June 2012

Covering the Bases: Game 61

Final:

Reds 5, Indians 3

FIRST: So what is right-hander Jeff Stevens up to these days? Because Brandon Phillips certainly has done well for himself with the Reds. Stevens, for those who aren’t already painfully aware, was the player to be named that Cleveland received after shipping Phillips off to the Reds in April of 2006.

Enough time has flown by that much of the sting should be gone. Sure, Phillips turned into a two-time All-Star and a three-time Gold Glover, but the Indians have an All-Star worthy second baseman now in Jason Kipnis, and last time I checked Phillips didn’t have any World Series rings on his fingers.

Still, Phillips has had a knack for haunting his old club.

In the Tribe’s loss on Wednesday, all he did was go 3-for-3 with a homer, two runs and three RBIs. He also made a highlight-reel barehanded grab-and-throw on a Lonnie Chisenhall chopper up the middle in the sixth. If it makes you feel any better, Derek Lowe hit Phillips with a pitch in the fifth.

In his career against the Indians, Phillips has hit .347 (50-for-144) with eight home runs and 26 RBIs in 37 games.

SECOND: Lowe wasn’t his sharpest, but he was nonetheless effective for the Indians. The sinkerballer worked with 12 baserunners (six walks, five hits and one hit batsmen), but limited the Reds to three runs. That goes down as a quality start, but it also goes in the books as a loss. That said, Lowe certainly did his part.

“If you look at the game, it’s about the best you could hope for, really,” Lowe said. “A lot of baserunners and you come out with only having given up three runs. That’s pretty hard to do. But the bottom line is we were able to prevent the big inning that would have taken us completely out of the game. You have to look at something positive out of it.”

THIRD: Indians manager Manny Acta was quick to note his club’s offensive missteps in this loss, especially in the fourth inning. The Tribe loaded the bases with no outs and got just one run out of it. Acta said teams should be able to get a run or two “by accident” in that kind of situation. Ouch. On the evening, Cleveland went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position.

But, hey, how about that Jose Lopez homer on a 100-mph pitch from Aroldis Chapman in the ninth?

HOME: In the fifth inning, Reds starter Mat Latos fired a 96-mph fastball a bit too far inside for Lowe’s liking. After the game, Lowe had some harsh words for Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker. The pitcher insinuated that Baker has been instructing his pitchers to throw at Lowe for years. See the previous blog post for more information. A story will land on Indians.com and MLB.com soon as well.

On deck:

Indians (32-29) at Reds (34-27)
at 12:35 p.m. ET Thursday at Great American Ball Park

–JB

Derek Lowe has “zero respect” for Dusty Baker

Indians veteran Derek Lowe had some harsh words aimed at Reds manager Dusty Baker following Wednesday’s 5-2 loss to Cincinnati. Lowe’s expletive-filled postgame rant came after Mat Latos threw a fastball a little too far inside for the Tribe pitcher’s liking.

The pitch in question was a first-pitch, 96-mph heater from Latos to open the fifth inning. After watching the pitch breeze by, Lowe motioned toward the Reds dugout and barked at Baker. Lowe said he and Baker have had bad blood boiling for years, dating back to when the pitcher was with the Dodgers.

According to Lowe, Baker has been instructing his pitchers to throw at Lowe for the past five years.

Here is the transcript of what Lowe had to say:

Q: Is there something going on between you and Reds?

“Dusty will deny it. It has everything to do with him. You can go ask him. He’ll deny it like he has no idea. They’ve been trying to do this [stuff] for years. I’d always come up with men on base. To say it didn’t come from Dusty, Mat Latos was with the San Diego Padres the last four years. He has no idea what’s going on. Again, you can ask him and he’ll say he doesn’t know [anything] about it like he always does. This goes back to my last year with the Dodgers. He made up some [bogus] story. A lot of people got involved. People almost got fired over it. You can go ask him right now and he’ll say he has no idea what you’re talking about. But just watch the game. Mat Latos has nothing to do with anything that has gone on. How would he know? Why in the [world] would you throw a 96 mph fastball, first pitch, inside to a pitcher? Ask him.”

Q: People almost got fired?

“There were a lot of people involved. I mean, by no means am I going to sit here and get into it.”

Q: Was this ever made public?

