Covering the Bases: Game 59
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.”
Red Sox (27-31) at Indians (29-30)
at 7:05 p.m. ET Wednesday at Progressive Field