three-four-five combination of Asdrubal Cabrera (left hamstring), Carlos Santana (mild concussion) and Travis Hafner (right knee)?

Cleveland’s lineup, which featured the likes of backup catcher Lou Marson (.147), rookie shortstop Juan Diaz (called up from Double-A on Friday), among others dealing with offensive struggles (Damon, Shelley Duncan, Casey Kotchman), managed 13 runs on 18 hits over the past two games.

Congrats are in order to Diaz on collecting his first two MLB hits on Sunday, too.

It came in two losing efforts — thanks to a combination of bad Cleveland pitching and a Chicago lineup that’s on a tear — but it was still encouraging to see. Even so, Acta said he isn’t interested in seeing how his team responds to this adversity. He just wants his three stars in the lineup again as soon as possible.

“I’m not interested to see how this team reacts, OK?” Acta said with a chuckle. “I want to have my three guys back, or at least two of them. I’m telling you right now, it doesn’t matter how we react. We just want to try to survive and bide time until those guys come back. You just can’t substitute those guys.”

HOME: The Legend of Lou Marson now includes another chapter. In the fourth inning on Sunday, Marson was hit in the face by a curveball that didn’t curve from White Sox righty Gavin Floyd. It was a scary moment, but the backup catcher came away fine and remained in the game for the rest of the inning.

“It was a curveball that didn’t break,” Marson explained. “It kind of backed up a little bit, so I was waiting for it to break. By the time I turned, it was too late. If you see it on video, it goes straight at my face. I tried to get my hand up or something, but it was just too late.”

Marson left the game in the fifth when his lip wouldn’t stop bleeding. He eventually needed three stitches to seal up the gash in the left corner of mouth. Marson said he felt fine and that he believes he will be able to start on Monday at home against the Royals.

“He’s a tough guy,” Acta said. “He’s probably one of the toughest guys I’ve been around.”

On deck:

Royals (19-27) at Indians (26-21)
at 4:05 p.m. ET on Monday at Progressive Field

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 46

Final:

White Sox 14, Indians 7

FIRST: When reporters gathered around Derek Lowe following Saturday’s loss, he leaned against his locker and said, “You guys better be real specific with your questions. None of this, ‘Sooo, what happened out there today?'”

What’s funny is, Lowe said the Slaughter on the South Side happened so fast that it was tough to recall some of the specifics of his abbreviated outing.

“I don’t want to make light of the game,” Lowe said, “but when you get hit like that you almost forget who did what. It was just baserunner after baserunner. It was a bad combination of a lot of bad pitches and it looked like they were taking a very aggressive approach, a lot of first-pitch swinging.”

Lowe’s line: 2.1 IP, 10 H, 8 R, 0 BB, 3 K, 1 HR, 65 (42)

Just like that, his AL-best 2.15 ERA jumped to 3.25.

After striking out Cleveland nemesis Alejandro De Aza to open the first, it went like this for the White Sox: single (Gordon Beckham), single (Adam Dunn), RBI single (Paul Konerko), flyout (Alex Rios), RBI double (A.J. Pierzynski), two-run single (Dayan Viciedo). White Sox 4, Indians 0.

In the third inning, it went like this for the White Sox: double (Dunn), RBI double (Konerko), RBI single (Rios), flyout (Pierzynski), three-run home run (Viciedo). White Sox 8, Indians 5.

That third inning frustrated Lowe the most because — after the offense fought back to grab a 5-4 lead — he gave it away in all of 15 pitches.

“We battled back,” Lowe said. “We obviously did a tremendous job getting back the lead. And then 15 pitches or whatever it was and we’re right back to square one.”

Lowe said his sinker was flat and the White Sox were being really aggresive early in the count. That’s how a game with 21 runs and 23 hits can only last 2 hours, 39 minutes. It got ugly in a hurry — literally. Lowe said his breaking pitches weren’t much better. All in all, the veteran said it was best just to turn the page swiftly.

