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

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