“No, but a lot of people knew about it. I have zero respect for the guy — not that it matters. I imagine he’d say the same about me. But the [stuff] that was being said and the denials that he ended up ultimately doing was pretty sad. I’ll just leave it at that. They’ve been trying to do this [stuff] for years, but I always came up with men on base. It’s the first time it came up with no one on base. That’s why I was pointing at him, because I knew why it happened. He shook his finger likehe had nothing to do with it. I guess Mat Latos just figured he’d hit me to lead off the fifth inning on his own.”

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 60

Final:

Reds 7, Indians 1

FIRST: I’ve always been stubborn about never using the tip-your-cap cliche. If someone says it, I will rarely, if ever, use it in a story. But on the blog? Yeah, I’ll offer up a tip o’ the cap on occasion. Why? Because there are times when you really do just need to tip your cap.

So, Johnny Cueto? Tip o’ the cap, sir.

The Indians got one run off the right-hander in the first inning on Tuesday and then he laughed his way to a complete-game victory. Nine innings with six hits scattered, seven strikeouts piled up, no walks issued, 122 pitches thrown and one overpowering win in the books.

“He just pretty much toyed with us,” Indians manager Manny Acta.

And, he was so good, the Tribe’s hitters were convinced he started controlling the strike zone.

“He expanded the zone on us really well,” said Jason Kipnis, who drove in Cleveland’s lone run with a single in the first inning. “He was using his slider backdoor and got the ump to start giving him a couple inches off [the plate]. When you start trying to worry about that pitch, and all you can do is foul it off, he would kind of come back in with a fastball in.

“He had you off-balance and it was getting hard to find the barrel on the ball. You might make contact, but not barrel it up too well. He did a good job. He pitched well tonight. There’s a reason he has his record and ERA.”

That’d be a 7-3 record with a tidy 2.46 ERA.

SECOND: This was a close game for the first six innings. That was until the Reds blew things open against the Indians’ bullpen. Joey Votto clubbed a two-run homer off Tony Sipp and then added an RBI single in a three-run push against Jeremy Accardo in the eighth.

The bullpen will have a new arrival on Wednesday, when righty Esmil Rogers is expected to join the Tribe. Cleveland swung a trade witht he Rockies on Tuesday afternoon to land Rogers’ live arm. His ERA (8.06) and WHIP (2.10) leave something to be desired, but the Indians like his fastball (96.1 mph on average this year).

So who gets bumped for Rogers (out of options)? Tribe fans might be calling for Sipp’s head, but he has been effective as a situational lefty. Righties were hitting .385 with a 1.196 OPS, but left-handed hitters were batting .163 with a .479 OPS off Sipp before Tuesday. Acta said the Indians need to keep trying to find ways to get the most out of Sipp, who has been a valuabe part of the ‘pen a few years running.

That might leave Accardo and Scott Barnes as the most vulnerable relievers.

A move is expected to come on Wednesday.

THIRD: Entering Tuesday, starter Jeanmar Gomez had posted a 9.77 ERA (17 ER/15.2 IP) with a .338 opponents’ batting average in his past three starts. On Tuesday, he gave up two runs (one earned) on six hits with four walks over five innings. Gomez threw 48 of his 92 pitches for strikes.

“It was OK,” Acta said of Gomez’s start. “Barely 50 percent of his pitches for strikes. He really battled. He deserves some credit, because he didn’t have his slider today at all and he made some pitches in some situations where he had runners in scoring position — that helped himself out. I wouldn’t qualify it as a great start, but he deserves credit.”

HOME: Votto’s seventh-inning home run marked the 57th game in a row with at least one long ball at Great American Ball Park. That is the longest active ballpark homer streak in the big leagues. Does the stadium affect the mind-set or approach of the pitchers? You bet.

“As a pitcher, it’s tough,” Sipp said. “You definitely have to change your strategy. The ball that Votto hit, it wouldn’t go out at a lot of parks. This park, that’s what you’re playing against. You know exactly what you’re playing against. That’s why you have to keep it down.”

On deck:

Indians (32-28) at Reds (33-27)
at 7:10 p.m. ET Wednesday at Great American Ball Park

American League Central
1. White Sox: 34-27
2. Indians: 32-28 (1.5)
3. Tigers: 28-33 (6)
4. Royals: 25-34 (8)
5. Twins: 25-35 (9)

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 56

Final:

Tigers 7, Indians 5

FIRST: Derek Lowe slammed a small cooler into the ground inside the dugout on Thursday afternoon after losing an argument with manager Manny Acta. Well, maybe calling it an argument is taking it a step too far. Let’s go with “discussion.” Either way, Lowe lost, and the cooler paid the price.

