Covering the Bases: Game 33
Red Sox 4, Indians 1
FIRST: In this election season, nobody leans left more than Cleveland. Of course, I’m not actually talking politics here. The Cleveland Indians are the ones heavy on the lefties. We knew going into this season that the Tribe would feature a lot of left-handed hitters and we knew the risks associated with that approach.
“That’s a chance we’re taking,” Indians manager Manny Acta said. “We’re going to see more righties than lefties and not every time out are you going to face a lefty that’s going to be able to dominate them. We’ve seen that so far this year. But, there are going to be times when those guys are going to go out there and are going to neutralize these guys.”
Before Grady Sizemore got hurt, and after the Indians signed Casey Kotchman, the potential for an all-lefty lineup was realistic. Then, Sizemore got hurt. But, THEN, the Indians signed Johnny Damon. Now, we’ve witnessed Cleveland roll out starting nine with nine left-handed batters in the order six times so far.
Consider: during the entire 2012 season, there was only one occurrence of a team using an all-left-handed starting lineup. Per the Elias Sports Bureau, the A’s did so on Aug. 20 in a 5-1 win over the Blue Jays. That’s once for all 30 teams over the course of the entire year. It’s May 12, and the Tribe has done so a half-dozen times.
Why am I bringing this up now? The Indians didn’t have an all-lefty order out there against the Red Sox on Saturday night. No, but they did face another lefty starter: Felix Doubront. And the lefty-laden Clevelanders were shut down once again. Then, for the 23rd time in 33 games, the opposition went with a lefty reliever as its first option out of the bullpen. This is why the Tribe leads baseball in at-bats (456) vs. southpaws. Teams are playing the percentages as much as possible.
The Tribe is now 4-8 on the season against left-handed starters with a .217 team average against lefties overall. There isn’t much to be done about it right now. Sizemore is expected to possibly be rejoining the team some time in June. Maybe in July, Cleveland can target a right-handed bat to help even things out a bit. One thing is clear: it was projected to be an issue and it has been one to this point.
SECOND: One trend we’ve seen over the past couple of weeks has been using switch-hitting Carlos Santana at first base instead of designated hitter on the days he does not catch. If you remember, Acta noted in spring that Santana would likely see more time at DH than 1B this season. DH Travis Hafner was going to be sitting some against lefty pitching. Well, Acta is the boss and he reserves the right to change his mind.
Given Hafner’s solid start this season, Acta decided it has been in the Indians’ best interest to keep him in the lineup on an everyday basis. The slump of first baseman Casey Kotchman certainly hasn’t helped things. That combination has led to Santana seeing four games at 1B (May 1, 5, 7, 12) and one at DH (April 19). Each of those games has come with a lefty on the mound.
THIRD: The offense’s struggled on Saturday really overshadowed what was a sound performance from right-hander Zach McAllister. Over seven innings, E.Z. Mac piled up a career-high eight strikeouts and ended with four runs allowed on eight hits and no walks. McAllister logged 112 pitches and his fastball actually gained some velocity as the evening wore on.
“He’s a big strong kid,” Acta said. “He’s one of those kids I could see being durable — a 115-120 pitch-type of guy. He can handle that. He works extremely hard and he doesn’t lose any stamina as the game goes on. I’ve seen that in him.”
McAllister was called up from Triple-A before the game to fill the roster spot vacated by Josh Tomlin, who is on the 15-day disabled list with a right wrist injury. The timetable for Tomlin is unclear, though he will be eligible to be activated on May 23. In the meantime, it’s McAllister’s spot. Acta said this is not a one-and-done outing for the big boy from Illinois.
HOME: Runs have been scarce against left-handed pitching this season, so it’s hard to fault Hafner for trying to stretch a single into a double in the second inning. He pulled a pitch from Doubront into right field with one out and the ball looked destined for the corner. Instead, it kicked off the wall that juts near the right-field line midway into the outfield and bounced back toward right fielder Cody Ross. Ross gloved the ball, spun and fired a laser to second base. It was a bang-bang play, but Hafner was ruled out.
“Good swing and good effort, too,” Acta said. “I like to see him go for that. You’ve got to give credit to Cody. He made a good play. He turned around and threw a strike over to second base. We like when guys take chances and Hafner can do that. I thought it was a good play by him.”
Indians (18-15) at Red Sox (14-19)
at 1:35 p.m. ET on Sunday at Fenway Park