June 2012

Covering the Bases: Game 76

Final:

Orioles 9, Indians 8

FIRST: Indians sinkerballer Derek Lowe has thrown 1,577 pitches this season. He called his sixth-inning sinker to Matt Wieters on Friday night his most frustrating offering of the year.

“Awful choice,” Lowe said. “It cost us the game.”

With one out and two runners aboard in the sixth, and Cleveland clinging to a 5-4 lead, Lowe opted for a first-pitch sinker to the left-handed-hitting Wieters. It was a mistake and the Baltimore catcher let Lowe know by sending it sailing out of Camden Yards and on to Eutaw St.

Lowe said he was going with a gut feeling, but in hindsight — and in the moment — he should have tried to make Wieters beat him to the opposite field. Lowe said lefties especially have an easier time just “dropping the head” of the bat on the two-seamer and making contact.

Wieters’ blast turned a 5-4 Indians lead into a 7-5 Orioles lead.

“I take full responsibility for this game,” Lowe said. “That was the dumbest pitch that I’ve thrown in a long time — to Wieters — and it was my call. You just can’t get beat in. Even though it wasn’t technically late in the game, obviously, I think everybody is fatigued on both sides because of the heat.

“It was my call to throw a sinker inside. You’ve got to make the guy hit the ball the other way. It was probably the single most frustrating pitch that I’ve thrown all year. You think you would know better, but it was very maddening.”

Funny, but sometimes, even in a game that saw 17 runs score on 26 hits, one pitch can be the turning point.

SECOND: All things considered, it wasn’t an awful performance by Lowe. Was it great? No. But he was bit by some bad luck in the first inning and obviously he made a critical error against Wieters in the sixth. Consider, though, that Lowe had a 22-hitter stretch between the first and sixth in which he limited Baltimore to one earned run on three hits with 13 outs via grounders.

Indians manager Manny Acta was quick to come to Lowe’s defense.

“Derek threw the ball very well,” Acta said.

Mistakes are mistakes, however, and even one great run within the game can’t hide the fact that Lowe was charged with seven runs (four earned) in his 5 1/3 innings. He picked up a no-decision, but it’s the third time in his past five starts that Lowe has given up seven runs (earned or otherwise).

Over his past eight outings, Lowe has gone 1-5 with a 7.33 ERA, giving up 38 runs (35 earned) on 60 hits in 43 innings. In his previous eight starts — to open the season — Lowe went 6-1 with a 2.05 ERA, giving up 14 runs (12 earned) on 59 hits across 52 2/3 innings.

THIRD: A poor tone was set one hitter into the bottom of the first inning, when Brian Roberts chopped a pitch down the first-base line. First baseman Casey Kotchman made a great lunging play to grab the ball, but then he threw wildly to Lowe at first for an error.

Roberts then moved to second on a wild pitch and advanced to third base on a groundout. He scored when shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera had a two-hopper glance off his glove for a fielding blunder that allowed J.J. Hardy to reach base. Adam Jones then chopped a pitch in front of the mound for an infield single.

It was some terrible luck that helped the Orioles grab a quick 3-0 lead.

HOME: But… how about that offense?!

The Indians poured out eight runs on 16 hits and finished the night 6-for-17 with runners in scoring position. Asdrubal Cabrera hit his second homer in as many games, sending a pitch — like Wieters — out of the stadium to Eutaw St. Shin-Soo Choo was 3-for-5, so was Kipnis, and Cabrera, Kotchman and Shelley Duncan each added two hits.

Alas, it all came in a loss.

Remember the first 44 innings of this road trip, though? Over that brutal stretch, Cleveland hit .176 (26-for-149) as a team with a .100 (3-for-30) mark with RISP and just five total runs scored. In the 28 innings since? The Tribe has hit .316 (37-for-117) with a .325 (13-for-40) mark with RISP and 23 runs scored.

EXTRA INNINGS: Cleveland had some injury added to insult on this evening. In the fifth inning, young third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall was hit on the right forearm with a pitch from Orioles lefty Troy Patton. Chisenhall suffered a fractured right ulna bone and will require surgery. He’s expected to miss at least 4-6 weeks.

On deck:

Indians (38-38) at Orioles (42-34)
at 4:05 p.m. ET Saturday at Camden Yards

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 75

Final:

Indians 7, Orioles 2

FIRST: Following Cleveland’s convincing win over Baltimore on Thursday night, Indians manager Manny Acta had this to say about righty Zach McAllister:

“He sneaks up on people.”

Acta was referring, specifically, to McAllister’s fastball. But it was a fitting description for the pitcher as well.

Cleveland acquired McAllister in a less-than-heralded trade: a one-for-one swap that sent Austin Kearns to the Yankees in 2010. In the two seasons since, he has lurked within a laundry list of prospects and non-prospects clumped together as possible rotation options.

In Spring Training, the race for the fifth spot was all about Jeanmar Gomez, David Huff and Kevin Slowey. And, oh yeah, by the way, McAllister is in the mix, too.

Well, guess what? McAllister is sneaking up on us.

Gomez earned the fifth spot and flamed out with a 7.92 ERA over his past six outings, earning him a trip back to Triple-A. Meanwhile, McAllister filled in admirably in four spot starts with the Tribe and posted a 2.98 ERA in 11 turns for the Clippers. Last year, he was a solid 12-3 with a 3.32 ERA in Triple-A.

Every time McAllister came up, he knew he was likely going back down soon.

This time around, things are different. E-Z Mac is here to stay.

Not that he’s treating it that way.

“It is helpful [to know you have a little more job security],” McAllister said. “But at the same time, I also know that if I don’t do my job I can get sent down. I definitely have that type of mind-set of knowing that I have to perform. If I don’t, it’s not acceptable.”

Against the O’s, he gave up two runs (both on a homer to J.J. Hardy) on seven hits in 5 2/3 innings. McAllister struck out six and walked one, improving to 2-1 with a 3.82 ERA this season.

