July 2014

Indians made right move with Masterson

MastersonSelfishly, I didn’t want Masterson to get traded. I wanted the Indians to sign him to a long-term contract and give him whatever kind of money that required. That’s selfishly, as a reporter, because Masterson was as good as it gets in that regard.

Good or bad, he’d put on a smile, always have a quip readied and never turned down an interview or a casual chat. Whether we were talking about his outings, his pitching mechanics, his charitable endeavors, his wife’s cookie business or about people helping people, Masterson was a joy to cover for media members.

I wish nothing but the best for Masterson, but the Indians made the right decision by trading him to the Cardinals for Double-A outfielder James Ramsey on Wednesday afternoon. This was a business decision and it was the right one and, really, it wasn’t a move that screamed “seller” if you take the time to examine it.

What the trade signifies is that Cleveland — rightly so — already made the determination that it was not going to extend Masterson a Qualifying Offer this coming offseason. That price tag was $14.1 million last winter and will probably jump to in the neighborhood of $15 million this coming winter.

The Indians have two reasons for not extending such an offer. First, Masterson’s performance simply isn’t worth that type of salary. Second, there’s a risk that Masterson accepts the deal to use 2015 as another chance to net a larger, long-term deal in the following offseason. Cleveland surely doesn’t want to risk the latter, because the point of extending the qualifying offer is to gain Draft pick compensation for the player leaving via free agency.

So, once the Indians determine that a QO simply won’t be a part of the equation in the offseason, they’re essentially accepting that Masterson would have the ability to leave without the organization receiving any type of compensation. That makes a trade right now a sensible move, because Cleveland completes a one-for-one rather than a one-for-none, and there is a reduction in risk by taking a high-level Minor League prospect instead of rolling the dice on a high-round Draft pick.

On the surface, this looks like a white flag move. Masterson is, after all, the No. 1 starter, or at least he was when the gates opened for the 2014 season. He helped chew up innings over the past several years and helped the Tribe to the postseason a year ago. He was an All-Star. He’s not a Cy Young winner, but certain Cleveland fans might see this as another move to shed salary and plan for next year. Take a look at where Masterson currently fits in the rotation. Is this really a white flag?

Corey Kluber has clearly unseated Masterson as Cleveland’s No. 1 starter. Righty Trevor Bauer is arguably the No. 2 on the staff at the moment. Would you slot in Masterson as the third arm right now? I’m not sure I would. Unfortunately for the Indians, Masterson, Zach McAllister, Josh Tomlin, Danny Salazar and T.J. House have almost become interchangeable in terms of reliability and value.

So, you’ve got a group of arms under control who are giving you the same level of performance (or better) than Masterson, who is a free agent at year’s end, unlikely to net the team compensation on the open market and currently coming back from a knee injury. Dealing him right now doesn’t upset the rotation. It was already operating without him for much of the past month, and keeping Cleveland on the edge of the postseason discussion.

jramsey13toppsherminorsAccording to Fangraphs.com’s WAR, Masterson ranked third among Indians rotation members this year with a 0.9 rating. Bauer (1.0), McAllister (0.8), Tomlin (0.8) and Salazar (0.7) are all right in the same range and each have fewer innings than the big fella this season. According to Fangraphs’ monetary value calculation, Masterson has been worth $4.9 million to date this season. Cleveland’s already paid him roughly $6.5 million, while St. Louis will be on the hook for the near $3.2 million that remains on his contract for 2014.

We all know what Masterson can do — it was evident in his strong showing last year — but let’s take a look at what he’s done. Among the 134 starters with at least 75 innings pitched this season, entering Wednesday, he ranked 133rd in WHIP (1.65), opponents’ OBP (.386) and walks per nine innings (5.14). His 68 ERA+ was tied for the third-lowest in that group and his 5.51 ERA was the fifth-highest.

And what did the Indians get in return for Masterson? As one evaluator told me, it was “essentially for Tyler Naquin.”

Naquin is the 23-year-old, left-handed-hitting outfielder that Cleveland took in the first round (15th overall) in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. Ramsey is 24, he hits left-handed and St. Louis grabbed him in the first round (23rd overall) of the 2012 Draft, too. Both players have three professional seasons under their belt and they have nearly the same amount of plate appearances (Naquin has 1,085 to Ramsey’s 1,024).

It’s a good comparison, too. Here’s a look at what Naquin and Ramsey have done:

2012-14 slash: .283/.353/.408/.760 (238 games)
2012-14 stats: 14 HR, 53 2B, 13 3B, 91 RBI, 33 SB, 154 R, 92 K, 231 BB

2014 slash at AA: .313/.371/.424/.795 (76 games)
2014 stats at AA: 4 HR, 12 2B, 5 3B, 30 RBI, 14 SB, 54 R, 29 BB, 71 K

2012-14 slash: .266/.368/.434/.802 (235 games)
2012-14 stats: 30 HR, 39 2B, 8 3B, 101 RBI, 23 SB, 161 R, 129 BB, 246 K

2014 slash: .300/.389/.527/.916 (67 games)
2014 stats: 13 HR, 14 2B, 1 3B, 36 RBI, 4 SB, 47 R, 31 BB, 66 K

Immediately, you can see that Ramsey has a little more power, but Naquin offers more in the speed department. Ramsey will join Triple-A Columbus on Thursday, getting his first extended look at that level. He played one game at Triple-A in the Cards’ system last year. Naquin, meanwhile, has been out since having surgery on his right hand earlier this month.

It’s certainly plausible that Naquin becomes trade bait, considering the wealth of lefty-hitting outfielders in Cleveland’s system right now. The Indians have shown interest in Red Sox veteran John Lackey, for example. The Indians are trying to balance a mix of buying and selling with an eye on the rest of this season and beyond. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera (earning $10 million and eligible for free agency at season’s end) is in a similar boat as Masterson, so don’t be surprised if Cleveland tries to complete a similarly-structured deal.

For now, in examining the Masterson trade, this was a good deal from where Cleveland sits. The best-case scenario would’ve been a dynamic season from the sinkerballer, worthy of a long-term deal or, at the very least, a Qualifying Offer. That did not come to fruition, so the Indians made the right move.


Covering the Bases: July 18-20

TomlinHere are four takeaways following the Indians’ series win over the Tigers this weekend. Cleveland dropped Sunday’s finale, 5-1, but claimed three out of four games, including the Tribe’s first doubleheader sweep in Detroit since 1966.

