May 2012

Covering the Bases: Games 27-28

Doubleheader:

Indians 8, White Sox 6 (Game 1)
Indians 3, White Sox 2 (Game 2)

FIRST: As if dealing with a doubleheader isn’t challenge enough, the Indians were up against it heading into Monday. Manager Manny Acta wanted to do everything in his power to provide a day off for closer Chris Perez, as well as setup men Vinnie Pestano and Joe Smith.

That meant the only available arms were Jairo Asencio, Nick Hagadone, Dan Wheeler and Tony Sipp. Not for one game. For two games. So, naturally, Cleveland would run into a save situation in both contests against Chicago.

In Game 1, Hagadone answered the bell, escaping a two-on, none-out jam in the ninth to collect his first career save after Asencio logged two-plus frames. In Game 2, Sipp was asked to save a 3-2 ballgame while facing a line of right-handed hitters. He issued a walk (and gave up a mammoth foul ball that was a few feet from being a game-changing homer), but escaped any harm to seal the win.

The best part for the Tribe — beyond picking up two wins — was Acta got his wish. Perez and Pestano, who had each worked in four of the past five days, got a day off. Smith did log two-thirds of an inning in Game 2 after offering his services. He pitched after Dan Wheeler was deemed unavailable after a one-hour, 25-minute rain delay.

SECOND: The bullpen got its break largely due to the combined effort of starters Zach McAllister and Josh Tomlin. McAllister (promoted from AAA Columbus for the Game 1 start) gave the Indians six solid innings. In Game 2, Tomlin provided 7 1/3 strong frames. Both pitchers gave the club precisely what it needed to mount an offensive rally and to give the ‘pen its much-needed break.

THIRD: Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera had himself a day, going 4-for-6 between the pair of games for the Indians. Moving Cabrera into the three hole helped the offense last year and it’s been working again this season. Over his past seven games, Cabrera has hit .565 (13-for-23). Over his last 18 games? Try .408 (29-for-71). With Johnny Damon leading off, Jason Kipnis in the No. 2 spot, Shin-Soo Choo sixth, Michael Brantley seventh and Jack Hannahan ninth, the Tribe offense has been performing better of late.

HOME: There are any number of players I could feature in the final section of tonight’s CTB, but how about a tip o’ the cap to Pronk. Travis Hafner had a memorable trip to the ol’ ballyard today. In Game 1, he tripled for the first time since May 2007 (ending a triple-less drought of 1,711 at-bats) and he homered to tie Al Rosen (192) for eighth on the club’s all-time home run chart. In Game 2, Hafner was hit by a pitch, marking his 79th career HBP. That moved Pronk into a tie with Nap Lajoie for the most career HBP’s in Cleveland’s franchise history.

On deck:

White Sox (13-17) at Indians (17-11)
at 7:05 p.m. ET on Tuesday at Progressive Field

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 23

Final:

Indians 7, White Sox 5

FIRST: It started on Twitter, spreading amongst Indians fans. Now, it’s officially made its way into the Indians’ clubhouse. I am, of course, referring to the rallying cry of “We are all Kipnisses.” Tribe starter Justin Masterson used the catch phrase in his postgame scrum with reporters on Thurday night.

“We are all Kipnisses of how great he’s going to be as a hitter,” Big Masty said with a grin.

The White Sox are certainly witness.

In the three-game set in his native Chi-town, all Kipnis did was go 6-for-11 at the plate with one home run, one double, one triple, a stolen base, two walks, two runs and five RBIs. The homer, triple and four of the RBIs came in Thursday’s win, which was the fourth road series win in a row for Cleveland.

Over his past 11 games, Kipnis has hit .439 (18-for-41) after managing only a .167 (8-for-48) average in his first 12 games of the season. On the year, he’s hit .292 with four home runs and a team-leading 17 RBIs through 23 games. Beyond that, Kip has mixed in two doubles, three triples, five stolen bases, nine walks and 15 runs scored.

