June 2013

A Stat-happy Freaky Friday

DMantweetNot quite eight hours, D-Man. But, given the wild doubleheader that took place in Chicago last night, I did sit down this morning over coffee to look up some factoids. I’m not on the road for this series, and I opted for family time over watching the games on Friday, but that twin bill was right in my statistical wheelhouse. I’m sorry I wasn’t there to witness it first-hand.

Let’s get at it…

KipometerFlamesFor starters, we’ll take a look at the Kip-o-Meter, which had been downgraded to yellow on Thursday night. Well, it went from back in the red to off the charts with Jason Kipnis’ performance back in his hometown against the White Sox.

In Game 1′s 19-10 win, Kipnis had three doubles and three walks, making him the first Major League player to have that type of game since at least 1916. That’s almost 100 years of baseball, and he stands alone. And, to make sure his stat line is even harder to duplicate in the next 100 years, he stole a base and mixed in a pair of RBIs.

Kipnis became the 6th player since 1916 to have a game with three walk and three extra-base hits. The others include George Foster (Oct. 1, 1978), Reggie Jackson (June 11, 1969), Dolph Camilli (July 29, 1941), Del Bissonette (June 14, 1930) and Jim Bottomley (June 22, 1927).

Some more Kip Facts:

  • Hitting .486 (18-for-37) with 11 extra-base hits and 15 RBI in 11-game hitting streak
  • Has reached base via hit, walk or hit-by-pitch in 31 straight games
  • Has posted a .373/.471/.618 slash line in those 31 contests for the Indians
  • Marks longest on-base streak since Ryan Garko went 32 from Aug. 14-Sept.24, 2008
  • In June, has hit .411/.509/.667, 3 HR, 12 2B, 1 3B, 8 SB, 16 R, 19 BB, 23 RBI
  • Already has first 37-hit, 19-walk month since Jim Thome did so in July 2001
  • Currently best one-month slash line since Albert Belle’s .416/.527/.809 in May 1994
  • Prior to Belle, have to go all the way back to Tris Speaker (1925) to find a one-month line as good

Here are Kipnis’ season stats (entering Saturday) with his rank among qualifying American League second basemen in parentheses: .295 average (5), .380 OBP (2), .520 SLG (1), .900 OPS (1), 11 homers (2), 22 doubles (1), three triples (1), 43 runs (3), 49 RBI (1), 38 walks (3), 18 stolen bases (t-1). In the most recent fan All-Star voting, Kipnis wasn’t in the top five. Hopefully his peers views things differently.

Other items of note from Friday’s doubleheader sweep on Chicago’s South Side:

  • The Indians allowed at least eight runs in both games and still swept the twin bill. The last time Cleveland gave up at least eight runs in back-to-back wins was June 8-9, 1962 against Boston. The last time the Tribe allowed at least eight runs in both games of a doubleheader, and still won both games, was July 15, 1934 against Washington.
  • The Indians collected 19 runs, 10 extra-base hits and 21 hits in Friday’s Game 1 win. The Tribe has had just six games with at least 19 runs, 10 extra-base hits and 21 hits since 1916. The Indians have had two such games this season. Game 1 on Friday was the first such game in team history that also included at least nine walks. Think about that. Cleveland had 30 baserunners via hits and walks alone in a game that has 27 outs.
  • The Tribe scored at least 19 runs for the 21st time in team history. Cleveland has scored at least 19 runs in two games in a single season for the first time since 1923. The Indians also scored 19 on April 20 this year against the Astros.
  • Game 1 starter Trevor Bauer allowed five earned runs on six hits in just two-thirds of an inning. Then, the Indians rallied, won the game, and Bauer escaped with a no-decision. It marked the first time that an Indians starter allowed at least five earned runs and six hits with no more than two outs recorded in a no-decision since Rick Waits did so on May 7, 1982.
  • There have been 12 instances since 1916 in which an Indians starter allowed at least five runs and six hits with no more than two outs recorded. Cleveland is 2-10 in those games. The only other win came in that 1982 tilt against the A’s.
  • In Game 1, Cleveland had seven players with at least two RBI. The Indians hadn’t achieved that rare feat in one game since June 28, 1950 against the St. Louis Browns. It’s been done seven times in team history.
  • Game 1 was the 30th game in Indians history in which eight players had at least two hits. The team record of nine — done just once — took place on June 14, 1954 against Boston.
  • The Indians established a club record in Game 1 with seven players who had at least two hits and two RBI. That’s been done 17 times in MLB history since at least 1916. The last team to pull it off was the Rangers on Aug. 22, 2007.
  • Finally, Indians outfielder Drew Stubbs finally hit into a double play. He opened the season with an American League-best 242 at-bats without a GIDP on his season line.

Catch you again from the road on Tuesday in Kansas City.

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 78

627ChizDue to the rain delay and the late finish on Thursday night, I’m bringing you another a.m. edition of CTB. This will have to hold everyone over until the Indians open their series in Kansas City after this weekend, because I did not make the trip to Chicago. — JB

Final: Orioles 7, Indians 3

FIRST: It came in a loss, but Lonnie Chisenhall had his best game of the season on Thursday. Asked about the young third baseman’s game, manager Terry Francona’s eyes widened a bit as he discussed a performance that Cleveland has been waiting all season to see.

“If he wants to go ahead and get hot,” Francona said, “that would be tremendous.”

Sample size alert, but Chisenhall has been hot over the past handful of games. Since being recalled from Triple-A Columbus earlier this month, the third baseman has hit .320 (8-for-25) with three extra-base hits and three RBIs in seven games. All eight hits have actually come in Chisenhall’s last five games, and Francona has used him sparingly against lefties (1 at-bat).

In Thursday’s win, Chisenhall went 3-or-4 with a home run, double, single and two RBIs. It was Chisenhall’s first three-hit game of the season for the Indians and his first three-hit game with a homer since June 18 last year against the Reds.

“That was nice,” Francona said. “He took some good swings. The home run, you saw that. He hit the double that stayed fair, which means he didn’t hook it. He got out in front of it and stayed inside it so it stayed fair. And the ball off [Darren] O’Day, he stayed right on it and hit the ball up the middle.”

Chisenhall downplayed his strong night.

“It’s always nice to swing the bat well,” Chisenhall said. “But you want to do it when your team is winning. But I felt good out there.”

The third baseman said he is starting to feel like he’s finding a rhythm again at the plate. Chisenhall said he was kind of searching for that feeling at Triple-A at the time of his promotion back to the big leagues.

“I wasn’t feeling the greatest when I got called up,” he said. “About the last five games in Triple-A, I lost that feeling of being super hot, which only happens two or three times a year. I’m just grinding at-bats and trying to do the things that I can to help the team win.”

