July 2012

Covering the Bases: Game 102

Final:

Twins 5, Indians 1

FIRST: Monday’s off-day will mark one year since news broke that the Indians acquired Ubaldo Jimenez in a trade with the Rockies.

I said from the start that I’d wait at least a year before really sitting back and trying to determine who won or lost the trade. Well, here we are, a year later. But you know what? This deal still remains a toss-up.

I say that because none of the pieces sent to the Rockies have turned into sure-fire impact big leaguers. Now, time is on Colorado’s side, and that’s where they “win” this trade. That said, Colorado is in last place and, as difficult as it’s been to watch Jimenez at times, the Tribe is on the fringe of a division race.

Since the trade, Jimenez has gone 12-14 with a 5.08 ERA and a 1.55 WHIP in 187 2/3 innings for the Indians, while Drew Pomeranz and Alex White have combined to go 7-17 with a 6.33 ERA and a 1.46 WHIP in 155 innings for the Rockies.

What about those “other guys,” you ask? Right-hander Joe Gardner has gone 4-7 with a 4.83 ERA in 21 games at Double-A in Colorado’s system. Matt McBride, who is 27 years old, has hit .359 with 10 homers and 75 RBIs in 86 games at hitter-happy Triple-A Colorado Springs for the Rockies.

So, has anyone won this trade? Definitely not. The Rockies just have more time to maybe turn it into a win. Those four players are controllable for years to come. Jimenez, on the other hand, is only under club control for one more season.

On Sunday, Jimenez dropped to 8-10 with a 5.08 ERA on the season after being charged with five runs on six hits in 6 1/3 innings. He left in line for a quality start, but the two runners he left aboard pulled off a double steal vs. Tony Sipp and then scored on a single from Ben Revere.

SECOND: The Twins ran circles around the Indians over the past three games. Minnesota swiped five bags on Sunday, giving them nine stolen bases (four on two double steals) in the three-game sweep over the Tribe.

The nine stolen bases were the most given up by Cleveland in a three-game stretch since the team allowed 10 against the Rays from May 15-17, 2009.

Catcher Lou Marson was the victim of the five thefts Sunday, but he wasn’t at fault, according to manager Manny Acta.

“You don’t steal bases on catchers at this level,” Acta said. “Very few guys that can’t throw end up catching up here or playing every day. The guy that we had behind the plate was one of the best in the American League last year.

“Ubaldo struggles with that. That’s his history. He’s got a lot of moving parts in his delivery. Also, Tony hasn’t been very good at that as of late.”

Giving up stolen bases was an issue all of last season for Sipp, who gave up 13 swipes in 15 attempts in 2011. As for Jimenez, stolen bases have indeed been an issue throughout his career. Since 2007, Jimenez’s 108 stolen bases allowed are the fifth-most given up by a pitcher in the Majors.

“I try to execute my pitches and take care of the runner,” Jimenez said. “But those guys [on the Twins] are really fast.”

On the season, Jimenez leads the American League in most stolen bases issued (22), most wild pitches thrown (11) and most walks issued (72). Talk about a dubious triple crown. He added a balk to his 2012 resume as well in Sunday’s loss.

In the fifth inning, Ben Revere doubled with one out and, while caught in-between on a decision of whether to throw a pitch or try to pick Revere off at second, Jimenez stutter-stepped and balked. Revere moved to third and then scored on a wild pitch.

THIRD: It was the same old song and dance on Sunday with lefty Brian Duensing on the mound for the Twins. Cleveland managed one run on five hits against Duensing, who was on a limited pitch count, but still logged six innings for Minnesota.

With the loss, the Indians dropped to 10-22 against left-handed starters this season. The Indians rank last in the AL with a .219 average against southpaws and second-to-last with a .647 OPS against lefties.

The good news is the Royals have no lefties scheduled to throw in the next series.

HOME: Could this have been Shin-Soo Choo’s final game in an Indians uniform? A report out of Pittsburgh indicates that the Pirates have expressed interest in the Indians’ right fielder, who has been coming to terms with the possibility of being dealt before Tuesday’s Deadline.

“I’ve spent most of my time with the Indians,” Choo said on Sunday morning. “I’m so comfortable with the Indians. It’s been six years, so everybody in Cleveland, from the team to the people who work in the stadium, it feels like it’s good friends and like a family.

“But, the more important thing is I want to win. I want to make the playoffs.”

For more on Choo’s reaction to recent trade rumors, CLICK HERE for the story on Indians.com

On deck:

Indians (50-52) at Royals (41-60)
at 8:10 p.m. ET Tuesday at Kauffman Stadium

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 101

Final:

Twins 12, Indians 5

FIRST: There is a debate currently going on among Indians fans about whether the Indians should suddenly become sellers. They are a season-high 5 1/2 games out, so many feel it’s time to cut some pieces and try to get some prospects.

I’m not in this camp. It’s not because I think the Indians are a lock to turn things around and make a run at the playoffs this year, because that is looking like far too tall a task at this point. My opinion is based on the fact that the core is still young and talented enough to contend next year.

If the club doesn’t feel they can contend in 2013, well then fine. Sell, sell, sell. But I think the Indians believe that can be a factor in the postseason picture next season. And they should think that way, if you ask me. Despite issues last year and again this year, the Tribe has been in the mix. Have they been great? Hardly. But they’ve been in the hunt in the Central both last year and again this year.

I look at it this way…

The main core group currently revolves around Jason Kipnis (25 years old), Michael Brantley (25), Carlos Santana (26), Asdrubal Cabrera (26), Justin Masterson (27), Vinnie Pestano (27) and Chris Perez. You could even throw Lonnie Chisenhall (23), Zach McAllister (24) and Carlos Carrasco (25) in there, if you’d like. The oldest core piece, if you view him as such, is Ubaldo Jimenez at 28 years old.

