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

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