The debate stemmed from Lowe’s desire to remain in the game for Cleveland after throwing just 80 pitches in five innings. The only issue was he had yielded seven runs on nine hits already and the Indians were in a 7-1 hole.

Lowe tried to make his case, but Acta turned to his bullpen.

“That’s his job and I respect him for the fact that we had a conversation,” Lowe said. “Obviously, I lost, but you’ve got to respect his decision. My frustration had nothing to do with him. If it’s not 7-1, we’re not even having that conversation. He allowed me to speak my mind and I lost.”

Acta also allowed Lowe to pitch five innings, and he lost.

The Tigers used a similar approach as the White Sox did three outings ago, when Lowe gave up eight runs in a 2 1/3-inning disaster. Detroit’s hitters were in attack mode in the first inning, slicing Lowe’s sinker to the opposite field whenever they had the chance.

Four runs, five hits and one wild pitch made it 4-0 Tigers after one inning.

“They had a good approach against him in the first inning,” Acta said. “He was staying away and they were just shooting the ball the other way — leties and righties. The only balls he allowed in the air that hurt him was in that fourth inning.”

In the fourth, Lowe fell behind 3-0 to Brennan Boesch before giving up an RBI double. The sinkerballer then gave up a two-run home run to right field to slugger Miguel Cabrera. Just like that, Cleveland was in a hole too deep to overcome.

Lowe plans on studying Detroit’s plan and making the proper adjustments.

“If you’re going to pitch bad,” Lowe said, “You better learn something from it.”

SECOND: Acta’s move to the bullpen turned out to be a good move, considering Soctty Barnes and Jeremy Accardo combined to give the Tribe three shutout innings. That bought time for the offense to mount a comeback and tip o’ the cap to the lineup for doing all they could before Detroit turned to Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde.

Cleveland scored three off lefty Casey Crosby and then added a pair against relievers Brayan Villareal and Phil Coke. With two outs, the Tribe strung together four straight hits, including a two-run double from Asdrubal Cabrera that pulled the Tribe within two runs.

Alas…

THIRD: Jose Lopez was unable to keep the rally going with two outs and the bases loaded in the seventh inning. He drilled a high fastball to deep center field, where baseballs go to die at Comerica Park. Quintin Berry made a wrong turn on his route, but he quickly corrected his footing and made a leaping grab to end the inning.

“It just kind of cut back around and I took a bad route at it,” Berry explained. “But it was able to hang up enough that I got to it. They keep finding me to go right over my head. I knew it was coming, too. I keep getting these funky routes to them, but I get to them. That’s all I care about.”

Off the bat, Acta thought Lopez had extra bases.

“It wasn’t that high, so I thought it had a chance to go over his head,” Acta said. “But, Berry, he’s very athletic and fast back there. He can make up ground pretty quick. He recovered pretty good and made the catch. This is a very spacious center field.”

HOME: The four runs that Lowe allowed in the first inning upped Cleveland’s American League-leading total to 49 runs surrendered in first innings this season. That moved the Tribe into a tie with the Astros for the most first-inning runs allowed on the year. That puts a lot of unnecessary pressure on the offense and, more often than not, puts added pressure on the starter and bullpen, who are constantly working from behind. It’s not a surprise that the Indians are 5-18 in games in which their opponent scores in the first inning.

On deck:

Indians (30-26) at Cardinals (29-28)*
at 8:15 p.m. ET on Friday at Busch Stadium

*Does not include Thursday’s result

NOTE: I will not be making the trip to St. Louis, so “Covering the Bases” will be on a three-day break until I meet up with the team in Cincinnati on Tuesday. In the meantime, keep checking Indians.com and make sure you’re following @Indians on Twitter for updates.

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 55

Final:

Indians 9, Tigers 6

FIRST: Johnny Damon arrived to Comerica Park on Wednesday feeling refreshed after his three-day hiatus while on paternity leave. It was a fun and exciting time to be back with his family — after the birth of twin daughters — but it was also a mental break.

Prior to the game against the Tigers, the 38-year-old Damon was optimistic, but realistic at the same time, while discussing his struggles since donning an Indians uniform.