Shin-Soo Choo is 30 years old and will be eligible for free agency after next season, so I’m not viewing him as a key part of the future core right now. It’s most likely that he’ll test free-agent waters after the 2013 campaign, which is why he’s a big source of trade speculation right now.

Roberto Hernandez is 31 years old and has a club option for next season, and right now it’s not clear if the club plans on picking that up.

The previous group mentioned is young and will form the main cast going into next year. Veterans such as Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, Derek Lowe, Johnny Damon and Casey Kotchman are not part of the 2013 plans. Those looming holes are more likely to be addressed via trades or free agency over the winter.

If the Indians could find takers for any of those players — specifically Lowe or Damon — they would probably make a deal. Right now, though, they have little value on the trade market. Cleveland could dangle Choo or Perez (whose salary will spike through arbitration this winter), but those players are also a big part of the 2013 plans. I doubt either will be dealt before Tuesday’s Deadline.

Well, let me rephrase. I doubt Choo or Perez would be traded for a package of prospects. I think Cleveland would prefer to match up with another buyer and target a need-for-need trade that could reel in players controllable beyond 2012, but who could impact the current Major League team.

Teams like the Giants and Pirates might fit that mold.

So, the clock is ticking, and Cleveland is exploring a variety of things behind the scenes. San Diego’s Chase Headley had been mentioned. So has Rays pitcher James Shields. The way I see it, the Indians will look to add, or they will stand relatively pat.

SECOND: That first item was only game-related in the sense that Cleveland dropped further away from first place, tossing some more fuel on the trade talk fire. Let’s get to this game, which was as forgettable, if not more so, than Friday’s debacle.

Justin Masterson was stellar out of the gates, retiring the first 11 batters he faced behind nine groundouts, one flyout and a strikeout. Over the next 17 batters, he gave up 10 runs (eight earned) on seven hits (four extra-base hits) with two walks, two stolen bases and one hit batsmen.

Ouch.

It was another performance that emphasized Cleveland’s continuous problems with getting consistent starting pitching. Masterson, who allowed eight of his 10 runs with two outs, dropped to 7-9 with a 4.47 ERA through 22 starts. He was 8-7 with a 2.57 ERA through 22 starts a year ago.

THIRD: Masterson’s cause was not helped by the pair of missed calls by two umpires in Friday’s game.

The first came in the fourth inning, when Masterson froze Josh Willingham and appeared to have caught him looking for a strikeout. Instead, home-plate ump Bill Welke ruled it a ball and, naturally, Willingham smashed the next pitch out of the yard for a two-run home run.

“It was definitely close, in my own mind,” Masterson said of the second ball call. “[Welke] said he had it away. It was close, but you have to come back and make another pitch.”

The next call — clearly blown when you watch the replay — came in the fifth.

Danny Valencia chopped a pitch to third baseman Jack Hannahan, who gloved it and threw across the diamond. The throw forced first baseman Casey Kotchman to step in front of the bag, but he kept a foot on the base as he stretched to make the catch.

First-base ump Chris Guccione called Valencia safe. Upon watching the replay, it was easy to see that, A) Kotchman had his foot on the base and caught the ball before Valencia arrived, and B) Valencia actually stepped over the base without stepping on it.

“It’s frustrating,” Hannahan said. “It was a high hopper. I stayed back on it and kind of rushed the throw. Casey made a great play and stayed on the base and we didn’t get the call. That led to three runs. When things are going bad, that’s the kind of stuff that happens.”

“That was an out. Not even close,” Acta said. “They’re human. He blew the call completely and it cost us three runs. But, they scored 12, so it wasn’t Chris Guccione’s fault that we didn’t win the game.”

HOME: The Indians thought they might be able to carry some good vibes into Minnesota after taking two of three in an emotional series against the Tigers at home. Instead, Cleveland arrived in town with a big ‘ol Motown hangover and has been outscored 23-5 through the first two games.

Consider this: Cleveland is 7-2 against Detroit this season, but just 2-6 in series played immediately following series against the Tigers. Masterson laughed when a reporter asked him how he would interpret the Tribe’s overwhelming struggles in the wake of the Tigers series.

“The coming of Christ is soon?” Masterson quipped. “Am I trying to interpret the signs?”

In all seriousness, though…

“These two games are not exactly the way you wanted things to happen,” Masterson said. “But it doesn’t mean we’re done or out of it.”

That is something Masterson firmly believes.

“We’re still not playing the best and we’re still right there,” Masterson said. “One of these days it’s going to come together for everybody. We’re all going to kind of hit a streak, or we’re going to put a couple together both offensively and pitching wise, and I think that’s going to take us to a good spot.

“We just really haven’t hit any of that this year. It’s bound to happen. Plus, in the Central, we’re close. Everything is close right there.”

On deck:

Indians (50-51) at Twins (42-58)
at 2:10 p.m. ET Sunday at Target Field

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 100

Final:

Twins 11, Indians 0

FIRST: The Indians need to do something with their starting rotation.

On Friday night, starter Josh Tomlin’s season-long roller-coaster ride continued in the form of an ugly lopsided loss to the last-place Twins. Tomlin gave up eight runs on 10 hits in four innings, and dropped to 2-5 with a 7.02 ERA across his past eight outings.

“It’s my fault,” Tomlin said. “There’s a reason why we lost the game today. It’s because of me.”

There have been a variety of issues this season for Tomlin, who is now 5-8 with a 5.87 ERA. At the forefront has been a lack of command with his changeup. That, in turn, has made his cutter less effective. Catcher Lou Marson said the cutter has also developed into a mini-slider, and that’s not a good thing for the pitcher.

