Covering the Bases: Game 83
FIRST: The late-inning bullpen trio of Joe Smith, Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez has arguably been one of the better groups in the American League over the past two seasons. This year?
“It’s been a little bit of a mess,” Smith said after Tuesday’s win in Kansas City.
The “mess” Smith spoke of is the mix of injuries and inconsistency that has struck the Tribe’s trio. To this point, Smith has done his part, logging 31.1 innings. Pestano and Perez, on the other hand, have each spent time on the disabled list, fought diminished velocity and experienced plenty of drama both in outings that have gone right and outings that have gone wrong.
Tuesday marked only the fourth time this season that Smith, Pestano and Perez finished a game for the Indians. Smith turned in a clean seventh, Pestano allowed one run in the eighth but escaped further harm with a critical double play, and Perez collected a save after putting a couple runners aboard.
“We had the order,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “Now, we’ve just got to get them hot. That’ll happen.”
Last season, the Indians went 20-7 in games that all three pitchers appeared and 38-8 in games featuring Pestano and Perez. The trio combined for a 3.01 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP during the 2012 slate. This season, they are currently sporting a combined ERA of 3.12 and WHIP of 1.24. Smith (2.01/0.99) has done most of the heavy lifting.
Perez returned from the DL on Thursday after another bout with the right shoulder injury that first flared in Spring Training. An effective Perez helps restore order to the bullpen, pushing Pestano back to the eighth, Smith to the seventh, and the rest of the arms — some capable of handling late innings — into the sixth.
“Hopefully getting CP back and Vinnie getting his stuff back, hopefully we can start rolling like we did the past two years,” Smith said. “[Having CP back] makes it so much deeper when you’ve got an arm like Cody Allen and Nick Hagadone and Bryan Shaw sitting there, those guys that can pitch the sixth inning. They’ve proven they can pitch later in the game, too. That just shows the depth of our bullpen. When CP’s back and going, that just makes us that much stronger and I think it takes a lot of pressure off our starters.”
SECOND: A key point in the win came in the fifth inning, when Indians starter Corey Kluber fell behind, 3-0, against Alex Gordon with the bases loaded and one out. At that juncture, Cleveland was holding a 4-0 lead on the Royals.
There was talk in the press box — from a few Royals writers — that Kluber might’ve been best served just walking Gordon, conceding one run and taking his chances with Alcides Escobar (.608 OPS).
“No, no, no,” Francona said. “That’s the problem with falling behind. If you start walking guys with the bases loaded, you’re asking for trouble. Sometimes you’ve just got to get the guy out with a fastball. Bases loaded? He had just walked [Johnny Giavotella]. If you start getting toward Billy Butler or [Eric] Hosmer, you’re asking for a crooked number.”
Kluber went after Gordon with a fastball and the Royals left field deposited it well over the right-field wall for a game-tying grand slam. Escobar followed with a sharp groundout and Hosmer flew out to left to end the inning.
THIRD: Cleveland drew eight walks on offense in a game for the seventh time this season. Only the Red Sox and A’s — eight apiece — have more such games this season. In Tuesday’s win, Carlos Santana was the poster boy for the patient approach that helped the Tribe get away with a one-run victory.
Santana finished the game 0-for-1, but he drew three walks, including one with the bases full in the first inning, and chipped in a sacrifice fly. He became just the fourth Indians hitter since at least 1916 to have no hits, two RBI and three walks in a single game. He’s only the third to do it in a game that didn’t go extra innings.
Zero hits, two RBI, three walks (since 1916)
Carlos Santana, July 2, 2013, five plate appearances
Brook Jacoby, Sept. 21, 1989, eight plate appearances
Dale Mitchell, June 6, 1949, five plate appearances
Odell Hale, June 13, 1936, six plate appearances
Francona said Santana’s most impressive plate appearance came in the first inning, when the catcher fell behind, 0-2, before eventually working a bases-loaded walk to put the Indians up, 1-0. Royals starter Luis Mendoza alternated between fastball and slider for his first six pitches before going with an 84-mph slider in the dirt for his seventh pitch.
“Everybody in the ballpark is figuring fastball,” Francona said. “He had enough to lay off of it. That was huge.”
Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, who was named the American League’s Player of the Month for June on Wednesday, went 1-for-4 with a walk and a run scored on Tuesday. That extended his on-base streak to 33 games (.376 average, 1.108 OPS) and his hitting streak to 13 games (.447 average, 1.492 OPS).
“There was no big drastic change in approach or my swing that has led to this,” Kipnis said on Tuesday. “When I’m going well, in the past I’ve been prone to either get greedy with some swings or go away with the approach that’s working in certain situations. This time I’ve stayed the same game in, game out against lefty or righty.
“There’s been some times where I’ve wanted to pull the ball, but I’ve stayed with my approach and have stayed through the ball and have gone to left field. It’s led to being a more consistent hitter in the last month. That’s literally all it’s been. It’s been not wandering too far off the path that’s working for me.”
Indians (45-38) at Royals (38-42)
at 8:10 p.m. ET at Kauffman Stadium