SECOND: For four innings on Thursday, right-hander Corey Kluber looked like the pitcher he has been for the Indians for the better part of the past two months. Then, the fifth inning happened.

In the fateful fifth, Baltimore churned out five runs on six hits to chase Kluber from the game and sent the Indians on their way to the loss. What happened? Francona felt Kluber strayed away from his usual approach and began throwing too many breaking pitches.

“To start the game, he was real aggressive with his fastball like he’s been,” Francona said. “And then as that inning unfolded, he started going more to the breaking ball and pitched away from the fastball a little bit. And he kind of paid the price for it. In this ballpark, with that lineup, that’s what can happen.

“They’re sitting there, always able to do that if you make a couple mistakes. That’s why it’s so important to be in attack mode. It’s easier said than done with some of those hitters.”

To Francona’s point, Kluber threw a breaking ball on 20 of his 33 pitches in the fifth, according to MLB.com’s PitchFX data. That’s a 61-percent rate compared to 44 percent in the first four innings. In the fifth inning, the Orioles went 4-for-6 with three singles and a double in at-bats that ended with a breaking ball.

Kluber went back and studied the game film and thought he simply didn’t execute.

“More than anything I was looking to make sure that what I thought I saw out there was accurate,” Kluber said. “Obviously the line doesn’t look good and obviously I didn’t give the team a very good chance to win with the way it ended up out there. But I didn’t feel like there were a lot of bad pitches. It’s just the ones I didn’t make ended up kind of not being in the best situations for us.”

Kluber featured 35 sinkers in the outing, marking his lowest total in a normal start (that tosses out his rain-shortened, two-inning outing vs. Tampa Bay on May 31) since logging 30 against the Tigers on May 10. In that start against Detroit, Kluber allowed eight runs on 11 hits with four strikeouts and two walks in 4.2 innings. On Thursday, he gave up seven runs (six earned) on 11 hits with four strikeouts and one walk in 4.2 innings.

In the eight outings between those ugly starts, Kluber went 4-2 with a 2.77 ERA and 49 strikeouts against seven walks in 48.2 innings, while logging between 40-68 sinkers in each of his seven regular starts.

“He knows. He’s a smart kid and he gets it,” Francona said. “He just had a real tough inning and he’ll bounce back.”

THIRD: The Kip-o-Meter has been downgraded to yellow after Jason Kipnis’ performance in Thursday’s loss. The second baseman collected a first-inning single, extending his on-base streak to 29 games, but that was all Kipnis managed in the final game in Baltimore.

Kipnis recorded outs in three straight at-bats for the first time since June 21, though that last three at-bat skid included a sac fly. You have to go back to June 18 to find the previous time Kipnis had three pure outs in a row, or strikeouts in back-to-back at-bats (like he had Thursday).

In the seven games between June 18 and Thursday, Kipnis hit .545 (12-for-22) with two homers, four doubles, one triple, four runs, seven walks, three strikeouts and 10 RBIs. He currently has a nine-game hitting streak that features a .467 average, and his June slash line is .398/.490/.639 through 24 games.

Since May 1, when he was hitting .189/.265/.270 on the season, Kipnis has posted a .326/.407/.600 line over a 51-game stretch.

HOME: There was an odd play during Baltimore’s five-run fifth. With the bases loaded and one out, Chris Davis chopped a pitch to Kipnis, who flipped the ball to shortstop Mike Aviles in hopes of starting a rally-ending double play. That is when things got complicated.

Aviles received the ball, but came off the bag and Adam Jones — sliding into the base — was initially called safe. Thinking he was out, Jones slid off the bag and started to leave the field, so he was then called out for abandoning the base. Aviles was charged with an error on the play, and Davis beat the relay throw to first, allowing the go-ahead run to score.

So, technically, Aviles was credited with a putout and charged with an error. Had Aviles successfully thrown Davis out at first base, the shortstop would’ve earned an assist, a putout and an error in one play.

It’s a crazy game, this baseball.

ON DECK:

Indians (40-38) at White Sox (32-43) doubleheader
at 5:10 ET on Friday at U.S. Cellular Field

–JB

Covering the bases: Game Game 77

626KazmirDue to the hour rain delay and the late finish on Wednesday night, the latest Covering the Bases is an a.m. edition. Well, it’s actually technically afternoon, but 12 p.m. is still basically “a.m.” in the life of a sportswriter. Anyways, here is the latest CTB. — JB

Final: Indians 4, Orioles 3

FIRST: A curse has followed me since my days covering the Blue Jays. Toronto fans took to calling it being “MLBastian’d.”

If I posted anything on Twitter mentioning a no-hitter or perfect game in progress, it would end shortly after the perceived jinx was sent out. It became a running joke on Twitter — to the point where fans would send me jinx requests when pitchers I wasn’t covering had a no-no going.

There was one instance when I declared on Twitter that I would not say anything, and then Detroit ace Justin Verlander finished off a no-hitter against the Blue Jays. With great power comes great responsibility, so I try to pick my spots and choose my wording carefully. On Tuesday, I left a big blank in my tweet on my update about Justin Masterson’s no-hitter. Didn’t matter. Next batter got a hit.

So, on Wednesday night, when Kazmir had a gem going, I stayed quiet. Given his incredible comeback story, it would’ve been fun to see him complete a no-hitter. It would’ve been movie script stuff. Alas, the baseball gods did not agree and Manny Machado laced a no-doubt double to open the seventh.

After the game, I asked Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis when teammates start thinking about the no-hitter in progress. Kipnis smirked.

“Well, we’re certainly not going to jinx it like you do usually,” Kipnis said. “We know all about your jinx.”

Thanks, Twitter.

Superstition aside, and Machado’s hit aside, Kazmir turned in a brilliant performance for the Indians. Over seven innings, he surrendered the lone hit and one unearned run, ending with four strikeouts and one walk. Kazmir pitched to contact and created a stream of groundouts. He worked fast, using his slider well against lefties and his changeup effectively to righties.

Kazmir’s strong fastball command set everything up for him.

It set the tempo right there, being able to throw the fastball inside and out,” Kazmir said. “I just kept them off-balance. My changeup worked today. That’s something I was really working on in between my starts, trying to make that a little more consistent. To the lefties, my slider was effective pretty much the whole time. It felt like I was putting it in the right spot.”

Kazmir sat around 90-93 mph with his fastball, but dialed back and hit a max speed of 95.83 mph (courtesy of brooksbaseball.net) once. In his 77-pitch outing, Kazmir logged 60 fastballs, 12 changeups (all vs. RHH) and five sliders (all vs. LHH). Of the 13 fastballs used to end at-bats, a dozen of them registered for a strike.