McAllister has performed well this season and in his final two starts for Cleveland last year. In those seven big league outings, he’s gone 2-1 with a 3.29 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP. In 41 innings, he’s given up 15 earned runs and 35 hits, while piling up 36 K versus nine walks.

And he’s impressed the Indians.

“He has given us an opportunity in all those outings that he’s had this year and the last two of last year,” Acta said. “He’s a guy that continues to make improvements, not only command of his fastball, but also his secondary pitches. He showed a good slider today.

“He sneaks up on people. His fastball just gets on top of hitters. They don’t take very good swings at it and we like the fact that he’s big and strong, one of those guys who will probably be able to handle 100-plus pitches every five days.”

The Indians sure could use that kind of consistency.

SECOND: Johnny Damon loves him some Camden Yards. Over the course of 115 games in Baltimore’s home stadium, the 38-year-old outfielder has hit .313 (149-for-476) with 22 homers and 80 RBIs. On thursday, Damon went 1-for-3 with a three-run homer that put the Indians on the board in the second inning.

Over his last 22 games, dating back to May 30, Damon has hit .290 (18-for-62) with three homers, 12 RBIs and 12 runs scored for Cleveland.

THIRD: In all, the Indians launched three home runs in the win. In fact, all nine runs scored in the game came via long balls (Damon’s three run shot, a solo shot by Shin-Soo Choo, a three-run homer by Asdrubal Cabrera and Hardy’s two-run blast). It was the first time Cleveland had three homers in a road game since May 15. That was also the last time the Tribe had a margin of victory of at least five runs on the road.

HOME: Middle relief has been an issue of late for the Indians, but it was a strength on Thursday night. Joe Smith turned in 1 1/3 clean innings and recently-acquired righty Esmil Rogers logged two shutout innings to close out the win. Thanks to Cabrera’s homer — which turned a 4-2 lead into a 7-2 lead in the seventh — the Tribe was able to give setup man Vinnie Pestano and closer Chris Perez a game off.

On deck:

Indians (38-37) at Orioles (41-34)
at 7:05 p.m. ET Friday at Camden Yards

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 74

Final:

Yankees 5, Indians 4

FIRST: Ubaldo Jimenez had a plan against Robinson Cano and the Indians starter executed it just the way he wanted. There are times, though, when great hitters do not fall prey to such strategy.

In the sixth inning, with one out and a runner on first base, Jimenez fired a first-pitch fastball for a strike and then got Cano to chase a splitter in the dirt. Down 0-2, Cano was at a disadvantage and Jimenez went after the second baseman with a sound plan.

“I was trying to go a little bit inside and trying to get him off the plate,” Jimenez said, “and then go with a breaking ball outside.”

Jimenez then smirked and let out a slight laugh, the kind that stems from helplessness rather than seeing any humor in the situation.

“I did it,” Jimenez said with a shrug. “I executed, but it didn’t happen this time.”

The 0-2 offering — a 92-mph fastball — carried high and tight and knocked Cano back a few steps. The second baseman shook it off, stepped back in and then received a backdoor slider. Cano stayed with the pitch and gave a flick of his wrists.

Two-run home run to left field.

“He’s a guy who uses the whole field,” Indians manager Manny Acta said. “That’s what good hitters do. He doesn’t let this ballpark influence him, because of the short porch and trying to pull everything. He’s able to do that. Good hitters are able to do that and that was an example of it.”

Jimenez said it wasn’t a mistake pitch. Cano simply beat him.

“He’s a great hitter,” Jimenez said. “We were trying to throw a backdoor slider, and it was. It was a backdoor slider and it was even off the plate. I saw the replay. He was able to just to hang in there. You could even see he hit it with one arm, and he hit it out.

“That was a really good pitcher’s pitch. He’s a really good hitter. He’s a great hitter. Right now, he’s hitting everything.”

Indeed. Cano has homered in seven of his last 10 games, hitting .389 with 11 RBIs over that strong stretch. Over his last 21 games, Cano has hit at a .373 clip with 10 home runs and 17 RBIs for the Yankees.

SECOND: Acta said the pitch to Cano was  one of two mistakes made by Jimenez in his six-inning performance. The other was a two-out walk to Raul Ibanez in the fourth inning. Eric Chavez followed that with a two-run double. Even so, it was a solid effort for the Tribe’s pitcher.

“He threw well, man,” Acta sad. “It’s been five in a row now. We’re very, very happy to see Justin [Masterson] and Ubaldo have five straight good starts. That what we’ve wanted, our No. 1 and No. 2 guy throwing the ball like that.”

In his last five outings, Jimenez has fashioned a 2.78 ERA with 32 strikeouts against 11 walks in 32 1/3 innings. Opposing hitters have posted a .210 (25-for-119) batting average against the righty in that span.

THIRD: It seemed a bit curious that Acta had Lonnie Chisenhall pinch hit for a struggling Carlos Santana in the ninth inning. Was Acta trying to send Santana a message? No. Following the game, Acta noted that Santana was pulled as a precaution due to mid-back tightness. The catcher said it’s related to the right rib cage soreness he’s dealt with for a couple of days now.

Santana will be re-evaluated on Thursday in Baltimore, but there’s a good chance he’ll be given the day off. The O’s are throwing lefty Wei-Yin Chen (7-3, 3.38) at the Tribe and Santana has hit just .200 (14-for-70) vs. southpaws this season. Beyond that, Santana has gone 1-for-16 on the current trip and 14-for-93 (.151) in his last 27 games, dating back to May 18.

HOME: The Indians have lost a season-high five games in a row and are now 1-6 on this road trip with four games to play. Cleveland (37-37) is 11-19 since being a season-best eight games over .500 on May 24, and the team is back at the break-even mark for the first time since April 18 (5-5).