This has led to more walks, which has made the hits (and home runs) allowed by Tomlin to be all the more damaging. Tomlin gave up homers last year, but he limited them to solo shots for the most part. This year, with his WHIP up to 1.42 from 1.08 in ’11, there has been more traffic coming home on the long balls.

“He doesn’t have that good of stuff to get away with pitches in the middle of the plate and up in the zone,” manager Manny Acta said.

Another issue of late has been Tomlin’s showing in the first inning. He surrendered a three-run homer to Justin Morneau in the first on Friday, continuing an unfortune trend. Last time out, Tomlin gave up a two-run homer in the first. The outing before that, it was another three-run shot.

Overall this year, Tomlin has given up 22 earned runs and six home runs in his 16 first innings. That equates to a 12.38 ERA in the first inning. Last season, when Tomlin won 12 games for the Tribe, he had a 1.38 ERA (4 ER/1 HR/26 IP) in the first inning.

So, what are the Indians to do with Tomlin?

“We’re going to sit down and talk and try to figure things out,” Acta said. “We have to make things better around here, that’s not a secret.”

Acta was also quick to note that Tomlin is not alone in his struggles. The manager did not name anyone else by name, but Derek Lowe’s woes of lates (2-8, 7.59 ERA in his last 12 starts) have been well-documents.

The Indians have one starting pitcher on the horizon in right-hander Roberto Hernandez (eligible to come off the restricted list on Aug. 11). One pitcher getting rave reviews at Triple-A is righty Corey Kluber. Oh, and the Trade Deadline happens to be Tuesday, before Lowe or Tomlin next take the hill.

SECOND: Also working against the Indians on Friday night was the fact that they scored precisely zero runs. It’s tough to win ballgames that way.

Twins lefty Scott Diamond spun a shutout against the Indians, improving to 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA in two outings vs. Cleveland this season. Over 16 innings against the Tribe this year, Diamond has given up three unearned runs on 10 hits with 11 strikeouts and no walks.

“I was trying to attack,” Diamond said. “I wasn’t going out there for strikeouts. I wanted them to put the ball in play and you saw our defense. It was outstanding. So when that happens, all I’m trying to do is get groundballs.”

The Indians fell to 10-21 on the year against lefty starters.

“He’s got a good cut fastball,” Marson said. “That, and his changeup was good today. I mean, he was pounding the strike zone, getting ahead and had us chasing some bad pitches today. I don’t think we play very good here in Minnesota over the last couple of years. We come in here and they beat us up pretty bad.”

THIRD: Over the offseason, the one player I felt fit exactly what the Indians needed was free-agent left fielder Josh Willingham. He was coming off a solid season with the A’s (29 HR, 98 RBIs) and could provide the Tribe with the right-handed pop they’ve been missing.

Willingham wanted three guaranteed years on his contract. The Indians were willing to offer two. One reason for Cleveland to balk at a third year was the fact that Willingham had averaged only 121 games per year from 2008-11, with 136 games being his high and 102 being his low.

That’s not exactly a history of staying on the field, and the Indians have had enough players in recent years who have struggled in that regard. So, when the Twins came calling with a three-year offer, Willingham took his services to Target Field.

On Friday, the Willinghammer went 2-for-4 with a three-run home run off Tomlin and an RBI single off reliever Jeremy Accardo. On the season, he is now hitting .273 with 26 home runs, 22 doubles and 76 RBIs in 95 games for Minnesota.

Every player has a price, but the Twins are not making Willingham available to potential suitors at the moment.

HOME: The Indians’ incredible comeback win over Justin Verlander and the Tigers on Thursday night had Cleveland fans thinking the club would soar into the Twin Cities on a wave of momentum. The 11-0 blowout loss put an end to all that silliness.

After the game, Acta said, “There’s no such thing as momentum.”

Anyone who has followed my coverage over the years knows I feel the same way. I believe momentum can exist within a singular game, but not over a game-to-game basis. Along those lines, it’s something for people to talk about and debate, but I believe momentum is myth.

As the old baseball adage goes, momentum is only as good as the next day’s starting pitcher. And, you know, Tomlin just didn’t have it on Friday.

Hopefully, Minnesota doesn’t ride their momentum into Saturday.

On deck:

Twins (41-58) at Indians (50-50)
at 7:10 p.m. ET Saturday at Target Field

–JB

Indians in holding pattern

The Indians aren’t necessarily waiting until the Trade Deadline’s arrival to make a move, that’s just the way things appear to be going. If the right trade proposal was in hand, Cleveland wouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger.

“If we had the right deal, we would move on that deal,” Indians general Chris Antonetti said on Friday. “There’s nothing keeping us from doing it. We don’t have to wait for the Deadline.

“But, it has to b the right deal that makes the right sense, and I don’t necessarily see that happening in the short term.”

The clock is ticking and Cleveland still has needs in the rotation, lineup and bullpen. While Antonetti has said no singular area is a higher priority than another, the main issues this year have been a lack of consistent starting pitching and an impact right-handed bat.

The Tribe prefers to target players under control beyond 2012.

One player that fits that mold is San Diego’s switch-hitting third baseman, Chase Headley. He won’t become eligible for free agency until after the 2014 season, making him the type of player Cleveland likes. The Tribe has indeed inquired about Headley, but the asking price is expensive.

ESPN.com reported that the Orioles, A’s and Pirates are also among Headley’s most aggressive suitors.

In the selling department, the Indians have attractive chips in closer Chris Perez (whose salary will spike through arbitration this winter) and right fielder Shin-Soo Choo (likely headed for free agency after next season). As things currently stand, Cleveland seems unlikely to deal either player.