FIRST: Quick, give me your Indians rotation in order from top to bottom. As we sit here today, I’d list Corey Kluber first, followed by Trevor Bauer and then a couple coin flips.

Kluber and Bauer, pray for a rain shower?

Rookie lefty T.J House is arguably Cleveland’s third-most reliable starter at the moment. I think there is no doubt that the Indians will be targeting a top-tier arm as the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches. The rotation has simply been too volatile to this point for a club hoping to contend.

In Sunday’s loss to the Tigers, right-hander Josh Tomlin exited after 4.1 middling innings. He wasn’t awful, but he wasn’t that good. Tomlin assessed the outing himself as “not sharp” and was kicking himself over a couple mistakes that were magnified due to a lack of run support. Really, though, this was a continued downward trend for Tomlin.

Tomlin flashed his potential — and his peak — during the June 28 near-perfecto in Seattle. That said, in five of his past six outings (the exception being the brilliant shutout against the Mariners, the righty has given up at least four runs, posting a 7.86 ERA in 26.1 innings in that sample. He’s allowed as many hits as the number on his back (43) in that span with seven homers surrendered.

Home runs have always been a part of Tomlin’s career due to the fact that he pounds the strike zone, sometimes, to a fault. His rate of 1.5 homers per nine innings in 2014 is only a touch above his 1.4 career rate. This season, though, he’s allowed 1.8 runs on average per home run. In 2012, when Tomlin struggled and eventually needed elbow surgery, he averaged 1.9 runs per home run allowed. In his best season in 2011, Tomlin’s 24 homers yielded netted only 34 runs (or 1.4 runs per long ball).

“It’s limiting the guys that get on base,” Tomlin said. “It’s the two-run, three-run shots that really irritate me. Home runs in general irritate me, don’t get me wrong, but me being around the plate as much as I am, that stuff’s going to happen every now and then. I still have to do a better job of limiting those home runs. I think I’m averaging a home run a game and that’s not OK. That’s not right.”

This brings us back to the current state of the rotation. Here is what we know in terms of who will start in the coming days:

Monday at Twins: House will be recalled from Minors
Tuesday at Twins: Danny Salazar will be recalled from Minors
Wednesday at Twins: Bauer on normal rest
Thursday at Twins: Kluber on normal rest
Friday at Royals: Zach McAllister (recalled from Minors) or Justin Masterson (activated from DL)
Saturday at Royals: House, Tomlin, McAllister, Masterson are options
Sunday at Royals: House, Tomlin, Salazar, McAllister, Masterson are options
Monday: Off-day

Masterson is scheduled to do a Minor League rehab start for Triple-A Columbus on Sunday night. Following that outing, when Cleveland makes its Friday starter known, things will be more clear for Saturday and/or Sunday. What is apparent is that the Indians have multiple directions they could go next weekend. They could option someone back down, give a guy extra rest, take their time with Masterson, keep House or McAllister going on regular rest in the Minors, etc;

“We’re really not sure who might be our five all the time,” Francona said before Sunday’s game. “But I don’t think we don’t feel like we can win with whoever is pitching. … I know [players] don’t like coming up and going down, but it makes our roster bigger and it helps us.”

Kluber is the clear-cut No. 1 on this staff right now. In his last outing, he pitched into the ninth and racked up his fourth start of the season with at least 10 strikeouts and no more than one walk (tying a single-season club record for such starts). Over his last five, Kluber has a 1.96 ERA with 38 strikeouts and six walks in 36.2 IP. Since the start of May, he’s 8-3 with a 2.53 ERA in 103.1 IP.

Bauer has been a pleasant surprise, looking like the Tribe’s second-best starter at the moment. The young righty has a 3.13 ERA in his last five starts across 31.2 IP. House has turned in a 3.57 ERA in his last four starts after having a 5.48 ERA in his first four starts this season. McAllister has turned in a 2.92 ERA in 12.1 IP in his last two turns, following a six-start stretch in which he went 0-4 with a 9.51 ERA. Salazar hasn’t pitched for the Indians since going 1-4 with a 5.53 ERA in his first eight starts of the season.

In the Detroit series, Bauer, Kluber and McAllister (up from Triple-A for one game) all performed admirably in guiding the Tribe to three wins.

A year ago, Cleveland went with a six-man rotation for stretches over the final two months and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a similar approach this time around. If the Indians do not add a front-line starter — even if they do — the club has a few options it can cycle in and out of the rotation to help with the depth. The biggest key will be finding a way to get Masterson (an All-Star a year ago) back on track and eating innings.

SECOND: The Indians have had a habit this season of saving their offense until late in the game. Heading into Sunday’s game, Cleveland ranked first in the Major Leagues with a .410 slugging percentage and .728 OPS in Innings 7-9. That trend was present throughout the series in Detroit.

On Sunday, the Tribe’s lone run came courtesy of a seventh-inning home run from catcher Yan Gomes. In the four games combined, Cleveland hit .377 (20-for-53) with four home runs, seven doubles and 16 runs scored in Innings 7-9. In Innings 1-6, the Indians hit a combined .214 (18-for-84) with two homers, three doubles and five runs scored.

THIRD: There were a few offensive positives throughout the series. All-Star Michael Brantley had a four-hit game on Friday night and seven hits in the series. Chris Dickerson belted two homers off Max Scherzer in Game 2 on Saturday. Nick Swisher had four RBIs in the series and Carlos Santana delivered a critical three-run double Saturday night. Ryan Raburn came up with a key hit in the seven-run seventh on Friday.

Perhaps the most encouraging development, though, was the continued turnaround from second baseman Jason Kipnis. He finished 5-for-15 in the four games with two homers (in consecutive at-bats Friday night after a homerless drought of 218 plate appearances), three runs, four walks and six RBIs. In July, Kipnis has hit at a .303 clip through 66 at-bats across 16 games.

HOME: The biggest takeaway from this series is the fact that the American League Central is still within reach for the Indians. By taking three of four, Cleveland pulled within 5.5 games of Detroit in the standings. That’s still a big gap, and Kansas City is right on the Tribe’s heels, but the Indians are hardly out of this thing. Cleveland needs more from some key players on offense and the team certainly needs to shore up the shaky state of its starting staff. If the Tribe can do that, September could be fun for Indians fans.