“Tell me something positive,” you say?

Sure thing.

Over their last 10 innings, the Indians have hit .293 (12-for-41) as a team with a .357 (5-for-14) showing with runners in scoring position and eight runs scored. In the 44 innings prior to that stretch, Cleveland hit .176 (26-for-149) with a .100 (3-for-30) mark with RISP and only five runs scored.

That’s why the Indians left their latest loss feeling a little encouraged.

“I think it was a step in the right direction,” Jason Kipnis said. “It thought we played better today. We’re getting closer to playing more of a complete game. I thought Ubaldo still pitched great. We’ve just got to have more consistent at-bats. We just haven’t been hitting with runners in scoring position.

“We just need to not force the issue, not try to hit the home run or anything like that. Just stay through the ball and just put it in play and see what happens. If we don’t strike out and we don’ttry to hit a home run, we usually have good at-bats.”

While hardly satisfied or content, Acta felt like he saw improvement.

“We battled hard up until the end, but we still fell short,” Acta said. “We played better — better baseball. I really liked the at-bats that we had today, especially at the end, that last push that we gave against [Rafael] Soriano [in the ninth inning].

“It’s encouraging. The guys understand we’re going through a tough stretch right now. We’ve just got to ride it out. You’ve just got to continue to keep your head up, play hard and snap out of it.”

On deck:

Indians (37-37) at Orioles (41-32)*
at 7:05 p.m. ET Thursday at Camden Yards

*Wednesday’s result not included

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 73

Final:

Yankees 6, Indians 4

FIRST: To Jack Hannahan, what took place in the seventh inning on Tuesday night was not part of MLB’s ongoing instant replay issue. It just happened to be the instant replay that got Hannahan fired up and, ultimately, ejected from the game.

With two outs and a runner on third base, Hannahan sliced a pitch from Yankees righty Phil Hughes down the left-field line. Left fielder Dewayne Wise sprinted into foul ground, jumped and tumbled over a side wall while trying to make the catch. The ball skipped off Wise’s glove and rolled away.

Third-base umpire Mike DiMuro jogged to the spot where Wise had fallen into the stands and raised a fist to call Hannahan out. Meanwhile, a fan in a red shirt — standing a few feet behind DiMuro — was proudly holding the baseball in the air after picking it up off the ground.

“I can live with the fact that [DiMuro] didn’t see him drop the ball,” Hannahan said, “or the fan jumping up two feet away that was excited he got the foul ball. But for him not to just ask [Wise] to see the ball, that’s absolutely inexcusable and it’s frustrating.”

Hannahan reviewed the replay in the clubhouse and had some words with DiMuro when he took the field to begin the next inning. The ump quickly tossed the third baseman from the ballgame.

“I didn’t swear at him — nothing. He threw me out of the game,” Hannahan said. “I was running out to my position. I saw the replay and I wanted to ask him about it and get his point of view. I asked him about it and he threw me out of the game.”

Asked if he was in favor of having more replay in the game to aid in decisions, Hannahan said no.

“I don’t think there should be replay on balls like that,” Hannahan said. “I think it’s just a clear case of asking the player to see the ball. It’s not hard.”

“I believed the ball was in his glove when he came out of the stands,” DiMuro told a pool reporter after the game. “Now that I see the tape it’s obvious that the ball fell out of his glove. In hindsight, I should have asked him to show me the ball since he fell into the stands and out of my line of vision.”

Said Indians manager Manny Acta: “That’s a play that you don’t know what happens until you see the replay. No one could argue that. Mike felt bad after he found out that he missed the call. This is not the first one that has happened this year. We’ve seen a few of them. It’s probably going to be taken care of if they do expand the replay.”

Hannahan said Wise “sold it” pretty well and the third baseman even thought it was a catch at first. Acta thought the same, but also thought it was a little strange that the Yankees didn’t put Wise’s great catch on the stadium video board.

“We knew [something wasn't right],” Acta said. “I mean, it’s a great play. How come you’re not showing it on the board for the fans?”

Acta was asked if he’d be OK with one of his outfielders doing what Wise did.

“Why not?” Acta replied. “If you can get an out, why not? We’ve had phantom tags in baseball forever.”

SECOND: Hannahan also felt DiMuro blew a call in the second inning that led to a run for the Yankees. With runners on the corners and two outs, Chris Stewart sent a pitch down the third-base line. Hannahan dove and the ball skipped off his glove into foul territory. It was ruled an infield hit (scoring one run) and New York went on to score three runs in the inning.

Acta argued the call, but to no avail. After the game, Acta said he still was not sure if the ball was fair or foul.

“We looked at a zillion frames in the video room,” he said. “It was tough to tell.”

Hannahan thought otherwise.

“Foul. It was foul,” Hannahan said. “You could see where I slid. Calls like that that happen so quick, I can live with the fact that he made a mistake.”

THIRD: All in all, it wasn’t a bad outing for Masterson. That questionable call in the second opened the door for three runs, including two that came one batter after Derek Jeter reached on an infield single that ricocheted off the pitcher. Robinson Cano also had a broken-bat bloop single in the fifth that set the stage for a sac fly from Mark Teixeira. Masterson was charged with four runs in six innings.

“We went out there and more or less pitched the way we wanted to,” Masterson said. “It wasn’t the best control today, but we were able to make pitches. We had a lot of missed-hit balls, not real comfortable swings, which is exactly what you want. Somehow four runs got on the board.”

HOME: The Indians were at least able to feel a little better about themselves after scoring four runs in the ninth inning. As Acta pointed out postgame, that’s as many runs as the Tribe scored overall in the recent three-game set in Houston. Prior to that 4-for-7, four-run burst (powered by a three-run homer from Jose Lopez), Cleveland had hit at a .174 (26-for-49) showing over its previous 44 innings.

“The team felt better after the last inning,” Lopez saod. “We’ve been struggling for a couple of games, but in the ninth inning we showed up.”

