Covering the Bases: Game 25

427SalazarFinal: Giants 4, Indians 1

FIRST: The Indians can only hope that Sunday’s loss to the Giants will actually lead to more wins down the road this season.

What I mean is this: within Cleveland’s defeat, right-hander Danny Salazar finally looked to have turned a corner. He gave the Tribe the type of outing it had been waiting to see. After the game, Salazar exuded confidence.

Finally, after what had been a discouraging April for the developing starter, he had something to build on.

“Today, I was trying to bring the guy that was here last year,” Salazar said. “I wasn’t thinking about my delivery or anything. [My mind was] just on keeping the ball down.”

This was the win within the loss.

In each of Salazar’s previous outings, he failed to last five innings. He piled up strikeouts, but gave up a pile of hits (19 in 12.2 innings). He posted a 9.95 ERA and gave up a 1.061 OPS. He brought up issues with tipping pitches on his own, sounding like a young pitcher searching for answers. It felt to him like the batters knew what was coming. That happens in the big leagues with elevated fastballs and hung breaking balls.

Things changed against San Francisco.

Over seven innings, Salazar still flashed the strikeouts with eight on the afternoon, but he limited the Giants to one walk and scattered five hits. After back-to-back doubles from Pablo Sandoval and Brandon Crawford led to a run in the fourth, Salazar settled down and retired 10 of the final 11 hitters he faced. The one hit allowed in that span was quickly erased with a double-play groundout.

“In the fourth inning,” Salazar said, “when I came to the dugout, I was just thinking about keeping the ball down — nothing else. I went back out there and I accomplished that the whole game. It worked. I was just trusting myself and trusting that I have good guys behind me, that if they hit the ball, they’re going to get it.”

(Michael Bourn did just that to end the fourth inning, actually. With Crawford on second base with two outs, Brandon Hicks drilled a pitch to the left-center warning track. It was a near-homer and looked destined to at least be an extra-base hit. Cleveland’s center fielder ran a mile, unofficially, and turned on the turbo boost as he closed in on the wall to make an impressive running catch. Bourn’s hamstring looks just fine.)

Indians manager Terry Francona was definitely encouraged by Salazar’s performance.

“He was pretty good, man,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I thought early, in the first inning, he was up [in the strike zone]. I thought he made the adjustment and he threw some really good changeups — not too many — but to the point where they had to respect it. I thought he threw some really good breaking balls. I thought he threw fastballs when he was supposed to, attacking the right hitters with it.”

One adjustment Salazar made was increasing the number of first-pitch strikes. Heading into Sunday’s start, he had a first-pitch strike rate of 55.7 percent. Against the Giants, Salazar registered a first-pitch strike to 19 of the 26 batters he faced for a rate of 73.1 percent. San Francisco hit .222 (4-for-18) in at-bats ending in a fastball and 0-for-4 against his slider. One of the two at-bats ending in a changeup resulted in a hit.

“He pitched really well,” Francona said. “That’s a pretty good ballgame right there.”

SECOND: There are times to tip the ol’ cap when an opposing pitchers handcuffs and overpowers your lineup. One of those days came Friday, when Giants veteran Tim Hudson turned in a strong seven-inning effort to send the Tribe on its way to a 5-1 loss.

On Saturday, the Indians forced Tim Linecum out of the game before the end of the fifth inning, but then went 0-for-13 against San Francisco’s bullpen. On Sunday, Ryan Vogelsong turned in seven shutout innings against the Indians, but was it a case of him being exceptionally strong or Cleveland not coming through when it should have at the plate?

“It’s probably a little bit of both,” Francona said. “It probably always is.”

That said…

“I thought we had some pitches to hit that we didn’t,” the manager added. “And then, when we didn’t hit them, he made some good pitches.”

Consider that — unlike Salazar’s high first-pitch strike percentage — Vogelsong (he of the 7.71 ERA going into the day) threw only seven first-pitch strikes to the 24 hitters he encountered. That’s 29.2 percent. Think of it this way: Cleveland was in a 1-0 count 17 times on Sunday.

Heading into Sunday’s action, Major League teams had a .263 average (.797 OPS) after a 1-0 count. The Indians went 2-for-16 after a 1-0 count on Sunday. MLB teams had a .272 average (.938 OPS) after a 2-0 count. The Indians went 0-for-6 after a 2-0 count on Sunday. MLB teams had a .282 average (1.086 OPS) after a 3-1 count. The Indians went 0-for-3 after a 3-1 count on Sunday.

Cleveland also had eight 2-1 counts, five 3-2 counts and one 3-0 count. The Indians went a combined 0-for-10 after those counts.

It was a bad day at the offensive office on Sunday.

“[Vogelsong] mixes pitches up real well off his fastball and changeup,” said Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, who drew two walks. “A lot of times, his misses are not over the plate. It might be down low or up high. He won’t ever just give you a middle pitch to square up. You factor that in with how well he holds the running game. … I don’t think we made the adjustments that we needed to make.”

Cleveland hit .162 (17-for-105) overall and went 2-for-20 with runners in scoring position in the brooming by the bay.

“You try not to look back too many days, because that doesn’t help,” Francona said. “We have good hitters. We have to start making better adjustments during the game and make it harder for guys to get us out. For whatever reason, whether it’s pressing, it’s probably different for each hitter, but we’ve got to make it a little harder.”

THIRD: The biggest offensive issue this weekend was not found at the top of Cleveland’s lineup. In fact, the Nos. 1-3 hitters (Bourn, Nick Swisher and Kipnis) hit a combined .324 (12-for-37) with four extra-base hits, three walks, four runs and four RBIs in the three losses. As a group, they accounted for four of the five runs that the Indians scored.

The rest of the lineup hit a combined .074 (5-for-68) and came through with just one run. That came courtesy of a leadoff home run by catcher Yan Gomes in the eighth inning on Sunday. That blast into the left-field seats snapped a 52-inning homerless drought for the Tribe. The Nos. 4-6 hitters (Carlos Santana, Michael Brantley and Asdrubal Cabrera) went a combined 0-for-29 in the series.

HOME: The dagger on Sunday came via a two-out, three-run, walk-off home run from Brandon Hicks in the bottom of the ninth inning. On the wrong end of that blast was Indians setup man Cody Allen, who elevated a 1-0 fastball that wound up in the stands beyond the left-field wall. Allen had been stellar to that point, with no earned runs allowed all season.

In his second inning of work, Allen gave up a leadoff single to Buster Posey, who was replaced by pinch-runner Ehire Adrianza. Pinch-hitter Gregor Blanco then used a sacrifice bunt to move the runner up to second base. After striking out Sandoval, the Indians opted to intentionally walk Crawford. That set the stage for Hicks’ heroics.

“They were just trying to get a right-on-right matchup to feel more comfortable,” Allen said of the walk before the walk-off. “It didn’t work. It’s just kind of one of those things where I put myself in a bad count right there and threw a bad pitch, and he hit it.

“It’s disappointing. I felt like we had a chance to win a couple games here,” he added. “It’s one of those things where we kind of had a couple opportunities to win some games and they were better than us in some areas.”

On deck:

Indians (11-14) at Angels (11-12)*
at 10:05 p.m. ET at Angel Stadium

*doesn’t include Sunday’s late game

–JB

 

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