“The good thing,” Lowe said, “is I’ve had bad games before and, as much as it sucks, and it does, you understand that you still have a lot of starts to go. Just don’t let this linger into two or three bad starts.”

SECOND: Had it not been for Lowe’s underwhelming performance, we’d be waxing poetic about second baseman Jason Kipnis. He launched two homers in the loss — his first multi-homer game — and ended with four RBIs for the Tribe. In his career playing back home in Chicago, he’s now hitting .480 (12-for-25) with three home runs and nine RBIs in seven games.

“I’m enjoying watching Kipnis playing every day the way he’s going about his business,” Indians manager Manny Acta said. “He’s going to be a very good player in this league for years to come and probably for sure one of our main guys and a leader by the way he goes about his business. He goes all out and is a tough out despite this just being his first full season here.”

On the season, Kipnis is hitting .272 with 8 homers, four doubles, three triples, eight stolen bases, 16 walks and 31 runs scored through 46 games for the Indians.

THIRD: Rookie Juan Diaz went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts and a walk in his first Major League start at shortstop for the Indians. That makes him 0-for-4 with four strikeouts since being unexpectedly promoted from Double-A Akron. I understood the reasoning behind calling up Diaz (it was supposed to be a three-day stay without him necessarily even seeing the field), but as soon as shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera tweaked his hamstring on Friday it really put the Indians in a tough spot. Hopefully Cabrera can return to the field soon, or you’d figure Cleveland would need to get a more experienced fill-in on the roster soon.

HOME: Kipnis and Michael Brantley did what they could to make up for the fact that the Indians were playing three man short (Travis Hafner, Carlos Santana and Cabrera). Kipnis belted the two home runs and Brantley added a three-run double in the third inning.

Brantley also robbed as many runs as he drove in.

In the first inning, Rios launched a pitch from Lowe to dead center field. Brantley sprinted back, gliding to the wall before making an incredible leaping catch. The outfielder reached over the wall, gloved the ball and pulled it back in for a highlight-reel robbery that had Rios cursing as he headed back to the dugout.

“I thought that was amazing,” Kipnis said. “I was glad there was no camera on me, because I think I jumped up in the field and then looked around and looked lost, because I was out of position. I was like, ‘Oh crap, the ball’s still in play! I need to be somewhere.’ I was caught off guard by it. That should be No. 1 tonight on SportsCenter.”

Or maybe No. 1 on Quick Pitch on MLB Network.

Couldn’t help myself…

On deck:

Indians (26-20) at White Sox (25-22)
at 2:10 p.m. ET on Sunday at U.S. Cellular Field

–JB

 

 

Covering the Bases: Game 45

Final:

White Sox 9, Indians 3

FIRST: Don’t sleep on these White Sox. While everyone has billed this to be a two-horse race in the American League Central between the Indians and Tigers, the White Sox have quietly put together a solid start to the season. Do they have issues? Sure. Just like every other team in the division.

But Chicago shouldn’t be ignored in the division discussion.

“We’re not ignoring them ourselves,” Indians manager Manny Acta said. “We know they have a very good team. The three years that I’ve been in this division, I feel like they have the deepest pitching staff — probably the best pitching staff overall — in our division for the three years that I’ve been here.

“Pitching is a big part of the game. They do have a very good ballclub. Our division is balanced. I have never taken them for granted. They have the team to win, just like the rest of the division.”

As it happens, the White Sox are 23-12 over their last 35 games against the Tribe. Everyone says the road to the Central division goes through Detroit. Are we so sure? Cleveland sure took a thumping in the opener of this three-game set on the South Side.

SECOND: Quintana. That creep can roll, man.

(Big Lebowski reference. Couldn’t resist)

For the second time in his career, left-hander Jose Quintana pitched in the big leagues. For the second time in his career, it was against the Indians. All the southpaw has done — having never pitched above Double-A in Chicago’s system — is  post a 1.54 ERA in 11 2/3 innings.

Why has Quintana been so tough on the Tribe?