On deck:

Indians (37-36) at Yankees (45-28)
at 1:05 on Wednesday at Yankee Stadium

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 68

Final:

Indians 8, Reds 1

FIRST: Not one. Not two. Not three…

Four strong starts in a row now for Justin “Big Nasty” Masterson. The preacher’s son is rollin’ and the Indians are thanking the good Lord. On Wednesday night, Masterson was masterful — pun entirely intended — in a complete-game masterpiece (again, couldn’t help myself) against the Reds.

“We feel right now,” Indians manager Manny Acta said, “the way he’s throwing the ball over his last four outings, we have the guy that we had last year who, every five days, regardless of who’s pitching for the other side, we have a very good chance to be in the game.”

Over nine innings against the Reds, Masterson scattered three hits and allowed one unearned run (Jay Bruce reached on an error in the eighth and later scored on a groundout). The righty struck out nine and walked none. He threw 110 pitches with 76 registering for strikes.

“He was mixing his speeds up anywhere from 95 to 87,” Cincinnati’s Todd Frazier said. “He was trying to get your timing off a little bit. That’s what he did. He’s a good pitcher. Usually you can hit those fastballs and get on him early, but his ball was moving a lot and it makes it tough.

“You don’t know where it’s going. They could set up outside. Outside to him might hit outside, but it’s going to end up at your knees low and in.”

In his last start, Masterson’s slider was the key aspect of his outing against the Pirates. On Wednesday, his signature sinker stole the show. Overall, Masterson threw 66 sinkers and 25 four-seamers. He mixed in 19 sliders, but did not need to introduce that pitch until the fourth inning.

Over his past four starts, Masterson has given up just four earned runs over 29 innings (1.24 ERA) with 27 strikeouts against six walks. Over his last three outings — all against National League teams — the sinkerballer has given up one earned run in 23 innings (0.39 ERA) with 24 strikeouts and three walks.

SECOND: Johnny Damon is beginning to come around at the plate. You might look at his .203 batting average and scoff a bit, but there is no denying the veteran’s improvement over the past couple of weeks.

On Wednesday, Damon went 2-for-2 with a two-run homer, two walks and two runs scored. That upped the left fielder’s showing over his last 16 games to 13-for-44, or a .295 batting average. Damon is what he is on defense, but if his bat is coming around, that changes the look of the lower part of the Tribe’s lineup.

“It’s encouraging to see it,” Acta said of Damon’s recent strides at the plate. “Hey, he got off to a very slow start and I know a lot of people are just going to keep looking at the batting average at stuff, but I can point out right now at least five games over the last 10 days where Johnny has had something to do with us winning the ballgame.

“Starting in Detroit, where he hit a [two-run single] with the bases loaded [on June 6] against Max Scherzer. Over there in St. Louis, he hit that two-run homer [on Jue 8] to give us that cushion against [Maikel] Cleto. The night [June 10] that [Jason] Kipnis hit that three-run homer, everybody just remembers that three-run homer, but no one remembers who started the rally. It was Johnny with a single against [Jason] Motte.

“[On Monday] here, he hit a double with a man on first base that gave us the opportunity to score those two runs [in the sixth inning] to win the ballgame. And then today. His hits, they have been huge for us. I hope he continues to do it. He’s doing it at the right time right now.”

THIRD: Shin-Soo Choo’s ownership of Reds righty Bronson Arroyo has been well-documented. Choo’s dominance of the pitcher continued on Wednesday, too. Choo doubled in each of the first and third innings and was then walked in the fourth, setting up a three-run homer for Asdrubal Cabrera.

Over the course of his career, Choo has hit .571 (8-for-14) with three doubles, four homers and seven RBIs against Arroyo. Taking things a step further, Choo has hit .545 (12-for-22) with three doubles, six homers and nine RBIs in his career against Arroyo if you combine Spring Training with the regular season.

Here’s what Arroyo had to say about walking Choo in the fourth:

“I didn’t walk him on purpose,” said the pitcher, “but I was just trying to make really, really good pitches When you’re trying to be that fine with a guy, it limits your ability to throw strikes. I wasn’t worried if I did walk him. Obviously, I had thrown him two great pitches earlier in the game and he got hits on both of them. He’s had my number for a while now.”

HOME: With a 3-3 split of this six-game intrastate series, the legendary Ohio Cup stays in Cuyahoga County for another year. That’s because the Indians took the series 5-1 in 2011. Alas, there was no postgame balloting for the 2012 M.O.P. (Most Outstanding Player). Did that stop me from crunching the numbers and casting my own vote? Hardly.

The 2012 co-M.O.P. Award winners:

Cleveland’s Shin-Soo Choo (11-for-27, 3 homers, 5 doubles, 4 RBIs)
Cincinnati’s Brandon Phillips (12-for-26, 2 homers, 1 double, 8 RBIs)

Close, but no cigar…

Cleveland’s Asdrubal Cabrera (7-for-24, 2 homers, two doubles, 5 RBIs)
Cincinnati’s Joey Votto (10-for-23, 3 homers, 3 doubles, 7 RBIs)

On deck:

Indians (36-32) at Astros (28-41)
at 8:05 p.m. ET Friday at Minute Maid Park

NOTE: I will not be making the trip to Houston for the upcoming series against the Astros. I will, however, be meeting up with the club for the subsequent series in New York and Baltimore. For Indians coverage in my absence, keep checking Indians.com and following @Indians and @tribeinsider on Twitter.

–JB

 

 

 

Final:

Indians 3, Reds 2 (10 innings)

FIRST: Indians manager Manny Acta was asked what ran through his head with the Reds took a 2-1 lead in the 10th inning on Tuesday, and the skipper knew Cincinnati closer Aroldis Chapman would be entering the game.

“He’s human. That’s my first thought,” Acta said. “There’s no one in the game that you should just pick up the bats and helmets and go away.”