SECOND: I’ve grown weary of fans who immediately call for a player’s release after one rough outing. My Twitter account was flooded with Dan Wheeler hate after he yielded a two-run homer to Adam Dunn in the ninth inning. First of all, he’s the sixth reliever in a seven-man bullpen. Second of all, Wheeler had allowed runs in only one of his eight outings this season. Over his last five? Zilch. Calm down, people.

Take a moment to break down the situation.

With the Indians up 7-3, and the team in the midst of 21 games in 20 days, and Wheeler having not seen the mound in a week, it was as good a time as any to get the veteran right-hander some work. Yes, he gave up a bomb, one that created a save situation, but it happens.

Wheeler’s misstep ended the bullpen’s run of 17.2 consecutive shutout innings. That was going to be snapped at some point.

THIRD: Masterson has now had two solid outings after a pair of rough ones for the Tribe. Against the ChiSox, the righty gave up three runs on eight hits in 6 1/3 innings. His performance was better than it looked, too. In the fifth inning, Alejandro De Aza plated two of Chicago’s three runs off Masty with an unlikely infield single. With runners on second and third, De Aza chopped a pitch back to the mound. It bounced off Masterson and rolled just out of Kipnis’ range and into right field. No harm done. Cleveland got the ‘W’ and so did Masterson.

HOME: … is where the Indians are heading. Cleveland improved to 9-3 on the road with the win over the White Sox and has won its first four road sets to begin a season for the first time since 1961. That’s great and all, but the Tribe is 4-7 at home and the Power Rangers await their arrival.

In the meantime, Cleveland is happy with its road performance.

“It’s very important, especially early in the year,” manager Manny Acta said. “It sets the tone and gives guys the confidence that, yeah, we can win on the road, especially after struggling a little bit at home. It’s important to balance things out. We need to go home and play better baseball.”

On deck:

Rangers (17-8) at Indians (13-10)
at 7:05 p.m. ET on Friday at Progressive Field

NOTE: It’s Family Week for the Bastian clan. I will be spending the weekend here in my old stomping grounds on Chicago’s South Side, getting some quality time in with some extended family for a few days before returning to Cleveland. This space and my Twitter account will be quiet until my return. Keep checking Indians.com for updates and give MLB.com’s @ZackMeisel a follow.

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 22

Final:

Indians 6, White Sox 3

FIRST: At some point, opposing teams will learn that Jack Hannahan is not the same hitter he was in years past. At the very least, he is not currently the same light-hitting ballplayer he was in the past. It’s a long season, and things may even out when it’s all said and done, but Hannahan is one of the American League’s top hitters right now.

When the White Sox pulled lefty Will Ohman in favor of righty Addison Reed to face Hannahan in the eighth inning, when the game was stil caught in a 3-3 tie, things were stacked heavily in the Tribe’s favor.

Right-hander on the mound? Check. Hannahan has hit .340 (16-for-47) off righties this year. Runners in scoring position? Check. He’s hit .500 (9-for-18) with 15 RBIs in such scenarios. Two outs? Check. Hannahan has hit .615 (8-for-13) with 12 RBIs with runners in scoring position and two outs.

Why should anyone be surprised he delivered an RBI, go-ahead double?

SECOND: Veteran Johnny Damon made his Indians debut on Wednesday, going 0-for-3 with a walk. He also left the game after the top of the sixth inning, setting of a few red flags. It turnes out Damon came down with some “general cramping,” which in turn led to some “general joking” in the press box. Damon said that description was accurate, though. There was no one specific thing that flared up. He had tightness in his hands, legs and back. After training for two weeks in Arizona’s dry conditions, Damon felt the humidity and dehydration were to blame. Manager Manny Acta said Damon should be fine for Thursday’s game. Damon agreed.

THIRD: Starter Josh Tomlin gave the Indians six solid innings and was pulled after 82 pitches. That’s nothing new. Acta turned the game over to The Bullpen Mafia, which has been sharp as it has been all season. Joe Smith, Tony Sipp, Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez teamed for 3 shoutout innings with 4 strikeouts, 1 walk and 1 hit allowed. The bullpen has 15 2/3 shutout innings in a row over the past five games with 16 strikeouts and a .067 (3-for-45) opponents’ batting average over that stretch.

