Covering the Bases: Game 57
The calendar has flipped to June and the Indians are in contention. Is the Tribe for real this year? Or is Cleveland going through another first-half tease similar to the past two seasons? There are four months to find out, so it’s as good a time as any to bring back Covering the Bases to this space.
FIRST: It was clear immediately that something was wrong with shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera in the fifth inning on Monday. Well, let’s take a step back for a second. It was clear on Wednesday that Cabrera was still dealing with his right quad issue.
We asked about it on Thursday.
“He’s been feeling it for a couple weeks, so we keep an eye on him,” Indians manager Terry Francona said at the time. “I check with him after [games] to make sure he’s OK, because we always have [Mike] Aviles who we can fire in there if we need to.”
Well, Aviles, come on down.
Cabrera chopped a pitch to Robinson Cano, thought he could leg it out and “felt a pop” in his quad while hustling up the line. Now, the two-time All-Star shortstop is heading back to Cleveland to undergo an MRI and the “Cabrera placed on 15-day Disabled List” press release is likely coming down the pike. In the meantime, Aviles will move to shortstop.
This is bad in the sense that Cabrera is arguably Cleveland’s top hitter, a sound defender and a leader on the team. The shortstop has played through nicks, bruises and stiff muscles at times in each of the past few years. Shoot, three years ago, he came back from a broken forearm probably before he should have, but that shows you how much he wants to be on that field.
The good in this is that Cleveland — in theory — shouldn’t be as exposed as it was in years’ past. Given Cabrera’s history of second-half fades, whether slump or injury induced, the Indians worked hard to get a viable backup shortstop. That’s why acquiring Aviles, who served as Boston’s regular at short last season, was so important for the Tribe this winter.
Look at the names behind Cabrera in the 2012 game logs for shortstop: Brent Lillibridge, Jason Donald, Juan Diaz, Jack Hannahan and Cord Phelps.
Things are a bit different this year. Aviles — capable of starting on other teams — moves off the bench for the Indians and the rest of the lineup stays in order.
“Mike Aviles will shine. I have no doubt about that,” Francona said. “He prepares so he can play every day, so he can handle it. We know he’s a good enough player and, physically, he’ll step right in and shine.”
It helps Cleveland’s confidence some that the club has already endured stretches without the likes of Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher, and the team has kept its head above water. The positional versatility built into the roster, along with the enhanced bench, has helped in that regard. No longer does this team feel one injury away from falling off the rails.
“He’s a big part of our team. He’s helped us be where we’re at,” Indians starter Justin Masterson said of Cabrera. “But what’s also great about this team is the guys we have to fill in — our bench players — in case he needs a few days or something like that, we’ve got guys who are really good replacements. When he’s able to come back, whether it be tomorrow or a couple of days, he’ll fit back right in and help lead the way for us.”
SECOND: Do you remember the final entry to Nick Swisher’s New York chapter? he hit .167 (5-for-30) in the playoffs, misplayed a ball in the outfield, received hurtful jeers from the bleacher creatures and then nearly ignored their roll call in his final game at Yankee Stadium.
Swisher would rather not go over all that again.
“Live in the now, bro,” he said before Monday’s game.
Well, it turns out that Yankees fans have forgiven Swisher for those final frustrating days. When he stepped up to the plate for the first time as a visitor, he received cheers as his name was announced. Swisher waved to the crowd from the batter’s box. In the bottom of the first, the creatures chanted “Swisher! Swisher!” It was his own personal roll call, and he waved and smiled in response.
“It was great. It was just great to be back and great to see everybody,” Swisher said after the game. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been back here. It’s awesome, man. Thanks to everybody. It was great. This place was so great to me. Just to be able to come back, whether it’s as a visitor or anything, just being back in the stadium, it was great. Same electricity. Just awesome.”
Worth noting: Swisher wore his “Bro-hio” shirt in his first trip back to the Bronx.
THIRD: One positive within Monday’s loss was Cleveland kicking veteran lefty Andy Pettitte to the showers after only 4.2 innings. The Tribe tagged him for four runs on seven hits with three walks. On the season, the Indians are now hitting .272 (5th in the AL) with a .338 OBP (4th), .461 SLG (1st) and .798 OPS (1st) against lefties. The Tribe leads the AL in homers (26), RBI (100), runs (105) and hits (187) against left-handers. Last season? The Indians put up a .234/.312/.352/.664 slash line versus southpaws. What a difference a year makes.
HOME: Masterson headed into Monday’s outing 4-1 with a 2.31 ERA in his past five turns and 3-1 with a 1.93 ERA in his past four turns. Well, things did not go so well against the Yankees. The righty gave up seven runs on nine hits in 6.1 innings. Five runs came courtesy of a grand slam (Mark Teixeira in the third) and solo homer (Travis Hafner in the seventh). The other two scored on a shot up the middle from Brett Gardner in the sixth inning. On that play, only one run should have scored, but Masterson — admittedly angry over his spun slider to Gardner — cut off the throw to the plate from center fielder Michael Bourn.
“I was frustrated,” Masterson said. “And then I made an idiotic play to boot after that, which is not typically what I do. That’s just the good Lord keeping you nice and humble once you get too excited about yourself. By no means, were we very excited about ourself tonight.”
Francona wasn’t too hard on the pitcher.
“He just made a rare mistake of judgment and it probably cost us a run there,” said the manager. “He knows it. He feels worse than anybody.”
Indians (30-27) at Yankees (32-25)
at 7:05 p.m. ET at Yankee Stadium