Covering the Bases: Game 116
FIRST: The Indians knew this might be coming for Scott Kazmir. They tried to delay it as long as possible, working extra days off here and there for the left-hander.
On Friday, Kazmir’s amazing comeback season finally caught up with him.
“I’m going through a little bit of a dead-arm stage,” Kazmir admitted after the Tribe’s fifth loss in a row.
That this development came on the day Kazmir faced the Angels seemed like a cruel joke by the baseball gods. After all, it was Los Angeles that released Kazmir on June 15, 2011, sending the lefty to the game’s gutter before he found his way into Cleveland’s rotation this year.
Kazmir denied that he put too much thought into the matchup heading into Friday.
“No. There wasn’t any hard feelings or anything like that,” he said. “I saw all those guys in Spring Training and got all that out of the way. It just seemed like it was business, going out there.”
It was Kazmir’s fall from grace in 2011 that, in a way, led to Friday’s setback. During that season, the lefty logged 17 innings between Triple-A and the Majors before the Angels parted ways with him. In 2012, Kazmir pitched for the Sugar Land Skeeters in Indy ball and then worked for Carolina in the Puerto Rican Winter League, amassing 86.2 innings between the stops.
This season, Kazmir has reached 114 innings for Cleveland.
After Kazmir’s previous start on Sunday in Miami, the Tribe’s initial plan was to give him one extra day, bringing him back on Saturday. In light of losing righty Corey Kluber to the disabled list, and the fact that Kazmir has been pitching so well, Cleveland changed course and brought the lefty back on normal rest to face the Angels on Friday.
Heading into Friday, Kazmir had gone 4-0 with a 1.93 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and .173 opponents’ batting average in his past nine starts for the Tribe.
He couldn’t keep that impressive run going.
Kazmir allowed five runs and labored through 40 pitches in the first inning and was pulled after giving up a single to the first batter faced in the fourth. After the game, Kazmir told Francona that he was feeling fatigued.
“He kind of owned up to that,” Francona said. “When I say ‘owned up to it,’ I mean he wanted to answer the bell today. He knew it was important, because of what happened to Klubes. But I think we’ll go back and see what we can do to try to give him maybe a couple days this time through. I think it’ll be good for him.
“I don’t think any of us thought he would go through the whole year and go every five days. I don’t think that was realistic. He’s not hurt. … We’re going to figure out a way to build a few days in here so we can get the Kaz that we had seen more often than not.”
SECOND: So where does Cleveland go from here?
At first, given Wednesday’s 14-inning loss and the abbreviated outing from Zach McAllister on Thursday, it appeared as though Carlos Carrasco was a one-day insurance policy to help the Indians get through Friday. Good thing he was up from Triple-A, because he answered with five shutout innings of relief, sparing an already worn-down bullpen.
“He was very good,” Francona said. “It was good for our whole team’s confidence. Any time you see
somebody go out there and do what he did, that’s terrific.”
After the game, and after the development involving Kazmir, Francona was asked if Carrasco was going to be heading back to Triple-A.
“No, he’ll stay here,” Francona replied.
It is not a stretch then to speculate that Carrasco could take Kazmir’s next start on Wednesday in Minnesota. Carrasco would be on his normal day to pitch and the Francona made a point to note that the team wants to give Kazmir some extra days.
THIRD: Back on July 23 in Seattle, I asked Francona about the slump of shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who headed into that day hitting .143 in his previous 15 games. Cabrera then went out and hit .444 (8-for-18) with three extra-base hits and five RBI in his next four games.
On Thursday, following a 10-game stretch in which Cabrera hit just .122, I brought up Cabrera’s struggles again with the manager. The shortstop then went out and collected two doubles and two RBI in a loss to the Tigers.
So, prior to Friday’s game, I asked Francona if he’d like me to ask about Cabrera every day, since the shortstop seems to go get a couple hits each time I bring up a slump. Well, sure enough, Cabrera went out Friday and belted a home run in the loss to the Angels.
Sure, the last two games have been losses, but Cabrera’s production has been encouraging for the Indians.
“For us to get where we want,” Francona said, “we certainly need him to be right in the middle of it. With his switch-hitting ability, his baseball acumen, it’s good when he’s in the middle of stuff.”
In the sixth inning, Cabrera was helped off the field by a team trainer after turning a double play to end the top half of the frame. It didn’t look good initially, though it was hard to pinpoint what exactly was ailing the shortstop, especially considering Cabrera stayed in the game.
“He got a bunch of dirt in his eye, and I mean like a bunch,” Francona explained. “He was really having a tough time even kind of seeing where he was going. Like, they had to kind of walk him down the steps. It looked like he was limping, but he couldn’t really see very well.”
HOME: The Indians offense hasn’t performed well of late, scoring an average of just 2.4 runs per game over the past eight contests. Over that span, the offense has hit .210 (59-for-281) overall and .172 (10-for-58) with runners in scoring position.
Now, it is only fair to point out that Cleveland has happened to be in the midst of tough string of starting pitchers in the past eight games. The list includes Jose Fernandez, Jacob Turner, Nathan Eovaldi, Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer and, on Friday, Jered Weaver.
That group has combined to go 4-1 with a 1.91 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 57 strikeouts and only nine walks issued in 56.2 innings against the Indians over the past eight games.
Cleveland isn’t about to make any excuses, though.
“It’s the big leagues, man,” Indians center fielder Michael Bourn said. “That’s part of playing in the big leagues. You’re going to run into some pitchers that can pitch. Tonight, I thought we hit the ball pretty good. They just never found the holes. It happened against Detroit, too. But we just lost. There’s no excuse for it. We’re just in a little rut. We have to work our way out of it — simple as that.”
Angels (52-62) at Indians (62-54)
at 7:05 p.m. ET Saturday at Progressive Field