One play that should not be lost in the shuffle was Pestano’s strikeout to end the eighth inning. On the play, catcher Carlos Santana picked the ball out of the dirt and came up throwing, cutting down would-be basestealer Brent Lillibridge at second base for a big double play.

HOME: The Indians have found that power stroke that went missing for 11 games from April 19 through Sunday. Duncan broke the 11-game homer drought with a blast on Tuesday and both Santana and Travis Hafner cleared the fence on Wednesday. Santana belted a three-run homer in the fifth and Pronk added a two-run shot in the ninth. Hafner was on the right knee with a pitch in the third inning and looked to be hobbled some for the remainder of the game. Acta quipped that Hafner should stick to hitting home runs so he only has to trot. Kidding aside, Hafner will be re-evaluated on Thursday to see how his leg feels a day after the bruising. No word yet on how that baseball he hit is feeling.

On deck:

Indians (12-10) at White Sox (12-12)
at 8:10 p.m. ET on Thursday at U.S. Cellular Field

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 21

Final:

White Sox 7, Indians 2

FIRST: There is no denying that the Indians’ defense cost the club dearly in this one. Two official errors in the box score and one more blunder that went down as a rare infield double. You don’t see those too often. Then again, you don’t see smoke helping out the home team too often, either.

In the third inning, the White Sox set off fireworks to celebrate Gordon Beckham’s leadoff homer against Ubaldo Jimenez. When they were done exploding, the sky was filled with a low-hanging smoke. Third baseman Jason Donald looked up and knew trouble was brewing.

Donald said: “I remember thinking, ‘If a ball gets in the air next pitch, nobody is going to have any clue where it is.’ That goes for the infield or outfield.”

Of course, the next pitch did get hit in the air and, naturally, it was hit above Donald. He lost sight of it until it was far too late and the baseball dropped to the grass, giving Alejandro De Aza a double. The rest of the third was a nightmare: an error from Asdrubal Cabrera, two walks (one with the bases loaded) from Jimenez, four runs total and a 5-1 lead for Chicago.

SECOND: The defense did The Big U no favors, but he certainly didn’t help himself, either. Jimenez threw just 54 of his 105 pitches for strikes and ended with a season-high six walks in only 4 2/3 innings. He was sitting around 91-92 mph for most of the night with his fastball. Manager Manny Acta and Jimenez both noted that the pitcher is working on some mechanical adjustments that will take a few starts. Jimenez said it involves his front shoulder, and the hope is that it will help generate more power. He said pitchign coach Scott Radinsky noticed a flaw between the pitcher’s 2010 form and what he’s been doing over the past two years. Fingers crossed.

THIRD: The Indians finally paid their power bill. The power outage is over. In the seventh inning, Shelley Duncan belted a solo home run to center field, marking the Tribe’s first homer since the fifth inning on April 17. Thus ends the homerless streak, which persisted through 11 games, 107 innings and 387 at-bats. So, for those of you that bet Cleveland would snap its streak before Albert Pujols belted his first home run of 2012, congrats.

HOME: Jimenez’s outing left something to be desired, but The Bullpen Mafia has certainly been back in business for the Indians. Jairo Asencio turned in 2 1/3 shutout innings for the Tribe and Nick Hagadone added one shutout frame, giving Cleveland’s relief corps 12 2/3 shutout innings over the past four games. Opposing hitters have managed only a .048 (2-for-42) average against Indians relievers in that span.

On deck:

Indians (11-10) at White Sox (12-11)
at 8:10 p.m. ET on Wednesday at U.S. Cellular Field

–JB

Month in review: April

It wasn’t an 18-win April like the Indians enjoyed last season, but the end result was the same when the calendar flipped to May. The Tribe is in first place atop the American League Central, and the team believes it can remain in the mix for the division crown throughout the summer.

With the regular season’s first month in the books, it’s time to dish out some April honors for both the Indians and their Minor League affiliates. Let’s take a look at the month that was for Cleveland.