For us, we feel good about where we are right now, especially coming out of this set,” Swisher said. “Coming into this road trip right after the break, this is a huge road trip. It’s kind of crazy to say that games mean a lot here in July, but this road trip for us is crucial. … You’re playing all division guys. On a road trip like this, we have to play well.

“We did a great job here. It’s a good start for us in the right direction. We want to just continue to keep that going.”

On deck:

Indians (50-48) at Twins (44-53)
at 8:10 p.m. ET Monday at Target Field

NOTE: I will not be making the trip to Minnesota. Continue to check Indians.com for updates and give a follow to @Indians on Twitter. I will pick up the coverage in Kansas City for the four-game series later this week, beginning Thursday.


Antonetti: “We’re exploring all avenues to improve.”

Chris AntonettiIndians general manager Chris Antonetti pinch-hit for manager Terry Francona for Sunday’s morning media session. With the arrival of the All-Star break on Monday, Antonetti used the 25-minute Q&A with reporters to discuss a wide variety of topics surrounding the ballclub at the season’s midpoint. Here is the full transcript from the sit-down with the Tribe’s GM.

Q: What can you tell us about the lefty you traded for on Saturday?

CA: Nick Maronde is a big, physical left-handed pitcher that we’ve liked for quite a while. Recently, he’s had some trouble throwing strikes, but we think that there’s significant upside there and a guy worth taking a chance on. We’re in the process of working with him to put a plan in place and get him back to the guy he was a couple years ago. At one point, I think he was the second-rated prospect in their organization from Baseball America and a couple years ago was a guy we tried to trade for.

Q: Will Maronde go to Triple-A?

CA: We’re still working through that. Some of it will be dependent upon his plan.

Q: Did he have any injuries?

CA: Very minor injuries. Nothing major. More delivery-related. They aren’t big misses. They’re more small misses around the zone. He has a history, when his delivery was in a good spot, of actually throwing strikes and throwing the ball over the plate. We’ll work with him to get him back there.

Q: Are you still in an in-between mode as you approach the deadline, wanting to see which way the team’s going to head?

CA: We’re exploring a lot of different things, opportunities to improve our team for the balance of this season and then position us better moving forward, too. We’ve spent a lot of energy on fits for acquiring guys that we’d have control over beyond this year, not just guys that would just be here for the balance of the year.

Q: How far are Justin Masterson and Michael Bourn from returning?

CA: Justin is well ahead of Michael. We would expect Justin to be back sooner. It could be within a week after the break. A lot of it will depend on how his throwing goes as he ramps it up.

Q: Is it a mental break for Masterson, too?

CA: A little bit. I think what we’d like Justin to do is get to a point where he feels 100-percent healthy so he can get back to executing his delivery the way he was last year and not have anything lingering that could negatively affect that. He’s made progress on that with [pitching coach Mickey Callaway] already. He’s feeling good physical. He has thrown a couple of bullpens and the early results have been really encouraging.

Q: Did you see any warning signs in the spring?

CA: It’s hard in Spring Training, because no player is in mid-season form. That’s part of the reason it’s there, is to get guys build up and ready for the season. You have to be cautious, especially with guys who have had long track records of making any type of evaluations in Spring Training, but when you look back at it retrospectively, you can point to things and say, ‘Oh, there was this, there was that.’ At the time, there was nothing that was that glaring.

Q: Will he go on rehab starts before he returns?

CA: Potentially. He may have to go on one rehab start. We’re in the process of working through that.

Q: Is Bourn’s hamstring a concern?

CA: It’s a concern in the fact that he’s had two injuries to the same hamstring. In talking to our medical staff, they aren’t necessarily interrelated. At the time he had his hamstring issue last year, we walked through whether that predisposes him to future hamstring issues and everybody concurred that it doesn’t. Obviously, he’s had another one and we now need to manage it and figure out what some of the underlying causes are, if any.

Q: Will you be slower with bringing him back?

CA: When Michael has had injuries, especially to his legs, we’ve tried to make sure he gets back as close to 100-percent as possible, because his legs are such an important part of his game. I would anticipate we’ll take a similar approach this time. We’ll want to make sure he’s strong and ready to not only come back, but contribute at the level he’s capable of.

Q: Before the latest setback, did you think he had moved past the injury?

CA: That was the tough part, in talking to Michael. The days preceding this injury were the best he’s felt really since the beginning of last year with his lower body. He was starting to feel like he had that explosiveness back and his legs were completely normal. And then, unfortunately, he had another setback.

Q: Do you have a ballpark estimate on when he could return?

CA: Nothing has changed from the initial assessment, so it’s about the same. We won’t really know until he aggressively ramps up activity. We don’t expect it to be much less than the four weeks that was initially talked about.

Q: What will the rotation be coming out of the break?

CA: We have a sense of it. The first two will be: Trevor will start on Friday and Kluber will start the first game of the double header. After that, we’re not quite ready to disclose yet.

Q: How would you assess the rotation?

CA: It’s still in flux a little bit. We feel we have a good, talented group of guys who are capable of excelling at the major league level. We just need to get a little more consistency out of them. Individually, we’ve seen a lot of progress from a lot of the guys. The first half that Corey [Kluber] had was an All-Star caliber first half. Trevor [Bauer] has made strides. T.J. House came up and contributed. [Saturday] was an encouraging start for Zach [McAllister]. We need to get Masty back on track.

Q: Is the rotation something you’re looking to address through trades?

CA: Potentially. We’re exploring all avenues to improve. The one thing we continue to believe is we have quality major league starting pitchers. Anytime you acquire a guy, you have to think about who it displaces from the team and the rotation, in that case. You have to have a high degree of confidence that it’s an improvement.

Q: What would you like to see in the second half?

CA: Consistency, overall. First and foremost, with our defense. That’s been our one area that has been most challenging for us in the first half. If you were to ask anyone in the clubhouse, that’s the area we feel we have the most opportunity to improve, because we feel we’re a better defensive team than we’ve [shown].

Q: Is that the hardest one to explain?

CA: It is. It’s not for a lack of work. You guys are out there and you see guys taking ground balls and working at it. Guys that have been good defenders in the past, too.

Q: What did you see from Chris Dickerson that made you want to acquire him?

CA: He’s a left-handed hitter with some success against right-handed pitching. A versatile outfielder who can play all three [positions], so he was a guy we felt could complement our team well, especially once we lost Michael [Bourn].