“You have to understand the game,” Damon said. “You understand some of the better players who have been around have struggled, and that’s what I’ve been going through. I feel like there’s better days ahead, but you just have to keep plugging away and hopefully I have that magical month.”

Tribe fans might start praying to the Baseball Gods that such a month began on Wednesday night.

Damon drew two walks, stole a base, score a run and contributed a key two-run single. Oh, and he also robbed Prince Fielder of a home run with a spectacular catch in left field.

Fielder sent a pitch high and deep to left, and the ball kept carrying. Damon tracked it time, timed his leap and pulled the baseball back in.

“That was a phenomenal play,” said center fielder Michael Brantley, who robbed Alex Rios of a homer earlier this season in Chicago. “I’m screaming, ‘Back! Back!’ He gets back to the wall and I was kind of getting a little scared, because I knew the wall was coming. I didn’t wan to yell, ‘Wall,’ and then he might panic.

“That’s a phenomenal play by him. You’ve got to tip your hat. That’s an awesome play.”

SECOND: Indians starter Jeanmar Gomez collected a win, but he had his offense (nine runs on nine hits for the most runs scored in a road game against Detroit since August 2008) to thank for that. Gomez allowed six runs in five innings for his third rough outing in a row

Over Gomez’s last three starts, the righty has yielded 17 runs in 15 2/3 innings. His season ERA has ballooned to 4.97 from a respectable 3.19 over that stretch.

“He’s had a couple rough ones in a row,” manager Manny Acta said. “But he’s healthy. His stuff is there. It’s just about making adjustments, because teams are scouting you and you’re going to have to change the pattern here or there and change the way you’re pitching at times. I think it’s a learning process for him and he’s going to have to adjust back.”

THIRD: The Indians improved to 5-0 vs. Detroit this season after losing the final 10 games against the Tigers last season. Cleveland has outscored the Tigers 24-14 and out-hit them 41-37. Indians pitchers have posted a 2.80 ERA (14 ER/45 IP). All of this said, no one is making too much of this within the Tribe’s clubhouse.

“They’re battling some injuries right now,” said reliever Vinnie Pestano. “Their rotation is a little different. They had [Doug] Fister out. They’re kind of going through what we went through last year down the stretch in late July and August. But, unfortunately for them, it’s happening a lot earlier than it happened to us.

“So they’ll get those guys back for the home stretch and we’re probably going to see a different Tiger team in the second half. You can’t put too much emphasis on this series, especially when we have 13 more games against these guys.”

HOME: Much has been made of the fact that closer Chris Perez has saved each of the Indians’ five wins over the Tigers this season. But did you know Pestano has turned in a clean eighth inning for a hold in each of those wins, too? Combined, Pestano and Perez have 10 strikeouts in 10 innings with one run allowed.

“It’s very comforting, to me, when we have a lead in the eighth,” Acta said. “I mean, I tip my hat to the other club if they beat us, but I’d put those guys against anybody right now. More times than not, they have come out on top.”

On deck:

Indians (30-25) at Tigers (25-31)
at 1:05 p.m. ET on Thursday at Comerica Park

American League Central
1. White Sox: 31-25
2. Indians: 30-25 (0.5)
3. Tigers: 25-31 (6)
4. Royals: 24-31 (6.5)
5. Twins: 22-34 (9)

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 54

Final:

Indians 4, Tigers 2

FIRST: Was this the “ace” the Indians thought they acquired when they pulled the trigger on the Ubaldo Jimenez trade last season? Maybe not. But the pitcher that took the mound on Tuesday night sure looked a lot better than the one that has tormented Tribe fans for four months as a key part of the rotation.

The Line for The Big U: 6.2 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 4 K, 1 HBP, 102 (55)

It wasn’t perfect, but it was effective. Jimenez pitched into the seventh and turned in shut-down innings after the offense scored (against a lefty!). He fell behind in counts, but didn’t let it get to him. Ubaldo pitched. He threw strikes when he needed to and trusted his defense.

And it got himself and the team into the win column.

It wasn’t a dominant performance, but it worked. After giving up an RBI double to Miguel Cabrera in the first inning, Jimenez set down 16 of 17 with the lone exception being a bunt single. The key was his ability to limit the traffic on the basepaths. He nearly turned in his first no-walk performance as a member of the Tribe.

“Of course, I walked the last guy,” Jimenez said with a roll of his eyes.