It’s not always about aggressively buying or selling, though. There is a chance that Cleveland might partner up with another “buyer” to try to orchestrate a trade that addresses needs for both teams.

“You can try to re-position yourselves,” Antonetti said. “There may be opportunities in this market where two buyers potentially line up to address other needs, because there aren’t enough sellers for the buyers that are out there.

“It could spur teams to be more creative and potentially trade from an area of depth or perceived depth to address another need.”

–Jordan Bastian

Covering the Bases: Game 98

Final:

Tigers 5, Indians 3

FIRST: Derek Lowe is trying to find what worked for him early on this season, when he went 6-2 out of the gates with a 2.15 ERA. Just don’t ask him if he’s searching.

“I’ve played this game too long to be searching,” Lowe said. “I’ve struggled numerous times in my career. I guess it affects you because you’re not pitching the way you’d like, but by no means do you go out there and think you’re not going to get the job done.

“I’ve been fortunate to play 16 years, and I’ve struggled at times. I’m in a little funk, and you just keep pitching and keep plugging away.”

Lowe had a decent bounceback effort on Wednesday night, but Detroit had a 3-0 lead after two innings (it certainly didn’t help that shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera was charged with two errors in the second), and the sinkerballer ended with five runs allowed (four earned) over six innings.

He had given up nine in three innings in his previous start.

So …

… progress.

There remains, however, this reality: Lowe is 2-7 with an 8.07 ERA over his past 11 starts. Over that stretch, he’s allowed 52 earned runs on 83 hits over 58 innings, in which he had as many strikeouts (25) as walks.

The Indians need Lowe to improve in order to realistically improve and make a push for the division. Or, the Indians need to replace Lowe with someone who can get the job done. The Trade Deadline is less than a week away, and Roberto Hernandez will be eligible for activation on Aug. 11.

So, might help be coming soon?

“We’re working on it,” Indians manager Manny Acta said. “But we have to get better in here, within our clubhouse. We can’t expect that one guy is going to come from the outside — whether it’s on the offensive end or pitching — and everything is going to be OK.

“We need more than one guy and they’re in here in this clubhouse.”

SECOND: Right-handed bat! Right-handed bat! Right-handed bat!

That’s the favorite cry of the Tribe fan base when it comes to what the team needs to acquire. I’m not going to sit here and say that Cleveland doesn’t need a right-handed power bat. They do. But I’m also not going to say the offense has been the biggest issue. It hasn’t been.

Cleveland’s offense has been nearly identical to the one pieced together at this point last season. The on-base is up and the slugging is up (the Tribe is drawing more walks and striking out less), but the team has scored the same amount of runs (425) and belted the same amount of home runs (90) through 98 games as it did in 2011.

That’s a problem. The offense was supposed to be improved — not the same. That said, the glaring difference between the Indians through 98 games this year and the Indians through 98 games last year rests within the team’s pitching staff.

Rotation (through 98 games)

2012: 36-42, 4.70 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 580.1 IP, 617 H, 368 K, 229 BB
2011: 36-36, 4.32 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 591.2 IP, 612 H, 379 K, 163 BB

Bullpen (through 98 games)

2012: 13-7, 4.09 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 294.2 IP, 250 H, 282 K, 114 BB
2011: 15-11, 3.39 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 281.1 IP, 252 H, 230 K, 103 BB

The rotation is averaging fewer innings per start, putting more pressure on the Tribe’s middle relievers. That’s why you see the spike in bullpen ERA. The rotation has also experienced a big jump in walks issued, creating more traffic and, naturally, more damage caused by the hits allowed.

Offense (through 98 games)

2012: .256/.332/.401, 90 HR, 178 2B, 406 RBI, 425 R, 628 K, 353 BB
2011: .249/.319/.393, 90 HR, 171 2B, 403 RBI, 425 R, 733 K, 311 BB

Record (through 98 games)

2012: 49-49 (-4.0 in ALC)
2011: 51-47 (-1.5 in ALC)

There are clear needs in the offense, but the Indians could also benefit from improved middle relief and starting pitching. Those are a lot of holes to fill before the Trade Deadline, and it’s unlikely that the team is able to address all three areas.

As for the pitching…

“Of course we need pitching help. Everybody knows that,” Acta said. “That’s a priority.”

THIRD: Acta noted a few times that the “human element” cost the Indians on Wednesday night.

“But that’s not the reason why we lost the ballgame,” he quickly added.

In the second inning, Cabrera was charged with an error due to what was deemed an errant throw by first-base ump Tim McClelland. On an Omar Infante grounder, Cabrera gloved and fired to first baseman Casey Kotchman, who had to reach high to make the catch, and swiftly came off the bag.

To the naked eye, Infante looked out.

Up further review…

“The first one, the guy was out by two steps,” Acta said. “The human element got confused there. I don’t know why. If you watch the replay, the guy was out at first base. … I can’t blame Cabrera for that one.”

Kotchman agreed, but only after reviewing the footage.

“I wasn’t sure on the throw,” Kotchman said. “It’s tough to see with that glare coming in the early innings, so I went up to try and catch the ball. It turns out I was on the bag, but I wasn’t sure. And then obviously I didn’t tag him.

“I kind of deeked the umpire. But when I went back to look at it, I was on the bag.”

As for the next error by Cabrera — a misfire on a relay throw to second base on the subsequent play — Acta said the shortstop was simply too aggressive in trying to turn a double play. The manager said it might have been smarter to just take the sure out at second without rushing the play.

HOME: The human element came up again in the fifth inning, when Jack Hannahan chopped a pitch from righty Max Scherzer down the first-base line for a groundout. The only issue was that Hannahan fouled the pitch off his right foot.

