June 2014

Tomlin’s near perfecto by the numbers

628TomlinSEATTLE — Josh Tomlin cracked a smile on Saturday night when Clayton Kershaw’s name was mentioned. The Indians starter found it hard to believe that anyone would compare one of his outings to the no-hitter spun by the Dodgers ace earlier this month.

As unlikely as it might seem, considering the type of command-oriented style that Tomlin utilizes, the start the right-hander gave Cleveland in its 5-0 victory over the Mariners put the pitcher in that kind of elite company. Statistically speaking, only Kershaw’s near perfect game rates better this season than the one-hitter Tomlin turned in at Safeco Field.

“Oh, come on,” Tomlin said. “That’s not right.”

Here is a look at the historical elements of Tomlin’s showing in Seattle:

• Tomlin finished with 11 strikeouts, no walks and one hit allowed in a shutout over the Mariners. Kershaw (15 strikeouts and no walks in a no-hitter against the Rockies on June 18) is the only other pitcher in the Majors this season to have an outing with at least that many strikeouts, no walks or runs allowed, and no more than one hit yielded in a complete game.

• According to baseball-reference.com, this marked only the 21st time in the past 100 years that a pitcher ended an outing with at least 11 strikeouts, no walks and no more than one hit allowed in a shutout. Ten of those unique performances were either no-hitters or perfect games. The only other Indians pitcher to achieve the feat was Len Barker in his perfect game against Toronto in 1981.

• Tomlin’s performance netted a Game Score of 96. The formula, which was developed by Bill James, has a maximum score of 114. Kershaw (102 Game Score in his no-hitter) is the only pitcher to have a better rating this season. St. Louis’ Shelby Miller (98 on May 10, 2013) turned in the last Game Score of at least 96 that was not a no-hitter.

• Tomlin’s start marked the 20th Game Score of at least 96 in Indians history, but only the fifth for a start consisting of no more than nine innings. The other four were turned in by Bartolo Colon (97 on Sept. 18, 2000), Barker (98 on May 15, 1981), Dennis Eckersley (98 on May 30, 1977) and Bob Feller (96 on July 12, 1940).

• Tomlin’s outing represented only the sixth time in the past 100 years that a Cleveland pitcher has at least 11 strikeouts with no walks in a shutout. The others on that short list include Barker (May 15, 1981), Luis Tiant (July 3, 1968), Stan Williams (May 18, 1968), Feller (June 6, 1941) and Guy Morton (Aug. 15, 1915).

• It marked just the ninth time in the past 100 years that a Cleveland pitcher ended an outing with at least 11 strikeouts and no more than one hit allowed in a shutout. That group included Colon (Sept. 18, 2000), Barker (May 15, 1981), Eckersley (May 30, 1977), Tiant (Sept. 25, 1968), John O’Donoghue (Aug. 19, 1967) and Feller (three times).

• This marked only the 11th time in Mariners history than an opposing starter ended with at least 11 strikeouts and no walks. Tomlin became just the fourth pitcher in that grouping to turn in a complete game in the process, joining David Price (May 13 this season), Dan Haren (May 24, 2012) and Roger Clemens (April 29, 1986).

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 76

140622DetroitFinal: Tigers 10, Indians 4

FIRST: Cleveland tried to pick its poison all weekend and wound up dying with every drop.

Detroit doesn’t boast the Miguel Cabrera-Prince Fielder slugging combo these days, but that hasn’t mattered. The heart of the Tigers’ order is as healthy as ever, especially of late with Miggy doing Miggy things and the Martinez men (Victor and J.D.) swinging some of the hottest bats in baseball.

“We’ve gotten nicked up going through that middle quite a few times in this series,” Indians manager Terry Francona said.

It’s worth noting that Francona made that statement before Sunday’s game. then, Cabrera went out and launched a first-inning home run off Josh Tomlin and added two more RBIs before the day was done. J.D. Martinez helped power a seven-run outburst in the fifth (one aided by two errors) with a two-run single to center.

During the three-game brooming of the Tribe, Detroit’s three-four-five hitters (Cabrera, V-Mart and JD-Mart) combined to hit .351 (13-for-37) with three doubles, four home runs, four walks, 11 runs scored and 13 RBIs. That’s all. Of course, complicating matters was the fact that the Tigers’ Nos. 1-2 hitters went a combined 8-for-28 with three extra-base hits and three walks in the series, too.

“The middle of their order is unbelievable,” said Tomlin, who surrendered eight runs (five earned) in four-plus innings. “You’ve got to keep the first two guys in their lineup off base and hope to face those guys with nobody on.”

SECOND: Consider this series a big of payback for the Tigers, who spoiled the fact that Cleveland enjoyed a three-game showing of 100,280 fans (the most for a three-game weekend set for the Tribe since Aug. 26-28, 2011). Detroit swept the Indians after being swept by the Tribe in the clubs’ last clash in Cleveland on May 19-21.

In that three-game series, the Indians hit .347 as a team, went 15-for-42 with runners in scoring position and churned out 22 runs on 43 hits, including 16 for extra bases. This series, the Tribe hit .281, but went 5-for-24 with RISP and scored 12 runs on 32 hits (nine XBH). The Indians posted a 5.46 ERA this series compared to a 3.94 mark in the set in May.

Making three errors on Sunday certainly didn’t help matters for Cleveland.

“They just blew it open and we helped them,” Francona said. “They don’t need any help.”

“They’re a good team,” Tomlin said. “We’re capable of beating them. We just didn’t this series. That’s how baseball goes. We swept them the first one they came here. Now, they sweep us coming here again. When we face them again, we’ve got to do a better job against them. That starts out on the mound, limiting that damage.”

THIRD: Three hitters who have hurt the Tribe of late are David Murphy (in 1-for-30 spell), Nick Swisher (5-for-37 since coming off the disabled list) and Jason Kipnis (3-for-26 on the homestand). Talk about a well-time off-day for the team on Monday.

“So excited about this day off,” said Kipnis, who now has an uncharacteristic .337 slugging percentage through 50 games played. “I could use it more than anybody else. We’ve played a lot of games in a row, though. We battled the first two games, didn’t play that well today. … Some guys are tired mentally and physically, so we’re ready for a day off.”

Of the three, Swisher’s showing is part of a season-long funk. He’s now sporting a .194/.282/.320 slash line for Cleveland through 58 games.

Throughout Carlos Santana’s offensive woes early on this season, you could at least point to the fact that he was getting on base via walks. His OPS was still respectable, even though his batting average was below .200. The hope was that, eventually, the negative trends would correct themselves and catch up with the on-base ability. Over the past few weeks, Santana has done just that.

The same theory should apply to Swisher, whose signature throughout his career is consistent on-base production. That is why his slump this year has been troubling, especially so since his return from the DL. In his past 37 at-bats, Swisher has 18 strikeouts and no walks. In the series against the Tigers, he went 2-for-12 with eight strikeouts. The Indians need much more from the man originally signed to be the cleanup hitter.

HOME: From the Department of Positivity, Michael Brantley bounced back from an 0-for-5 on Saturday (only his second 0-for-5 within his All-Star-worthy season) with a 3-for-5 showing on Sunday. Brantley had two doubles and three RBIs in the losing cause for Cleveland.