Detroit had its chances. Jimenez fell behind in a 2-0 count eight times and the right-hander found a way to create seven outs in those at-bats. The one exception was the seventh-inning walk. Jimenez also had his second-lowest swinging strike total (four out of 33 swings), just 54% strikes (55-of-102) and 11 first-pitch strikes in 27 plate appearances.

Still, Jimenez found ways to escape harm’s way.

Asked if Jimenez is learning how to take on a better pitch-to-contact approach, manager Manny Acta said:

“I don’t think he has that mentality right now. Right now, his concentration is based on his mechanics and smoothing out his mechanics. You can see how when he’s doing everything right he’s 95-96 mph and then all of a sudden you’ll see a pitch at 91 or a pitch at 92. All that is due to the mechanical adjustments that he’s making. When he’s smooth, he can still sit there at 93-96, which is not too shabby at this level.”

In his last start, Jimenez gave up seven runs in four innings on the road against the White Sox. That was on May 27 — so more than a week ago. Jimenez suffered cramping and fatigue in his left side during that start and the Tribe decided to push his start back to Tuesday.

Jimenez thinks it did him wonders.

“It gave me a break mentally and physically,” Jimenez said. “It gave me a couple more days to rest not only my body, but my mind. I was able to come to the stadium today and just have fun out there. I was not thinking too much or overdoing this or that. I wasn’t stressed.”

SECOND: Defense is often overlooked, but it played a big role in Tuesday’s win. Shin-Soo Choo had a couple great sliding catches in right field — one to end the game after Detroit had already pushed one run across in the ninth. Also in the ninth, Asdrubal Cabrera turned in an early defensive play of the year entry for the Tribe.

With no outs and a runner on first base, Gerald Laird sent a pitch from closer Chris Perez bouncing toward the hole between short and third. Cabrera ran down the ball and — in one smooth motion — grabbed it with his barehand, turned and threw off his back foot to second base for a force out.

Indians reliever Vinnie Pestano (@VinnieP52) tweet: “Cabby going for his second consecutive Golden Hand award. Someone needs to tell him it isnt a real thing #notgonnabeme.”

THIRD: One triple in a game is rare enough. The Indians had at least one triple in only 23 games last year and have had at least one in eight games so far this season. On Tuesday, Cleveland had three three-base hits — one each from Cabrera, Lou Marson and Michael Brantley. Each was an RBI triple.

The Indians hadn’t had three triples in a game since April 7, 2002 at Detroit. They hadn’t had at least three RBI triples in a single game since Aug. 12, 2001 at Texas. Three triples with no other extra-base hits (doubles or homers)? Try July 10, 1966 at Kansas City. That’s when KC was still the Athletics.

HOME: If we’re going to pile on the Indians when they do poorly against left-handed pitching, then we’ve got to tip the ol’ cap when they do well. Cleveland didn’t exactly crush lefty Drew Smyly, but a trio of triples sure went a long way in improving the Indians’ record to 5-12 vs. LH starters this season.

Smyly got off to a great start, striking out the first four hitters he faced. In the first two innings combined, however, the Indians and Tigers combined to go 1-for-13 at the plate. Might there have been something else at play beyond just stellar pitching?

“It’s very hard to see here the first couple innings,” Brantley said. “It’s very bright. There’s a big shadow that kind of covers the pitcher just before second base and then there’s a very bright background. So there’s a little bit of an adjustment period, but when the sun went down it was easier to see.”

On deck:

Indians (29-25) at Tigers (25-30)
at 7:05 p.m. ET on Wednesday at Comerica Park

American League Central
1. White Sox: 31-24
2. Indians: 29-25 (1.5)
3. Tigers: 25-30 (6)
4. Royals: 24-30 (6.5)
5. Twins: 21-34 (10)

–JB

Indians select RHP Mitchell Brown in second round of Draft

By Justin Albers / MLB.com

The Indians selected right-handed pitcher Mitchell Brown with their second-round pick (79th overall) in the First-Year Player Draft Tuesday afternoon. Brown, 18, went 6-1 with a 0.65 ERA in seven starts this spring for Rochester Century H.S. (Minnesota). According to the Rochester Post-Bulletin, Brown was 11-1 with a 0.84 ERA for the season.

The 6-1, 195-pound Brown throws his fastball near 94 mph and had 89 strikeouts in 43 innings for Rochester Century last season. Brown is committed to the University of San Diego.