The Indians did walk away, but only after throwing themselves a little party on the field.

With one out in the bottom of the 10th inning, Asdrubal Cabrera sliced a 3-1 pitch from Chapman to deep right field, where it sailed over the wall for a two-run, walk-off home run. The fans that hit the exits after the Reds took the lead in the top half surely heard the explosion of cheers from outside Progressive Field.

Given the circumstances — extra innings, one of the top closers in the game on the mound — Cabrera’s home run was impressive enough on the surface. But to have the discipline to take the pitch to the opposite field, and to do so with such authority, elevated the blast to another level.

“You have to be aware of what he does,” Acta said, “and watch videos and all that, and understand that against righties that’s when he throws the hardest. It’s his arm side and he just lets it fly. The ball sinks a little bit away from the righties, so if you go over there and you try to turn on the ball you’re in trouble. Plus, he probably throws harder.

“With the lefties, it’s the arm side and he still throws hard, but it’s not the same. The same thing happens to a lot of hard-throwing right-handers. Since the guy is not on their arm side, they just let it fly without any fear of hurting somebody. You have to make a conscious effort to not do too much, because he can provide the power with his velocity.”

Acta added that Cabrera had been working on opposite-field power in pregame batting practice.

“Some people were saying that he called it in batting practice,” Acta said. “He was working on hitting the ball out the other way. I won’t mention names, but he said he was going to do it.”

Worth noting: Shin-Soo Choo set the stage for the walk-off heroics. Choo delivered a one-out single to right-center field off Chapman to bring Cabrera to the plate. On the night, Choo went 3-for-4 with a walk, making him 31-for-90 (.344) with seven doubles, two triples, seven homers, 16 RBIs and 17 runs in 23 career games vs. the Reds.

SECOND: Chapman probably won’t mind if he doesn’t see the Indians until next season’s Interleague Play schedule. In two outings against the Tribe this season, he’s given up three runs in 1 1/3 innings. Cleveland has also tagged the hard-throwing lefty for two homers (Cabrera on Tuesday and Jose Lopez last week in Cincinnati).

Over his last six appearances, Chapman has given up six earned runs over 5 1/3 innings. In his previous 24 appearances, the Reds closer had a 0.00 ERA with 52 strikeouts over 29 innings.

Also on Tuesday, the Indians ended Chapman’s impressive strikeout streak at 34 games, dating back to last season. That’s 34 outings in a row with at least one strikeout recorded. Only two pitchers since 1918 (Bruce Sutter, 39 games, in 1977 and Eric Gagne, 35 games, between 2003-04) have enjoyed longer streaks.

THIRD: There were a handful of highlight-reel defensive gems in Tuesday’s win, but third baseman Jack Hannahan impressed Acta the most with his wizardry in the 10th inning. Heisey’s bat shattered on contact with a pitch from Joe Smith, and the barrel and the baseball both flew in Hannahan’s direction.

Without as much as a flinch, Hannahan stayed locked in fielding position as he concentrated on gloving the grounder cleanly. Never mind that shards of the splintered bat were spinning through the air and bouncing between Hannahan’s legs at the precise moment he collected the ball.

Hannahan then fired to second base for a fielder’s choice out.

“One of the most impressive plays was Jack’s play,” Acta said. “I don’t even know if he saw the bat. He said that he saw it, but he fielded that ball like that bat wasn’t coming, and that bat was very close to injuring him. …  I know that a lot of people would’ve probably lost their concentration and probably run away from that bat.”

HOME: Cleveland’s pitching paved the way for this win. That began with starter Josh Tomlin, who surrendered just one run over 6 2/3 innings. That was good to see considering the Indians’ rotation entered Tuesday with a 5.00 ERA (12th in the American League) for the month of June.

Arguably the biggest out, however, came via Esmil Rogers in the seventh inning. After Tomlin loaded the bases, Acta handed the ball to Rogers with two outs and Devin Mesoraco at the plate. Rogers ended a nine-pitch battle by striking Mesoraco out with an 84-mph slider — one pitch after a 97-mph heater.

That preserved a 1-1 tie at the time.

“Huge out,” Acta said. “Somebody needed to get in there to get that out. Rogers, I felt was the right guy that could probably overpower somebody. He came in and got a huge out for us.”

On deck:

Reds (38-29) at Indians (35-32)
at 7:05 p.m. ET Wednesday at Progressive Field

American League Central
1. Indians 35-32
2. White Sox 35-33 (.5 GB)
3. Tigers 33-34 (2 GB)
4. Royals 30-36 (4.5 GB)
5. Twins 26-40 (8.5 GB)

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 66

Final:

Indians 10, Reds 9

FIRST: Players typically like to tell us reporters that they aren’t thinking about potential milestones? “No, I wasn’t thinking about the no-hitter,” said the pitcher. “No, I wasn’t thinking about a home run in that situation,” said the hitter. OK, fellas. Whatever you say.

In the eighth inning on Monday, Lonnie Chisenhall sat a double shy of a cycle.

Guess what?

“That’s all I was thinking about,” Chisenhall said.

Ahh, how refreshing that was to hear for a change.

Alas, history was not on Lonnie Baseball’s side and he lined out to right field. He said he had a flurry of thoughts run through his mind — from hoping the ball fell short to trying to will it over Jay Bruce’s head. Had it rattled around in the corner, giving him a shot at a triple, Chisenhall said he would’ve stopped at second.

He didn’t get the cycle, but that did not sour the evening for the young ballplayer.

“I’m going to say it’s the best game in the Major Leagues so far,” he said after going 3-for-4 with three RBIs. “A combination of the fans, we’re scoring runs, we’re hitting timely home runs, stuff like that. Obviously having a good offensive night didn’t hurt.”

Chisenhall hit a two-run homer in the second, tripled and scored in the fourth and single in a run in the sixth.