Santana — now batting .202, for those obsessed with batting average — collected a single in four at-bats. Over his past 20 games, Santana has hit .333 (23-for-69) with six homers, four doubles, 13 runs, 16 RBIs and 16 walks for the Indians. Entering the day, his 1.114 OPS in June ranked second to only Mike Trout (1.188) in the American League.

Brantley, who returned from a mild concussion with a pinch-hit appearance Friday and a start Saturday, has hit .391 (27-for-69) in June. For the month, the left fielder has two homers, seven doubles, 10 RBIs and 15 runs scored in 18 games. Entering the day, Brantley and Detroit’s Cabrera were tied for the AL lead with 16 go-ahead RBIs this season.

NOTE: I will not be in Arizona for Cleveland’s upcoming two-game series against the D-backs. I will resume the beat duties for the second two legs of the trip (Seattle and Los Angeles). In the meantime, keep checking Indians.com for updates.

Indians (37-39) at D-backs (32-47)
at 9:40  p.m. ET  Tuesday at Chase Field

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 73

140619SwishFinal: Indians 5, Angels 3 (10 innings)

FIRST: Nick Swisher was having a bad day. Before he even got to the ballpark on Thursday, Swish was one of the many people (yours truly, included) stuck in the awful traffic jam I-90 coming from Cleveland’s West side. That threw the normal morning routine out of whack.

Then, Swisher struck out in the second inning, fourth inning and sixth inning against Angels lefty C.J. Wilson, even though the first baseman/designated hitter had a .314 average off the pitcher going into the day. After the strikeout in the sixth, the Progressive Field faithful aired some frustration, sending some boos Swisher’s way as he headed back to the bench.

“Hey, that’s what happens being a baseball player,” Swisher said. “Sometimes that’s going to happen. You’ve just got to keep going out there fighting, grinding, scrapping and just know that good things are going to happen.”

In the ninth inning, Swisher finally made solid contact. He drilled a pitch from Angels sidearmer and former Indians setup man Joe Smith to dead center field. On another day, maybe the ball would’ve carried. On Thursday, a strong wind knocked it down and Swisher flew out.

“Right into the teeth of the wind,” Indians manager Terry Francona said.

Naturally, the baseball gods saw fit to have Swisher step to the plate with the bases loaded, two outs and the Angels holding a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the 10th inning. Entering the at-bat, he wasn’t just 0-for-4 on the day, but 2-for-24 with 10 strikeouts and no walks for the Tribe since coming off the disabled list.

Naturally, Swisher launched a grand slam.

“I feel like I hit the ball off Smitty better and that ball didn’t go nowhere,” Swisher said with a laugh. “I was just trying to hit it on a line somewhere. Either way, I faced [Ernesto] Frieri the night before and saw him. That time, he had a heavy dose of sliders. In that at-bat, he came right at me with fastballs. I was just happy to get the head on that one.

“I’ve never hit a walk-off grand slam before. Man, I’m a little giddy right now!”

As was written on Sunday, Cleveland can only hope that Swisher’s home run is a sign that he’s beginning to turn things around. It’s been a troubling start for the veteran, especially in terms of power production. He currently has a .200/.292/.329 slash line, compared to .252/.356/.456 line for his career.

“As long as he’s healthy, which he is, he’ll get [his hits],” Francona said. “He started out this way last year. The average might be a little lower because of his slow start, but he’ll still impact us offensively. There’s guys, when their baseball card’s that long and they’re not hurt, they’ll hit.”

Since coming off the DL, the strikeout-to-walk ratio is certainly concerning, but his strikeout rate (one per 3.7 at-bats) is only slightly below his career rate (4.0). His walk rate (12.1%) is below his career norm (13.2%), but it’s in line with his showing across 2012-13. What’s really alarming is the drop-off in power. His in-play percentage (62%) is above his career rate (60%), as is his line-drive percentage (32% to 21%).

That said, the hits that are falling aren’t homers (1.7 HR% compared to 4.0% for his career) or extra-base hits (6.7% compared to 9.1% for his career). Part of the problem can be found in his BaBIP (.248 compared to .289 for his career) and foul-ball rate (29.3% compared to 25.8% for his career). Based on all of that, it looks like Swish has been fouling off a chunk of pitches he used to drive.

“I’m just starting to get back and start to get back into the rhythm of the game a little more,” Swisher said of his recent performance since coming off the DL. “Every day that I come back and play, I feel like I’m getting more in the game. … [In the 10th inning], I wasn’t going up there taking any pitches. I was ready to go from pitch one. That might be the mentality I need to start taking.”

SECOND: There was some history made by Swisher with his game-winner. It marked the first walk-off grand slam in extra innings in Progressive Field history. It is only the third such homer by a Cleveland hitter since at least 1955. Don Dillard had a walk-off slam in extra against the Tigers on July 4, 1962 and Carlos Martinez achieved the feat on Sept. 6, 1992 against the Mariners.

Cleveland’s walk-off grand slams (since at least 1955)

Today: Swisher off Frieri (LAA) in 10th
July 7, 2011: Travis Hafner off Luis Perez (TOR) in 9th
April 29, 2011: Carlos Santana off Joaquin Benoit (DET) in 9th
July 28, 2002: Jim Thome off Juan Acevedo (DET) in 9th
July 14, 2002: Bill Selby off Mariano Rivera (NYY) in 9th
May 23, 1999: Omar Vizquel off Todd Jones (DET) in 9th
May 3, 1998: Sandy Alomar Jr. off Roberto Hernandez (TB) in 9th
July 31, 1996: Albert Belle off Bill Risley (TOR) in 9th
July 18, 1995: Albert Belle off Lee Smith (CAL) in 9th
Sept. 6, 1992: Carlos Martinez off Mike Schooler (SEA) in 12th
Sept. 9, 1979: Bobby Bonds off Tom Buskey (TOR) in 9th
April 22, 1973: Ron Lolich off Sonny Siebert (BOS) in 9th
July 4, 1962: Don Dillard off Jerry Casale (DET) in 13th
Aug. 10, 1955: Ralph Kiner off Al Aber (DET) in 9th

Said Santana: “That was the most emotion I’ve had in my life. Grand slam. It’s the best in baseball. That was my favorite moment. I only have one in my career. If I have a chance, I want to do it again, because it’s the best.”

THIRD: The Indians nearly lost this one in the top of the 10th inning, when Albert Pujols broke open a 1-1 tie with a two-run single through the right side of the infield. With that chopper, Pujols beat Cleveland’s pull-oriented shift. Under a normal defensive alignment, second baseman Jason Kipnis would’ve easily gobbled up the grounder.

“I think we’d do the same thing again,” Francona said, “It’s just hard to watch that ball go through.”

With two outs, Atchison allowed a single to Kole Calhoun and a double to Mike Trout to put runners on second and third base for Pujols. Caught in a 1-1 tie, Cleveland could’ve had opted to walk Pujols and let lefty Kyle Crockett face Josh Hamilton.

“As much as we think Crockett commands,” Francona said, “I just thought it made more sense to let Atch pitch and approach like the count’s 0-2.”

As for the shift, hey, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. The information shows that it tend to work more often than not.

