Covering the Bases: Game 63
FIRST: Indians manager Terry Francona isn’t a big team meeting guy in the sense that he isn’t going to call a meeting for the sake of calling a meeting. If it in any way feels artificial or forced, Francona isn’t going to bother trying to rally the troops.
Francona’s take on meetings is that it is best to keep a good gauge on the temperature of the club, and pick spots when a speech — even if it’s just two minutes long — can benefit the team. Francona noted on Monday that he spoke with his team following Sunday’s loss in Detroit just to reiterate how much he believes in them.
“I let them know that I feel that way,” Francona said. “[My message was] pay attention to detail. I think the sum of our parts is good enough to be a really good team. Sometimes, it’s human nature that you try to do too much. We do believe in them. Even through a stretch like this, I think I feel as good about this team as I did two weeks ago.
“I think we’re going to weather it and I think we’re going to figure it out and get better.”
Well, it didn’t get better on Monday.
Cleveland dropped its eighth game in a row and has now lost 16 of its past 20 games. For those keeping score at home, that’s a 4-16 slide directly after an 18-4 run. The baseball season has its peaks and valleys, but these past six weeks have been quite the roller coaster.
We asked lefty Scott Kazmir, who took the loss despite an admirable outing on Monday, if these past three weeks have the team questioning its ability to contend this season.
“No. Not at all,” Kazmir said. “We’re struggling. We are. It’s just little things that cost us a game. It could be a pitch. It could be defensively, offensively. It just seems like there’s something so small that determines the outcome of the game, especially the past couple, or the past three or four. We’ve been in every game.”
As for Francona’s philosophy on team meetings, it has changed over the years.
“When I was young, probably immature, I’d have a team meeting and scream and the only person it helped was me,” Francona said recently in Detroit. “You’ve relieved stress. I remember one time in Philadelphia, we were pretty bad and I had a team meeting. [Brad Mills] came in after and I said, ‘Millsy, what did I say?’ He said, ‘I have no idea. Neither does anybody else.’ So that doesn’t really help. I guess if you get to that point you probably waited too long.”
Francona was asked if there was one team meeting from his playing days that still stands out.
The Indians manager smirked.
“When I was with the Cubs [in 1986], Dallas Green was the general manager,” Francona said. “And we had just moved into the new clubhouse underneath the third-base side. He made us all go down into the old clubhouse, which was now the grounds crew area. Man, I’d only been there a couple weeks. I got called up from Triple-A. So I’m the first one there and I’m sitting in the front row. Lee Smith, Jody Davis, Keith Moreland, they were like, ‘Hey, man. Don’t sit there. Just move back here.’ After that meeting, I was like, ‘Thank God I was in the back.’
“Dallas Green, I’ve never seen 25 guys so scared. Veteran players? Man. I was terrified. If that’s what the meeting was supposed to be about, you accomplished it. I was scared to death. He did anything. [Stuff] was flying everywhere. I was so [bleeping] scared.”
Asked how the team responded, Francona laughed.
“We weren’t very good,” he said. “That wasn’t the problem.”
Francona said Tom Trebelhorn, his manager with the Brewers, had good meetings, because he maintained his composure. Said Francona: “He always took the time to gather his thoughts. I always appreciated that, and I was a little bit older by then. When you’re a younger player, man, you’ll listen to anything. I thought he did a really good job.”
Francona also played for Pete Rose with the Reds in 1987.
“Pete Rose was unbelievable,” Francona said. “When Pete talked, I listened anyway. But when he had a meeting, I was like [bleep], man, if you can’t want to run through a wall for him, you better go do something else.”
SECOND: Maybe it’s purely a coincidence, but the Indians have gone 10-18 since third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall was sent down to Triple-A Columbus to “take a deep breath” (to use Francona’s summation). In that same span, Mark Reynolds, who has taken over at third, has hit just .167 over 27 games played.
Reynolds has hit just .140 (7-for-50) with one home run and one RBI in his past 14 games.
Again, it could simply be a coincidence. Or, maybe the physical demands of third base have taken a bit of a toll on Reynolds.
Either way, Chisenhall’s deep breath has included a .379 average with six home runs and 23 RBIs in 22 games at Triple-A. Granted, it’s not like he was setting the world on fire in the big leagues, but his presence allowed the Indians to keep Reynolds in a first base/designated hitter role and rotate Nick Swisher through first base/right field/DH as well.
Maybe it’s time for the Indians to consider bringing Lonnie Baseball back to the big leagues. For what it’s worth, Francona acknowledged on Monday that he left a message with Columbus manager Chris Tremie and plans on speaking with him Tuesday about Chisenhall, among other topics.
THIRD: In the seventh inning on Monday, Jurickson Profar sent a pitch from Kazmir to right field, where Swisher was playing too shallow to track down the ball. It sailed over Swisher’s head and dropped in for a leadoff double. That jump-started the game-deciding three-run rally for the Rangers. Francona said Swisher’s positioning was on the manager.
“We had him shallow there,” Francona said. “[Profar] hadn’t hit a ball there yet, and the way he runs we were taking away the single. So that’s on me. That’s not on [Swisher].”
HOME: The game’s big blow came later in the seventh, when lefty Nick Hagadone — showing signs of improvement lately — surrendered a two-run home run to veteran Lance Berkman with two outs. It was another sour turn for Cleveland’s left-handed relief situation. On the season, the Tribe’s lefties — Hagadone, Rich Hill, Scott Barnes and David Huff (no longer with the team) — have combined for a 7.61 ERA (40 ER/47.1 IP) with a 1.65 WHIP (28 BB/50 H).
Indians (30-33) at Rangers (38-25)
at 8:05 p.m. ET on Tuesday at Rangers Ballpark