“The ball hit off his foot,” Acta said.

Acta argued the out call with home-plate ump Brian Runge, who then headed to the mound to chat with Scherzer. Apparently, Runge wanted to check the baseball for… shoe polish?

“I don’t know why,” Acta said. “They don’t put polish on the shoes anymore nowadays. They just put soap and water every night after the game. I guess that’s an old trick not to tell us to go back to the dugout.”

These small lost battles aside, the Indians simply didn’t do enough at the plate. For the 11th time in 13 games, Cleveland scored three runs or fewer. So, for all the controversy, and even in light of Lowe’s ongoing struggles, there remained this fact:

“We didn’t score enough runs to win the ballgame anyways,” Acta said.

On deck:

Tigers (53-45) at Indians (49-49)
at 7:05 p.m. ET Thursday at Progressive Field

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 97

Final:

Indians 3, Tigers 2

FIRST: If this was Aaron Cunningham’s final game with the Indians, he went out in style.

Prior to Tuesday’s game against Detroit, Cleveland swung a trade with Boston to acquire super sub Brent Lillibridge. He can play four infield spots, but Tribe skipper Manny Acta said Lillibridge’s main role will be a late-inning defensive replacement for the team’s left fielders.

That sounds an awful lot like Cunningham’s current job.

The Tribe will make a roster move on Wednesday.

“There is concern,” Cunningham told MLB.com’s Justin Albers. “We kind of do the same job. He’s a good player that hasn’t gotten many at-bats himself. He’s done a good job with what he has.

“There’s a little concern, but I can’t worry about it. We’ll just wait and see.”

The stars aligned just so for Cunningham to play an integral role in Tuesday’s victory. With one out in the seventh, and the game caught in a 2-2 tie, Travis Hafner sent a pitch from Detroit righty Doug Fister off the wall in left-center field for (wait for it) his second triple of the season.

Acta promptly pulled Hafner in favor of a pinch runner, backup catcher Lou Marson. When Cunningham, who entered as a defensive replacement a half-inning earlier, fell into a 1-1 count, the Indians decided the time had come to take a risk.

“He’s a good bunter,” Acta said of Cunningham. “He’s shown that throughout the year. Fister could be very tough on right-handed hitters. After that first swing that he took on a 1-0 count, we decided it was a good time to take a chance.”

The plan worked to perfection. Cunningham squared around and Marson sprinted home from third base. The baseball was chopped in front of the plate, where Fister ran it down. But the pitcher’s relay to home was wild, allowing Marson to score and Cunningham to reach second on the play.

“I thought he might wait to see if he got the count in his favor,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. “It was a great call by Manny. He didn’t wait, he got it down and they got the run in.”

Cunningham was thrilled to be a part of it.

“I’d do anything for this team,” he said. “If they want me to rub [baseballs] down or whatever, I’ll do it. To be able to do something, to come in late in the game like that, and be able contribute, it’s unbelievable.”

SECOND: Ubaldo Jimenez didn’t get the win (more on that in the next section), but he gave the Indians the kind of outing they had in mind when they traded for him last summer.

Six shutout innings with seven hits scattered, four strikeouts and two walks.

‘We were envisioning a guy like that,” Acta said.

Leyland called it the best outing he’s seen from Jimenez (against Detroit) since the pitcher joined the Indians. Jimenez’s fastball was sharp, but his splitter was “the equalizer,” as Acta phrased it.

That’s how Jimenez managed to escape a handful of jams. And there were plenty, considering the leadoff man reached in five of his six frames. Given the circumstances, Jimenez agreed that one could argue this was his best start since donning a Cleveland uniform.

“They just gave me a fight,” Jimenez said. “They have a really good lineup. Especially the leadoff guy of every inning, they found a way to get on base. It was really tough, but I was able to execute my pitches and get ground balls.”

THIRD: Jimenez did not get the win, because sidearmer Joe Smith allowed a game-tying home run to slugger Miguel Cabrera in the seventh inning. Smith was more frustrated with the two-out walk he issued to Quintin Berry before the blast.

“Where I screwed up was walking Quintin Berry,” Smith said. “I got him 0-2 and he fouled a good pitch off and I threw him four straight balls. That’s where you get in trouble. Miguel Cabrera is going to get his homers. He’s going to get his RBIs. He’s going to get his hits.

“But you’ve got two outs and nobody on base, and you walk a guy to get to him? It doesn’t matter what the track record is against him, and it doesn’t matter who you are. He’s arguably the greatest hitter in the game right now.”

No harm done in the end. The turn of events in the bottom of the seventh — Hafner’s triple and Cunningham’s successful squeeze bunt — rendered Cabrera’s home run moot, and actually sent Smith to the win.

That was quite a swing of emotions for the reliever.

“It’s like my truck is sitting on top of me,” Smith said. “And then all of a sudden somebody lifted it off.”

HOME: It has been said in recent weeks that the Indians might only go as far as Carlos Santana’s bat takes them. Well, the catcher has started to hit much better of late. Santana has reached base safely via hit or walk in all 18 of his games in July.

Over that span, Santana has hit .309 (17-for-55) with two home runs, six doubles, eight RBIs and 16 walks. He’s posted a .479 on-base percentage along the way. Cleveland can only hope this is the start of a two-month tear for their switch-hitting backstop.

On deck:

Tigers (52-45) at Indians (49-48)
at 7:05 p.m. ET Wednesday at Progressive Field

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 93

Final:

Orioles 10, Indians 2

FIRST: Derek Lowe said he didn’t have much to say, but in saying the few words that he did, the veteran pitcher said it all.