Kazmir took the mound for the eighth inning, but left after a few warm-up pitches. He had been battling lower back spasms for most of the evening, and manager Terry Francona didn’t want to take any chances. Kazmir didn’t get the win (the Tribe’s bullpen coughed up a lead in the eighth), but Cleveland rallied vs. O’s closer Jim Johnson to pick up the team victory.

Kazmir led the way.

Here’s an update of the breakdown of Kazmir’s up-and-down season from the previous post on the lefty:

April 20 debut: 16.20 ERA (3.1 IP)
April 27-May 9 (3 starts): 2.65 ERA (17 IP), .680 OPS
May 14-20 (2 starts): 10.13 ERA (8 IP), 1.121 OPS
May 25-30 (2 starts): 2.25 ERA (12 IP), .729 OPS
June 4-15 (3 starts): 7.98 ERA (14.2 IP), .998 OPS
June 21-26 (2 starts):  0.64 ERA (14 IP), .419 OPS

Cleveland can only hope this latest run is a corner turned.

SECOND: When Indians interim closer Vinnie Pestano saw that it was the fleet-footed Drew Stubbs at the plate with runners on the corners in the ninth inning, the pitcher started getting warmed up in a hurry. The game was tied, 3-3, with one out, but Pestano knew that there was a strong chance of Cleveland taking the lead if Stubbs made contact.

“That’s when I started literally amping up my throwing,” Pestano said. “I knew there was about a 99-percent chance that there was no way he’d hit into a double play right there.”

That’s because Stubbs hasn’t hit into a double play this season.

Sure enough, Stubbs chopped a pitch to Machado, and Baltimore’s third baseman tried to initiate an inning-ending twin killing. Stubbs beat the relay throw to first base by a step, scoring the go-ahead run that proved to be the difference.

Stubbs leads the American League with 236 at-bats without a double play. Only San Diego’s Everth Cabrera (275) has more at-bats in the Majors with a GIDP on the back of his baseball card.

“That’s one of his things that we love,” Francona said of Stubbs’ speed. “If he puts the bat on the ball there, that’s going to be awfully tough to turn two.”

THIRD: On the eve of All-Star closer Chris Perez’s return from the disabled list, Pestano turned in a one-two-three ninth inning and picked up a save in arguably his best performance of the season.

“Lo and behold, I finally went out there and went one-two-three,” Pestano said. “I think I’ll go to Vegas, stay a couple days and test my luck.”

Pestano struck out slugger Chris Davis with a slider, induced a lineout from Matt Wieters and got J.J. Hardy to whiff on a fastball. It marked the reliever’s first three-batter inning with two strikeouts since April 17. It was only Pestano’s second one-two-three frame in his last 13 appearances.

Little by little, Pestano said he is beginning to feel like his old self. The latest side work has included playing catch sidearm, which is how he threw in college. The idea behind this technique is to get into a more comfortable arm slot in games. Lately, Pestano said his release point had been off and, despite the return of pitch speed, he had lost some deception.

“Once the velocity picked up, we noticing guys taking a lot better hacks off me than in previous years,” Pestano said. “That was obviously discouraging to me — not being used to those kind of swings. Usually if I go inside on a lefty, they yank it foul or something happens. They don’t get enough of it to keep it fair, let alone hit a home run, which I’ve given up my fair share this year. I’ve obviously been looking for answers.”

Kipometer copyHOME: The Kip-o-Meter remained on red on Wednesday night. Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis went 1-for-3 with a two-run home run and a walk. For June, Kipnis has hit .405 with a .500 on-base and a .658 slugging percentage in 27 games.

Some more Kip Facts:

  • Only seven players in franchise history have completed one month with a .400/.500/.600 slash line (minimum 20 games played). If Kipnis becomes the eighth, he will join an elite list that includes Jim Thome (Aug. 1996), Albert Belle (May 1994), Lou Boudreau (Aug. 1948), Ray Mack (May 1940), Frankie Pytlak (Aug. 1937), Joe Sewell (Aug. 1923) and Tris Speaker (July 1925, July and Sept. 1923, Aug. 1922, July 1920).
  • Only the Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig (1.196) has a higher OPS than Kipnis (1.158) in June among MLB players with at least 20 games played.
  • Dating back to 2000, only Thome (July 2001, Aug. 2002, July 2000) and Ronnie Belliard (April 2004) have posted an on-base percentage of at least .500 in a single month for the Indians (minimum 20 games played).

ON DECK:

Indians (40-37) at Orioles (43-36)
at 7:05 p.m. ET on Thursday at Camden Yards

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 76

625masty copyFinal: Orioles 6, Indians 3

FIRST: Well, that escalated quickly.

Indians sinkerballer Justin Masterson was brilliant through four innings (no hits, no walks), strong through six (three hits, one run) and then a total disaster in the seventh (five runs, three hits, one hit batter, one walk) on Tuesday night. In that decisive frame, it took just six pitches for things to fall apart on Masterson, and two home runs allowed for Baltimore to claim the victory.

“We had been working well through six innings,” Masterson said. “Unfortunately, we got to the seventh.”

Let’s take a close look at the meltdown:

Adam Jones: hit in the back by an 80-mph slider

“He started off the inning with a back-up slider that obviously didn’t slide,” Indians infielder Mike Aviles said. “It slipped out of his hand and got Jonesy.”

Chris Davis: crushes an 89-mph sinker for a two-run home run to tie the game, 3-3.

“I was trying to make a nice pitch away,” Masterson said. “Maybe I was trying to make it too nasty.”

Matt Wieters: four-pitch walk
J.J. Hardy: soft lineout to short
Chris Dickerson: check-swing single down third-base line

“That was a really good pitch,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “The guy hits the ball 60 feet and there’s nothing we can do with it.”

With Alexi Casilla batting: wild pitch, runners move to second and third base

“When he threw the breaking ball that got back to the backstop,” Francona said, “now we have to play the infield kind of halfway just because of the score of the game. You’ve got to try to be fine and he threw a breaking ball to Casilla that was over the middle of the plate.”

Casilla: batting .205 with no home runs, hits a floated slider out to right for a three-run homer

Ballgame.

It was reminiscent of some of the games that spiraled out of control on Masterson last season, when he fell victim to big innings throughout a trying season. In 2012, Masterson actually allowed 30-percent of his runs (37 of 122) in just 3-percent of his innings (6.2 of 206.1). He had eight innings in which he surrendered four or more runs within his 34 outings a year ago.

So, what happened this time?

Part of the problem was a break down in Masterson’s slider as the game wore on. It was extremely sharp in the early innings and became increasingly hittable deeper into his outing. The following is a glance at Masterson’s results with his slider on Tuesday, according to the PitchFX data.