The pick makes sense for the Indians, who are looking to strengthen their farm system pitching. Austin Adams, one of the team’s top right-handed prospects, had major shoulder surgery in May. The Indians were expected to take a pitcher in the first round of the Draft Monday night, but they opted for outfielder Tyler Naquin instead.

  • Cleveland added another right-handed high school pitcher, Kieran Lovegrove, in the third round. The 6-4, 185-pound Lovegrove went 6-3 with a 1.58 ERA with 78 strikeouts in 62 innings for Mission Viejo H.S. in Mission Viejo, Calif. last season. He’s committed to Arizona State University.

Lovegrove throws his fastball between 90 and 94 mph, but has been inconsistent throughout his career.

  • The Indians selected center fielder D’Vone McClure with their fourth-round pick. McClure, a product of Jacksonville (Fla.) H.S., turned down a football scholarship and is committed to the University of Arkansas for baseball. He hit .412 (35-for-85) with 12 doubles, 15 RBIs and 26 stolen bases during his senior season at Jacksonville.

McClure’s major strengths are considered to be his bat speed and athleticism.

  • The Indians continued to stock up on right-handed pitchers when they took Dylan Baker in the fifth round. Baker, a Juneau, Alaska native, attended Western Nevada College, where he went 13-0 with a 1.91 ERA in 16 starts this spring. He helped Western advance to the Junior College World Series.

Only 11 players from Alaska have ever made it to the big-league level. One of those players — Aaron Cunningham — is currently on the Indians roster.

Indians take Naquin in first round

Selected 15th overall…

Outfielder Tyler Naquin

Bats: Left
Throws: Right
Height: 6’3″
Weight: 190
Age: 21

Previously Drafted:

33rd round (986th) in 2009 by Baltimore

2012: Junior season at Texas A&M. Hit .380/.458/.541 in 61 games. Had 92 hits, 56 runs, 49 RBIs, 25 walks, 21 stolen bases, 18 doubles, six triples and three home runs. Semifinalist for USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award.

2010-12:  Hit .348 (238-for-687) with 49 doubles, 13 triples, seven homers, 153 runs and 112 RBIs in 187 games for the Aggies.

From MLB.com expert Jonathan Mayo, who ranked Naquin 30th in his Top 100 prospects list heading into the Draft:

“Naquin brings a lot of qualities to the table, but some of it doesn’t add up, making some wonder if he’s a bit of a “tweener.”

Coming from a top-notch program, Naquin has a great approach to the game and plays it the right way. He has a smooth swing from the left side and can spray line drives all over the field. He will occasionally show some leverage and loft, but hasn’t really shown much power to date. He’s a solid-average runner with excellent baserunning instincts which allow him to take the extra base and steal some bases. He might have the best outfield arm in the Draft class, a true plus. He shows pretty good range from the outfield.

Here’s where it gets confusing. Naquin has the arm for right field, but not the power bat typically associated with the position. He has some skills for center field, but hasn’t played there much and might not have the range. Still, his ability to hit, run well, throw and play the game with plus baseball IQ should have plenty of suitors.”

From Indians scouting director Brad Grant on Monday night:

“We feel he’s got the chance to be an above-average hitter. That’s what really atttracted us to Tyler. He’s got unique and unbelievable eye-hand coordination. He’s got really good bat speed. He’s got a knack for centering the baseball. He drives the ball the opposite way very well. He’s got more power than some guys give him credit for. He has the ability to drive the ball to the gap. He has the ability to turn doubles into triples and he’ll occasionall pull a ball out of the yard, too. I think his approach right now is to look to get on base, look to get a hit. When he wants to turn on the ball, he’s got the ability to do that, too.”

From Naquin, who had a conference call on Monday night:

“People rave about power numbers and how I need to increase [mine]. I have no doubt that it will. It’s just getting bigger and stronger and more experience at the next level. … That’s something I talked to my hitting coach about. He said, ‘Hey man, you can go out this season andyou can hit .300 with eight or nine home runs. Or, you could hit close to .400 and hit three home runs.’ In order to help out my team and do what I needed to do to give us a chance to go to Omaha, it was be that guy. Whether I was hitting three-hole for three-quarters of the season and driving in runs, or being that leadoff guy and sparking that flame to get us going early in a game. That was definitely my role, to get on base and let those other guys do their job.”

Check Indians.com later for a feature on Naquin.