“I really have nothing to say,” Lowe said. “The game speaks for itself. It was an embarrassing game. I have a lot of work to do. You look at the way I started, and the last six weeks, it couldn’t be any different. It’s embarrassing, frustrating, all of the above.”

Lowe started the season on an amazing run, going 6-2 with a 2.15 ERA over his first nine outings, giving up just 14 earned runs on 65 hits over 58 2/3 innings. Regression was expected, don’t get me wrong. Even the Indians expected Lowe to slide a bit back to reality.

“No one here was anticipating him coming in and pitching the way he pitched the first month for sixth months,” Indians manager Manny Acta said.

True, but the slide wasn’t supposed to be this steep.

Lowe surrendered nine runs on seven hits (two home runs, five doubles) in just three innings against the Orioles on Friday. It marked the 20th time since 1918 that a pitcher allowed at least seven hits in an outing, with each of them being an extra-base hit.

Over his past 10 outings, dating back to May 26, Lowe has gone 2-6 with an 8.31 ERA, giving up 48 earned runs on 75 hits over 52 innings. During that span of time, the Indians have gone 21-27 and have dropped from first to third in the division.

On the surface, this seems similar to last September, when Lowe went 0-5 with an 8.75 ERA for the Braves. Over that stretch, Atlanta went 7-16, lost its footing in the playoff chase and watched October baseball from home.

Over the winter, after being acquired by Cleveland in a trade, Lowe found some issues with his mechanics and went to work. Once the Indians got him in camp in the spring, they worked with him on correcting some problems with his pitch distribution.

Right now, Lowe has again been thrown back into the process of searching for the wrongs that he can right.

“You have to put a lot of hard work in,” Lowe said. “You can’t just bury your head in the sand and say, ‘Things will work out.’ You have to spend some time in the video room and really analyze the good and the bad, and try to get back to, obviously  what you’ve been doing good.

“And it’s not just by watching it. You have to put in a lot of time and just break some bad habits. That’s ultimately what I’m doing right now, is the sinker is pretty flat and, as you’ve seen, it’s a lot of bad results.”

SECOND: Johnny Damon might not be known for his arm, but give the man credit for sacrificing his body in an effort to chase down fly balls. He made one of the Tribe’s catches of the year in Detroit, robbing a home run earlier this season.

Damon turned in another highlight-reel defensive gem on Friday.

In the third inning, Nick Markakis sent a pitch from Lowe tailing over left field and into foul ground. Damon gave chase, but ran out of real estate as the ball carried over the side wall. The left fielder jumped and tumbled into the stands, while making an incredible catch.

“When it went up,” Damon said, “it probably was close to being a fair ball. But the way the wind was going today, I definitely had to check and see where the wall was. Fotunately for me, it was the low part of the wall, so I was able to get up and get over it without hurting myself too bad.”

When Damon shifted back to his feet — missing his hat — he made sure to show the ball in his glove to third-base ump Larry Vanover. There was no repeat of the Dewayne Wise “catch” vs. the Tribe on June 26.

Unlike Wise, Damon knew he had the ball.

“But I didn’t know where my hat was,” Damon said with a laugh. “I was worried someone ran off with it.”

THIRD: Damon’s defensive display helped the Indians record their second out in the third inning. A defensive decision by shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera in the same frame helped the Orioles get their second run of the game.

With one out and Jim Thome on third base, Matt Wieters chopped a pitch up the middle. Cabrera needed to take a few steps to his left to get to the grounder and when he did — rather than taking the sure out at first base — the shortstop tried to cut Thome down at the plate.

The throw was late and Thome was safe.

“We were taking a chance because of Jimmy running at third base,” Acta said. “It was too risky, because [Cabrera] had to move to his left. If it would’ve been probably right at him, or harder, I could’ve seen it, but it was risky. But, that wasn’t the reason why we lost.”

From there, Baltimore blew the game wide open. Wilson Betemit doubled, Chris Davis drew an intentional walk to load the bases, Mark Reynolds doubled home a pair of runs and Ryan Flaherty brought in three more with a home run to right.

HOME: A blowout is often an opportune time to break a rookie relief pitcher into the big leagues. So, with the Tribe facing a seven-run deficit in the fourth inning, Acta opted to hand the ball to 23-year-old righty Cody Allen, who was promoted from Triple-A before the game.

Allen showed off his powerful arm, but it looked like he ran into the ol’ rookie jitters. He walked the first two hitters he faced, before getting out of the inning with a groundout (scoring a run charged to Lowe), a strikeout and another groundout.

Lacking the type of command he’s shown in his Minor League career, Allen threw 30 pitches, but only 16 strikes. He was clocked mainly around 95-96 mph with his fastball, though he hit 97 mph once. His breaking pitches were consistently around 83-84 mph.

Welcome to the bigs, kid.

On deck:

Orioles (49-44) at Indians (47-46)
at 7:05 p.m. ET Saturday at Progressive Field

NOTE: I will be off for the next few days, but keep checking Indians.com for daily Tribe coverage.

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 92

Final:

Rays 6, Indians 0

FIRST: Toronto and Tampa Bay have been two of the toughest places to play for visiting teams over the past few years. Dating back to 2008, the Rays’ .619 winning percentage at home is second in the American League. The Blue Jays have posted a .555 winning percentage (tied for seventh) in the same span.

Needless to say, having the Indians go 3-4 over their seven-game tour of Toronto and Tampa Bay is a win in my book, especially when you consider the type of feast-or-famine offense that showed up on the road.

