Covering the Bases: Game 77

Final:

Indians 11, Orioles 5

FIRST: Choooooooooo!

You could hear it throughout Camden Yards on Saturday and the collective cry grew louder as the game went on. That’s because Choo got on base over and over again. The resurgent right fielder reached five times, with four hits, four runs, three RBIs and one walk.

The Indians poured out 11 runs on 19 hits and had career days from Jose Lopez (five hits) and Lou Marson (four hits), and solid contributions from Asdrubal Cabrera (three hits, two RBIs) and Shelley Duncan (solo home run), but it was Choo who served as the catalyst.

“We’re not going anywhere unless he’s the player we know [he can be],” Indians manager Manny Acts said. “We need him bad. He’s the key to our lineup and I’m glad he’s back to it. It’s that simple. We just don’t have a powerhouse here not to have guys like Choo on top of their game.”

Well, Choo’s been on top of his game for the better part of the past two months.

On May 3, here’s how Choo’s production looked:

.209/.346/.284/.629, 0 HR, 5 2B, 9 RBI, 8 R, 17 games

Here is how it looks now as the calendar flips to July:

.291/.382/.471/.854, 8 HR, 24 2B, 30 RBI, 51 R, 71 games

Since May 3, Choo has hit .318 (67-for-211) with eight homers, 19 doubles, 21 RBI and 43 runs scored in 54 games. Over his past 12 games, he’s been on a tear, hitting .444 (20-for-45) with three homers, six doubles, eight RBI and 11 runs for the Tribe.

People like to point to the fact that Choo turned things around when Acta put him in the leadoff spot, but that turn came on May 14. So Choo’s improvement predates that point in the season. That said, Choo feels hitting leadoff has helped due to providing A) more at-bats to get into a rhythm, and B) more fastballs in his first at-bat.

“I don’t know what my batting average is in my first at-bat,” Choo said, “but I see a lot of fastballs. Leadoff hitters, they don’t want to put them on, especially with [Asdrubal Cabrera and [Jason] Kipnis hitting well. After that, it’s normal.”

As it happens, Choo is hitting .358 (19-for-53) in the first inning this season and .377 (23-for-61) in his first at-bat against a starting pitcher.

Here, however, is the bottom line:

“I think the biggest thing is I feel comfortable,” Choo said. “I’m comfortable in the batter’s box and I’ve had confidence come back. That’s the only reason. I haven’t changed anything — just my mind.”

SECOND: Back when Marson earned the nickname “Laser Lou” last season, it was due to his arm and ability to cut down the running game. Well, of late, the moniker might as well refer to the frozen ropes flying off Marson’s bat.

In Saturday’s victory, Marson went 4-for-5 in setting a career high in hits. He singled in the fourth inning, tripled in the fifth and doubled in the sixth. Marson then had two more plate appearances to try for the cycle.

In the eighth, he drew a walk against Kevin Gregg.

“When I faced Gregg, we were up 10-5,” Marson said, “and they already warned both benches, so I didn’t want to go up and ghetto hack. I just went up, tried to take a strike. I don’t want to start anything. So, he walked me on four straight.”

In the ninth, with the bases loaded and two outs, Marson pushed a pitch from Matt Lindstrom into right field for an RBI single. He stayed in his approach and didn’t try to swing for the fences. Admirable, right?

“That was kind of wimpy,” Acta said with a smirk. “I mean, come on. We gave him a little bit of a hard time. You’ve got to go for the cycle. You can’t try to go the other way. He should’ve been whaling at the first two pitches trying to get the homer, but we’ll take the RBI.”

Oh well.

What really matters is that Marson has produced extremely well while filling in for Carlos Santana. It began when Santana spent timeon the concussion DL earlier this season, and has continued through the month of June. Marson has been filling in for a banged up Santana the past few days, too.

Over his last 18 games, Marson has hit .389 (21-for-54), lifting his season average to .284 from .074.

“The more he plays, the better he gets,” Acta said. “It’s very tough for young guys not to play and for us as managers and coaches to expect them to perform at their level. He’s having good at-bats, very good at-bats. He’s using the whole field.  It’s good, because he becomes more dependable for us at the right time.”

Said Marson:

“I’m just getting consistent at-bats, getting an opportunity,” said the catcher. “I feel good right now. I’m just trying to have quality at-bats and see the ball. I mean, I don’t want to think about it or talk about it. I just want to keep swinging it and hopefully we can keep on winning.”

THIRD: All of the offense did well in overcoming another rocky outing from right-hander Josh Tomlin. Over six innings, Tomlin gave up five runs on seven hits with four strikeouts and three walks. His season ERA climbed to 5.85 in the process.

Tomlin’s biggest mistake came on a 2-1 changeup to Chris Davis in the fourth inning. Davis smashed it to Eutaw Street for a three-run homer. Tomlin said the changeup has come and gone all season, and that is definitely one reason for his subpar performance this year.

“That’s been the biggest pitch for me that hasn’t been there,” Tomlin said. “I haven’t had a changeup, really. I had a good changeup against Seattle early in the year. Other than that, it’s been hit or miss the rest of the year. … The inconsistency with it has been a big issue for me.”

When he doesn’t have the changeup working, how does it affect his approach?

“It affects my approach to lefties more than anything,” he explained. “It’s just another pitch for them to look for out over the plate for maybe it makes my cutter a little more effective. It’s been a pitch that you could go to maybe early in the count to get quick contact with, and put it in their head that I am going to throw it, or that I can throw it for a strike and they have to respect it.”

HOME: In the fifth inning, Tomlin threw a pitch behind the back of J.J. Hardy and home-plate umpire Mike Estabrook immediately came out from behind the plate and issued warnings to both clubs. O’s skipper Buck Showalter barked from the home side and Acta later voiced surprise over the handling of the situation.

Asked why Estabrook felt the need to issue a warning, here’s what Acta said:

“No idea. I was very surprised, because there’s no animosity. We don’t have anything to complain about. I don’t think they have anything to complain about. We were trying to go inside on J.J. J.J. hasn’t done anything to upset us. He plays the game right. I guess [Estabrook] was being a little overprotective. People need to understand that not everybody who gets hit is on purpose. And not every ball that goes behind a hitter is on purpose, either. I was surprised. I don’t know how Buck feels, but there’s no reason for it. Why do we need to get a guy on, a guy who’s been struggling, with Jonesy coming up. Nowadays, they try to control the game and they do that kind of stuff.”

On Friday night, Cleveland’s Lonnie Chisenhall had his right forearm fractured by a pitch from Baltimore’s Troy Patton. In the third inning on Saturday, Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis was hit in the right shoulder by a pitch from lefty Dana Eveland.

Even with that recent history, Tomlin insisted it was simply a mistake pitch.

“That ball got away from me,” said the pitcher. “I mean, I know what it looks like and I think [Estabrook] did a good job of maybe stopping something that could’ve got out of hand for nothing, but that ball got away from me. There was definitely no intent with that.”

EXTRA INNINGS: It feels appropriate to once again update the offensive stat from Saturday’s postgame blog in light of today’s outpouring by the Tribe nine. In the first 44 innings of this road trip, Cleveland hit .176 (26-for-149) as a team with a .100 (3-for-30) showing with runners in scoring position and five total runs scored. In the 37 innings since that stretch, the Indians have hit .341 (56-for-164) as a team with a .323 (20-for-62) mark with RISP and 34 runs scored.

On deck:

Indians (39-38) at Orioles (42-35)
at 1:35 p.m. ET Sunday at Camden Yards

–JB

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