The 2012 First-Year Player Draft will resume at Noon ET on Tuesday. MLB.com’s Justin Albers (@Justin_Albers) will be providing updates on Twitter as well as here on the blog. I will be providing updates from the Indians-Tigers series in Detroit.

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 53

Final:

Twins 6, Indians 3

FIRST: The storyline of the Tribe’s struggles against left-handed pitching this season has already been beaten to death. There’s not much else to say on the issue that has not already been said. Here’s the thing, though. The problem does not only rest with the lefty-heavy lineup.

“The issue is,” Indians manager Manny Acta said, “when we try to sneak some of those right-handed bats in there that are supposed to help us out, they’re not hitting them either. That’s the main thing. It’s not like the guys that we’re putting in for the left-handers are crushing them.”

Cleveland’s right-handers vs. LHP

Asdrubal Cabrera: .339 (21-for-62)
Jose Lopez: .267 (8-for-30)
Shelley Duncan: .245 (12-for-49)
Lou Marson: .235 (4-for-17)
Carlos Santana: .231 (12-for-52)
Aaron Cunningham: .172 (5-for-29)

On Sunday, Acta had six righties (Cabrera, Lopez, Duncan, Marson, Cunningham and Matt LaPorta) in the lineup to counter Twins lefty Scott Diamond. That group went 4-for-17 against Diamond with an RBI apiece for Lopez, Duncan and Marson. To be fair, it was better production than the season showing as a whole.

Heading into Sunday’s action, the Indians ranked last (30th) in MLB with a .212 average against lefties and 29th (14th in the American League) with a .630 OPS vs. lefties. Cleveland’s 10 homers off southpaws were tied for 12th in the AL. All of this while leading the AL with 613 at-bats against left-handers.

The Indians’ right-handed hitters as a group were hitting .231 (11th in the AL) with a .639 OPS (12th) and seven home runs (14th).

Cleveland is now 4-12 vs. lefty starters this season.

SECOND: After Diamond shut the Indians down to the tune of three unearned runs over seven innings, the Twins handed the ball to left-hander Glen Perkins. That marked the 36th time in 52 games that Cleveland’s opponent turned to a lefty first in games when the bullpen is used. That’s 69-percent of the time.

THIRD: We’ve heard from Negative Nancy enough for today. From the glass-half-full department, sinkerballer Justin Masterson turned in a decent bounceback outing for the Indians. Masterson allowed three runs over six innings for a quality start after giving up eight runs last time out (Tuesday) against the Royals.

The Twins bled Masterson to death with choppers and bunt singles. He was surprised by the fact that Minnesota squeezed out three runs against him. The three walks issued certainly didn’t help. Two wound up turning into runs. That said, Masterson’s performance would’ve been enough on most days.

HOME: Matt LaPorta’s 2012 debut for the Tribe was unspectacular at the plate, but he did look decent with the glove.

In the batter’s box, LaPorta went 1-for-4 with a ninth-inning single. He reached on an error in the seventh inning and later scored on a double by Lou Marson. In the field, LaPorta gloved a grounder from Alexi Casilla and threw out Brian Dozier on a scoring attempt at the plate.

LaPorta led off with the ninth with a base hit, but — as fate would have it — Casey Kotchman (the man signed to replace LaPorta at first base) grounded into a rally-killing double play.

On deck:

First-Year Player Draft
Indians pick No. 15
at 7 p.m. ET on Monday
on MLB Network and MLB.com

Indians (28-25) at Tigers (25-29)
at 7:05 p.m. ET on Tuesday at Comerica Park

–JB

Month in review: May

May was the month that we all became Kipnisses. The young Indians second baseman enjoyed a solid stay with the Tribe last year and a decent start to this season, but this past month is where it became clear that Jason Kipnis’ production is no fluke.

Kipnis has sustained a high level of play through two months and has developed into a very versatile offensive weapon out of the No. 2 spot of Cleveland’s lineup. When you look at the production from the Tribe’s players in May, he is a clear choice as the club’s Player of the Month.

Consider that Kipnis is currently on pace for 24 homers, 33 stolen bases, 90 RBIs and 102 runs (based on a 600 at-bat season). The only second baseman to achieve at least 20 homers, 30 stolen bases, 90 RBIs and 100 runs in a single season in Indians history is Roberto Alomar (1999 & 2001).

And has anyone noticed how consistent Kipnis has been?