“I thought Atch actually pitched him tremendous,” Francona said. “Give Pujols credit. He’s pretty smart, too, besides being good. You’ve got to take something away, and he beat us with it. Fortunately, we end up coming back and win the game. “

HOME: Indians starter Justin Masterson fought his command again — half of his first 70 pitches were balls — but the sinkerballer hung in there for seven innings. He allowed four hits, walked three, hit a batter, threw a wild pitch (leading to a run) and logged 116 pitches, but he hung in there.

This is where we can tip the ol’ cap to Cleveland’s defense.

In the fourth inning, Howie Kendrick sent a low line drive into right field with no outs and runners on first and second base. Right fielder Ryan Raburn made a nice leaning-almost-falling grab on the ball for an out and made a head’s up throw to second to double up Hamilton. All of a sudden, a none-out jam is a two-out situation for Masterson, who then got the groundout he needed to escape.

“The line drive to right was knuckling,” Francona said. “[That play] was huge.”

In the fifth, David Freese led off with a single off Masterson. Hank Conger followed with a sharply-hit grounder to Santana at first base. Santana made a quick grab of the ball, stepped on first base and fired to second to complete a double play. Masterson then got a flyout to escape that inning.

“Carlos really helped a lot,” Francona said.

“My friends did a really good job out there,” Masterson said.

Tigers (37-32) at Indians (37-36)
at 7:05  p.m. ET  Friday at Progressive Field

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 70

SwisherShotFinal: Indians 3, Red Sox 2 (11 innings)

FIRST: Can one swing turn things around for Nick Swisher? Cleveland can sure dream about that possibility after his go-ahead blast against Boston in the 11th inning on Sunday afternoon.

When the baseball rocketed off Swisher’s bat, he stood in the box and watched it for a moment. It carried down the line and hooked around Pesky’s Pole for a leadoff shot off Red Sox righty Junichi Tazawa. Swisher was asked if he hesitated out of the box because he wasn’t sure it was a home run.

“I knew it was,” he replied with a smirk.

Swish was then asked if he was just enjoying the moment. At that, he laughed his best Brohio laugh.

“It was just one of those days,” Swisher said. “This year has kind of been crazy for me personally. So, just in general, just to be able to come up with a huge hit like that, help this team win a ballgame, especially here, Father’s Day, getaway game, we’re heading back home to where we feel extremely comfortable, man, it was crucial. I was so stoked, man. I wanted to smile all the way around the bases.”

Heading into that at-bat, Swisher was in a 1-for-12 funk at the plate since coming off the disabled list. Even after the decisive shot into the seats, Swisher is only batting .207 on the season. You’ll have to excuse the Red Sox for going right after Swisher in that situation.

“We’re challenging him,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said, “given his four previous at-bats on the day and maybe some of the inconsistencies he’s had during the season. We got beat on it.”

Swisher said he can lean on his track record, knowing he has the ability to bounce back and give the Indians a solid showing by the end of the season. He pointed to last season, when he dealt with a shoulder injury that affected his performance. By September, Swisher snapped out of a multi-month slump and helped the Tribe reach the playoffs.

“Last year, I had to deal with a little bit of something,” Swisher said. “This year, I’m doing the same thing. My second half last year, I really, really turned it on. That’s kind of what it’s seeming to turn out like again. I think just in general, I’m just trying to get the rhythm of the game, man.”

To Swisher’s point, he turned in a .238/.345/.387/.732 slash line in his first 82 games (354 plate appearances) in 2013. After that, he posted a .244/.336/466/.801 slash line in his final 63 games (280 plate appearances. Over his final 22 games in September, Swisher hit .294/.380/.588/.968 with seven homers, 11 extra-base hits, 13 walks, 15 runs and 17 RBIs.

“We all have confidence in Swish,” Indians starter Corey Kluber said. “I think we all have the feeling that it’s going to come around. I mean, when you have that kind of track record, it’s not an accident. I don’t think you suddenly forget what got you to that point. So, hopefully this is kind of that building block.”

Swisher certainly looked like himself on that last swing in the 11th inning.

“I’m just going up there, man, and just taking my swing,” Swisher said. “I’m not trying to manipulate stuff and punch balls to left field, man. That’s not my style. I’m a guy that, I’ll walk a lot, I’ll strike out a lot, I’ll hit you some home runs and I’ll bring a lot of energy. Just getting back to being me is my main focus.”

SECOND: Dr. Smooth continued his All-Star candidacy campaign on Sunday. In the first inning, Michael Brantley flashed both his offensive and defensive value to the Indians.

Brantley began his 2-for-4 showing with a two-out solo home run off Red Sox right-hander Brandon Workman three batters into the afternoon. It marked his team-leading 11th home run of the season. That also established a new career best for Brantley with only 92 games to play. You can bet Brantley has hit sights on his dad Mickey’s career-best 15 (set in 1988 with Seattle).

In the home half of the first inning, David Ortiz sent a pitch from Kluber scraping high off the Green Monster for an RBI single. Big Papi wanted more, which hasn’t been the wisest move on plays involving Brantley this season. Ortiz tried to stretch his hit into a double, but Brantley played the carom perfectly and rifled a throw to shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. Ortiz was nabbed and Brantley was credited with his eighth assist of the season (second among American League outfielders).

On the season, Brantley now has a .322/.390/.519 slash line to go along with nine stolen bases, 24 walks, 29 extra-base hits, 45 RBIs and 49 runs scored in 68 games. Since his average dipped to .301 on June 3, Brantley has hit .422 (19-for-45) with two homers, four doubles, four RBIs and 11 runs in 11 games. Since his average hit a season-low .253 on April 28, he’s hit .361 (61-for-169) with seven homers, 13 doubles, one triple, 26 RBIs and 36 runs in 42 games.

THIRD: Cleveland didn’t have the best outing from Kluber (“‘Sloppy’ might be a good word,” said the pitcher.) or from its offense (0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and 10 runners stranded). Dating back to Friday, the Indians have actually experienced an 0-for-20 slump with RISP. Somehow, they’ve still managed a pair of wins in the past two games.

“Being able to pull out two big wins,” reliever Cody Allen said, “it’s a great way to end the road trip.”

Allen, along with the rest of the bullpen, played a big role on Sunday. Allen handled the final two innings, keeping his pitch count low enough in the 10th to come back for the ninth.

Lefty Marc Rzepczynski entered in relief of Kluber in the sixth and promptly induced an inning-ending groundout from A.J. Pierzynski, who remains 0-for-Rzepczynski in his career. Righty Bryan Shaw then turned in a clean seventh. The ninth was patched together by John Axford and Scott Atchison, though an escape act was necessary.

Axford walked the bases full with two outs, but saying that on its own isn’t fair to the reliever. The righty did begin to reel it in and home-plate umpire Chris Guccione had some questionable calls (Said Francona: “I thought Gooch missed a couple pitches.”) along the way. Atchison took over with two outs and the bags full and got Brock Holt to ground out. It was a high chopper and took a great play by second baseman Jason Kipnis.

“There was a lot of good pitching,” Francona said.

HOME: Lonnie Chisenhall received a day of rest in the opener of the series in Boston after having played a long stretch of consecutive games, during which he was thrust into the national spotlight and was crushed with media requests in the days following his three-homer, five-hit, nine-RBI showing last Monday in Texas.

Across Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Chisenhall then went 0-for-10 to have his batting average drop down to .371 (gasp!).