Q: Have you had your eye on him for a while?

CA: We talked about him as a free agent this winter. Ultimately, the way things came together, we didn’t have those at-bats to commit to him in Triple-A or as a major league opportunity, because the way our outfield was set up, we already had three left-handed-hitting outfielders that were going to get a lot of at-bats, with [Bourn], [Brantley] and [David] Murphy. But we had interest in him. We didn’t have the right fit at the right time.

Q: Is there anything new with Nyjer [Morgan] and his timeline?

CA: He got a second opinion last week. We’re still in the process of gathering information from that. All accounts are that they concur with the opinion of our medical personnel. It’s going to be a while. Whether that ends up being at some point in August or September or the end of the season, we really don’t know yet.

Q: So, longer than initially projected?

CA: Probably. The recovery from his knee has been a little bit on the slower end of what was expected, but we don’t have a clear timetable at this point.

Q: What have your impressions been of Brantley?

CA: He’s been really inconsistent. He hasn’t been very good in the first half. Nothing good to say about him. No, it’s been really fun to watch Michael’s continued development. It’s not an accident he’s having the success he’s having. The work he puts in every day to improve himself as a player, it’s evident to all of us who get to watch it. It’s fun to see all the work you put in pay off on the field, in terms of performance. He’s remarkably consistent in everything he does. His at-bats, every time up, he gives a quality at-bat, whether it ends up as a good result or not, it’s a quality at-bat. He takes great pride in preparing and playing left field as well as he does. His arm has been a weapon and has continued to improve over the years. There’s really not a facet of the game where Michael hasn’t improved or an area where he doesn’t contribute. He does all the things you’re looking for in a player and a teammate and a person.

Q: How rewarding is it to lock up a guy to a long-term extension, and then he demonstrates why you committed to him?

CA: You’re always hopeful that’s the case. Different players react to it differently. Whether or not that’s had an impact on Michael, that’s probably a better question for him. But it’s been his continued maturation as a player. That’s why we felt comfortable making that investment, is because we believe so strongly in the person and his approach to things. He’s rewarded that by the effort he’s put in to continue to improve and not rest upon what he did in the past. It’s been fun to see how that’s translated this year and the results he’s showed.

Q: During the spring, you said wanted to distribute the quotes from his press conference to the Minor Leaguers. Did you guys follow through on that?

CA: Yeah, we did.

Q: What do you make of [Ryan] Raburn’s first half?

CA: He’s had a tough time getting it going so far. He was coming off a pretty good spring, where he was swinging the bat pretty well. Once the season started, he had a tough time getting back into the rhythm he was in last year. He’s another guy who works really hard. He’s in there with [both hitting coaches] every day trying to get his swing a little more consistent and translate that to success on the field.

Q: Speaking of maturation, what’s it been like to see Lonnie Chisenhall’s growth this year, especially with how he bought into his role early on?

CA: That process started probably last year. I remember a few conversations Tito had with Lonnie and talked about expectations and how Tito envisioned him contributing to the team. I think that process started last year, carried forward in the winter and then Lonnie came into Spring Training really on a mission. And that was to do everything he could in his power to prepare himself for success and then find some way to contribute to helping the team win the game that night. I think we’ve seen it not only with his at-bats, but if you watch him run the bases right now, he’s arguably one of our best baserunners. He may not be the fastest guy on the team, but he’s very attentive. He looks advanced on dirt balls, he runs first-to-third well. So, to see his continued evolution and development as a player has been really fun to see. Again, it’s not coincidentally. It’s because of the work that Lonnie’s put in to do that.

Q: Is Nick Swisher making good progress?

CA: He is. It looks like his at-bats have improved, I think, over the last few weeks. They’ve become a little bit more consistent. I think we’ve seen, even though he hasn’t always had results, he’s starting to use the whole field a little bit more. He’s had some hard outs to left field and left-center field, hitting left-handed, meaning he’s going the other way a little bit with authority, which has been encouraging to see. Hopefully, he’s heading in the right direction.

Q: Are his knees still a factor?

CA: They were earlier. I think they’re starting to feel better now. Hopefully, that trend continues.

Q: Was the move to put Jason Giambi on the 60-day DL on Saturday more based on being able to add a player to the 40-man roster?

CA: It was. It was to add Nick to the 40-man, but G’s not quite yet to the point where he’s ready to be activated. So, that was the move that made the most sense for us.

Q: Francisco Lindor was moved up to Double-A around the All-Star break last year. Would you consider a similar path this year with moving him up to Triple-A?

CA: It could. It’s something that we’re thinking through right now. I think our focus is trying to really understand and think through what the best developmental environment for Francisco, and there are a lot of things that go into that. A promotion to Triple-A could be something we consider in the second half.

Q: What have you thought of his steady development at each level?

CA: He has. Every step along the way, Francisco continues to get better. It’s especially impressive when you consider he’s always been and continues to be one of the youngest players at his level. That continues to be the case, but he’s a guy that, again, puts in the work and tries to get better in every facet of his game. Whether it’s hitting left-handed, hitting right-handed, his defensive play, on the bases, he’s constantly trying to get better and be the best in all those aspects of the game. He takes such great pride in being a good player.

Q: It sounds like Danny Salazar has been throwing better at Triple-A?

CA: He has. He’s in a much better spot now than he was earlier in the year. His delivery is much more consistent and in line with where it was in the second half. Now, what we’re trying to do is have him repeat those mechanics not only from outing to outing, but inning to inning and pitch to pitch. And, when he starts to veer off, make sure he has enough awareness to regain it quickly, rather than it taking 15, 20, 25 pitches or waiting until his side session after the game to try to address it. He’s made a lot of progress and we’re expecting him to be a big part in contributing in the second half.

Q: Did his fast rise last season possibly throw off his development?

CA: He’s still young and inexperienced. The start of this season was the first time he had any adversity since he came back from the injury. So, he had to work through things and he had to figure out, once things went off the path, how he and we could help him correct those more quickly. I think Danny’s learned a lot about himself going through this process. Hopefully, it’ll allow him to be more consistent moving forward.

Q: Jason Kipnis has been hitting better and stealing bases more lately, but is there a way to explain his drop-off in power production?

