Covering the Bases: Game 94
FIRST: Lonnie Chisenhall has been back with the Indians for the past month. The question right now is whether Lonnie Baseball is here to stay?
After his early-season woes at the plate, Chisenhall was sent down to Triple-A to take a deep breath (to steal manager Terry Francona’s phrasing) and find the sweet swing he displayed in the spring. Chisenhall abused Minor League pitching, got some confidence going and he’s been on a roll since rejoining Cleveland.
“I think actually the timing was probably pretty good,” Francona said. “I think he admitted that it was probably good for him to be able to take a breather and kind of get his swing together and everything.”
Chisenhall figured it was only a matter of time before he starting hitting the way he feels he can.
“Nobody wants to go down,” Chisenhall said of being sent to Triple-A. “But I knew at some point I was going to start hitting the ball. That was their decision. I did all I could to work hard and continue to have good at-bats in Triple-A, and do what I could so I could help the Major League team when I got back.”
Chisenhall did plenty of damage while wearing Cleveland’s 1902 throwback uniform on Saturday night.
The third baseman finished 2-for-4 with a pair of extra-base hits, including a game-changing grand slam in the sixth inning. With two outs, Chisenhall stepped up to the plate with his previous at-bat in mind. In that meeting with Royals righty Jeremy Guthrie, Chisenhall could not do anything with the pitcher’s curve and went on to strike out.
In the sixth, Chisenhall looked for that curveball on the first pitch.
“I saw the same curveball. I took it,” said Chisenhall, referring to his at-bat in the fourth. “The at-bat before was a little bit of overshadowed now, but it was a good at-bat. I took what I saw there and I used it to my advantage. I just got a pitch over the plate and put the barrel on it.”
Over his last 19 games, all Chisenhall has done is put up a .323 (21-for-65) average to go along with three home runs, seven doubles, seven runs and 14 RBI. He has 11 strikeouts and five walks, or a 2.2: 1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In his first 28 games with the Indians, that ratio was 7.7:1. Over that span, Chisenhall hit .198 (20-for-101) with three homers, four doubles, seven runs and 11 RBI.
In his 27-game stay at Triple-A, Chisenhall hit .390 (1.132 OPS) with six homers, 16 extra-base hits, 26 RBI and a 2:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
“Sitting down there in that eight-hole,” Francona said, “if he starts swinging it like that, that makes our batting order look a little different.”
What’s been the difference for Chisenhall now compared to the beginning of the season?
“When he’s getting balls to hit, he’s not fouling them,” Francona said. “He was fouling those balls earlier. … Sometimes, you get one good pitch to hit an at-bat. Now, he’s getting it and he’s hitting it.”
SECOND: Left-hander Scott Kazmir has pieced together five solid starts in a row for the Indians. This begs the question: has he finally turned a corner in what has been an up-and-down season?
“I think so,” Kazmir said. “I feel like my delivery is more consistent, therefore my outings have been a little more consistent. I’m just going to keep at it.”
Over his past five starts, Kazmir has gone 2-0 with a 2.32 ERA with a 0.87 WHIP, with 20 hits allowed, 25 strikeouts and seven walks in 31 innings. It is his best five-start stretch since Sept. 8-Oct. 3, 2009, when he had a 1.80 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP in 30 innings for the Angels.
Kazmir’s ERA over his most recent five starts could be lower, too. He exited with one out and two runners on in the seventh inning, and reliever Matt Albers allowed both runners to score. Kazmir ended with six strikeouts, three walks and 108 pitches.
“When he takes the mound, we feel like we’re going to win,” Francona said. “He’s been really good, and he looks like he’s getting stronger. That’s what’s impressive.”
THIRD: Francona made it known recently that reliever Vinnie Pestano was no longer going to be the designated eighth-inning arm. Given some of his recent struggles, Pestano was going to be eased back into that full-time role, while arms such as Cody Allen and Joe Smith help tackle the setup duties.
With the Tribe holding a 5-3 lead in the eighth on Saturday, Francona sent Pestano to the mound to try to lock things down. Francona also gave the right-hander two outs in the eighth inning of Wednesday’s game against the Blue Jays. This time around, Pestano allowed two hits, but he struck out one and escaped unscathed when first baseman Carlos Santana made a potentially game-saving diving catch on a liner from Miguel Tejada.
“I thought it was a really good chance [to use Pestano],” Francona said. “Again, we had used [Smith] a bunch and Cody. I thought it was a great night for [Pestano] to pitch there. We don’t want to run from our guys. We just want to help him get hot.”
HOME: Indians closer Chris Perez is letting his arm do the talking for him these days. Since returning from the disabled list, Cleveland’s stopper has performed well, going 6-for-6 in save chances with a 1.00 ERA to go along with a 1.11 WHIP. In his nine appearances since rejoining the bullpen, Perez has given up seven hits, struck out six and walked three. He worked a one-two-three ninth on Saturday.
“He’s really staying down in the zone extremely well,” Francona said. “So, when they hit the ball, you’re not getting it in the air with much authority. He looks really good. He’s pitched, I think, six out of eight days. He’s done a really good job.”
Royals (43-48) at Indians (50-44)
at 1:05 p.m. ET on Sunday at Progressive Field