Innings 1-3: 8 sliders, 6 strikes, 4 swing-and-miss, 1 contact, 0-for-1 on sliders in play
Innings 4-5: 10 sliders, 7 strikes, 1 swing-and-miss, 4 contact, 0-for-1 on sliders in play
Innings 6-7: 13 sliders, 8 strikes, 0 swing-and-miss, 5 contact, 2-for-2 on sliders in play

Masterson made no excuses.

“There was no focus lost,” he said. “The focus was there. I just didn’t execute. Sometimes you can be as focused as you want, but you don’t always necessarily execute the pitch.”

Kipometer copySECOND: Until the seventh-inning debacle, it appeared as though Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis was going to be the story once again.

Kipnis finished 2-for-2 with a pair of walks and a two-run home run in the fifth that gave Cleveland a 3-1 lead. With how Masterson was pitching early on, that cushion seemed sufficient. That obviously changed in a hurry.

Still, Kipnis’ part in Tuesday’s game, as has been the case for the bulk of this month, was worthy of recognition. In the fifth, Kipnis lifted a 3-1 pitch from Orioles starter Chris Tillman to deep left-center, where the ball carried just over the wall for his 10th homer of the year.

Kipnis has had that opposite-field power working for the past six weeks.

“He backspins the ball to left field,” Francona said. “I think he’s a lot stronger than people give him credit for. When he stays on the ball down and away it just makes him that much more dangerous.”

Here’s where the Kip-o-meter stands right now:

  • Has reached base via hit, walk or hit-by-pitch in 27 straight games
  • Has hit .479 (23-for-48) in past 14 games
  • Has hit .408 (31-for-76) in the month of June
  • Has hit .328 (60-for-183) in 49 games since May 1
  • Had first 2-hit, 2-walk, 2-RBI game of his career on Tuesday
  • Season slash line: .288/.368/.502
  • Season stats: 10 HR, 19 2B, 3 3B, 43 RBI, 33 BB, 37 R, 74 H, 17 SB, 67 games

THIRD: The wild pitch in the seventh inning gave the Indians’ pitching staff a Major League-leading 45 wild pitches on the season. Now, it’s called a wild pitch for a reason, and the person throwing the ball certainly has a great deal of responsibility for the errant offerings in question. That said, the catcher also plays a role in this and catcher Carlos Santana currently leads the Majors with 32 wild pitches with him behind the plate. As evidence for the catcher’s role, look no further than the team with the fewest wild pitches: St. Louis Cardinals. Yadier Molina is arguably the best defensive catcher in the game, and his ability to block pitches saves his pitching staff some WP’s in the box score. This is an area definitely in need of cleaning up for the Tribe.

HOME: Masterson’s collapse was the main culprit behind Tuesday’s loss, but the offense certainly had its chances to come through more than it did.

The Indians had bases loaded with one out in the first inning and only plated one run on a sac fly. In the second, the Indians had the first two runners aboard, but Tillman retired three straight to escape unharmed. Kipnis drew a leadoff walk in the third, and hung out on first base for the rest of the frame. Later, in the ninth inning, Cleveland put the first two runners on before Lonnie Chisenhall hit into a double play. The Indians then had runners on the corners with two outs, but Michael Bourn swung through strike three to end the game

The Indians have hit .136 (3-for-22) with RISP in the past three games and .227 (10-for-44) with RISP in the past five games.

“I thought we did a pretty good job of not leaving the strike zone, making [Tillman] work,” Francona said. “He’s got pretty good stuff and we squared up a couple balls, but we couldn’t break through and spread it out.”

ON DECK:

Indians (39-37) at Orioles (43-35)
at 7:05 p.m. ET on Wednesday at Camden Yards

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 75

624BrantleyFinal: Indians 5, Orioles 2

FIRST: In theory, the Orioles made the right move in the sixth inning, when they opted to intentionally walk Mark Reynolds to load the bases. With no outs, it set up a double play in all directions and Baltimore had a lefty-lefty matchup between Zach Britton and Michael Brantley.

“Obviously, they’re playing strategy,” Brantley said. “There’s a lefty on the mound, I’m a left-handed hitter, and I just want to make sure I can do what I can for my team — get that run in from third base however I can do it.”

What makes Brantley so valuable is that it is a safe bet that he will put the ball in play in some form or another. His extremely high contact rate and low strikeout rate make Brantley a versatile weapon for manager Terry Francona to utilize. Francona has done so accordingly, actually slotting Brantley in every single lineup spot at some point this season.

When Michael Bourn was out, Brantley filled in as the leadoff man. When Nick Swisher missed time, Brantley took some turns as the cleanup man. Given his propensity for making consistent contact, Brantley can offer solid protection for the hitter in front of him.

Francona said another strength of Brantley’s is maintaining a consistent approach no matter the situation. That might help explain how the left fielder has led Cleveland to this point with a .357 (20-for-56) average with runners in scoring position. The 20th such hit came in the sixth inning, when Brantley sent a slider from Britton up the middle for a two-run single that gave the Tribe a 3-2 lead.

“He doesn’t change his approach,” Francona said. “He doesn’t try to do too much. He just stays with his same approach and he’s a good hitter. If anything, maybe his concentration is unbelievable. You don’t see him over-swing very often.”

Heading into Monday’s game, Brantley led the American League with a 91-percent contact rate. His six-percent swing-and-miss rate was tied for the lowest mark in the AL. Brantley was putting balls in play at a 79-percent clip (eighth-best in the AL) and his 11.6-percent strikeout rate was the 10-best mark in the league. Brantley’s caught-looking strikeout rate of 48-percent is also the highest in the AL, showing that he really picks his spots when swinging.

“He’s done everything that we’ve asked him to do, man,” Swisher said. “He’s hit in every slot from one through nine. And he’s such a pro hitter, man. To be able to have a guy like that that Tito can bounce up and down the lineup to protect certain guys, obviously he’s shown his worth on this squad for sure.”

Brantley added a two-run home run in the eighth inning, giving him a personal-best (done three times in his career) four RBIs on the night. Over his past five games, Brantley has launched three home runs in 17 at-bats after having two homers in his first 246 at-bats this season. Brantley didn’t become a power hitter over night, but he is certainly on a nice little run of late.

SECOND: The bullpen played a key role in Monday’s win, holding the Orioles scoreless over a combined 3 2/3 innings of work. Rich Hill, Bryan Shaw, Joe Smith and Vinnie Pestano teamed to back a solid outing from starter Ubaldo Jimenez, who successfully played damage control into the sixth inning against a tough Baltimore lineup.

Francona was especially impressed with the effort from Hill.

Lefty relievers entered Monday with a 7.26 ERA this season for Cleveland, which headed into this season with high hopes for the veteran Hill. The lefty has been better of late and he played a big role on Monday. With a runner on base and one out in the sixth, Hill took the ball, struck out Danny Valencia and induced a flyout off the bat of Ryan Flaherty. In the seventh, he got Nate McLouth to ground out.