Against lefty Craig Breslow in the 10th inning on Sunday, Francona pulled Chisenhall in favor of pinch-hitter Mike Aviles with runners on first and second base, two outs and the game stuck in a 2-2 deadlock. Chisenhall was 0-for-3 in his career against Breslow and 0-for-3 with three strikeouts in the game. Aviles, who hits right-handed, was 2-for-6 in his career against Breslow.

Aviles grounded out against Breslow, whose lefty-righty splits are essentially even, but Francona felt it was the appropriate move.

“Mikey had swung the bat good against him in the past,” Francona explained. “And Lonnie is just going through a little stretch where he’s not seeing it quite as good as he’s been, which I think is realistic. I mean, my goodness. Lonnie will be right back in there [Monday].”

EXTRA: Let’s take another moment to appreciate Carlos Santana’s continued improvement in the batter’s box. The first baseman (he certainly doesn’t seem to be a backup catcher or third baseman at the moment) went 3-for-5 on Sunday. He is now batting .340 (16-for-47) with three homers, four doubles, eight runs, 12 walks and 12 RBIs in his past 14 games. Since being activated from the concussion list, Santana has hit .343 (12-for-35) with four extra-base hits, six walks and eight RBIs in 10 games. After Sunday’s showing, he’s hitting .190. Yes, that’s brutal on an overall scale, and strictly in terms of batting average. It’s also the first time he’s hit as high as .190 since April 11 (.194). Santana seems to be chipping away. That is a great development for the Tribe.

Sunday coverage:

On deck:

Angels (37-30)* at Indians (35-35)
at 7:05  p.m. ET  Monday at Progressive Field

*doesn’t include Sunday night game

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 69

614KipnisFinal: Indians 3, Red Sox 2

FIRST: It is extremely difficult to win a game in the manner the Indians did on Saturday. We’ll get to the details of this scratch-and-claw victory in a second, though.

First, let’s take a moment — in this season chalk full of defensive miscues — to appreciate a gorgeous play that helped Cleveland clinch its trip to the win column.

“I thought Kip made a play off Ortiz’s ball that saved the game,” Indians manager Terry Francona said.

That’d be Tribe second baseman Jason Kipnis, who did indeed make a stellar play in the eighth inning against Boston slugger David Ortiz. With the shift in place, Kipnis was playing more toward first, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera was on the right side of second base and third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall was shaded toward second in shortstop territory.

With Cleveland clinging to a 3-2 lead, reliever Bryan Shaw issued a leadoff walk to Dustin Pedroia. That set up the clash with Ortiz, who had a game-changing homer on Thursday, three walks Friday and an RBI double off the wall in right already on Saturday.

“The inning didn’t obviously start the way we wanted it to,” Kipnis said. “Shaw could tell you that. You can’t come out and throw balls like that and just let them right on base. You’ve got to make them earn it.”

Shaw was bailed out when Ortiz drilled a 3-1 pitch into the shift and at Kipnis, who snared the ball after it took a sharp hop to the second baseman’s right. As Kipnis prepared to throw to second, Cabrera dropped to the dirt to avoid the baseball. Chisenhall — once a shortstop — handled the relay well and fired it to first to complete the double play.

“That’s a rocket,” Francona said.

“He hit it pretty hard,” Kipnis agreed. “The thing was the top spin on it — just getting the ball. As long as you can field it, you guys know as well as I do, you’ve got some time with him going down the [line].”

There were some chuckles among the press corps at that point, so the savvy Kipnis quickly corrected what could have been perceived as a shot at Big Papi’s “speed.”

“No,” Kipnis said, “usually, it’s because all he has to do is jog for most of his hits. He’s one of those guys where, he hits the ball so hard, you have a lot of time.”

Nice save, Kip.

SECOND: Now, back to where we started. This was a rare win for Cleveland in terms of how it was accomplished.

The Indians went 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position and finished with 13 runners left on base. The Tribe had four bases-loaded situations (granted, each came with two outs) and the only run produced out of that came via a walk from Carlos Santana in the seventh. Cleveland’s other runs came courtesy of 1) an RBI double from Asdrubal Cabrera, who was promptly thrown out trying to advance to third, and 2) a missed-catch error by Red Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski, allowing Cabrera to score from third in the seventh.

Hey, whatever works, right?

“We’re going to have to win some games like that,” Francona said. “You face good pitching, good bullpens, teams that play good defense. There’s all kinds of reasons.”

That said, this marked the first time since Aug. 19, 1984 that the Indians won a game with no more than three runs scored, along with at least 13 runners stranded and at least an 0-for-11 showing with runners in scoring position. Cleveland did so against the Brewers in that game 30 years ago. Don Sutton was on the mound for the Brewers, who also had former Indians Rick Manning in center field for that game, which was the second tilt of a double header.

The Indians aren’t going to complain about how they got the win. After losing four in a row, Cleveland was content with how things went.

“This is a good win,” Kipnis said. “This is a win we haven’t had in the last couple games. Usually, when we strand a lot of the runners and don’t come up with the big hit, we’re usually on the down side of things. … A win is a win, but after the little skid we’ve been going through, to have this kind of win is what we needed.”

THIRD: To pick up such a win, it obviously takes a solid effort on the pitching side of things. Lefty T.J. House looked a little shaky in the first inning, but he recovered nicely and lasted two batters and one out into the sixth inning for the Tribe. House wound up being charged with two runs, though the second came following his trip to the showers.

With a runner on third and one out in the sixth, Francona turned to reliever John Axford to face Mike Napoli. After falling behind, 3-0, Axford worked the count full before walking Napoli. The first reaction after the walk from Axford might be to think, “Oh, no, here he goes again.” In this case, though, a walk wasn’t a terrible end result. In fact, it potentially sets up a double play with Jonny Gomes (.167 vs. RHP, entering Saturday) at the plate.

“[Napoli] is a good curveball hitter,” Axford said. “So, I was trying to throw a slider to start him off and get him to roll over, keep the ball on the infield rather than something in the air. When I fell behind, it was a matter of nibbling at that point, making sure I wasn’t going to give him something too good. Since I didn’t have the slider at that point, it was a matter of trying to keep things away from him a little bit.

“That 3-2 pitch, I was going to make sure it was off the plate. If he was going to swing, he was going to swing. If not, at least we have a double play in order.”

Axford got his grounder, but it wasn’t hit hard enough to Cabrera to make for a tailor-made twin killing. The shortstop got the out at first, but Gomes narrowly beat the throw to first, allowing Dustin Pedroia to score from third base.

No harm done in the end. Axford, Kyle Crockett, Shaw and Cody Allen pieced together the final 3.2 innings to pave the way to the win for the Tribe.

HOME: Helping Cleveland’s cause was a decision made by Pedroia in the seventh inning. With runners on the corners and no outs, Kipnis chopped a pitch to Boston’s second baseman. It looked like a sure double play, but that would have allowed the Indians to pull the game into a 2-2 tie. Pedroia saw an opening to get Cabrera at home plate, so he went for it.

“I think, like everyone else, we thought he was going for the double play,” Kipnis said. “But, Pedey is about as heads-up a defender as they come. He saw that he had a chance to get him at home.”

Pierzynski was not able to corral the throw and the catcher was charged with an error on the play. When Pierzynski turned to tag Cabrera, the ball skipped away in front of the plate. It looked like Cleveland’s shortstop would have been out with a clean grab and tag.

