Covering the Bases: Game 78

Final:

Indians 6, Orioles 2

FIRST: Let’s take a moment to celebrate an achievement by Aaron Cunningham. Lord knows the man could use a little positive publicity these days, given his prolonged offensive woes as Cleveland’s fifth outfielder.

In the third inning on Sunday, Cunningham hacked at a first-pitch, 90-mph fastball from Baltimore lefty Brian Matusz and launched a leadoff home run for the Indians. Read that sentence again if you’d like, but it’s fact.

After Cunningham circled the bases, his Indians teammates were not waiting for him when he arrived at the dugout. It was an old-fashioned silent treatment, an age-old tradition in baseball for players ending long home run droughts.

“I kind of expected that,” Cunningham said with a grin. “It’s been a while.”

It had been since Sept. 25 of last season, to be exact.

So what did Cunningham do?

“I just kind of ran back [into the tunnel] and back to the air-conditioning,” he said. “I came out a couple minutes later.”

Asked about Cunningham’s sprint into the tunnel, teammate Shelley Duncan smiled.

“Everyone handles it a little different when you get the silent treatment,” Duncan said.

Cunningham has his critics and, sure, it is easy to wonder how a guy hitting .171 (and struggling against lefties the way he has he has) is still on the roster. But, Cleveland likes his defense and that is essentially what he offers. Cunningham is the lone player on the roster who can play all three outfield spots and play them well, unless the Tribe has recently reached a higher trust level with super sub Jason Donald.

There is the matter of Cunningham’s offense, though. Before the home run, he was mired in a 1-for-21 spell dating back to June 3 and a 3-for-38 slump going back to May 7. On the season, Cunningham has just 14 hits in 82 at-bats, and he headed into Sunday hitting .156 vs. left-handers (billed as his speciality when the Tribe traded for him over the winter).

That home run was his first hit since June 18.

Asked if he remembers all his home runs, Cunningham laughed.

“Right now, shoot, I remember singles,” he quipped. “I’m just trying to get on base. I’m trying to do anything I can to help this team. Whatever I can do, I’m trying to help these guys out.”

Duncan — no stranger to a limited bench role — feels for Cunningham. Consider that Cunningham has garnered two or more at-bats in just 19 of the 58 games he’s appeared in this season. There have been also 19 times that he did not have a single plate appearance in a game.

It is hard to keep an offensive rhythm under such circumstances.

“His at-bats get really spaced out in between,” Duncan said. “And he works about as hard or harder than anybody on the team in the cages and during games. He’s done a great job doing what has been asked of him to do. It’s really tough. He goes out there and plays solid defense and he’s about as good a teammate as you could ask for.

“He’s a really good hitter, too. But he’s in a really, really tough spot. He’s a guy that, if he was in there a lot, he’d be pretty solid.”

SECOND: The Indians headed into this Baltimore series ranked last in the American League (and tied for last in baseball) with a .216 team average against left-handed pitching. Cleveland was 5-16 against left-handed starters coming into the four-game set with the O’s.

The Tribe was 1-5 on this road trip, too, and things did not look good when Baltimore had two lefties scheduled to pitch. Then, it seemingly got worse, when the Orioles made a rotation switch and added lefty Dana Eveland to the probables for Saturday. Three lefties in four games? No bueno.

Or… no problem?

Cleveland pounded out 32 runs in the four games in Baltimore and half came against the three lefty starters (Wei-Yin Chen, Eveland and Sunday’s starter, Brian Matusz). In all, the Indians scored 16 runs (15 earned) with a .322 (19-for-59) team average with three wins against those three starters.

And now, the Indians rank 13th (not 14th) in the AL with a .223 mark against lefties.

THIRD: Sinkerballer Justin Masterson gave the Indians another strong outing on Sunday, limiting Baltimore to two runs (one earned) on five hits over seven innings. He struck out seven and walked none.

Over his past six starts, Masterson has posted a 1.93 ERA (nine earned runs in 42 innings) with 36 strikeouts against nine walks. During that stretch, he has lowed his season ERA from 5.14 to 3.92.

“This is the guy that we were anticipating to get from Opening Day,” Indians manager Manny Acta said. “He got into a little rut there, but he’s back. Six outings in a row, where the guy has had command of the strike zone and all his pitches, is a pretty good indication. We feel pretty good right now when he goes out there.”

HOME: Both of Cleveland’s 2012 All-Stars — shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and closer Chris Perez — played a role in Sunday’s win. Cabrera went 2-for-5 with a double and a run, boosting his season average to .300 on the nose. Perez struck out two in a clean ninth to lower his ERA to 2.67 on the year.

All-Star snub Jason Kipnis went 1-for-4 with an RBI single and a walk for the Indians. He also stole his 20th base of the season, making him the first Cleveland infielder to have at least 20 swipes before the All-Star break since Roberto Alomar collected 21 in the first half in 2000.

On deck:

Angels (44-35) at Indians (40-38)
at 7:05 p.m. ET Monday at Progressive Field

–JB

2 Comments

Cunningham’s homer doesn’t really make up for his 2 bad plays in the outfield that cost us the runs. He needs to go back to minors where he can play every day and work on his swing and his play in the field. What other options do we have when Hafner comes back?

EvilleMikeD, I was thinking the same thing about the bad plays.

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