CA: It’s probably a better question for Kip. Obviously, he had the oblique injury earlier in the year, which may have affected things. But, I’m not sure that’s still an issue. I think for Kip, it’s just continuing to put the barrel on the ball. I think we’ve seen him do that more consistently over the last few weeks, and using the whole field. When Kip’s at his best, he’s the guy using the whole field and hitting a lot of balls into the left-center and right-center field gaps. I think we’re starting to see signs of him getting back to that point.

Q: Any thought of Carlos Carrasco moving back to rotation?

CA: I think that would be more dictated based upon the situation of our rotation and who our alternatives were there. But, we’ve been really pleased and encouraged by the progress Carlos has made in the bullpen. He’s excelled in that role. We continue to think that, if there was an opportunity to start and we had a need, he potentially could go and succeed in that role. But, right now, he’s played a meaningful role in the bullpen and that’s where we viewhis best fit at the moment.

Q: Why do you think he’s been so good as a reliever and struggled as a starter over the past two years?

CA: Again, it’s probably a better question for Carlos, because I think his stuff is the same. I think the thing we’ve tried to encourage with him is, ‘Have that same approach.’ When [he]s] in the bullpen, he kind of let’s it go, doesn’t have to worry about, ‘OK, how am I going to get this guy out three times or four times? I just need to get him out once.’ So, he he kind of has all-out intensity from the first pitch and he doesn’t have to worry about conserving anything. And I think as a starter, you have those four days to prepare and then, on your start day, you’re thinking not only, ‘OK, I need to get three outs or six outs, but I need to get 21 outs or 18 outs.’ That’s potentially a lot more challenging.

Q: If you make any additions from outside, is there one area of the team that really needs to improve?

CA: It’s actually one of the interesting challenges that we have. I think there are teams out there that have glaring holes at particular spots, that it’s clear, ‘Hey, go out and get a right fielder, or go out and get a third baseman, or a shortstop.’ I think with us, we’re in a little bit of a different position in that we’ve got guys in those roles that are capable of contributing. So, for us to improve, we need to improve upon a higher standard. And, in some cases, we’re counting on guys that we’ve already made commitments to rebounding. So, it’s a little bit of a different dynamic for us as we look to try to improve our roster.

Q: How do you feel about how Francona has handled the playing time and positions situation with Chisenhall, Swisher and Carlos Santana?

CA: He’s done an extraordinary job of managing the entirety of the roster — not just that component of it — because there have been a lot of different moving parts. At different times, we’ve had a lot of different transactions and player moves. It’s been incredible, the way he’s handled that. His primary focus, he’s always thinking about, ‘How do I put players in a position to be successful?’ He spends a lot of time thinking about that. He talks with his coaches about it and he talks with players themselves, too, so they have an understanding of what he expects of them and why he thinks this is the best direction to go.

Q: Given all the turnover in the offseason, has the bullpen been a pleasant surprise?

CA: Coming into the year we thought we had a lot of talent in the bullpen and had some depth there, not only because of the guys coming in externally, but some of the guys we had internally, both those at the Major League level and guys we felt were on the immediate horizon at Triple-A. So, it’s been good to see that group perform so well together. I don’t think you ever expect things to go perfectly as planned. You know there are going to be guys who exceed your expectations, guys that kind of meet your expectations and other guys that may fall short of that. When those guys fall short, that’s when you need to make some adjustments. We’ve been fortunate that we’ve got a group out there that’s really performed well.

Q: Do you think Santana has found a home at first base? It looks like the work he put into third base coming into this year has translated across the diamond. Is first where you see him going forward?

CA: I think that’s one of the great things about Carlos and why he’s so valuable. In addition to being a switch-hitter that can hit in the middle of the lineup, he’s more athletic than it may first appear or for a typical catcher. We think he’s capable of not only catching, but playing first base, third base. Shoot, if we had a need in the outfield, I wouldn’t rule out that he could go out there and play. But I do think we’ve seen the benefit of his work at third base translate into how it’s helped him as a defender at first. He’s actually played really well over there, an above-average first base.

Q: You’re still referring to him as a catcher?

CA: He’s very versatile. His most recent bulk of experience had been as a catcher coming into this year, so we wouldn’t rule that out.

Q: So, you don’t see his days as a catcher being over?

CA: We’re not making any sort of declarative decisions on that. I think with the way our roster is currently constituted, we obviously have a backup catcher here that’s going to fill that role. But, if circumstances change, we’d revisit things. He certainly has the skills to be a very good catcher and he’s demonstrated that over the last three or four years.

Q: Given what Roberto Perez went through last year, what have you thought of not only his comeback, but the season he’s had this year?

CA: Yeah, Roberto, when you think back a year ago and some of the things he was having to deal with that he tried to persevere through, the Bell’s palsy he had and not being able really to close his eye or sleep at night, he was trying to everything he could to manage it with his eyes. He perservered through that, continued to work, made some adjustments actually with his swing. Last year, he started those, continued those this spring with Ty and that’s led to a very productive first half. He’s always been an extraordinary defensive player. He’s a great receiver, good arm strength, quick release. Now, for him to continue to develop and evolve into a player we feel can also contribute offensively, it’s been one of the more exciting stories in the organization, and fulfilling, because of how hard Roberto’s worked at it.

Q: What did he change with his swing?

CA: It gets somewhat technical, but he’s tried to get into a more athletic position for him. His setup’s a little bit different. His hand position is a little bit different, but it’s freed him up to be a little bit more athletic and use the whole field.

Q: Did you consider placing him on the DL last year? Did he insist on playing?

CA: It was hard, because he was able to play through it, but Bell’s palsy, you just need time for it to get back and there’s no clear timeframe and there’s no way to really expedite it. Roberto had to let it run its course. We talked about it with him and he wanted to continue to try to play.


Covering the Bases: Game 93

AdamsFinal: White Sox 6, Indians 2

FIRST: The Indians were trailing by one run in the ninth inning on Saturday. Due to hit for the White Sox were the Nos. 5-7 batters: Dayan Viciedo, Conor Gillaspie and Gordon Beckham. In Cleveland’s bullpen, rookie Austin Adams was awaiting his first taste of The Show.

It was at this crucial juncture that Tribe manager Terry Francona decided to hand the ball to the 27-year-old Adams, who was called up from Triple-A Columbus on Friday. The righty had dominated with the Clippers and Cleveland wanted to get a look at him before the All-Star break.

The decision to debut Adams backfired.