“If he caught the ball and held on to it,” Kipnis said, “he might’ve got him.”

Red Sox manager John Farrell didn’t fault Pedroia for the game-tying run.

“I can see where it’s a questionable play in a first-and-third situation,” Farrell said, “but Pedey feels like he’s got a chance to cut the runner down at home. The throw was on the backhand side to A.J. just enough that he can’t field it cleanly. But, you can’t second guess that. That’s a good, aggressive defensive play.”

On deck:

Indians (34-35) at Red Sox (31-37)
at 1:35 p.m. ET  Sunday at Fenway Park

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 68

613MastyFinal: Red Sox 10, Indians 3

FIRST: If the Indians want to get where they want to get, they’ve got to get Justin Masterson going again. That is the reality of Cleveland’s situation. In a rout at the hands of the Red Sox on Friday night, Masterson’s enigmatic season hit an unfortunate snag once again for the Tribe.

If you remove any outings shortened by poor weather or injuries, Masterson’s performance in Boston marked the shortest of his career both in terms of innings (two) and pitches (59). He ended with zero strikeouts in a normal start for the first time since May 29, 2011, against Tampa Bay.

“I threw too many balls. That’s more or less what happened,” Masterson said. “I put the bullpen in a bad spot. They had to come in way too early before they’re supposed to come in.”

From the get-go this season, Masterson displayed diminished velocity — one of the largest one-year decreases in baseball this year for a starting pitcher. Still, no red flags were raised during his stellar spring, and he began the season with a gem on Opening Day. From there, it has been an up-and-down, inconsistent, perplexing game of survival for the sinkerballer.

Let’s take a look at the three-month roller coaster to date:

First start: 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 4 K, 1 BB
Next two: 10.80 ERA, .368 AVG, 8.1 IP, 14 H, 11 K, 8 BB
Next five: 2.94 ERA, .230 AVG, 33.2 IP, 29 H, 33 K, 11 BB
Next three: 9.98 ERA, .344 AVG, 15.1 IP, 21 H, 7 K, 11 BB
Next three: 1.72 ERA, .214 AVG, 15.2 IP*, 12 H, 19 K, 8 BB
Friday at BOS: 2 IP, 3 H, 5 R, 4 BB, 0 K

*includes one rain-shortened start

Indians manager Terry Francona was asked if the peak-and-valley nature of Masterson season was getting frustrating for the ballclub.

“We want to win every game,” Francona replied, “and I’d love to see everybody go nine. That’s not the way the game is. So, rather than getting frustrated, I think we want to just help where we can. [Pitching coach Mickey Callaway] kills himself trying to help these guys, so I don’t think we’ll let it get frustrating. We just want to help.”

As for Masterson, he focused less on his personal problems on the mound — issues he’ll continue to tackle behind the scenes with Callaway this week — and instead expressed regret over putting too much pressure on the bullpen. Francona turned to the relief corps in the third, when Masterson issued back-to-back walks to open the frame, while the game was still in a 3-3 deadlock.

“It’s been an interesting season for me,” Masterson said. “Then again, what’s disappointing even more so tonight — walking, or whatever — is just making the bullpen have to do more than they need to. That sets them up for some tough games coming up, because guys are going to have to work harder than they need to. That’s all because of me.”

Both Francona and Masterson were asked if the pitcher was physically OK.

Said the manager: “No, he’s fine.”

Said the starter: “I mean, physically, in the fact that the body is healthy. But, as far as feeling comfortable and being able to make pitches, no, it just didn’t take place.”

SECOND: For four innings, Cleveland’s bullpen performed admirably in the wake of Masterson’s mess.

With two runners aboard and no outs in the third, Francona turned the ball over to rookie lefty Kyle Crockett, who was summoned from Triple-A before the game. Not only was Crockett just promoted, he arrived to Fenway Park with less than two hours to go until first pitch. Crockett gave up a one-out, two-run double to Mike Napoli in the third, but logged 1.2 innings before bowing out.

All things considered, Crockett gave the Tribe a solid effort.

“I thought he showed very good poise in a tough situation,” Francona said. “I thought he made one bad pitch to Napoli. Other than that, I thought he was tremendous. The presence of Napoli back in their lineup makes their lineup look different.”

Scott Atchison got the Indians through five innings, keeping Boston’s lead at two runs. Marc Rzepczynski followed suit with a clean sixth inning, but then yielded consecutive singles to open the seventh. That initiated a win-clinching push for the Red Sox. Combined, Rzepczynski, Bryan Shaw, Josh Outman and Cody Allen allowed five runs on six hits across the seventh and eighth innings.

“You know when you go to the bullpen that early,” Francona said, “if somebody has a hiccup, you’re going to pay for it. But, for a while there, Crockett did a good job and we kept it at 5-3. And then it got out of hand.”

THIRD: On the positive side, Carlos Santana belted a two-run home run for Cleveland in the second inning, giving the Tribe a quick, albeit, short-lived lead. Santana finished 1-for-4, but the long ball continued his recent upward trend. Over his past 12 games, Santana has hit .300 (12-for-40) with three homers, two doubles and 11 RBIs for the Indians.

Cleveland wants Santana to focus on the recent success, rather than being overwhelmed by the .176 season average that is in bright lights on the scoreboard.

“His batting average is going to be low for a while, because he had a bad start,” Francona said. “But he’s starting to take some more aggressive swings and staying in the middle of the field. He just missed another one [in the sixth inning] — he just got a little bit on the end. If he gets hot, that’d be great for us.”

HOME: Earlier this season, we had the good fortune of witnessing Yan Gomes take on Brandon Gomes. As you might recall, Yan is the only Gomes in Major League history to have a hit off another Gomes. Your move, Jonny 0-for-Gomes. I bring this up because, on Friday night, we got to see a Rzepczynski vs. Pierzynski clash in the sixth inning. A.J. Pierzynski is now 0-for-Rzepczynski in three career at-batzynskis after flying out to center.

You heard it here first.

On deck:

Indians (33-35) at Red Sox (31-36)
at 4:05 p.m. ET  Saturday at Fenway Park

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 67

Ortiz612Final: Red Sox 5, Indians 2

FIRST: On the surface, it seemed like a no-brainer.

Right-hander Josh Tomlin was on the mound. Lefty slugger David Ortiz was in the batter’s box. There was a runner on third base, first was open, two outs were in the books and Boston led by one run in the fifth inning.

Walk Ortiz, right?

“No,” Indians manager Terry Francona said matter-of-factly.

When Cleveland pitching coach Mickey Callaway headed to the mound to talk things over with Tomlin, wasn’t an intentional walk part of the conversation?

“No,” Tomlin said. “It was a conversation of, ‘We can gt this guy out. We can attack this guy, but attack him in a smart way.'”

So, why then, was this not a no-brainer?

First off, Tomlin entered the evening with better numbers this season against left-handed batters (.200 average/.586 OPS) than right-handed batters (.228/.644). Then, there was the fact that Ortiz — already 0-for-2 on the night — was 0-for-10 in his career against Tomlin prior to the fifth-inning at-bat. If Tomlin walks him, that brings up right-handed Mike Napoli, who not only has a homer in his career against the pitcher, but has hit righties (.444 slugging percentage) for more power than lefties (.364 SLG) this season.