For those curious, there have been four Indians players to hit for the cycle in the past 60 years. That list includes Travis Hafner (Aug. 14, 2003 against the Twins), Andre Thornton (April 22, 1978 against the Red Sox), Tony Horton (July 2, 1970 against the Orioles) and Larry Doby (June 4, 1952 against the Red Sox).

Chisenhall was part of great showing from the bottom third of Cleveland’s lineup. Nos. 7-9 hitters Johnny Damon (and late-inning replacement Aaron Cunningham), Casey Kotchman and Chisenhall combined to go 6-for-12 with two homers, four runs and six RBIs.

SECOND: Under different circumstances, this game would’ve been about Derek Lowe and his continued struggles of late. Fortunately for the Indians, the lineup bailed the veteran sinkerballer out. Against the Reds, Lowe surrendered seven runs on 11 hits in five innings.

Over his past five starts, Lowe has gone 1-3 with a 9.36 ERA, giving up 26 earned runs on 40 hits with a .367 opponents’ average across 25 innings. Over his first nine outings, Lowe went 6-2 with a 2.15 (tops in the AL at the time), giving up 14 earned runs on 65 hits with a .286 opponents’ average across 58.2 innings.

“I’m looking forward to June getting over with,” Lowe said. “Any time your sinker gets flat, you’re going to get hit. Let’s be honest, this isn’t 10 years ago where I could overpower guys. You’re more in the hitting zone, so when you don’t have your stuff, you’re going to get hit. That’s where I am.”

As for where that Lowe vs. Dusty Baker feud stands, well, neither wanted to field questions about it on Monday. A Reds PR man made it clear before the game that followup questions on the topic were off limits. After the game, Lowe rolled his eyes when asked if the issue was over and done with.

“Holy smokes,” he said. “Yes.

THIRD: So, one controversy ends, and another begins? Following the Reds loss, Cincinnati starter Mat Latos implied that the Indians were stealing signs. He never came out and said it in those specific words, but here’s what he told reporters:

“I was a little up in the zone. I thought I made some good pitches that they spit on with a runner on second base. I suppose it was kind of ironic. We changed up the signs, for the last hitter unfortunately. The outcome changed when we changed up the signs today. … I’m going to go back and look at video. A couple [times with] runners on second base, they put better swings on the ball than they did most of the time without a runner on second base. [Shin-Soo] Choo hit that double and then [Asdrubal] Cabrera was up [in the fourth]. Me and [catcher Ryan] Hanigan changed the signs up. He called for a slider. We were going with a certain call. That certain call we were going with beforehand was a curveball. I threw a slider and he was looking breaking ball and was jammed on a slider. That to me shows me a little something. Other than that, I was up in the zone. I made a couple of bad mistakes and they hit them.”

For what it’s worth, the Indians went 3-for-6 (.500) with a runner on second base before Latos and Hanigan changed up their signs for Cabrera in the fourth. That said, the Indians went 4-for-11 (.364) against Latos in all other situations. It sure looks like Cleveland had Latos’ number no matter the circumstances.

HOME: Monday night’s game was wild in so many ways (I haven’t even mentioned Johnny Damon’s adventure in left field that led to a two-base error, turning a Brandon Phillips double into a Little League inside-the-park home run) that it seemed fitting that closer Chris Perez gave up a run in the ninth inning.

No harm done. Perez avoided further harm and collected his 22nd save of the season, and 22nd save in a row. That moves Perez up the charts, putting him in sole possession of the second-longest single-season save streak (and fifth-longest overall) in franchise history.

Longest save streaks for an Indians pitcher
1. Jose Mesa, 38, 1995
2. Jose Mesa, 28, 1995-96
t-3. Bob Wickman, 24, 2005-06
t-3. Michael Jackson, 24, 1998-99
5. Chris Perez, 22, 2012

On deck:

Reds (38-28) at Indians (34-32)
at 7:05 p.m. ET Tuesday at Progressive Field

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 64

Final:

Pirates 9, Indians 2

FIRST: The Indians are currently mired in one of those runners-in-scoring-position funks that every team experiences at various points throughout baseball’s 162-game marathon. Asked about the unfortunate trend, manager Manny Acta pointed to a specific section of his lineup.

“The issue has been the bottom of the lineup is scuffling,” Acta said. “The top of our lineup and the middle of our lineup are hanging in there. They’re the ones getting on base. Unfortunately, the majority of the time, when [the bottom of the lineup comes] up to the plate, they’ve been scuffling.

“That’s what it is. Our lineup right now, we’re battling. That’s all we can do. Half of them are doing a good job and the other half is just trying to find a way. It seems like every time we’ve got guys on base those guys come up to the plate.”

In Saturday’s loss, it was a team-wide issue — given the 0-for-8 performance with RISP as a whole. In 64 games this season, the Indians have put up an 0-fer with RISP eight times. They’ve done so twice in the past three games (the Tribe went 0-for-10 with RISP on Thursday in Cincinnati) and three times in the last seven games.

Acta has a point, though. Consider Saturday’s lineup.

The Nos. 1-5 hitters (Shin-Soo Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley) have combined for a .318 (87-for-274) mark with RISP this season. The Nos. 6-9 hitters (Johnny Damon, Shelley Duncan, Casey Kotchman and Lonnie Chisenhall), on the other hand, have hit .144 (17-for-144).

Over the past four games, Cleveland has gone 2-for-33 (.061) with RISP. Over the past seven games, the club has gone 4-for-47 (.085) with RISP. It doesn’t get much better if you extend the sample size to eight games — 7-for-60 (.117) — either.

“We’re going through one of those times during the year where some guys might be dragging a little bit,” Duncan said. “Everyone is really trying to grind it out. It’s in June or July where you’re trying to get that second wind and get things going again. Some guys might be forcing it and sometimes when you force it it just makes things worse.

