Covering the Bases: Game 78
Due to the rain delay and the late finish on Thursday night, I’m bringing you another a.m. edition of CTB. This will have to hold everyone over until the Indians open their series in Kansas City after this weekend, because I did not make the trip to Chicago. — JB
Final: Orioles 7, Indians 3
FIRST: It came in a loss, but Lonnie Chisenhall had his best game of the season on Thursday. Asked about the young third baseman’s game, manager Terry Francona’s eyes widened a bit as he discussed a performance that Cleveland has been waiting all season to see.
“If he wants to go ahead and get hot,” Francona said, “that would be tremendous.”
Sample size alert, but Chisenhall has been hot over the past handful of games. Since being recalled from Triple-A Columbus earlier this month, the third baseman has hit .320 (8-for-25) with three extra-base hits and three RBIs in seven games. All eight hits have actually come in Chisenhall’s last five games, and Francona has used him sparingly against lefties (1 at-bat).
In Thursday’s win, Chisenhall went 3-or-4 with a home run, double, single and two RBIs. It was Chisenhall’s first three-hit game of the season for the Indians and his first three-hit game with a homer since June 18 last year against the Reds.
“That was nice,” Francona said. “He took some good swings. The home run, you saw that. He hit the double that stayed fair, which means he didn’t hook it. He got out in front of it and stayed inside it so it stayed fair. And the ball off [Darren] O’Day, he stayed right on it and hit the ball up the middle.”
Chisenhall downplayed his strong night.
“It’s always nice to swing the bat well,” Chisenhall said. “But you want to do it when your team is winning. But I felt good out there.”
The third baseman said he is starting to feel like he’s finding a rhythm again at the plate. Chisenhall said he was kind of searching for that feeling at Triple-A at the time of his promotion back to the big leagues.
“I wasn’t feeling the greatest when I got called up,” he said. “About the last five games in Triple-A, I lost that feeling of being super hot, which only happens two or three times a year. I’m just grinding at-bats and trying to do the things that I can to help the team win.”
SECOND: For four innings on Thursday, right-hander Corey Kluber looked like the pitcher he has been for the Indians for the better part of the past two months. Then, the fifth inning happened.
In the fateful fifth, Baltimore churned out five runs on six hits to chase Kluber from the game and sent the Indians on their way to the loss. What happened? Francona felt Kluber strayed away from his usual approach and began throwing too many breaking pitches.
“To start the game, he was real aggressive with his fastball like he’s been,” Francona said. “And then as that inning unfolded, he started going more to the breaking ball and pitched away from the fastball a little bit. And he kind of paid the price for it. In this ballpark, with that lineup, that’s what can happen.
“They’re sitting there, always able to do that if you make a couple mistakes. That’s why it’s so important to be in attack mode. It’s easier said than done with some of those hitters.”
To Francona’s point, Kluber threw a breaking ball on 20 of his 33 pitches in the fifth, according to MLB.com’s PitchFX data. That’s a 61-percent rate compared to 44 percent in the first four innings. In the fifth inning, the Orioles went 4-for-6 with three singles and a double in at-bats that ended with a breaking ball.
Kluber went back and studied the game film and thought he simply didn’t execute.
“More than anything I was looking to make sure that what I thought I saw out there was accurate,” Kluber said. “Obviously the line doesn’t look good and obviously I didn’t give the team a very good chance to win with the way it ended up out there. But I didn’t feel like there were a lot of bad pitches. It’s just the ones I didn’t make ended up kind of not being in the best situations for us.”
Kluber featured 35 sinkers in the outing, marking his lowest total in a normal start (that tosses out his rain-shortened, two-inning outing vs. Tampa Bay on May 31) since logging 30 against the Tigers on May 10. In that start against Detroit, Kluber allowed eight runs on 11 hits with four strikeouts and two walks in 4.2 innings. On Thursday, he gave up seven runs (six earned) on 11 hits with four strikeouts and one walk in 4.2 innings.
In the eight outings between those ugly starts, Kluber went 4-2 with a 2.77 ERA and 49 strikeouts against seven walks in 48.2 innings, while logging between 40-68 sinkers in each of his seven regular starts.
“He knows. He’s a smart kid and he gets it,” Francona said. “He just had a real tough inning and he’ll bounce back.”
THIRD: The Kip-o-Meter has been downgraded to yellow after Jason Kipnis’ performance in Thursday’s loss. The second baseman collected a first-inning single, extending his on-base streak to 29 games, but that was all Kipnis managed in the final game in Baltimore.
Kipnis recorded outs in three straight at-bats for the first time since June 21, though that last three at-bat skid included a sac fly. You have to go back to June 18 to find the previous time Kipnis had three pure outs in a row, or strikeouts in back-to-back at-bats (like he had Thursday).
In the seven games between June 18 and Thursday, Kipnis hit .545 (12-for-22) with two homers, four doubles, one triple, four runs, seven walks, three strikeouts and 10 RBIs. He currently has a nine-game hitting streak that features a .467 average, and his June slash line is .398/.490/.639 through 24 games.
Since May 1, when he was hitting .189/.265/.270 on the season, Kipnis has posted a .326/.407/.600 line over a 51-game stretch.
HOME: There was an odd play during Baltimore’s five-run fifth. With the bases loaded and one out, Chris Davis chopped a pitch to Kipnis, who flipped the ball to shortstop Mike Aviles in hopes of starting a rally-ending double play. That is when things got complicated.
Aviles received the ball, but came off the bag and Adam Jones — sliding into the base — was initially called safe. Thinking he was out, Jones slid off the bag and started to leave the field, so he was then called out for abandoning the base. Aviles was charged with an error on the play, and Davis beat the relay throw to first, allowing the go-ahead run to score.
So, technically, Aviles was credited with a putout and charged with an error. Had Aviles successfully thrown Davis out at first base, the shortstop would’ve earned an assist, a putout and an error in one play.
It’s a crazy game, this baseball.
Indians (40-38) at White Sox (32-43) doubleheader
at 5:10 ET on Friday at U.S. Cellular Field