The knee-jerk reaction — in the immediate aftermath of Ortiz’s two-run, game-changing, no-doubt blast to dead center — is to declare pitching to him a “dumb” move on Francona’s part. Just check my Twitter replies. You better believe that, in a situation such as this, there are no gut feelings or hunches on the part of Francona. The decision to face Ortiz, and try to avoid Napoli, was all based on data and percentages.

Hey, sometimes the numbers betray you.

“Going into that at-bat, he was 0-for-10,” said Francona, clearly aware of the stats that were in his favor. “I know what David can do. I’ve seen him do it. But Napoli hit the next ball off the wall. We wanted to get [Ortiz] out.”

Tomlin simply made a mistake. He wanted to keep Ortiz honest with a first-pitch fastball to the inner part of the plate. Big Papi fouled it off and was behind in the count. The right-hander’s next move — with that inside heater now in Ortiz’s mind — was to throw a pitch for a ball outside to try to get Ortiz to chase.

“It just kind of cut back over the middle of the plate,” Tomlin said. “He put a good swing on it.”

Given the way Lester pitched (7.2 IP, 2 R/1 ER), it was a mistake that proved too much to overcome for the Tribe.

SECOND: Francona pulled Tomlin from the contest after the right-hander’s 107th pitch, which resulted in a two-out triple to Jonathan Herrera in the sixth inning. With lefty-swinging Jackie Bradley Jr. due to hit out of the ninth slot, the manager felt it was an opportune time to give the ball to lefty Nick Hagadone.

“I thought it was a perfect situation for Hags,” Francona said.

Perhaps, but Hagadone wasn’t able to keep Boston at bay.

Following a four-pitch walk to Bradley, Hagadone slipped into a full count against Brock Holt. With two runners in scoring position now — Bradley stole second uncontested — the Red Sox third baseman took a healthy swing and connected for a double to left field that scored two runs.

“It worked out about as bad as it could,” Francona said. “That’s not how we drew it up.”

The Indians called up the 28-year-old Hagadone earlier this month from Triple-A after he posted a 2.25 ERA and had 22 strikeouts against just three walks in 12 innings in May. It was a chance to promote the lefty when his confidence was high. Two outings into his stint in the Majors, Hagadone looked strong, too, striking out four with no walks and one hit allowed in two innings.

In his past three appearances, Hagadone has been charged with two runs on three hits (one home run) with two walks and no strikeouts in just one-third of an inning. Hagadone, clearly frustrated, was asked after the game if there was something in particular he needed to look to fix.

“If I had that answer, I wouldn’t be pitching like this,” he said. “I don’t know.”

Francona was hoping to see better results from Hagadone in his latest trip to The Show.

“We wanted him to build off of what he had done at Triple-A, and in his first couple outings here,” Francona said, “because we need to find a way to get to [Bryan] Shaw and Cody [Allen]. We can’t pitch [Scott Atchison, Marc Rzepczynski and others] every night that early.”

THIRD: First baseman Nick Swisher served as the designated hitter in his return to the lineup for the Indians on Thursday. Activated from the 15-day disabled list prior to the game, Swisher finished the night 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, one groundout and one flyout. The groundout ended the sixth, when the Indians had runners on first and second base and were trailing by one run. Rust is obviously expected in the first game off the shelf, but Cleveland needs Swisher to return to his usual level of production.

HOME: For Throwback Thursday, Grady Sizemore came through with an RBI double in the second and made an impressive, wall-crashing catch in foul ground in the fifth against his former club. Let’s all tip our caps to Bradley, though. In the seventh, Michael Bourn sent a pitch to the wall in left-center field. Bradley tracked down the fly and made an impressive catch that was great enough on its own. Then, Bradley fired a rocket back to Napoli at first base, where it was collected on one hop. Napoli stepped on first, doubling up Mike Aviles to bring an abrupt halt to a potential late-inning rally for the Indians.

“That was a heck of a play, because he broke in,” Francona said. “I didn’t think he had any chance to catch that ball.”

On deck:

Indians (33-34) at Red Sox (30-36)
at 7:10 p.m. ET  Friday at Fenway Park

–JB

House vs. Ortiz: The anatomy of an 11-pitch battle

HouseCLEVELAND — Each baseball game can be broken down into a series of individual battles. Some confrontations end quickly, while other engagements are drawn out and develop into a battle of wits between a pitcher and batter.

The latter arose in the fifth inning of the Indians’ 5-3 victory over the Red Sox on Tuesday night. It was rookie against veteran slugger at a critical juncture in the contest. Indians lefty T.J. House was working with a two-run lead, had a runner on first base, two outs and Boston behemoth David Ortiz clapping his hands in the batter’s box.

“I’m not going to give in,” House said. “I know he’s Big Papi and he’s a good hitter, but my mind-set there is, ‘You’re going to have to earn this.'”

What followed was a classic 11-pitch battle between House and Ortiz, who eventually hacked at a sinker and flew out to center field to end the inning. That ended the cat-and-mouse game that Ortiz played with House and Cleveland catcher Yan Gomes. What stood out to Tribe pitching coach Mickey Callaway is the fact that House never caved or showed any sign of intimidation.

“It was a veteran approach,” Callaway said. “There are those guys where a young pitcher might be like, ‘Oh, man. I’m facing David Ortiz. I’ve been watching him on TV since I was little.’ That didn’t seem to faze him.”

Ortiz has seen 1,190 different pitchers throughout his storied career. The Red Sox designated hitter has launched a home run off 302 of those hurlers. House — called up from Triple-A Columbus on May 22 — has seen just 30 different batters in the Majors. The 24-year-old lefty was three years old when Ortiz signed his first professional contract in 1992.

On Tuesday night, the kid beat the sage.

One day later, House went through the anatomy of his fifth-inning battle with Ortiz, who was also retired by the starter in the first (groundout) and third (lineout) innings. The lefty opened their third meeting with a 93-mph sinker that tailed wide of the strike zone for a ball. House followed that with another two-seamer — a 91-mph sinker in the middle of the zone — which Ortiz swung at mightily for a foul ball.

“I want to challenge him,” House said of the first two pitches. “There’s no secret to how to get anybody out. I feel like, if I show him that I’m going to go out there and attack the guy, maybe I can get a few more swings with him outside the zone. If I can stay in there, and get [ahead in the count early], it’s going to be easier for me to change to a pitch that starts in the zone and then moves out.”

HouseOrtizHouse then switched things up, burying an 83-mph low and outside to fall behind, 2-1.

“I wanted to change speeds on him,” House said. “It looks like my fastball, so I’m trying to get him to swing, trying to get him to get that ball. I had a lot of success with keeping my changeup out of the air and that’s a thing where he’s not going to hurt me. The worst is he’s hitting a single off me, but he’s not getting a ball in the gap and he’s not hitting a home run.

“And I’m trying to bury it. I want it on the ground. If I can get him to swing and he catches it out early, he’s just going to beat that ball on the ground.”

At that point, House decided he wanted to stop Ortiz from looking for an outside pitch, so the lefty sent an 86-mph slider high and inside. Boston’s DH swung and fouled off the offering, shouting in disgust that he did not do more damage.

“If you heard him, Ortiz was yelling the whole time in that at-bat,” Gomes said. “You could tell that he’s getting frustrated, because he’s probably missing pitches he should be hitting.”