“He throws from the left side, to start off with,” Acta said. “He’s throwing strikes and he’s got a good cutter. he cuts the ball in to the rigties and away to the lefties. He’s done a good job of attacking the zone. As we all know, we have some issues against those lefties.”

With the loss, the Indians dropped to 4-9 vs. LH starters on the season.

THIRD: The Indians pride themselves on being a team that’s based around solid pitching. Cleveland has to be sound on the hill in order to make up for an offense that’s had its issues over the past few years. This year, though, there is an early problem that came up again on Friday night.

Entering the evening Cleveland had the second-most walks (171) allowed and most wild pitches (20) thrown in the American League. In the 9-3 drubbing in Chicago, the Indians’ pitching staff issued seven walks and threw three wild pitches.

“That’s one of the reasons why I continue to feel that we haven’t played our best baseball yet,” Acta said. “We’re second in walks in the league and first in wild pitches, and we’re still in first place. Sooner or later, that’s going to catch up with you. We need to get better at that.

“Seven walks. You’re going to pay for it. Not every ground ball is going to go right at people like with our sinkerballers. Tonight, it was an exampe of that. They hit some balls that you can’t defend. That was the main thing today.”

HOME: Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and catcher Carlos Santana both exited Friday’s game due to injuries, and the Indians are hoping the issues do not linger. Cabera left in the seventh with tightness in his left hamstring, and Santana left in the eighth after being struck in the facemask by a foul ball from Alex Rios.

Acta said both players will be re-evaluated prior to Suaturday’s game.

“Yeah. We can’t make a decision tonight,” Acta said. “It’s not like they couldn’t continue to play, so we have to see how they show up tomorrow.”

Acta said both were cases of the team taking a cautious approach. Cabrera has played 31 games in a row and the only backup shortstops right now are Jack Hannahan (a 3B by trade who’s missed the last 11 games due to a back issue) and Juan Diaz (called up from AA Akron prior to the game for depth). Santana complained of dizziness and it was a blowout at that point.

“Cabrera got a tight hamstring,” Acta said. “We took him out of there just for preaution. We didn’t want to make it any worse. We’ll see how he shows up tomorrow. Santana just took the ball off the mask. When we got out there, he said that he was dizzy.

“It was a one-sided game, so we took him out of there, because we all know how these concussion things are nowadays so we want to be proactive with that.”

On deck:

Indians (26-19) at White Sox (24-22)
at 4:10 p.m. ET on Saturday at U.S. Cellular Field

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 44

Final:

Indians 2, Tigers 1

FIRST: Maybe it’s a coincidence. Indians closer Chris Perez isn’t so sure. Since making his well-publicized comments calling for more fan support at home, there has been a noticeable buzz inside Progressive Field.

Granted, the weather has improved and the rival Tigers were in town. Even so, the Indians just completed a three-game sweep of Detroit with some encouraging crowds on hand and the Indians players felt a bit more energy from the fans at their home ballpark.

“It’s great,” Perez said. “I cant remember a day crowd like this — honestly. I think we had more than we had last night. It’s starting to catch on and it’s fun.”

The Indians drew 25,622 for Thursday’s noon game. For last Thursday’s (May 17) noon game against the Mariners, the Indians drew 12,894. It was in that game that Perez was booed by the local fans, lighting a fire for his vent sessions on Saturday night and Sunday morning.

As the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words. Well, the fans responded to Perez by offering him rousing standing ovations in each of his three appearances in the series against the Tigers. The closer showed his appreciation by collecting a save in each win over Detroit.

Don’t look not, but the Indians have a six-game lead on the Tigers in the division. That’s the same margin the clubs had between them a year ago on this date. Why can this season be different? Well, the Indians do not feel like they’ve peaked yet. Last year at this time, the Indians could do little wrong.