“When Rich Hill pitches like that, it complements our whole bullpen,” Francona said.

Cleveland has been trying to get Hill back to his early-season form, when he featured a higher arm slot and more deception. During his first 10 appearances, Hill has a 2.70 ERA with only three hits allowed in 6 2/3 innings. In that span, he threw 61-percent of his pitches for strikes, but had four walks to go along with his eight strikeouts.

So, Hill lowered his arm slot some in an effort to improve his strike throwing and cut down the walks. The tradeoff was less deception and more hits allowed. In the 12 outings after those first 10, Hill posted a 12.54 ERA with 17 hits surrendered, 12 strikeouts, six walks and a 63-percent K-rate in 9 1/3 innings.

Now, flash ahead to his seven most recent appearances. He’s only worked four innings (he hasn’t been exposed as much while working on the arm angle) and his K-rate has dropped to 53 percent, but he’s posted a 2.25 ERA with four strikeouts, three hits allowed and two walks issued.

“Richie is throwing the ball, the last couple times out, pretty good,” Francona said. “Getting him on a roll would be really helpful to our bullpen.”

THIRD: Pestano — no stranger to late-inning drama this season — breezed through the first two hitters he faced in the ninth on Monday. He froze Matt Wieters with a 92-mph fastball on a 1-0 count, and then got the O’s catcher to swing through a pair of impressive 80-mph sliders. Later, with two outs, Pestano ran into a bit of trouble.

Flaherty walked (although he looked to have been rung up on a 2-2 pitch called a ball), McLouth singled and then Manny Machado laced a pitch to the left side. Shortstop Mike Aviles made a leaping grab for the final out of the ballgame. Despite the late heart palpitations, Francona liked what he saw.

“Vinnie threw the ball really well,” Francona said. “I know there was a couple baserunners, but he had the best breaking ball we’ve seen, and he had a little bit more life on his fastball. You’re always looking to be encouraged. — that’s our job — but there is reason to be.”

HOME: Swisher enjoyed one of his best games in quite some time for the Indians. He went 2-for-4 with a single in the first inning, an RBI single in the sixth, a walk in the seventh and a well-struck  flyout to the warning track in left field in the ninth. It was Swisher’s first multi-hit game since May 29 and his first game getting on base three times since June 1.

Swisher — dogged by a left shoulder injury off and on this year — headed into Monday’s contest hitting .100 (6-for-60) in his last 16 games.

“Man, I’ve been trying to keep a smile on my face,” Swisher said. “This game is frustrating. I’ve said it before: I know what type of player I am. I know what I’m capable of doing. Just being able to get back out there and contribute, man, that felt good. It’s nice getting back out there and feeling healthy again.”

Francona was happy to see Swisher look more like himself at the plate.

“He’ll be just fine,” Francona said. “He had good at-bats all night. He wasn’t trying to do too much and he ended up taking good swings. Actually, probably the best swing of the night was the ball he hit to left field for the out. That was really good to see.”

ON DECK:

Indians (39-36) at Orioles (42-35)
at 7:05 p.m. ET on Tuesday at Camden Yards

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 74

623KipnisFinal: Twins 5, Indians 3

FIRST: The loss aside, it might be time to start considering Jason Kipnis’ candidacy for the American League All-Star team. In April, or even mid-way through May, this was not a topic under discussion. At that point, the second baseman was still working on digging himself out of an early-season hole.

Things have changed in a hurry.

In Sunday’s loss, Kipnis finished 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles for the Indians. It marked his eighth multi-hit showing (and second in as many days) in his stellar June showing.

“It means nothing if you don’t win the game,” Kipnis said. “It’s nice, but I’d rather have guys on, I’d rather be driven in, I’d rather win games. It means nothing if you don’t win.”

Fair enough, but the Indians have been winning more of late — the Tribe has four series wins in a row and eight wins in the last 11 games — and Kipnis has played a role in that. Over his past dozen games, Kipnis has hit at a .476 (20-for-42) clip for Cleveland. In 20 games in June, the second baseman has posted a .400 (28-for-70) average.

American League OPS leaders for June (minimum 40 at-bats):
Mike Carp, BOS: 1.235
Jose Iglesias, BOS: 1.074
Miguel Cabrera, DET: 1.073
Jason Kipnis, CLE: 1.068
Adam Lind, TOR: 1.056

“Right now, [I'm] just seeing the ball really well,” Kipnis said. “Seeing the ball really well and having a consistent swing. [I'm] not changing anything. The point of contact is keeping the same. I’m not trying to pull them and not even trying to go oppo. [I'm] just keeping everything the same, being consistent and seeing the ball really well.”

Kipnis has also reached base (without a reached on error) in 25 consecutive games, which is the third-longest active streak in the Majors. Only Colorado’s Michael Cuddyer (40 games) and Detroit’s Cabrera (38 games) have longer streaks still going. Kipnis is five shy of reaching in 30 straight, which hasn’t been done by an Indians hitter since Ryan Garko went 32 games in 2008. For those curious, the Cleveland record is 55 games in a row by Jim Thome (July 28-Sept.29, 2002).

With his strong June showing, Kipnis has improved his season slash line to .283/.359/.486/.845. Here are his rankings among American League second baseman in each major offensive category: average (fifth), on-base percentage (fourth), slugging percentage (second), OPS (second), nine homers (second), 18 doubles (second), three triples (first), 35 runs (fourth), 41 RBI (second), 17 stolen bases (first), 31 walks (fourth) and 71 hits (seventh).

Here are the top five qualifying AL second baseman ranked by their current OPS:
Robinson Cano, NYY: .276/.354/.497/.850
Jason Kipnis, CLE: .283/.359/.486/.845
Howie Kendrick, LAA: .323/.366/.471/.837
Dustin Pedroia, BOS: .311/.394/.418/.812
Omar Infante, DET: .300/.332/.419/.751

It’s a tough group to crack in terms of making the All-Star team, and Kipnis won’t be voted in as the American League starter at his position. That said, his numbers are undoubtedly worthy of consideration at the very least.

SECOND: It appeared as though Carlos Carrasco had turned a major corner in his last start against the Royals, but the right-hander took another step back in the loss to the Twins on Sunday. Carrasco worked into the fifth inning, but his pitch count soared to 104, he walked four and was chased after giving up three runs in only 4 2/3 innings. All things considered, it could’ve been worse. That was what Indians manager Terry Francona emphasized.

“A lot of deep counts,” Francona said. “The other day, he was missing over the plate. Today, he was missing off the plate a little bit. They squared up a lot of balls. To his credit, he pitched, he never gave in, he limited damage. They just made him work really hard.”