“What I didn’t want to do is let him go until next week without pitching,” Francona explained. “[Sunday] is our last game before the break and you’ve got to figure Cody [Allen] or [Bryan] Shaw are going to pitch. So, we had the bottom of the order and it was a clearn inning, and it didn’t work very well.”

Adams surrendered a leadoff single (Viciedo) before giving up back-to-back doubles to Gillaspie and Beckham. The right-hander then induced a groundout to Tyler Flowers before being pulled from the contest. Needless to say — with his parents, grandfather and girlfriend in the stands — this was not what Adams had in mind.

“First time, you get a taste of it,” Adams said. “The results weren’t there, but you can only go up from there.”

It’s easy to see why Adams, who was admittedly nervous, is prominent on Cleveland’s radar. The right-hander showed off a fastball that sat in the 96-98 mph range and also displayed an 86-mph slider. At Triple-A this year, he had a 2.29 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 35 strikeouts against eight walks in 39.1 innings. He missed all of 2012 after shoulder surgery, returned as a reliever, and has posted a 2.48 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 3.00 K:BB with 111 strikeouts in 94.1 innings over the ’13-14 campaigns.

Not to pile on the poor kid here, but it was the first time since Aug. 5, 2001, that an Indians reliever allowed at least three runs and three hits in his Major League debut. Mike Bacsik went six innings in that game, though. You have to go back to Sept. 20, 1946, to find that last Cleveland reliever (Ray Flanigan) who allowed at least three runs and three hits in his debut. For no more than one-third of an inning, you have to go all the way back to Sept. 21, 1922, when Doc Hamann’s name pops up. That said, Doc didn’t record an out.

“It was good to get the first out of my big-league career,” Adams said with a shrug. “It’s going to get better.”

SECOND: Today’s tip o’ the cap goes to Indians starter Zach McAllister, who gave his team seven solid innings. The big righty induced 13 outs via grounder, scattered four hits, allowed three runs and ended with two strikeouts and a pair of walks. In his first start in the Majors since May 21, McAllister looked fine. He was effective with his fastball and took a hard-luck loss due to a lack of run support.

“I was extremely happy with it,” said McAllister, who gave up 18 runs on 18 hits and toiled through 182 pitches across 7.2 innings in his previous three big league starts. “It’s kind of what I had in mind and was hoping I was able to accomplish. Obviously, it would’ve been a lot better if we were able to get the ‘W.’ We didn’t today, but again, it’s a good step in the right direction.”

THIRD: Cleveland’s offense went mostly quiet on Saturday, especially against White Sox righty Scott Carroll, who blanked the Tribe over five innings before exiting with a back injury. The Tribe’s two runs came courtesy of a bases-loaded walk from Jason Kipnis in the seventh and a solo homer from All-Star Michael Brantley in the eighth. With that shot, Brantley tied his dad Mickey’s single-season career best of 15 (set in 1988 with the Mariners). It seems fair to say Junior will have the family bragging rights.

“I just put the barrel on the ball as much as possible,” Brantley said. “I’m not a home run hitter. I put good swings on the ball and whatever happens after is out of my control.”

HOME: You know who is a home run hitter? Jose Bleepin’ Abreu. He launched a two-run homer down the right-field line in the fourth inning off McAllister, giving him five this season against Cleveland. Abreu now has 29 homers, 50 extra-base hits and 73 RBIs in the first half. The Indians have never had a player reach those plateaus in a first half. The White Sox have only had one other hitter do so — some guy named Frank Thomas in 1994. In baseball’s long, storied history, Abreu is the first first-year player to reach those milestones in a first half.

“He’s obviously very dangerous,” Francona said. “That’s probably the understatement of the year.”

On deck:

White Sox (45-50) at Indians (46-47)
at 1:05 p.m. ET on Sunday at Progressive Field


Covering the Bases: Game 92

SwisherFinal: Indians 7, White Sox 4

FIRST: Let’s not go as far as declaring that Nick Swisher is back, but the Indians can at least take some comfort in the fact that it looks like he is returning to form as the All-Star break approaches.

Energy has been Swisher’s signature over the year and it’s fair to say that attribute has been picking up again lately. Prior to Friday’s win, Swish expressed excitement over the return of LeBron James and the things happening for Cleveland. During the game, he provided a go-ahead, two-run home run.

Brohio was back in business for at least one day.

“Regardless of the situation right there,” Swisher said of his momentum-swinging at-bat in the fifth inning, “I just wanted to come through in that spot. I didnt necessarily want to try to hit a home run.”

Over his past 10 games, Swisher has launched three homers and collected 11 RBIs. Prior to that stretch, it took 27 games for the first baseman/DH to have as many as 11 RBIs (he had 12 in that span to go along with a .177 average in 96 at-bats. In the more recent 10-game stretch, Swish has hit .297 (11-for-37). There’s still the matter of the seven-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio, but Cleveland will happily accept the run production.

Now, the goal for Swisher will be to carry this personal momentum through the final two games and hope it holds beyond the break. At the moment, he is just savoring feeling healthier (“I think DHing, taking a little break, not being out there all game, letting my knee rest a little bit, has been awesome.”) and coming up with more big hits.

“I almost felt like I should take some powder and just throw it up in the air,” Swisher beamed about his home run.

Swisher spoke about LeBron’s return to the Cavs prior to Friday’s game and was asked if he felt that development might negatively impact the Tribe’s attendance. Unsolicited, Swisher revisited that topic following the Indians’ win.

Being a competitor of the Cavs is not something Swisher has in mind. He hopes fans in Cleveland will embrace all three teams in what is an exciting time for the city.

“Absolutely plenty,” said Swisher, referring to the fanbase. “I think that a lot of people take a lot of pride in all three aspects of baseball, football, basketball. Just the excitement level for us right now, even in here in this locker room, is just amazing. I know everybody outside this stadium is absolutely super stoked about what’s to come, and so are we.”

Call him an optimist, but Swisher has been a proud supporter of Cleveland (“It’s hot in the 2-1-6 right now!” he exclaimed before the game) since he signed with the club prior to last season. Say what you will about his contract, or his inconsistent production, but Swisher’s arrival helped pave the way for the success experienced by the Indians over the past two seasons, especially during last summer’s Wild Card run.

“Kind of with the way things are going right now,” Swisher said, “it kind of feels like we’re getting that attitude back, that confidence back and all aspects of the game — offensively, defensively. It’s been a lot of fun.”

