Covering the Bases: Game 81
Indians 12, Angels 3
FIRST: Indians manager Manny Acta referred to “The Hafner Effect” following his team’s rout over the Angels. It’s too easy to say Pronk’s return is the reason for the Tribe’s lopsided win, but his impact was certainly noticeable.
Consider the first inning. After Jason Kipnis drew a two-out walk from Ervin Santana — let’s not let Kipnis’ free pass get lost in this — Travis Hafner engaged in an 11-pitch battle with the Angels pitcher. The DH fouled off six pitches and took five, four of which were balls. It was a critical walk that helped wear a struggling Santana down.
“That was a phenomenal at-bat,” said Michael Brantley. “He was up there battling really hard — fouling off some tough pitches. When you wear down a pitcher like that, it obviously makes them a little bit tired and maybe they’ll leave a ball up out over the plate. Hats off to Haf. What an incredible at-bat.”
Brantley had a great view of the plate appearance from the on-deck circle. The center fielder then reaped some of the reward by drilling a 1-1 changeup from Santana out to right for a 3-run home run. Santana was forced to throw 32 pitches in the first inning, and he was gone after reaching 58 in the second.
Cleveland pounded the pitcher for eight runs in 1 1/3 innings.
Acta said he feels quality at-bats are contagious, especially against a laboring pitcher. Hafner is typically a lock for a quality at-bat, and it is those type of at-bats that seemed to take a back seat on occasion over the past month. In June, the Indians’ walk rate, OBP and two-strike approach suffered.
Consider this. The Indians had a .338 OBP and an average of 4.4 walks per game in their first 43 games before Hafner was shelved with the knee injury. In the 37 games without Hafner, the club’s OBP dropped to .320 and the walk rate dipped to 2.7 per game on average. Cleveland went 16-21 with Hafner on the DL and 25-18 with him on the roster.
Actually, make that 26-18 now.
SECOND: Spotted with a 9-1 lead after two innings, Indians starter Derek Lowe could essentially go into cruise control. He held the Angels to three runs over six innings an improved to 8-6 on the year. It was Lowe’s first win since June 1 and only his second win in his past nine outings.
Asked his approach with such a large cushion, here’s what Lowe had to say:
“You don’t want to walk anybody. I think that’s the biggest thing. [Catcher] Lou [Marson] did a good job of setting up right down the middle, because you don’t want to walk your way into some jams. You know you’re probably going to give up some hits along the way.”
Lowe gave up 11 hits, which was right on par with his average of 11.2 hits per nine innings on the season. It’s what Lowe does with the rest of the hitters that matters. Lowe had no walks and 11 outs on the ground. For the most part, he did a good job of minimizing the damage.
THIRD: Combined, Casey Kotchman, Johnny Damon and Lou Marson went 7-for-12 with a home run, four RBIs and five runs scored in Wednesday’s win. It was a solid showing for three players on the upswing of late. Damon has hit .333 (13-for-39) in his last 12 games, Marson has hit .393 (24-for-61) in his last 20 and Kotchman has hit .258 (50-for-194) over his past 58 games.
HOME: The Indians have reached the 81-game mark, or the midpoint of the 162 game season. It seems like a good time to see how the 2012 version of the Tribe lines up with the 2011 ballclub.
2012: .257/.332/.397/.729, 72 HR, 146 2B, 353 RBI, 294 BB, 518 K, 366 R
2011: .250/.319/.396/.714, 74 HR, 147 2B, 333 RBI, 254 BB, 608 K, 351 R
2012: 42-39, 4.51 ERA, 726 IP, 526 K, 275 BB, 725 H, 393 R, 364 ER, 79 HR
2011: 44-37, 3.77 ERA, 723.2 IP, 498 K, 225 BB, 703 H, 333 R, 303 ER, 70 HR
So, essentially, the Indians’ offense is virtually unchanged with the exception of a higher on-base percentage and a better walk/strikeout rates. As a result, the lineup is a touch better than last year. The overall pitching, on the other hand, is worse. That needs to change in the second half.
Rays (43-39) at Indians (42-39)
at 7:05 p.m. ET Thursday at Progressive Field