36 games total in 2011: .272/.333/.507/.841, 7 HR, 19 RBI, 11 BB, 5 SB, 24 R, 37 H
1st 36 games in 2012: .271/.338/.458/.796, 6 HR, 22 RBI, 13 BB, 6 SB, 23 R, 39 H

As for the month in general, well, it was full of high highs and low lows, but in the end Cleveland snuck into June with a winning record in May. The offense was predictably productive, even surprisingly so when a few players went down with injuries. Instead, it was the pitching that took a step back in May.

The rotation was inconsistent to the point that Zach McAllister had the best numbers for the month. Closer Chris Perez gets the nod for Pitcher and Reliever of the Month. If Cleveland is going to contend for the division title, it needs Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson to right what has gone wrong to this point.

There are four months to go and the Indians have plenty of question marks riddling the entire roster. That said, even without having played to its full ability, the Tribe is very much in the hunt in the American League Central.

Here is a quick glance at the month that was:

Overall: 16-14
At home: 11-7
On road: 5-7

Offense (AL rank):

.250 average (9)
.327 on-base (4)
.386 slugging (10)
.713 OPS (9)
25 homers (9)
54 doubles (5)
123 RBIs (7)
129 runs (7)
102 walks (2)
176 strikeouts (13)
28 stolen bases (2)
253 hits (7)

Pitching (AL rank)

4.77 ERA (13)
12 saves (1)
268 innings (1)
266 hits allowed (2)
152 runs (1)
142 earned runs (1)
22 home runs (13)
120 walks (2)
195 strikeouts (11)
.260 opp. average (10)
1.44 WHIP (14)
.735 opp. OPS (8)

MAJOR LEAGUE HONORS

Player of the Month: 2B Jason Kipnis
Stats: .295/.351/.459/.810, 5 HR, 3 2B, 1 3B, 18 RBI, 11 BB, 36 H, 21 R, 7 SB

Pitcher of the Month: CL Chris Perez
Stats: 1.59 ERA, 10-for-10 saves, 11.1 IP, 13 K’s, 3 BB, 6 H, 0.79 WHIP, .143 avg

Reliever of the Month: CL Chris Perez

Performance of the Month (hitting): 2B Jason Kipnis
Line: 2-for-3, 1 homer, 1 triple, 1 walk, 4 RBIs in 7-5 win over White Sox on May 3

Performance of the Month (pitching): RHP Derek Lowe
Line: 9 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 0 K, 22 groundouts in 5-0 win over Twins on May 15

Line of the Month: 0-for-4, 3 times on base via errors (E3, E4, E5)
Who? C Luke Carlin in 8-2 loss to Royals on May 29

MINOR LEAGUE HONORS

Triple-A Columbus

Player of the Month: SS Jason Donald
Stats: .315/.422/.519/.940, 17 H, 4 2B, 2 3B, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 9 BB, 8 K, 9 R, 14 G

Pitcher of the Month: LHP David Huff
Stats: 3-0, 2.08 ERA, 1 CG, 30.1 IP, 24 H, 24 K, 3 BB, 0.89 WHIP, .205 avg, 5 G

Double-A Akron

Player of the Month: OF/INF Jared Goedert*
Stats: .407/.453/.678/1.131, 24 H, 5 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 5 BB, 12 R, 16 G

Pitcher of the Month: LHP T.J. House**
Stats: 4-1, 2.80 ERA, 35.1 IP, 25 H, 28 K, 14 BB, 1.10 WHIP, .198 avg, 6 G

Class A (high) Carolina

Player of the Month: 1B Jesus Aguilar
Stats: .348/.434/.584/1.018, 31 H, 8 2B, 2 3B, 3 HR, 16 RBI, 12 BB, 22 R, 26 G

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Shawn Armstrong
Stats: 1.54 ERA, 11.2 IP, 2 H, 18 K, 7 BB, 0.77 WHIP, .059 avg, 8 G

Class A (low) Lake County

Player of the Month: 1B Jerrud Sabourin
Stats: .283/.365/.370/.735, 26 H, 5 2B, 1 HR, 12 RBI, 11 BB, 13 R, 26 G

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Joseph Colon
Stats: 4-2, 1.31 ERA, 41.1 IP, 28 H, 21 K, 5 BB, 0.80 WHIP, .199 avg, 6 G

*Player of the Month (Double-A) for April
**Pitcher of the Month (Class A Carolina) for April

For the “Month in review: April” post, click here.

–JB

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