THIRD: Nick Swisher returned to the cleanup spot on Sunday after missing the previous seven games due to a left shoulder issue. After the period of rest, the Indians first baseman came back and went 0-for-5, including a game-ending groundout while representing the game’s tying run. Not exactly a triumphant return for one of Cleveland’s energetic leaders.

Over his past 16 games, dating back to May 30, Swisher has hit .100 (6-for-60) with no home runs and four RBIs for the Indians while battling the shoulder soreness. Over that span, his season slash line has dropped from a respectable .278/.371/.497/.868 to an uncharacteristic .231/.331/.393/.724. What Swisher needs is a Kipnis-esque hot streak to pull his season together.

Swisher will probably remain at first base or designated hitter for the foreseeable future. Francona has noted that he does not plan on throwing him back out in right field any time soon, because there is some expectation that this is the kind of shoulder issue that could linger all year. The last thing Francona wants is for a throw from the outfield to trigger a serious setback.

HOME: Unrelated to the game, but it was pretty neat to chat with actor Kevin Costner before the Indians took the field. He is in Cleveland filming the movie “Draft Day,” in which he plays the Browns general manager. Before the game, he played catch in the outfield, took some grounders at third base and stepped into the cage for a few hacks.

You may or may not recall, but MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince wrote a column about “Field of Dreams” that sparked a critical blog post from me, and then another rebuttal blog entry by AC. It was all in good fun, but Castrovince is dead wrong in thinking “Field of Dreams” was a bad movie.

The one issue I’ve always had with the movie is that Ray Liotta hit right-handed while portraying Joe Jackson. This has bothered me since childhood and I couldn’t let Costner walk away without asking him about it. So I asked, ‘Did Liotta not even try to hit lefty?’ Costner laughed, politely asked that we go off the record, and gave an answer that was satisfactory and more or less what I expected to hear.

That’s all I can say about that.

ON DECK:

Indians (38-36) at Orioles (42-34)
at 7:05 p.m. ET on Monday at Camden Yards

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 73

622VPFinal: Indians 8, Twins 7

FIRST: First things first, let’s take note of the fact that the Indians won this game. And let’s let Indians temporary closer Vinnie Pestano emphasize that point for Tribe fans.

“We won the game. That’s the bottom line,” Pestano said. “If I go out there and give up five runs, and we win by one, we win by one.”

Fair enough.

Now, about Pestano’s performance.

Armed with a three-run lead, Pestano labored through a 34-pitch inning and coughed up two runs, including one on a home run by Chris Parmalee. In the end, the right-hander (filling in for sidelined closer Chris Perez) struck out Josh Willinghame to collect a save and seal the victory. It was a game in which Cleveland had a 6-2 lead after one inning and an 8-3 lead after five.

That was before the Twins made a four-run push across the final three frames against the Tribe bullpen.

“We kind of had to hang on for dear life,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “But we did, so we’ll go home happy.”

Pestano’s final line was hardly pretty — 1 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 HR, 34 (18) — and he knows that. This has hardly been his finest season, and he knows that, too. The setup man has dealt off and on with a right elbow issue, but all parties involved say he is healthy enough to keep pitching. This is where it’s worth noting perhaps that he hit 90-93 mph with his fastball against the Twins. That’s in Pestano’s usual range.

“I actually thought tonight Vinnie threw the ball better,” Francona said. “That was a really long inning. Any pitcher, when you start getting up around 30 pitches, that’s a tough inning. But I thought he was more crisp tonight than he has been before. He just made a couple mistakes.”

So, maybe this is less to do with health and more to do with an off night?

Perhaps it’s also worth noting that in Pestano’s previous eight appearances, he posted a 1.13 ERA, a .233 opponents’ batting average and threw strikes at a 63-percent clip. In the four outings prior to that stretch, it was a 13.50 ERA, .333 average and 58-percent strike rate. So there had been improvement leading up to Saturday’s eventful save.

“I feel good when I’m out there,” Pestano said. “I’ve thrown a lot lately, either getting up to get in the game or throwing. But I don’t think that had anything to do with tonight. I felt fine when I was on the mound tonight. I pitched in the same conditions everybody else did. A lot of guys went out there and got some big outs, made some big pitches.

“I felt like I was making good pitches. They were just on them. I don’t really have any other explanation. I don’t know if I was being predictable with my pitch [selection] or what have you. They’ve got some good hitters in their lineup.”

SECOND: Jason Kipnis has the tools to end the Indians’ 10-year cycle drought. He has a mix of power and speed that makes him a strong candidate to complete the rare feat, which has only been achieved seven times in Cleveland franchise history.

It should come as no surprise that Kipnis has flirted with a cycle seven times in his 252 career games in the big leagues:

June 22, 2013 vs. Twins: 3-4, 1B, 2B, 3B, 2 RBI, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 SB
June 12, 2013 at Rangers: 3-5, 1B, 2B, HR, 1 RBI, 1 R
May 4, 2013 vs. Twins: 3-4, 1B, 3B, HR, 2 RBI, 2 R, 1 SB
June 10, 2012 at Cardinals: 3-4, 1B, 2B, HR, 3 RBI, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 SB
Sept. 17, 2011 at Twins: 3-5, 1B, 2B, 3B, 2 RBI, 3 R
Aug. 10, 2011 vs. Tigers: 5-5, 3 1B, 2B, HR, 3 RBI, 4 R
Aug. 1, 2011 at Red Sox: 3-5, 1B, 2B, HR, 1 RBI, 3 R

On Saturday, Kipnis doubled in the first inning, singled in the second and tripled in the fourth. He had two more tries at the elusive cycle.

“I was hoping that he’d be swinging out of his shoes,” Pestano said.

Alas, Kipnis drew a walk in the fifth and grounded out in the eighth.

“I’ve seen him do it before,” Pestano noted.

That was on Sept. 17, 2010, when Kipnis hit for the cycle for Triple-A Columbus to in the game that clinched the Triple-A championship for the Clippers. Go figure that one year later, Kipnis flirted with a cycle in the big leagues against the Twins. He’s toyed with a cycle three times against Minnesota. Sooner or later, Kipnis is bound to break through, right?

The list of Indians cycles includes Travis Hafner (Aug. 14, 2003), Andre Thornton (April 22, 1978), Tony Horton (July 2, 1970), Larry Doby (June 4, 1952), Odell Hale (July 12, 1938), Earl Averill (Aug. 17, 1933) and Bill Bradley (Sept. 24, 1903). Not a bad list of names right there.

THIRD: It could easily get lost in the mix, but the performance of left-hander Rich Hill in Saturday’s win is worthy of recognition. With the Indians holding an 8-5 lead in the eighth inning, Hill entered with runners on first and second base and one out. He was asked to face lefty-hitting Joe Mauer and righty-hitting Ryan Doumit.

