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

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