As to whether the team cares about getting any national attention, well, let’s just had the mic back to Perez for a second…

“I don’t think we care,” Perez said. “We’re not like flipping on ESPN to see if we’re leading off SportsCenter. We don’t care. They do their thing. They cover the Yankees and the Red Sox and how bad the Angels are. We’re doing our own thing. They’ll eventually turn. I saw a couple articles. We’re starting to get some love.

“It’s just we don’t have the star power. You look over there and you’ve got Cabrera and Fielder and Verlander and Valverde. But that doesn’t win baseball games. Good teams win baseball games.”

SECOND: The Justin Verlander v. Justin Masterson matchup lived up to expectations.

Verlander’s line: 8 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 7 K, 117 (79)
Masterson’s line: 7 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 5 BB, 4 K, 100 (64)

“I’m glad I could watch it,” Perez said. “I was a fan again.”

In the eighth inning, Verlander did what he does better than anyone. He reached back and began hitting triple digits with his pitch count climbing well beyond 100. He hit 100 mph and 101 mph a few times, and was clocked at 102 mph once. Verlander struck out Shin-Soo Choo, Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera in the inning.

(Choo had already done his part with a leadoff homer in the first inning)

“I mean, I tried to hit 100 the whole game and it never works,” Masterson quipped. “It’s 89 and, ‘Whoa. I can’t even get in the 90s anymore?’ It’s impressive to be able to do that. More or less it seemed like he was just toying out there, just going to blow it by.”

Masterson, meanwhile, sidestepped trouble at multiple turns. That’s the mark of a good sinkerballer.

THIRD: WTAM’s Nick Camino was calling on everyone to tweet that it is #LopeyTime and it’s hard to argue. Jose Lopez has taken full advantage of the opportunity that has arisen via Jack Hannahan’s back injury. Lopez drove in the go-ahead run with an RBI single in the fourth to extend his hitting streak to 10 games. Over that stretch, Lopez has hit .353 (12-for-34) with one home run, four doubles and seven RBIs for the Indians.

Lopez also contributed a key defensive play in the second inning. Brennan Boesch doubled and then moved to third on a groundout to Asdrubal Cabrera at shortstop. Jhonny Peralta then rolled over a slider from Masterson, sending it down the third-base line. Lopez gloved the ball and gunned down Boesch at the plate.

“That was great,” Masterson said. “To be able to make that play at home and keep that run from scoring was great.”

HOME: During the seventh inning, Indians manager Manny Acta headed to the mound with one out and runners on the corners for a chat with Masterson. Reliever Joe Smith, thinking he was being called into the game, exited the bullpen and began jogging into the outfield.

When Smith saw Acta was allowing Masterson to stay in the game, the reliever quickly retreated back into the bullpen.

“I thought I was in,” Smith said. “Everybody thought I was in, so I was like, ‘Let’s go. Whatever. I’ll face him.’ It was a good decision to leave that big boy in. I did a little sprint. I got my cardio in for the day.”

A reporter told Masterson that Smith was running in from the bullpen before turning around.

And then, Masterson couldn’t help himself.

“Did he forget his I.D.?” Masterson quipped to a loud eruption of laughter.

Yeah, he went there.

Smith had jokes, too.

“The cop asked me where I was going,” said the reliever. “He said, ‘Who are you? Where are you going?’ I said, ‘Come on, man. I’m in uniform and everything.'”

If you’re missing the joke, well, a quick internet search can bring you up to speed.

On deck:

Indians (26-18) at White Sox (22-22)*
at 8:10 p.m. ET on Friday at U.S. Cellular Field

*Does not include Thursday’s result

Oh, and hey, the White Sox are in second place in the Central…

“A lot is being made about us and Detroit,” Acta said, “but the White Sox are playing pretty good baseball and are right on our tail.”

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 43

Final:

Indians 4, Tigers 2

FIRST: The Indians can say all they want that this isn’t a big series, but that hasn’t stopped it from feeling bigger than a typical May matchup. The Tribe has taken the first two games of this three-game set against the Tigers, and things are starting to take on a more legit feel around here.