Hill answered the bell with back-to-back strikeouts.

“He’s been working so hard in the bullpen,” Francona said. “And every time he throws in the bullpen, [pitching coach Mickey Callaway and bullpen coach Kevin Cash] are always so positive. They say he’s making strides, and it was nice to see him take it into the game. That was a huge part of the game, and he was facing some really good hitters. His fastball had a lot of life on it and his breaking ball, he got them to chase it out of the zone.”

Hill has not given up a run in his past five appearances, while working on raising his arm angle closer to where it was during Spring Training. I wrote about that in more detail earlier this month (CLICK HERE).

HOME: Corey Kluber was admittedly not the sharpest he’s been all season, but the right-hander still pitched into the sixth inning for the Tribe. He allowed eight hits and issues one walk, but limited the damage to three runs (all on a pair of home runs). Not great, but not bad. Over his past eight turns, Kluber has gone 4-2 with a 2.77 ERA, striking out 49 and walking seven in 48 2/3 innings.

“If that’s one of his outings that’s not his best,” Francona said, “and he still gets us to where he did, that says a lot about his growth.”

EXTRA: Simply due to the historical nature of P.J. Walters’ start for the Indians, I’m including an extra item tonight. The righty only recorded two outs in the first innings for Minnesota, ending with five walks, one hit batsmen, six runs allowed and 46 pitches (28 balls). Walters became the first pitcher to have at least five walks and six runs allowed in one inning or less in a start against Cleveland since July 7, 1954 (Bob Turley, Baltimore). He also became the first starter for the Twins/Senators franchise to have at least five walks and six runs allowed since May 17, 1940 (Sid Hudson). No pitcher in baseball had turned in that line since Glendon Rusch did so for the Brewers on June 18, 2003. It’s only happened 15 times dating back to 1916, according to baseball-reference.com. … Also, I was asked by the Plain Dealer’s Dennis Manoloff if I could find the last time the Indians were out-homered by at least four long balls, and still won. The Twins had four homers to the Tribe’s zero in Saturday’s Indians victory. Based on some quick research, it looks like the last such game took place on Aug. 27, 2003, when the Indians beat the Tigers, 9-7, but were out-homered, 1-5.

ON DECK:

Twins (33-38) at Indians (38-35)
at 1:05 p.m. ET on Sunday at Progressive Field

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 72

621KazFinal: Indians 5, Twins 1

FIRST: Scott Kazmir didn’t look like the old Scott Kazmir in his win over the Twins on Friday night. He looked like the new Kazmir.

Take it from Twins manager Ron Gardenhire:

“It’s a different pitcher. He still has a little velocity, but nothing like he did way back. He used to kind of fire the ball all over the place, keep you off-balance and keep you a little nervous, too, the way he used to let it go.

“He’d miss here and there, but then he would throw the nasty pitches. He’s a little bit more in command of himself out there on the mound right now.’

Gardenhire hit on two points Kazmir made following his latest start. In his recent outings (Kazmir had a 7.98 ERA over his previous three turns), the lefty said he felt so good that he was almost trying to blow every pitch by hitters. After his last start (a 2.2-inning disaster), Kazmir went to work on pulling on the reins and getting things back in order and under control.

Kazmir was able to take that into his outing against the Twins.

“Looking back on it,” he said, “there was some stuff that I wanted to clean up this go-round and kind of be a little bit more under control. I feel like the last three or four starts, I’ve felt so good that I want to throw it by everyone, where I don’t want to make it that hard on myself.

“If I’m able to work both sides of the plate, stay in control and am able to use all my pitches, it’s a little bit easier out there to be able to go out there and get quick outs.”

Against Minnesota, Kazmir finished with seven strikeouts and no walks in seven innings. The lefty allowed one run (a solo homer to Brian Dozier in the sixth inning) and scattered five hits in his 95-pitch performance. This came after he allowed 13 runs on 19 hits in 14.2 innings across the last three starts.

So, Kazmir isn’t the pitcher he was in his prime with the Rays. What he is now is a smarter version of that pitcher with nearly the same stuff. The velocity is a tick under what it once was with Tampa Bay. According to fangraphs.com, Kazmir is averaging 92.1 mph (fastball), 82.3 mph (slider) and 80.7 mph (changeup). In 2007, when he led the American League in strikeouts, those pitches were 92.1, 83.7 and 81.4, respectively.

Heading into Friday’s start, his 28% rate of forcing swings at pitches outside the strike zone was the best mark of his career. Kazmir’s 62-percent first-pitch strike rate was also the best such percentage of his career. Kazmir’s contact percentage of 81.1 is the lowest it’s been since 2008 (75.5). After Friday’s  outing, Kazmir also improved his strike0ut-to-walk ratio to 2.70, which is the best it’s been since 2006 (3.13).

It has been a really up-and-down season for Kazmir, though.

“If we thought he would get through the whole year without some hiccups,” Indians manager Terry Francona said, “that’s probably unrealistic just with the amount of innings, and where he pitched last year.”

To Francona’s point, here is Kazmir’s season broken into its peaks and valleys:

April 20 debut: 16.20 ERA (3.1 IP)
April 27-May 9 (3 starts): 2.65 ERA (17 IP), .680 OPS
May 14-20 (2 starts): 10.13 ERA (8 IP), 1.121 OPS
May 25-30 (2 starts): 2.25 ERA (12 IP), .729 OPS
June 4-15 (3 starts): 7.98 ERA (14.2 IP), .998 OPS
June 21 vs. Twins:  1.29 ERA (7 IP)

Maybe that kind of roller coaster could’ve been expected considering Kazmir’s comeback trail, but don’t expect him to be fine with that explanation.

“It bothers me. I’m a competitor. It really bothers me,” Kazmir said. “That being said, you want to be successful every time you go out there, but you know just from not having the reps — it’s been a while — that it’s going to be a little shaky at times. You’ve just got to continue to keep your head down and keep moving forward.”

SECOND: There have been three instances in the Majors this season where a baserunner scored on a sacrifice fly to a second baseman. Two of the three came with Indians outfielder Drew Stubbs on third base. He’s some kind of fast.

In the third inning Friday night, Jason Kipnis sent a pitch to Dozier deep in the infield behind the bag at second. Dozier made the catch long enough for an out, but dropped the ball to the grass on the transfer. Stubbs, tagging on the play, scored from third and made it look easy.

“That was an unbelievable piece of baserunning by Stubbs,” Francona said. “He has no business scoring right there.”

Francona said Stubbs played it right by tagging, but it takes a special runner to score in that situation.

“There’s no reason to go halfway there,” Francona said. “If that gets over [Dozier's] head, he’s going to walk home. But the instincts to be able to go on that and then to have the speed to match. You’ll find some guys who have great instincts who will be out by 20 feet.”