“Some guys are playing well right now that are carrying us and the pitching staff is doing a good job of keeping us in games. If we keep swinging, we’ll get out of it.”

SECOND: Speaking of Duncan… I was one of the handful of Duncan advocates heading into this season. I felt that, given his strong September showing, he at least earned the right to be the everyday guy in left field for April. Cleveland gave him that opportunity, but then signed Damon on April 17, when Duncan’s season production peaked.

At the time that the Indians inked Damon to a contract — starting the clock on Duncan’s time as the everyday option in left — Duncan was hitting .333 (9-for-27) with two home runs, six RBIs, 10 walks and just six strikeouts in nine games. It’s a small sample to be sure, but what happened next is striking.

In the 36 games since Damon received his contract with Cleveland, coincidentally or not, Duncan has hit .163 (16-for-98) with two homers, six RBIs, nine walks and 29 strikeouts. Regression was expected, but not necessarily to that extent. It stands to reason that the unpredictability of Duncan’s playing time has played a role.

He certainly isn’t one to argue that point.

“It’s always tough when you have sporadic playing time,” Duncan said. “Sometimes it’s trickier getting the stick going. It’s more of a little mind game sometimes. It can take a little longer than it takes when you’re in there every day. Sometimes when you think about it too much it just hinders the process, instead of just going out there and hacking your way out of it. It’s one of those things. It’ll come. It’ll come. I’m very confident it’ll come.”

Duncan said the “mind game” comes into play when a player is in the lineup one day and then does not know for sure when he might be in the order again. Even if he does know — and the next chance happens to be a couple days later — that gives the role player more time to dwell on a poor performance.

“That’s all part of it,” Duncan said. “It’s a tough job being in the role for everybody. If you’re trying to get things going and you have one game, and then you have a couple days to sit on it, sometimes you overthink yourself in that period. It’s tough. Anyone in that spot could tell you that. Once you get things going, and you forget about it all, it’s a good feeling.”

THIRD: Acta has tried to find opportune times to use lefty Tony Sipp in order to try to get the reliever going again. Sipp’s struggles against right-handed hitters has forced the Indians to essentially use him as a lefty specialist for the time being.

Sipp’s woes continued on Saturday, when he yielded a homer to Alex Presley in the pitcher’s one-third of an inning. Over his past seven games, Sipp has posted a 10.29 ERA with a .310 opponents’ average. That follows a 16-game stretch (April 15-May 23) in which Sipp had a 2.84 ERA and a .196 average against to trim his ERA from 19.29 (first four appearances of the season) down to 5.40. Well, it’s back up to 6.95.

Acta said the solution is continuing to find situations where Sipp is best positioned to have success.

“Continue to pitch him. That’s all I have to do,” Acta said. “Try to continue to find spots like today where he’s going to face two out of three lefties, or a couple of lefties, and pitch him. Not pitching him is not going to help him and we need to get him right.”

“With Tony, it’s about making pitches,” he added later. “He’s been getting lefties out. He got Presley 0-2 today and he couldn’t put him away. He’s scuffling. The only way you get better is pitching. We’ve just got to keep trying to find good spots for him.”

HOME: I’d love to turn all Captain Positive here and inform you in this space that Michael Brantley’s hitting streak now matches his jersey number. Unfortunately, Brantley went 0-for-3 with a walk and saw his impressive run end at 22 games, which marks the longest streak in baseball so far this season.

“It was nice to see it,” Acta saidof the streak, “because Michael went through such a rough time at the beginning of the year where everything he hit hard was right at people. He did a lot of good things for us throughout the streak. Obviously, being able to hit in the middle of our lineup and help us out there with quality at-bats means a lot.

“But, he’s in a good spot right now at the plate swinging the bat. It’s just an 0-for-today. I’m pretty sure he’s going to be OK starting tomorrow again.”

Over the streak, which started on May 20, Brantley hit .337 (29-for-86) with six extra-base hits (four doubles, one triple, one homer), 12 runs scored and 16 RBIs.

On deck:

Pirates (33-31) at Indians (33-31)
at 1:05 p.m. ET Sunday at Progressive Field

NOTE: Due to having some family in town, I will not be working Sunday. So Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there. Make sure you check Indians.com for updates and follow MLB.com associate reporter @Justin_Albers on Twitter.

In case you missed it: here’s my Father’s Day feature on closer Chris Perez.

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 63

Final:

Indians 2, Pirates 0

FIRST: Now that is the Justin Masterson the Indians have been waiting to see.

Against the Pirates on Friday night, Big Masty brought his nasty and blanked Pittsburgh for seven stellar innings. Masterson struck out nine, scattered four hits, walked three and hit a batter in the 109-pitch (70 strikes) performance. It was easily his best outing since Opening Day (8 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 10 K vs. Toronto).

What is encouraging is not just Friday’s showing, though. What has the Indians excited right now is the fact that Masterson has pieced together his best three-start stretch of the season. Over his last three outings, the righty has posted a 1.80 ERA with 18 strikeouts and six walks over 20 innings.

What was working against the Pirates? Well, everything. Masterson was getting ahead in the count with his sinker  and four-seamer (which topped out at 96.1 mph) and that enabled him to expand the strike zone to pile up some strikeouts with that slider. Manager Manny Acta felt Masterson’s slider was the best it has been all year.

Masterson actually threw 29 sliders, accounting for 27% of his pitches. Entering the night, he had averaged 22.4% sliders on the season. That’s up from 14.9% a year ago and the highest his slider percentage has been since 2009. There could be a few reasons for that.

For starters, Masterson has his highest called strike rate (18.5%) and his lowest called ball rate (35.9%) with his slider compared to his two-seamer, four-seamer and changeup (he does throw one every once in a while). Beyond that, Masterson has fought with his four-seamer for much of the season. When one pitch isn’t working, percentages will increase with other offerings.

