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 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).


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


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