SECOND: Instant replay helped the Indians avoid being no-hit by the Dodgers earlier this season. It’s also helped Cleveland turn a triple play. On Thursday, replay rewarded rookie Roberto Perez with his first Major League home run.

This time around, instant replay gave Cleveland second life and fueled a game-changing rally.

“Obviously you like it,” Indians manager Terry Francona said, “especially when it helps you. But I do think it’s in place for the right reasons.”

With two outs in the fifth inning, Asdrubal Cabrera attempted a steal of second base. Cabrera was ruled out, but replays showed that Chicago shortstop Alexei Ramirez actually missed the tag. After a challenge by Francona, the call was overturned with a review. The Indians took full advantage, too.

“Calls like that can really kind of turn a game around,” Swisher said. “So, rather than just assuming that a call’s right, we’re making sure they’re absolutely right.”

Lonnie Chisenhall followed with an RBI single that pulled the game into a 4-4 deadlock. That is when Swisher stepped to the plate and launched the go-ahead, two-run home run to dead center field. The Indians did not look back, making the replay review a critical moment in the contest.

THIRD: Right-hander Corey Kluber did not win the American League’s All-Star Final Vote, finishing fourth in balloting that ended on Thursday. One day later, Kluber wasn’t his sharpest, but still managed to gut his way through six innings for Cleveland.

“Location wasn’t that great,” said Kluber, who gave up four runs on eight hits and ended with five strikeouts against two walks. “But, the important thing was that we got a win. The offense did a good job. They would bounce right back and score and answer. Then the bullpen came in and shut them down.”

Kluber gave up two runs in the top of the second, and the Indians answered with two in the bottom half. He allowed one in the fourth, and the offense scored one of their own in the same frame. The White Sox plated one off Kluber in the fifth, and then the Indians had their three-run burst in the same inning to pave the way to the win.

Francona liked seeing that kind of fight and support.

“Klubes didn’t have his sharpest stuff tonight,” Francona said. “They had a lot of hits early, but we kept answering. If you’re going to be down, coming back’s important.”

HOME: Let’s take a moment to tip the ol’ cap to Good Guy David Murphy, who belted a two-run home run in the second inning for Cleveland. That marked Murphy’s first home run since May 21, when he was batting .294 with five home runs and 30 RBIs through his first 43 games (143 at-bats). In the 41 games following that solid start, Murphy hit .190 with no homers and just 12 RBIs in 142 at-bats. His 1-for-3, two-RBI showing on Friday was a welcomed sight for the Tribe.

On deck:

White Sox (44-50) at Indians (46-46)
at 3:05 p.m. ET Saturday at Progressive Field


Covering the Bases: Game 91

PerezFinal: Indians 9, Yankees 3

FIRST: You know the famous line from “The Natural.” Roy Hobbs heads out of the batter’s box, stops at the bat boy, looks down at him and says those six words that led to baseball movie magic.

“Pick me out a winner, Bobby.”

On Thursday night in Cleveland, the Indians tweaked the storyline a bit. In need of a bat in the eighth inning, rookie Roberto Perez headed back to the dugout, searched for a strip of lumber and saw Asdrubal Cabrera.

“Pick me out a winner, Cabby.”

Hey, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Perez did break his bat in the eighth inning. He actually broke both of the bats he had readily available to him in his Major League debut. With a runner on second base and one out, the first-year catcher was scrambling as the umpire waited to get the game restarted.

“He was a little flustered,” Indians manager Terry Francona said

Enter Cabrera.

“Cabrera just gave me his,” Perez said. “It was a lighter bat than I use.”

It did the job, though not without even more drama involved. Perez lifted the next pitch, a 3-2 fastball from Yankees reliever Jim Miller, deep to left field. The ball hit off the top of the 19-foot wall, caromed off the railing and headed back into play. Perez was given an RBI double, but Francona jogged to the field to see if the umps would check where the ball landed on replay. The crew obliged and — after more than two minutes — the call was overturned.

Perez had his first Major League home run in his big league debut.

“The home run was unbelievable,” Indians outfielder Chris Dickerson said. “I told him, ‘Could you have picked a more dramatic home run for your first time? With the replay and all that?’ It was pretty cool.”

Perez smiled when asked about the stressful wait out at second base.

“I didn’t know,” Perez said. “As soon as I hit it, I thought I hit it well, but we had to wait. It was crazy. I still can’t believe it, man. It was awesome to be out there with these guys. That was a great moment.”

Perez — promoted from Triple-A Columbus on Tuesday to be the Tribe’s new backup catcher — wasn’t even supposed to start on Thursday. The baseball gods saw fit to move his first big league start up by forcing the Indians and Yankees to play a 14-inning contest on Wednesday night. Yan Gomes caught every frame for Cleveland. So, in order to give Gomes a rest, the 25-year-old Perez learned that he’d be behind the plate on Thursday.

Naturally, lefty T.J. House, who has been a teammate of Perez’s for several years in the Minor Leagues, was on the mound for the Indians.

“It was awesome,” House said. “I’ve played with him since 2008, every level. This is the final little stop, I guess you could say. It’s just awesome. I’m very proud of him. He’s a good ballplayer and I’m glad he’s getting the ability to show off the talent he has.”

In the win, Perez went 2-for-3 with the home run, a single, two runs scored and two RBIs. He is the first Cleveland batter to have at least one homer, one walk, two hits and two RBIs in his first career game since 1959 (Gene Leek). Perez is only the ninth Major League player in the past 100 seasons to have that line in his first career game. The previous player to do so was Eduardo Perez (Angels) in 1993. Perez is the first Indians hitter to belt a homer in his MLB debut since 2006 (Kevin Kouzmanoff).

SECOND: Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis finished the night 3-for-4 with one walk, two runs and two stolen bases for the Indians. In doing so, Kipnis tied a franchise record (done 18 times by 12 players) with three consecutive multi-hit games that include at least one stolen base. Omar Vizquel last achieved the feat in 1998. Others on the list include Kenny Lofton (four times), Miguel Dilone (three times), Brett Butler (twice), Julio Franco, Tris Speaker and Ray Chapman, among others.

Kipnis actually has seven hits and five stolen bases in his past three games. Over his past 15 games, Kipnis has hit .323 (19-for-62) with six extra-base hits and 12 runs scored. He has no home runs and only two RBIs in that span, but the positive side has included the high average, solid speed numbers and eight multi-hit games.