Overall: 11-9
At home: 4-7
On road: 7-2

Offense (AL rank):

.244 average (8)
.342 on-base (3)
.371 slugging (12)
.713 OPS (8)
16 homers (13)
34 doubles (13)
85 RBIs (8)
90 runs (9)
101 walks (1)
144 strikeouts (11)
14 stolen bases (4)
169 hits (13)
.246 avg. RISP (10)
.265 avg. 2-outs (2)

Pitching (AL rank)

4.10 ERA (8)
7 saves (3)
189 innings (13)
179 hits allowed (2)
91 runs (4)
86 earned runs (5)
73 walks (8)
128 strikeouts (13)
.247 opp. average (6)
1.33 WHIP (8)
236 groundouts (3)
1.24 GO/AO ratio (2)
.708 opp. OPS (7)

Fielding (AL rank):

.986 fielding % (5)
.733 caught-stealing % (10)
.713 def. efficiency rating (3)

Player of the Month: DH Travis Hafner
Stats: .295/.450/.459/.909, 2 HR, 4 2B, 10 RBI, 17 BB, 18 H, 7 R, 18 games

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Derek Lowe
Stats: 4-1, 2.27 ERA, 31.2 innings, 9 K’s, 10 BB, 1.42 WHIP, 5 starts

Reliever of the Month: RHP Vinnie Pestano
Stats: 2.79 ERA, 9.2 innings, 14 K’s, 2 BB, 1.03 WHIP, .216 avg, 11 games

Performance of the Month (hitting): C Carlos Santana
Line: 2-for-4, 2 home runs, 3 RBIs in 4-3 win over Blue Jays on April 8

Comment: Happy birthday! Santana celebrated his big day with a multi-homer performance. The catcher loves hitting on his bi-day. Santana has hit .556 (10-for-18) with five home runs and 13 RBIs combined on his last four birthdays, including two standout showings in the Minor Leagues.

Performance of the Month (pitching): RHP Josh Tomlin
Line: 8 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 7 K in 2-1 win over Seattle on April 19

Comment: It’s hard to pick against Justin Masterson’s eight-inning effort on Opening Day (10 K’s, 1 BB, 2 H), but Tomlin went toe-to-toe with King Felix (Hernandez) on the road and helped the Tribe pull out a one-run victory. Hernandez was overpowering with 12 strikeouts in 8 shutout innings, but Tomlin kept pace for the Tribe.

Line of the Month: 1-2, 1 home run, 3 walks, 3 runs, 3 RBIs
Who? LF Shelley Duncan in 13-7 win over Royals on April 15

MINOR LEAGUE HONORS

Triple-A Columbus

Player of the Month: 1B Matt LaPorta
Stats: .380 avg, 8 HR, 6 2B, 17 RBIs, 17 R, 1.210 OPS, 21 games

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Corey Kluber
Stats: 3-1, 2.67 ERA, 27 innings, 35 K’s, 12 BB, 1.48 WHIP, 5 starts

Double-A Akron

Player of the Month: INF Jared Goedert
Stats: .385 avg, 2 HR, 5 2B, 7 RBIs, 7 R, 1.048 OPS, 19 games

Pitcher of the Month: LHP T.J. McFarland
Stats: 4-1, 2.22 ERA, 28.1 innings, 16 K’s, 9 BB, 1.16 WHIP, 5 starts

Class A (high) Carolina

Player of the Month: DH Jeremie Tice
Stats: .328 avg, 4 HR, 8 2B, 18 RBIs, 15 R, 1.080 OPS, 18 games

Pitcher of the Month: LHP T.J. House
Stats: 2-0, 1.44 ERA, 25 innings, 26 K’s, 6 BB, 0.92 WHIP, 4 starts

Class A (low) Lake County

Player of the Month: OF Luigi Rodriguez
Stats: .349 avg, 2 HR, 4 2B, 3 3B, 13 RBIs, 17 R, 7 SB, .944 OPS, 20 games

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Cody Anderson
Stats: 2-0, 2.70 ERA, 20 innings, 20 K’s, 4 BB, 1.20 WHIP, 4 games (3 starts)

–JB

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