“We’re starting to play Wahoo Baseball,” closer Chris Perez said.

On this date last year, the Indians were 30-15 with a seven-game lead atop the American League Central. Right now, Cleveland is 25-18 with a 3 1/2-game lead atop the division. The lead isn’t as wide, and Detroit’s in third place, but this year I’m buying more into the Indians’ chances than last year.

A lof of that belief has to do with what manager Manny Acta has been pointing out for weeks. Cleveland has had subpar starts from Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez, along with plenty of question marks up and down the lineup, and the team has still found a way to find first place.

That’s a good sign, folks.

That said…

“We know it’s still early,” Perez said. “Obviously, this time last year we had an even bigger lead and we all know what happened. So I don’t think anybody is getting ahead of themselves.”

SECOND: Tonight’s tip o’ the cap goes to the Tribe’s bullpen. The Tigers loaded the bases in each of the seventh and eighth innings and Cleveland found a way to escape unscathe. Sidearmer Joe Smith did so in the seventh by inducing a groundout off the bat of Miguel Cabrera.

For those who want to point out the 3-0 pitch that was called a strike, well, manager Manny Acta said he felt it was indeed a strike upon viewing the replay. So, there’s that. Either way, Cabrera still had a hitter’s count (3-1) and Smith still got the groundout.

The game ball goes to Vinnie Pestano, though. He faced a bases-loaded jam with no outs in the eighth. He struck out Jhonny Peralta, induced a fielder’s choice groundout (at home plate, no less) from Ramon Santiago and then struck out Alex Avila to end the inning Houdini style.

THIRD: How on earth did Quintin Berry wind up with a bunt double in the sixth inning? Let’s have second baseman Jason Kipnis explain things from his perspective. He swung and missed trying to glove the ball on a hop behind first baseman Casey Kotchman, then fell down and Berry hauled it into second.

“That was just a messed up play,” Kipnis said. “First, I was watching Kotchman to see if he could get it. Then I saw it going over him. Then I didn’t know if I could catch it, so I stutter stepped and then — I knew he was a fast runner — so the only thing I could go for was a quick scoop and try to beat him to the bag and I just didn’t get down all the way and missed the ball.

“And then I slipped trying to go back for the ball and then he runs into me. Yeah, it was embarrassing, because it was just a dumb play and I probably could’ve caught the ball and saved us all that trouble.”

Detroit scored two in the inning after that debacle, and the subsequent misplay in right field by Shin-Soo Choo. No harm done, though. Travis Hafner clubbed a two-run homer to tie things up and the Tribe rallied for another two runs in the eighth.

HOME: Righty Zach McAllister gave Cleveland another solid effort in place of the injured Josh Tomlin. E.Z. Mac went 6 1/3 innings with two runs allowed (on a pair of non-error miscues), eight hits surrendered, no walks and three strikeouts. He was economical with his pitches (89-66) and put the Indians in a solid position once again.

Tomlin is slated to throw a 50-pitch simulated game on Thursday morning and is not expected to need a Minor League rehab assignment before being activated from the DL. McAllister, meanwhile, said he has reached a point where he feels he belongs in the big leagues now, gaining more comfort with each outing he makes.

“Yeah, I feel like that,” said McAllister, who is 1-1 with a 3.96 ERA in four starts. “I’m just trying to make the most of my opportunity. You never know when you’ll be sent down, so I’m trying to do all I can to make the decision hard for them.”

Gotta like that attitude.

On deck:

Tigers (20-23) at Indians (25-18)
at 12:05 p.m. ET on Thursday at Progressive Field

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 42

Final:

Indians 5, Tigers 3

FIRST: Chris Perez said a couple days ago that he wanted his first appearance after all the controversy he stirred up to come in a one-run save situation with Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder due up for the Tigers. Well, the outspoken Indians closer essentially got his wish.

Before we get to how he performed, though, it is worth noting how he was received. In his first outing since criticizing Indians fans for booing the home team and not showing up to the ballpark, Perez was welcomed with a standing ovation from those on hand at Progressive Field.