Next came a 95-mph two-seam fastball, away and to the middle of the strike zone. Once again, Ortiz fouled it off, but this time the slugger stepped out of the box to collect himself. The increase in velocity was intentional on the part of House.

“Of course. He’s been seeing anywhere from 90 to 91,” House explained. “Right there, I figured, ‘Hey, just throw it as hard as you can and see what you get out of it. Pump it up, see if he catches up with it, maybe it catches him off guard a little bit.”

After burying an 88-mph slider low and away to run the count full, House worked through a string of offspeed offerings. Ortiz fouled off an 84-mph changeup that dropped low and outside the strike zone. He then fouled off an 87-mph slider that was over the middle, but spun down and away. Four lower-velocity pitches in a row kept the guessing game going.

House followed Gomes’ lead throughout the battle, but did admit to shaking off a curveball deep into the sequence.

David Ortiz“That’s my fourth-best pitch,” House said. “If he’s going to beat me, it’s going to be with my best pitch.”

Gomes cracked a smile.

“I was actually going to go up to him,” Gomes said, “and say, ‘Hey, grip something weird and throw it. I don’t care. Do something.'”

The moment House shook off Gomes showed something to Callaway.

“To be able to do that in that situation, and not get flustered,” said the pitching coach, “most guys, the game would speed up on them in that situation. It’s like, ‘Oh man, what do I do? What do I do?’ He just trusted that his fastball was good enough to get him, and that was the right pitch.”

The next foul ball off Ortiz’s bat came on a 94-mph sinker on the outside corner. For his 10th pitch, House snapped off an 88-mph slider, which Ortiz spoiled as it darted low and outside the zone. The Red Sox slugger again stepped out of the box, while House tried to devise yet another plan of attack.

“He’s either getting out or he’s getting a hit,” House said. “Because I’m not walking him.”

House and Gomes opted to go back to the sinker, one that clocked in at 94 mph and arrived at nearly the same spot as the left-hander’s second pitch to the slugger. Ortiz swung for the eighth time in the at-bat, sending the baseball to center field, where Michael Bourn easily made the catch an out.

“Even the last pitch,” Gomes said, “you see in the video, Ortiz is almost bailing out to get it. I was like, ‘How the heck did he know that pitch was coming?’ It’s a credit to House, man. That’s almost a Miguel Cabrera-type guy. You win by walking him. You’re trying to keep him off second base or off the scoreboard. He just kept going at him, man.”

For House, it was not only a satisfying moment, but a valuable lesson as he proceeds on with his season and career.

“It showed me that I can win those battles against those premiere players,” he said. “If I can go out there and do it against Big Papi, why can’t I go out there and do it against Chris Davis, or Adam Dunn, or Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton? It gives me that confidence going forward.”

–JB

 

Covering the Bases: Game 59

140603BournFinal: Indians 5, Red Sox 3

FIRST: Indians manager Terry Francona had a simple way of summing up center fielder Michael Bourn’s impact on Cleveland’s lineup during a recent chat.

“He makes us go,” said the manager.

Lately, Bourn has indeed been a catalyst atop the Tribe’s order, looking every bit like the player Cleveland thought it had when it invested $48 million on him prior to last season. As the weather has warmed, so too has Bourny’s bat.

Since his second comeback from a left hamstring issue, Bourn has hit .320 (33-for-103) with two homers, five doubles, three triples, three stolen bases, nine walks, 12 RBIs and 14 runs scored in 24 games. That said, it’s fair to note that he’s hit .318 since his 1-for-13 start to the season. So, the strong showing isn’t only recent.

What has changed recently is witnessing Bourn looking more and more comfortable on the basepaths and in center field. He looks long removed from his hamstring issues (knock on wood).

“In a perfect world, every player feels 100 percent from Opening Day until the end of the season,” Francona said. “It’s not a perfect world. The realistic part of it is Bourny had surgery. He had to get some things fixed. He understands that the more he can impact a game with his legs, the better we are. He also understands that staying out on the field is important.”

In Tuesday’s win over the Red Sox, Bourn helped ignited a string of five consecutive hits with a single to left off Boston righty Jake Peavy. That early burst pushed Cleveland to a 3-0 lead. After the Red Sox rallied, it was Bourn’s two-run double off tough lefty Andrew Miller — a two-base hit that scraped high off the wall in left-center field — that broke the deadlock and sent the Indians to their fifth win in a row.

Bourn believes at least a portion of his success early on this season is due to this being his second year in the American League and with the Indians.

“Familiarity is always a key,” Bourn said. “I just try to learn the pitchers as I go. Some of them I’ve faced before being in the NL then they came over to the AL. Some of them I’ve got to lean on my teammates and hitting coach to tell me what they got. The best information you can have is for yourself. Once you know for yourself, you can make the adjustments within yourself. I just try to get familiar with it each day.”

SECOND: Rather than waiting for a blowout scenario to use recently-promoted lefty Nick Hagadone, Francona threw the reliever right into the fire on Tuesday night. With runners in first and second base and one out in the seventh inning, Hagadone entered and was asked to halt Boston’s push, which had already knotted the score.

Hagadone answered with back-to-back strikeouts and a fist pump to end the inning. The lefty then recorded to outs in the eighth, setting up a multi-inning save for Cody Allen and helping Cleveland dodge the earlier trouble experienced by the bullpen.

“That was a huge effort on Nick’s part,” Francona said.

In 18 appearances at Triple-A this season, Hagadone turned in a 3.09 ERA with 35 strikeouts and nine walks in 23 1/3 innings. His goal with Columbus was to be “more athletic” in his delivery, with the idea of pounding the strike zone more consistently. One byproduct of his tweaked mechanics, he found, was an improved breaking pitch.

The Red Sox saw the result.

Hagadone threw six of seven sliders for strikes, including two called, two fouled and two swung on and missed.

“He went down there and worked a little bit on his breaking ball,” said Indians starter T.J. House, who took a no-decision on Tuesday and spent much of this year with Hagadone at Columbus. “I saw it tonight and that thing is absolutely filthy. I told him. He looks a lot better. He’s a confident guy.”

The Indians promoted Hagadone on Monday to help out against Boston’s lefty-heavy lineup. Francona also felt it was an opportune time for a promotion, considering Hagadone had 22 strikeouts and only three walks in 12 stellar innings in May. If the Hagadone Cleveland saw on Tuesday is the pitcher they’ll have from here on out…

“That would be wonderful,” Francona said. “We brought him in and, in Triple-A, he had been on a really nice roll. So we thought it was a good time to get him back here. That’s a pretty high- leverage situation and he handled it really well.”

THIRD: House took a no-decision, but turned in 5 2/3 solid innings. One of the runs on his pitching line was the result of an outing-gone-awry by lefty Marc Rzepczynski. In particular, House’s fifth-inning battle with slugger David Ortiz was especially impressive.

House engaged in an 11-pitch confrontation with Big Papi, winning in the end by creating an inning-ending flyout with a 94-mph two-seamer.

“That was a tough at-bat, but it was really fun,” House said. “I used to watch him when I was in junior high and high school play. So, it’s actually pretty cool to get out there and face a guy like that and actually have success.”

