Covering the Bases: Game 64
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.
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.