Perez was blown away.

“I’m humbled. It was great. Great to see,” Perez said. “I was surprised, for sure. I didn’t know which way it was going to go. If it would’ve gone the other way, I still would’ve done my job, tried to. But I’m thankful it went the good way. It was nice. It was really nice.”

How did CP respond? Well, with a touch of drama. He issued a one-out walk to Ramon Santiago and then gave up a single to Andy Dirks. So, with runners on the corners, up stepped Cabrera with Fielder on deck. Pere struck out Miggy and got Prince to ground out and that’s your ballgame.

Perez said tonight it was fun to pitch in Cleveland.

“It was fun tonight. It’s fun to win anyways,” Perez said. “I said a lot of stuff the last couple days. I meant every word of it. Sometimes it’s not fun playing anywhere. Even if you have 40,000 fans it can be not fun if you’re struggling. So it’s just what it was then. I’m here. I’m here for the long haul. I know the fans are going to come back out — I know that. It’s just at that point in time I was frustrated and I vented.

“Unfortunately, this is the only media I get, so you guys have to put up with it. But the fans have always been good to me for the most part. I’ve gotten a lot of things the last couple of days, fans saying it’s not all of us, just a few of us. I understand that. Our season-ticket holders are really [great]. I mean, John Adams is the best fan in baseball. He comes out here every single game and pounds that drum. So I know our fans are faithful and diehards. It’s just maybe they need a little kick in the butt sometimes.”

SECOND: Ubaldo Jimenez gave the Indians this line: six innings, five hits, three runs, six walks, two strikeouts, two wild pitches, one home run, 99 pitches, 58 strikes. It wasn’t pretty, but other than a three-run homer to Alex Avila in the second inning, The Big U dodged all the traffic he put on the basepaths. Look, Jimenez is going to issue his walks. Right now, what’s important is what he does around those free passes. Against Detroit, Ubaldo pitched admirably despite himself. The Indians will take it.

THIRD: Cleveland stole three bases in the win, doing what it could to manufacture some runs. Two of those stolen bases turned into runs later in the inning. In a follow-up to one of the questions I answered in Monday’s Inbox on Indians.com, the Indians have now turned 14 of their 30 (46.7%) stolen bases into runs this season. Don’t ask me where that ranks in the league. All I know right now is that the Tribe has done a decent job of taking advantage of their stolen bases. And they’ve already swiped more than I would’ve anticipated at this point in the season.

HOME: You know I love my “meaningless” statistical accomplishments. Say what you will about Vinnie Pestano’s strikeout streak, but what the reliever has going on right now for the Tribe is something unmatched in the team’s long storied history. With his strikeout of Avila in the eighth inning, Pestano extended his strikeout streak to 22 games (at least one strikeout in each appearance). Dating back to 1918, that is now the longest such streak by an Indians reliever.

In the Majors (also dating back to 1918), there have only been 40 sstrikeout streaks of at least 22 games (including Pestano’s current run). Only five pitchers, including Pestano have started a season with a strikeout streak of at least 20 games, which is what he is at for 2012. For those curious, the MLB record since 1918 for a reliever is 39 games by Bruce Sutter for the Cubs in 1977. The AL record since 1918 for a reliever is 32 games by Jeff Montgomery for the Royalsin 1989.

On deck:

Tigers (20-22) at Indians (24-18)
at 7:05 p.m. ET on Wednesday at Progressive Field

–JB

Perez: “I’m tired of getting booed at home.”

CLEVELAND — Chris Perez turned in one of the most dominant performances of his young career as the Indians closer to seal Saturday’s 2-0 victory over the Marlins. Then, as Perez headed off the mound, he noticed something different for a change.

The fans at Progressive Field were cheering for him.

“I’m tired of getting booed at home,” Perez said. “So I figured I’d throw some strikes today. You can quote that.”

