Covering the Bases: Game 97

720KluberFinal: Twins 3, Indians 2

FIRST: Before any fans bemoan the decision to pull Corey Kluber from Saturday’s game, consider the situation and circumstances presented to Indians manager Terry Francona.

  1. Kluber had fought through five innings and 93 pitches while pitching through tightness in his left hip
  2. Francona felt Kluber had started to alter his delivery, using more arm than legs while throwing
  3. Jason Kipnis gave the Indians a 2-0 lead in the top of the sixth inning with a home run
  4. Lefties Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau (a combined 3-for-3 with a walk vs. Kluber) were due up

What would you do?

Francona knew what he wasn’t going to do. He wasn’t going to leave Kluber — one of the Tribe’s most pleasant surprises and key contributors to this point this season — out there and risk turning what’s believed to be a minor injury into a more severe one. Francona wants to get a “W” each game, but he also is not going to put his players in a dangerous spot in order to achieve the end goal.

“He fought through it,” Francona said. “But I thought it made it a little bit harder for him to command. He was up a little bit more than normal. It was probably a good day to be up if you’re going to be, in a ballpark that plays big. I just thought rather than push it, he had given us a lot. With who they had coming up — more just protecting Corey — I just got him out of there.”

Did Kluber try to talk Francona out of that decision?

“Yeah, I tried, but he’s stubborn,” Kluber said with a smile. “He had his mind made up, I guess.”

Kluber did not think he would need to miss any time with the injury, which he said first flared while throwing a pitch in his start against the Royals on July 12. Francona noted that, with the off-day coming up on Thursday, Cleveland could potentially push the right-hander back y a day or two, if he needs to rest his ailing leg. Of course, due to that off-day, the Indians could skip Kluber entirely and bring him back on July 30 without disrupting the rotation.

With his five shutout innings (three hits, no runs, two walks, seven strikeouts), Kluber is now 4-1 (he took a no-decision in this one) with a 2.21 ERA in his eight starts following a team loss. Over his past 13 turns for the Tribe, the right-hander has gone 5-3 with a 3.13 ERA over 77.2 innings, which include 81 strikeouts against 18 walks.

After Kluber left the game, the Twins finally made their move.

Minnesota scored three runs in the home half of the sixth, helped by a throwing error by Lonnie Chisenhall (more on that in a bit), and held on for a second straight, 3-2, win.

I feel an obligation now to update a stat that continues to live and breathe. It also spawned the creation of the #MOSON hashtag (Most Obscure Stat of the Night) by Pat McManamon of FOXSportsOhio.com.

Kluber logged 49 sinkers in his outing against the Twins, topping the magic 48 mark once again. So, for those dying for the update, Kluber now has a 2.31 ERA (17 ER, 66.1 IP, 71 K, 15 BB) in his 10 starts with 48 or more sinkers. In his five starts with 47 or fewer sinkers, Kluber has a 7.76 ERA (23 ER, 26.2 IP, 22 K, 8 BB). This, as previously noted, excludes his two relief appearances and his one rain-shortened outing.

Moving on…

SECOND: In the fourth inning, Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis sliced a pitch to left field for a single, ending Kevin Correia’s run of 11 consecutive batters without a hit. In the sixth inning, Kipnis sliced a pitch into the left-field seats for a two-run home run. Have you noticed a trend this season?

“I was joking around in the cages before the game that I almost don’t even know what it’s like  to pull the ball any more,” Kipnis said with a laugh. “I almost forgot what it feels like.”

Since Kipnis got on his hot streak, which has its roots in the early days of May, he has consistently driven the ball to the opposite field with authority. Why?

“I think I’m doing a better job of staying on the ball. I’m letting it travel,” Kipnis said. “Even when I’m going opposite field, I can get too far in front. I’m letting it travel this year and it’s causing more of the success.”

Of course, Kipnis can’t do it alone. The second baseman’s home run accounted for all of the Tribe’s offensive output in its second straight loss to the Twins. The Indians ended the evening 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position, making them 1-for-11 through the first two games here. Cleveland had four hits on Friday night (with starter Mike Pelfrey going) and five on Saturday (with Correia starting for the Twins).

Kipnis had a message following the latest loss.

“He wasn’t throwing anything we haven’t seen before,” Kipnis said of Correia. “We’re getting into late July right now. You can make excuses for a while, but we’re going to need some guys to start stepping up here. We’re kind of shooting ourselves in the foot right now in these last two games. You can’t blame the starting pitching. You can’t blame the bullpen.

“You can’t win any games if you don’t score many runs. And I thought we had two pitchers we could score runs off. We didn’t the last two days.”

THIRD: For the second night in a row, defense played a role in sending the Tribe to the loss column.

The first blunder came with no outs and runners on the corners in the sixth inning. Lefty Rich Hill induced a grounder off the bat of Ryan Doumit, who chopped the ball to Chisenhall down the third-base line. Mauer sprinted home from third base — likely a mistake on his part — and Chisenhall charged in to glove the ball. With a double play out of the question, and Mauer running home, Chisenhall threw to the plate to try for the out.

The throw sailed wide, skipped away and allowed Doumit and Morneau to advance to second and third base, respectively. Mauer scored easily.

Francona said Chisenhall made the right play. The third baseman just botched it.

“It’s right in front of him,” Francona said. “Kind of the rule of thumb is you don’t go on that ball unless you can turn two. Obviously, we couldn’t. Our only play was going to be at first, so I thought we caught a break. He just made a poor throw.”

The next miscue came with one out, the game caught in a 2-2 tie, and runners on the corners again. Clete Thomas pulled a pitch from reliever Bryan Shaw to Kipnis, who bobbled the sharp grounder. That brief slip cost the Indians a shot at an inning-ending double play, and led to the go-ahead run crossing the plate.

Kipnis made no excuses.

“It picked up a little speed when it hit the dirt and caught me in the palm rather than the hand,” he said. “That play needs to be made.”

That said, the lack of offense makes such things more glaring.

“When you’re getting four or five hits, you’ve got to play a clean game,” Francona said. “If somebody hit a three-run homer or something, you can get by with a mistake in the field. But, the way the last two games have been, you’ve got to play clean.”

HOME: Left-hander Rich Hill has been the subject of plenty of criticism this season and it’s certainly understandable, considering his 6.75 ERA through 39 appearances. That said, the veteran lefty has pitched well for the better part of the past two months. It just is harder to notice in light of how rough his showing was for the first two months.

When Francona handed the ball to Hill with Kluber hurting and a 2-0 lead in the sixth, it made sense. Mauer and Morneau (sample size alert) were a combined 0-for-5 in their career against Hill, and lefties in general were hitting just .095 (2-for-15) off him dating back to June 5. Since that date, Hill had posted a 2.53 ERA with a .118 opponents’ average and a .368 opponents’ OPS across 16 appearances.

All of that said, leadoff walks are killers, and that’s what Hill did against Mauer to kick off the sixth. Morneau followed with a base hit to left field and the rest is history. Finding relief help is high on Cleveland’s wish list as the July 31 Trade Deadline approaches, and that includes trying to improve the left-handed relief situation. If we are going to criticize failure, however, it is only fair to also point out success.

ON DECK:

Indians (51-46) at Twins (41-53)
at 2:10 p.m. ET Sunday at Target Field

–JB

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