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

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