SECOND: Acta said the “play of the game” came in the sixth inning. With one out and Neil Walker on third base, Garrett Jones lofted a pitch into shallow right field. Second baseman Jason Kipnis chased it down and made a highlight-reel over-the-shoulder catch. But, that was only the start of what made the play so impressive.

“What was impressive was how quick he stopped and threw a strike to the plate,” Acta said.

Walker held up at third rather than trying to tag and score. Masterson took advantage induced an inning-ending groundout off the bat of Casey McGehee.

Kipnis said the key to the play was actually a bit of instruction on the part of third-base coach and infield guru Steve Smith, who handles positioning. Right before Jones struck that particular pitch, Smith told Kipnis to take a handle of steps back, even though the infield was playing in.

“I was moved back about five-to-seven feet,” Kipnis explained. “We were all in on the grass and then I was told to move back kind of halfway. [Smith] nailed that one. He was right on that one.”

THIRD: When Michael Brantley flew out to end the sixth inning, it looked like he might not get another chance to extend hit hitting streak. That all changed when Carlos Santana drew a two-out walk in the eighth inning. The walk brought Brantley to the plate for one more try after going 0-for-3 to that point.

Brantley responded by sending a pitch up the middle for a run-scoring single that not only gave closer Chris Perez some added breathing room in the ninth, but extended the center fielder’s hitting streak to 22 games. That’s a career best and the longest streak in baseball this year.

Longest hitting streaks for an Indians hitter (since 1918)
1. Sandy Alomar Jr., 30 games, 1997
2. Hal Trosky, 28 games, 1936
3. Bruce Campbell, 27 games, 1938
4. Casey Blake, 26 games, 2007
5. Matt Williams, 24 games, 1997

Seven players have gone 23 games (eight times) and eight players (including Brantley) have gone 22 games (eight times).

HOME: As long as we’re on the topic of streaks, with his save against the Pirates on Friday night, Perez has now run his consecutive saves streak to 21 in his past 21 chances. That puts him into a tie for the fourth-longest save streak in franchise history.

Longest save streaks for an Indians pitcher
1. Jose Mesa, 38, 1995
2. Jose Mesa, 28, 1995-96
t-3. Bob Wickman, 24, 2005-06
t-3. Michael Jackson, 24, 1998-99
t-4. Chris Perez, 21, 2012
t-4. Bob Wickman, 21, 2001-02
t-4. Doug Jones, 21, 1998

On deck:

Pirates (32-31) at Indians (33-30)
at 4:05 p.m. ET Saturday at Progressive Field

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 62

Final:

Reds 12, Indians 5

FIRST: Let’s focus on the positive out of the gates. Shin-Soo Choo launched a pair of home runs in Thursday’s game, marking his seventh career multi-homer game with his second career leadoff homer coming in the first inning.

“You hit two homers. Good,” Choo said. “But, for me and for everybody, when we lose, especially like in this situation, trying to catch first place, when you lose three games straight, that’s not a good thing.”

True, it’s tough to think positive after being pounded thrice on the banks of the Ohio River.

Cleveland’s road trip started off so well. The Tribe took two out of three in both Detroit and St. Louis before waltzing into Cincinnati and being broomed back to Cuyahoga County. It was a similar tale on Thursday, when Choo’s leadoff bomb came in a two-run first inning to spot the Indians a quick lead.

You can glance at the final score to know what happened next.

Here’s how it al broke down in the three games: the Reds out-scored and out-hit the Indians 24-9 and 37-26, respectively. Cleveland went 2-for-20 with runners in scoring position (0-for-10 Thursday), while Cincinnati went 12-for-39 with RISP (7-for-19 Thursday). The Tribe’s rotation (6.00 ERA) and ‘pen (12.00 ERA) were both torched.

SECOND: The bulk of the damage was done by the one-two punch of Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips. Combined, the Reds suggers went 12-for-23 with four home runs and 13 RBIs in the series. On Thursday, Votto went 1-for-3 with a homer and three RBIs and Phillips went 3-for-5 with a homer and four RBIs.

That improved Dat Dude’s (Phillips) career showing against the Indians — the team that traded him away in April 2006 — to .356 (53-for-149) with nine homers, six doubles and 30 RBIs in 38 games.

“It always feels good to beat up on your old team,” Phillips said. “Regardless of who you’re playing, I try to do what’s best for the team and try to get as many wins as possible. Deep down inside, personally to myself, yeah it’s good to beat up on the Tribe.

“They’re moving in the right direction. Manny Acta is a great manager. I knew him when I was with the Expos. He’s doing a great job with those guys. I don’t have anything towards them anymore because a majority of their coaching staff is not there anymore. So, go Tribe.”

THIRD: Last season, Josh Tomlin reached 37 consecutive career appearances with at least five innings logged, marking a modern day Major League record. This year, He’s gone less than five innings three times already. The latest lapse came in a four-inning outing on Thursday.

Tomlin gave up six runs (three on a Votto homer in the first inning) on 10 hits. In six of his 10 outings this season, the righty has given up at least four runs. Over his past four starts, Tomlin has given up 17 earned runs over 22 innings (6.95 ERA).

“He just didn’t have it today,” Acta said of Tomlin’s latest loss. “His cutter was a little flat and they had a very good approach against him, especially the right-handed hitters. At the beginning of the game, his curveball wasn’t there. He kind of stopped throwing it a little bit and became predictable.”

HOME: End on a good note. In the seventh inning, Michael Brantley doubled to extend his career-best hitting streak to 21 games. That marks the longest run in the Majors this season and the longest in baseball since Dan Uggla’s 33-gamer last year. It’s the longest streak for a Tribesman since Casey Blake went 26 games in 2007.

“That’s one good thing going right now,” Acta said.

On deck:

Pirates (32-29)* at Indians (32-30)
at 7:05 p.m. ET Friday at Progressive Field

*Does not include Thursday’s result

–JB

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