The Indians hit .237 (53-for-224) as a team on the trip and scored 25 runs, or 3.4 per game. This is where it’s important to note that 19 runs and 26 hits came in two games (Saturday’s 11-9 loss at Toronto and Wednesday’s 10-6 win at Tampa Bay). That means the Tribe hit .184 (27-for-147) with just six runs scored in five of the trip’s seven contests.

As for the pitching staff, it posted a 6.08 ERA with 32 earned runs allowed over 59 innings, in which Cleveland’s arms compiled 46 strikeouts and 33 walks. The Indians rotation went 2-4 with a 6.08 ERA (25 ER/37 IP), while the bullpen went 1-0 with a 2.86 ERA (7 ER/22 IP).

It wasn’t always pretty, but it was a decent enough way to start the second half. Now Cleveland heads home for a “very important” (manager Manny Acta’s words) seven-game homestand against the Orioles and Tigers. The Indians need more consistency — in just about nearly every facet of their roster — but the team remains in the thick of things as the Deadline nears.

SECOND: The Indians dropped to 10-19 against left-handed starters this season, but it doesn’t seem fair to clump Rays ace David Price in with all the other southpaws Cleveland has seen. Price is on another level entirely, and it showed on Thursday.

Price spun seven shutout innings, scattering two hits and ending with seven strikeouts and three walks. In his career against the Indians, Price has gone a perfect 5-0 with a tidy 1.64 ERA. Over 38 1/3 innings in that span, he has limited Cleveland to 22 hits while piling up 42 strikeouts. He’s 3-0 with a 0.00 ERA against the Indians in St. Petersburg.

“That’s why I felt that [Wednesday's] win was so important for us,” Acta said. “You really don’t want to come into the last game of the series trying to tie the series against David Price. He overpowered us.”

THIRD: Through 24 batters faced, Indians starter Ubaldo Jimenez did an excellent job of playing damage control. In that stretch of 5 2/3 innings, the righty had limited the Rays to one run despite giving up five hits with four walks issued and two stolen bases allowed.

“And then the ball just slipped out of my hand and hit the batter,” said Jimenes, referring to when he hit Desmond Jennings with a pitch with two outs in the sixth. “After that, that’s when everything happened. That was really tough.”

Following the hit batsmen, Jimenez gave up a single to Jose Molina and then walked Sean Rodriguez. After a quick chat on the mound with pitching coach Scott Radinsky, Jimenez surrendered a bases-clearing double to B.J. Upton that blew the game wide open.

In his previous outing, Jimenez allowed eight runs in 2 1/3 innings in a loss to the Blue Jays. Both the pitcher and Acta were encouraged by Thursday’s effort, despite the end result. Jimenez said he felt better wth his mechanics and added that he had better command of his breaking pitches.

Hopefully fo the Indians’ sake, it’s something to build on for his next time out.

HOME: Once upon a time, Luke Scott got a hit against a team other than the Indians. It was June 1, and Scott singled home a run against the Orioles in the bottom of the first inning at home.

Since then? Well, he might be sending the Indians a Thank You card.

Since that single against Baltimore nearly seven weeks ago, Scott has gone 14-for-33 against Cleveland, but 0-for-41 against the rest of the field. That is one of my favorite statistical flukes of the season. One of my Twitter followers suggested his nickname should be “Fluke” Scott. Well played.

Against the Indians, he’s hit .424 with three homers, four doubles, seven runs scored and nine RBIs in eight games in 2012. Against everyone else, Scott has hit a paltry .192 (39-for-192).

Here’s hoping an AL Central rival doesn’t trade for him before the Deadline.

On deck:

Orioles (48-44) at Indians (47-45)
at 7:05 p.m. ET Friday at Progressive Field

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 91

Final:

Indians 10, Rays 6

FIRST: So, who were these guys and what happened to the Indians?

Cleveland snapped out of its recent offensive funk in a big way on Wednesday night, pouring out 10 runs on 14 hits in a moral-boosting comeback win over the Rays. The biggest stat of the night was the Tribe’s eight runs with two outs.

“That’s what made me happy,” Indians manager Manny Acta said. “It’s been a while since we got into that. Today we were just yelling in the dugout, ‘Come on! Two-out rally. Comeback. Let’s go. Two-out rally.’ It happened. The guys just put together some tremendous at-bats.”

The Indians’ Nos. 1-6 hitters each collected at least two hits, and nine of the 13 hits without tht showing came with two outs against them. Overall, Cleveland’s offense went 10-for-18 with two outs, including six straight two-out hits in a five-run seventh.

The Tribe had five runs in its past three games combined.

SECOND: If the Indians want to make a realistic push for the division, it’s going to take more than adding a bat (though that wouldn’t hurt). It’s going to take having guys like Carlos Santana and Travis Hafner hitting to their potential.

That is especially true of Santana, who was expected to be Cleveland’s main power threat this year. He has struggled mightily, and the Indians can only hope and pray that Wednesday marks a turning point for the catcher.

Santana launched a three-run homer in the seventh — ending an 138 at-bat power drought — and he added an RBI single in the ninth. Beyond that, it was Santana’s first multi-hit game since June 18 and his first game since May 8 with at least two hits and at least two RBIs.

THIRD: Acta said “the at-bat of the game” was a battle between hard-throwing lefty Jake McGee and lefty-hitting Jason Kipnis with two outs and runners on the corners in the seventh. With Tampa Bay holding a 4-3 lead, McGee was brought into the game to face Kipnis.

The splits were in McGee’s favor, considering Kipnis was .226 AVG/.641 OPS vs. LHP and .305/.845 vs. RHP entering the evening. That said, Acta actually liked the pairing.

“It was a good matchup to me, because fastballs,” Acta said. “The guy was throwing a lot of fastballs and he’s a good fastball hitter.”