HOME: Don’t look now, but the Indians are 4 1/2 games behind the Tigers in the AL Central standings. After a loss to the A’s on May 18, Cleveland was 10 1/3 games back of Detroit in the division. While it sounds cliché, Francona believes his players have done well in adopting a day-to-day mentality, rather than getting overwhelmed by the early hole they found themselves in.

“I think that’s the only way you can dig yourself out,” Francona said. “It can look so daunting when you look too far in advance. But, when you just take care of what you’re supposed to that day, all of a sudden you start doing what you’re supposed to, you pay attention to detail, do your job, and things can mount in a good way.”

Winning eight in a row at home and going 20-11 overall in front of the locals certainly helps.

“Yeah. You’re saying it as we’re about to embark on a 11-day road trip. Thanks,” Francona said. “No, I’m glad. I hope we win everywhere, but we’ve been really good here. I’m glad.”

On deck:

Red Sox (27-31) at Indians (29-30)
at 7:05 p.m. ET  Wednesday at Progressive Field

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 58

140602MastyFinal: Indians 3, Red Sox 2

FIRST: There is a term for what Indians starter Justin Masterson did in the fourth on Monday night. Nasty Masty spun what is known as an immaculate inning.

Nine pitches. Three up, three down. Three strikeouts.

“I didn’t know it was nine pitches,” Masterson said. “I knew I punched out the side.”

It all happened so fast, but — believe it or not — it had never happened previously for an Indians pitcher. According to research done by Cleveland’s media relations staff, no Indians pitcher was known to have accomplished an immaculate inning prior to Masterson on Monday night.

It is believed that Masterson is just the 70th pitcher in baseball history to have achieved the feat.

“He was throwing all his pitches with a lot of conviction,” Indians manager Terry Francona said, “which is a good sign. I think when you’re throwing that many strikes and you’re throwing them with all pitches, you’re going to be confident.”

Let’s take you through the immaculate production…

Jonny Gomes:
90-mph four-seamer — called strike
83-mph slider — swinging strike
82-mph slider — swinging strike

Grady Sizemore:
89 two-seamer — called strike
91-mph four-seamer — swinging strike
83-mph slider — swinging strike

Stephen Drew:
92-mph four-seamer — called strike
83-mph slider — called strike
82-slider — swinging strike

That stretch came within a run of 25 consecutive strikes that ran from the last batter in the third (A.J. Pierzynski) to the second hitter in the sixth (David Ortiz). That marked the longest such streak by a Major Leaguer since Scott Diamond ran off 26 strikes in a row on June 24, 2012 against the Reds. On April 18, 2012, Bartolo Colon fired 38 straight strikes against the Angels.

Asked about that streak, Masterson cracked a grin.

“I’ve felt like I’ve thrown 25 balls in a row in one game,” he said with a laugh. “So, it’s nice to throw 25 strikes.”

What was amazing about Masterson’s strike-throwing showing was that it followed an incredibly rough opening to his night. The righty dodged damage in the first few innings, but he needed 61 pitches (32 strikes/29 balls) to record seven outs within the first 13 batters he faced. From there, he threw 44 pitches (35 strikes/9 balls) to the final 13 batters he faced, covering 14 outs.

Masterson ended with seven shutout innings and a season-high 10 strikeouts.

We talked a little bit earlier about how the first three innings, he kind of cruises and then he runs into a tough spot,” Francona said. “He kind of flipped it tonight. Boy, did he ever. He’s facing a bunch of left-handers. He stayed down. He started changing speeds. He just attacked the strike zone.

“You look up in the third inning and you think, ‘OK, we’ve got the lead, but we’re going to be into our bullpen early.’ He got us pretty deep.”

SECOND: The Indians didn’t get much going against Red Sox righty John Lackey (three runs on eight hits in eight innings), but they jumped on the two walks he issued in the first. Tribe leadoff man Michael Bourn set the table in the opening frame and came through again in the third.

Bourn drew a leadoff walk in the first and promptly stole second base. He and Michael Brantley (also walked) both scored on a two-run single from Lonnie Chisenhall. In the third, Bourn led off with a triple and scored on a single from Asdrubal Cabrera. Bourn also reached via single in the fifth, but was stranded.

“He makes us go,’ Francona said. “You could see he set the tone tonight. The first pitch, he takes off and steals a bag. He hits a triple that, maybe when it was cold and he wasn’t confident was a double. You can see how much he’s enjoying that aspect of it. You can see how proud he was of it. He should be. When he goes like that, we can be a different team.”

Since his second comeback from a hamstring issue, Bourn has hit .313 (31-for-99) with two home runs, four doubles, three triples, three stolen bases, nine walks, 10 RBIs and 13 runs in 23 games for Cleveland. Bourn said a key lately has been being more aggressive.

“A little bit — just taking an opportunity when it’s there,” Bourn said. “That’s the main thing, not try to miss out on too many opportunities. If an opportunity exists there you got to try to be aggressive.”

THIRD: The two runs scored by Boston came in the eighth inning, when Xander Bogaerts launched a two-run home run off setup man Bryan Shaw. The right-hander has been used a lot lately and Francona admitted that he probably should’ve gone in another direction in that inning.

“I think those should’ve been my earned runs tonight,” Francona said.

Boston had lefty-hitting Jackie Bradley Jr. due to lead off, so Francona figured the Red Sox would turn to a pinch hitter if he opened the inning with lefty Marc Rzepczynski. The next two batters, Brock Holt (.421 average and 1.031 OPS) and Bogaerts (.308/.885) entered with great numbers against lefties, too. So, Francona turned to Shaw and opted to save Rzepczynski if the inning went awry and Ortiz and A.J. Pierzynski were coming up.

I really wanted Zep to face those two if we got in trouble,” Francona said.

Shaw got the initial groundout, but then gave up a single and a home run. After getting Dustin Pedroia to ground out, Francona turned to Rzepczynski against Ortiz, who flew out. As it happens, Shaw and Zep are tied for the Major League lead in relief appearances at 30 apiece. Shaw was also pitching in his third straight game after logging 47 pitches in his previous two outings.

Shaw has now given up three runs on four hits with one walk and no strikeouts in his last two innings over the past two games, raising his season ERA to 2.22 from 1.37.

“I told Shaw,” Francona said, “if he goes to arbitration, ‘I’ll go with you and tell them I shouldn’t have pitched you that much tonight.'”

Fair enough.

HOME: Monday marked Sizemore’s return to Cleveland after a long road of recovery, following multiple knee injuries, surgeries and setbacks. He said before the game that Cleveland “still feels like home,” and it probably did again when he stepped to the plate in the ninth inning.

The Indians were up by one run, there were two outs, the count was full and the baseball gods saw fit to have Sizemore in the batter’s box. It was all set up perfectly for a feel-good moment for Sizemore, but Tribe setup man Cody Allen — drafted in 2011, which was the last time Sizemore played a game with the Indians — had other things in mind.

Allen induced a game-ending flyout to Cabrera at short to notch his fourth save.

“I was a kid when he was here at his peak. He was an animal here,” Allen said of Sizemore. “So, to be able to get him out for the 27th out was pretty cool, in this ballpark. This is his first time back, so that was a pretty cool feeling.”

Monday’s coverage:

On deck:

Red Sox (27-30) at Indians (28-30)
at 7:05 p.m. ET  Tuesday at Progressive Field

–JB

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