That put the Indians up 2-0 at the time, proving to be a crucial run.

THIRD: Kipnis was credited with an RBI for that unlikely sac fly and the Tribe’s second baseman chipped in two more runs with a bases-loaded single in a three-run seventh. Kipnis keeps chugging along in June. Through 18 games this month, he has hit .356 (22-or-62) with one homer, five doubles, seven runs scored and 12 RBIs for Cleveland. He has reached base via hit, walk or hit-by-pitch in 23 straight games.

HOME: They only go down as singles in the box score, but Mark Reynolds sent a pair of pitches bouncing off the wall in left-field on Friday night. Hopefully for the Indians, that is a sign that Mega Mark is beginning to pull himself out of the slump that has dogged him for the past month.

“Both singles, but very good swings,” Francona said. “He had a couple good swings in the last game before the day off [Thursday]. That’ll be nice when those balls carry a little bit over and he gets hot and some of those are like three-run homers. That’ll be really nice for us.”

Dating back to May 30, Reynolds has one homer and three RBIs in 74 plate appearances. In his first 204 plate appearances this season, Reynolds had 13 homers and 41 RBIs for the Indians.

Reynolds’ first single Friday night was the source of some debate in the press box.

In the second inning, Reynolds slid into second base trying for a double, but was tagged out on the play. Thinking he was out, Reynolds slide through the bag, popped up, put his head down and began to head for the dugout. Second-base umpire Eric Cooper had motioned that Reynolds was safe going into second, though. A confused Reynolds tried to dive back into the bag, but he was tagged (again?) for the out.

“I knew I was out,” Reynolds said. “But I guess [Cooper] didn’t have a good angle. I guess that’s why you don’t assume things. I just assumed he was going to call me out, because I was out by a couple feet.”

The hit officially was ruled a single, because in the scorer’s opinion, Reynolds over-slid second base. Under that scenario, he didn’t “safely” reach second before being tagged out. And so it goes.

ON DECK:

Twins (33-37) at Indians (37-35)
at 7:15 p.m. ET on Saturday at Progressive Field

–JB

Please Stand By

please-stand-byI will be off the beat for the next week while visiting some old friends, one of whom is getting married this coming weekend. While I’m on vacation, Mark Emery will carry the torch for Indians coverage on Indians.com and on Twitter (@Mark_Emery). Covering the Bases will return when I am back on June 21.

In the meantime, I will leave you with a poll…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 65

612SmittyFinal: Indians 5, Rangers 2

FIRST: The Indians won yesterday. A win today made it two in a row. A win on Friday and it’s called a winning streak. To quote the wise Lou Brown: “It has happened before.”

For their latest win, the Indians have Ubaldo Jimenez to thank for a sound start and a handful of hitters to credit for timely hits. That said, Cleveland’s bullpen stood out tonight — simply due to the kind of struggles the group of relievers has endured over the past few weeks.

That said, consider the words of reliever Vinnie Pestano.

“We’re not going to get all giddy and happy,” he said. “This is what our bullpen is supposed to be like.”

Indeed, Cleveland’s relief corps has been — even through the toughest of times — a reliable part of the roster over the course of the past few years. That has not been the case recently, though. Over the period of May 21-June 11, when the Indians went 5-16 overall, the bullpen posted a Major League-worst 7.21 ERA (47 ER/58.2 IP) with a MLB-high .866 opponents’ OPS and 1.65 WHIP.

Closer Chris Perez is on the disabled list, Pestano has dealt with his own health and velocity issues and the lefties have been incredibly inconsistent.

That is why Wednesday’s game stood out. After Jimenez put two runners aboard in the sixth, lefty Rich Hill entered and retired A.J. Pierzynski as scripted. Righty Bryan Shaw then worked 1.1 clean innings before lefty Nick Hagadone entered to face David Murphy. Hagadone got his out, and sidearmer Joe Smith followed suit by striking out the side in the eighth.

Pestano allowed one run in the ninth, but he also had to survive a 15-pitch battle out of the chute against Jeff Baker. The right-hander won that confrontation — albeit with a bang-bang play at first base that could’ve gone the other way — and avoided disaster to seal the win.

“This is how we’re supposed to perform,” Pestano said. “I know it’s a surprise, the way we’ve been playing these games lately, but this is the way this bullpen is supposed to get the job done. When we’re handed the ball, especially with a four-run lead, let alone anything smaller, it’s our job to go out there, get outs and win the ballgame.”

SECOND: Jimenez wasn’t his sharpest, but the right-hander gave Cleveland five-plus innings and limited the damage of four hits and four walks issued in his 101-pitch effort. When the smoke cleared, and the bullpen bailed him out in the sixth, Big U was charged with just one run on the night. Cleveland will take that every time against a team like the Rangers.

Ubaldo has been pretty steady, despite a couple missteps, over his last 10 turns.

First 3 starts: 0-2, 11.25 ERA, 12 IP, 15 ER, 11 K, 10 BB
Last 10 starts: 5-2, 3.40 ERA, 55.2 IP, 21 ER, 56 K, 24 BB

His only two losses in the 10-start span are against Detroit.

“I think what happened last year is in the rear-view mirror,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “Everybody is going to have a start once in a while that’s not what you’re looking for, but he’s been pretty good for a while now.”

THIRD: There was a scoring change prior to Wednesday’s game that rewarded Jason Kipnis with a base hit in the eighth inning of Monday’s game in Texas. It was initially ruled that he reached on error. Kipnis then went out and finished 3-for-5 with a home run and a double in Wednesday’s win. All things considered, it was a four-hit day for the Tribe’s second baseman.

Kipnis heads into Thursday’s off-day riding a seven-game hitting streak, in which he’s hit at a .393 (11-for-28) clip. Dating back to May 1, when he was batting a paltry .189 and some fans wondered if he’d ever be the same again, Kipnis has hit .293 (43-for-147) with eight home runs, 10 doubles, two triples and 27 RBIs for the Indians.

HOME: As Lou Brown noted in Major League II, the Indians haven’t quite reached a winning “streak,” but two wins in a row is a nice way to wrap up this otherwise ugly road trip (2-7 through New York, Detroit and Texas). The scheduled eases up from here on out for Cleveland, which will fly home feeling better than it did a few days ago. The Indians still have a ways to go to dig out of the hole they made, but this was a start.

“We won tonight. That’s how we try to look at it,” Francona said. “We went through a pretty bad stretch there. But what we did last week… we can’t win four games today. The best way I know how to do it is just play well tonight and we’ll have a much-needed day off tomorrow, and we’ll come back and see how we do against the Nationals.”

ON DECK:

Nationals (32-32) at Indians (32-33)
at 7:05 p.m. ET on Friday at Progressive Field

–JB

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 83 other followers