Kipnis saw six fastballs, including four at 97 mph or faster. The last pitch — a 98-mph heater on a 2-2 count — was drilled into center for an RBI single that tied the game. We’ll choose to remember that outcome, and not the 1-2 ball call that miiight have been a strike.

Rays manager Joe Maddon was tossed over that ruling.

Moving on…

HOME: Acta said he was “shocked” earlier this season when he saw starter Justin Masterson’s career numbers against Tampa Bay. The Rays have annoyed Masterson for years and little changed on Wednesday night.

Tampa Bay scored four runs on seven hits off Masterson, who walked seven in his 4 1/3 innings. It could have been worse, but reliever Esmil Rogers entered and escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the fifth inning to save Masterson a few more earned runs.

That was a key turning point in the game.

As for Masterson, he now is 1-6 with a 8.08 ERA in nine career starts against the Rays. Over the past two years, he has gone 0-3 with a 10.71 ERA (23 ER/19.1 IP) and 20 walks. Over his past seven starts vs. Tampa Bay, Masterson has gone 0-6 with an 8.38 ERA.

In 13 career games against the Rays, Masterson has posted a bloated 7.74 ERA (45 ER/52.1 IP). To put it another way, there have been 199 pitchers who have logged more than 29 innings in their career against the Rays. Masterson has the highest ERA of that group.

On deck:

Indians (47-44) at Rays (47-45)
at 12:10 p.m. ET Thursday at Tropicana Field

–JB 

Covering the Bases: Game 90

Final:

Rays 4, Indians 2

FIRST: I can’t put too much on Josh Tomlin for this loss. Sure, his first-inning woes set a poor tone, and ultimately were the difference for the Indians, but all things considered he gave the Tribe a decent outing.

After giving up three quick runs in the first — Carlos Pena belted a two-run homer and Luke Scott added a run-scoring triple — Tomlin buckled down and limited the Rays to one more run in his 5 2/3 innings. Manager Manny Acta wasn’t putting this one on Tomlin, either.

“I thought that Tomlin did a nice job for us after having a rough first inning,” Acta said. “He had kind of below-average stuff [in the first] and pitched behind and got hurt by the first three guys that got up there. After that, he just did a tremendous job for us. He was very efficient and gave us a very good outing.”

The Rays went 3-for-5 off Tomlin out of the gates and then went just 4-for-19 off him the rest of the way. Tampa Bay did a good job of laying off his cutter this time around (he held the Rays to one run in seven innings on July 5), and took advantage of some misplaced fastballs early on.

Overall, though, this was a solid enough start for Tomlin. Unfortunately, given the lineup’s shortcomings, he stumbled to the loss.

SECOND: Cleveland’s issues with the bases loaded continued on Tuesday night. The Tribe had the bags full with no outs in the fourth and managed just one run. An inning later, the Indians had them loaded with two outs and came up empty in that situation.

“Everybody is going to home plate trying to bring the guys in,” Jose Lopez said. “If it doesn’t happen, it’s part of the game. Every time we get bases loaded no outs, we get a chance to score a lot of runs. For the team, it’s not happening right now. We’ll keep pushing.”

Lopez came through with an RBI sac fly with the bases juiced in the fourth. He was the man up with ‘em full again in the fifth, and he flew out to left field. On Monday night, the Indians picked up a 3-2 win, but scored zero runs in the fourth after having the bases loaded with no outs.

For the season, the Indians are now hitting .195 (16-for-82) as a team with the bases loaded. Entering the night, the Tribe’s .198 mark was 12th in the American League, ahead of the A’s (.196) and Yankees (.191). Cleveland is now hitting an AL-worst .114 (4-for-35) with the bases loaded and two outs.

Entering Tuesday, Cleveland’s 18 strikeouts an 10 GIDP’s were each ranked 13th in the AL behind the Yankees (19/11). The Indians’ 81 at-bats with the bases loaded heading into Tuesday were the third-most opportunities in terms of AB’s in the American League.

THIRD: The Rays picked up a key insurance run in the sixth, when Desmond Jennings scored from second base on a single to right by Jose Lobaton. Jennings reached second with a two-out stolen base, but it was an extremely close play that the Indians felt was an out.

Ump CB Bucknor ruled that Jennings got a hand on the base just ahead of Cabrera’s tag. The shortstop was fired up over the call and Acta emerged from the dugout to argue the ruling. Following the game, Acta said he felt Bucknor missed the call.

“It’s unfortunate,” Acta said. “It’s part of the game, but [Tomlin] got out of the inning. The guy was out at second base. But what are you going to do? You can’t blame it on the umpire, but he was out. I just didn’t find anything tricky about the play. The throw beat the guy. Clean tag. Out. [Bucknor] didn’t see it that way.”

HOME: I’ll get into Carlos Santana’s slump in the notebook on Indians.com on Wednesday. I’m going to end tonight’s post on a more positive note, focusing on the improved patience on display by hot-hitting center fielder Michael Brantley (.434 over past 16 games).

In Tuesday’s loss, Brantley went 0-for-2, but he drew two walks, giving him five walks over the past two games. Over his past 72 plate appearances, Brantley has drawn 15 walks. Why is that significant? Because he had 15 walks in his previous 361 plate appearances, dating back to last season.

What’s going on? Probably a few things.

For starters, Brantley is on an extremely strong roll right now for the Tribe, and he boasts one of the highest contact rates in baseball. Pitchers are showing him more respect, going out of the strike zone and he’s not expanding. That said, pitching around Brantley also gives pitchers a shot at some of the Tribe’s struggling hitters.

On deck:

Indians (46-44) at Rays (47-44)
at 7:10 p.m. ET Wednesday at Tropicana Field

–JB

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