Following an overpowering 10-pitch performance against Miami, Perez had a few things to get off his chest. He complained of being booed and mocked in recent appearances at home and opined that Cleveland’s low attendance at Progressive Field is a deterrent for players who have a choice to sign with the Indians.

None of this means Perez does not give his all while pitching for the Tribe.

“I’m here. I’m here to win,” Perez said. “I’m here for my teammates and I want to bring a championship to Cleveland, to do my job and help the team win. I think I do a pretty good job of showing that on the field. I don’t think I bring any undue attention to myself. I’m out there for the team. In big wins, I get excited and I’m like a kid again, because it’s fun.”

Perez certainly had a good time on Saturday afternoon, when he sent Omar Infante, Hanley Ramirez and Gregg Dobbs back to the bench with three consecutive called strikeouts. The closer let out a shout in celebration in front of one of the larger crowds of the season. The announced attendance of 29,799 was the largest since Opening Day.

It was Opening Day on April 5 when Perez’s latest battle with the local fans began. In that game against the Blue Jays, the 26-year-old right-hander gave up three runs in two-thirds of an inning to blow his first save chance of the season. The boo birds came out during that performance, and Perez had no issue with that, given the circumstances.

“They had a right,” Perez said. “They could’ve booed me Opening Day, and they did, and I totally deserved it. That’s a different thing.”

Different than what happened on Thursday night.

Perez, who has gone 13-for-13 in save chances with a 1.72 ERA since that Opening Day debacle, entered Thursday’s 6-5 win over Seattle with the game caught in a 4-4 tie in the 10th inning. With one out, Perez allowed a single to Justin Smoak and then issued a walk to Casper Wells.

That is when fans sent a chorus of cat calls in Perez’s direction.

“They booed me against the Mariners when I had two guys on,” Perez said. “It feels like I can’t even give up a baserunner without people booing me. It’s even worse when there’s only 5,000 in the stands, because then you can hear it. It [ticks] me off.”

“I got two guys on,” he added later. “Yeah, my release point was all over the place, but really? I’ve got two guys on. They haven’t even scored yet and you’re booing me? You’re saying, ‘Get this bum off the mound.’ Come on.”

In that outing, Perez retired the next two hitters he faced to escape unscathed. After he struck out Seattle’s Jesus Montero to end the inning, Perez did not enjoy the crowd’s reaction.

“The mock standing applause just adds to it,” Perez said. “You see their true colors.”

Perez said it has been hard not to be angered by the boos at home.

“It doesn’t bother me. It [ticks] me off,” he said. “I don’t think they have a reason to boo me.”

Perez, who is under contract for $4.5 million and under club control through 2014, added that the Indians’ poor attendance did not help the situation. After Saturday’s game, Cleveland’s Major League-worst season average at home rose to 15,518 per game.

The All-Star closer went as far as to say the low attendance hurt the Tribe’s ability to add players via free agency. Perez pointed to outfielder Carlos Beltran, who signed a two-year deal worth $26 million with the Cardinals over the offseason after the receiving a similar offer from the Indians.

“Guys don’t want to come over here and people wonder why,” Perez said. “Why doesn’t Carlos Beltran want to come over here? Well, because of that. That’s part of it. It doesn’t go unnoticed — trust us. I’m not calling out the fans. It’s just how it is. … Nobody wants to play in front of 5,000 fans. We know the weather [stinks], but people see that. Other players know that.

“You had a choice of playing in St. Louis where you get 40,000 like Beltran chose to do, or you can come to Cleveland. It’s going to take more money to get him to come to Cleveland. That’s just how it is. That’s another thing that you have to go against. It’s not only the payrolls of the East teams, but that kind of stuff.”

Perez continued by saying fans should be not be surprised when players sign elsewhere.

“I completely understand,” said the pitcher. “The fans can’t take it personal when the players don’t want to stay here or players don’t want to come here. It’s a business. You didn’t choose to get drafted by Cleveland. I’m in it for my family. Who knows? I could throw my last pitch tomorrow.”

–JB

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