“Not that I don’t care what his batting average is,” Francona said, “but there’s so much trust in Kip that he’ll be there. His  presence, wherever he hits in the lineup, his ability to run the bases — that’s a given with me. Just let him go play. He’ll figure it out. ”

THIRD: There was plenty of offense squeezed into this one. Or, more specifically, into the seventh and eighth innings (nine runs on 10 hits combined). Cabrera had a three-run triple, Michael Brantley had two RBIs (one on a sac fly and another on a single), Perez had his replay-assisted home run and Carlos Santana had a two-run shot of his own. Outfielder Chris Dickerson also chipped in three hits in the win.

Cleveland acquired Dickerson on Monday to help the depth after the Indians lost Michael Bourn (possibly for a month) to another left hamstring injury. All he’s done since coming up from Triple-A Indy to the Tribe is go 7-for-15 at the plate. His three-hit showing on Thursday tied a career best for hits and Dickerson scored twice.

“That’s what you hope for,” Dickerson said. “It’s one thing just to come in and get settled in the clubhouse and just getting acclimated to the ballpark, the schedule, all that stuff. But, coming in and contributing is a huge deal. I’m just fortunate. I’ve been in this position before. I know just to kind of take it easy and not try to do too much in making a first impression with a new team. So, I’ve kind of just sat back, relaxed and I’m trying to make hard contact — that’s it. Keep things simple.”

HOME: The Indians bullpen played a key role in this game, which felt like two tilts wrapped in one. House (4.2 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 5 K, 1 HR, 1 HBP) wasn’t particularly sharp, though it’s fair to note that a handful of defensive miscues did not help him along. After House was pulled following 94 rocky pitches, Cleveland’s reliable relief corps stepped in with 4.1 shutout frames. The Indians bullpen has now given up just one earned run over its last 22.1 innings.

“Our bullpen came in and kept the score where it was,” Francona said.

On deck:

White Sox (44-49) at Indians (45-46)
at 7:05 p.m. ET Friday at Progressive Field


Covering the Bases: Game 90

PestanoFinal: Yankees 5, Indians 4 (14 innings)

FIRST: When a game is lost in extra innings, it is easier to blame the bullpen for the missteps that lead directly to defeat. On Wednesday night, Yankees center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury launched the go-ahead, decisive homer off Vinnie Pestano in the 14th inning. Ballgame.

Even with that finish, we’re not going to spend a whole lot of time second-guessing tonight (or this morning, rather). Cleveland’s relief corps had worked pristinely while pressed into extra duty this whole series, up until the ill-fated 0-2 offering that left Pestano’s right hand.

We’ll get to Vinnie P. in a moment, but let’s take a moment first to tip the ol’ cap to the Tribe’s bullpen.

“They’ve been doing it all year, from what I’ve seen,” Indians starter Josh Tomlin said. “They continue to keep doing it. They kept us in the game and did a great job.”

The home run allowed by Pestano actually ended an impressive run of 18 consecutive scoreless innings for Cleveland’s relievers. Sixteen of those innings came in the first three games in this series against New York. That will happen when a starter (Justin Masterson) lasts only two innings on Monday and Wednesday’s game includes two “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” sing-alongs.

Take a look at the work of the rotation vs. bullpen in this series:

Rotation: 16 IP, 18 H, 12 R/11 ER, 5 BB, 12 K, 6.19 ERA, 1.44 WHIP
Bullpen: 16 IP, 10 H, 1 R/ER, 3 BB, 18 K, 0.56 ERA, 0.81 WHIP

In the loss to the Yankees, Scott Atchison, Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen followed Tomlin’s seven innings with one frame apiece. John Axford then went 1.1 innings and Marc Rzepczynski logged two. Pestano finished the 14th inning, when the relief corps finally flinched.

“They did great,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “Get into a game like that and you’re playing at home, so you always feel like you have an advantage. Everything went pretty much right. Cody pitched out of a little bit of a bind, everybody else really came in and did what they’re supposed to. Vinnie got ahead of Ellsbury 0-2 and tried to bury a breaking ball and left it over. And that’s the game.”

SECOND: This does, however, bring us to the timing of Pestano’s appearance.

Since the right-hander has come back up from Triple-A Columbus, Francona has limited him almost exclusively to facing righties. Including Wednesday’s outing, Pestano has held right-handers to a .208 (5-for-24) average, while lefties have torched him at a .583 (7-for-12) clip. While at Triple-A, Pestano gave up a .314 average to lefties and limited righties to a .125 mark. Entering Wednesday, Pestano had 15 at-bats against righties and only two against lefties since his return on June 20.

“We try to use him against as many righties as we can,” Francona said, “just because we’ve been so successful against them. When you get in a game like this, you really can’t pick and choose too much. I wanted to get him through [Derek] Jeter and it didn’t work.”
Francona was referring to the fact that, when he pulled the left-handed Rzepczynski with one out in the 14th, New York had two right-handed batters (Brendan Ryan and Jeter) sandwiched around the left-handed Ellsbury. Pestano got Ryan to fly out to right field and then he worked Ellsbury into an 0-2 count. That is when Pestano turned to his slider.

“I was trying to back-foot it — just didn’t get it there,” Pestano said. “When you throw a pitch like that to a hitter like that, you need to get it down. It just didn’t get there and he did what he gets paid to do. I can’t make that mistake in that situation. But, can’t take it back — just got to learn from it.

“Lefties throughout my whole career have always seen me better. It’s just one of those things, I had him 0-2, I was in control of the at-bat, I made a mistake and he hit it out. I just needed to execute better.”

Pestano followed with a strikeout of Jeter. The home run was actually the first run allowed by Pestano since his promotion back to the big leagues. He entered the 14th-inning appearance with a 0.00 ERA, .176 opponents’ average, seven strikeouts, no walks and no extra-base hits allowed in five innings back in the Tribe’s bullpen.

THIRD: Tomlin did give the Indians seven innings and it would’ve been a strong performance had Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira not been in the lineup. Tex launched two homers off the right-hander — a solo shot in the fourth and a two-run blast in a three-run fifth.

I just made a few mistakes to one hitter and paid for it,” Tomlin said. “For me, I’m just trying to stay away, show him in when you need to and stay back away. He kind of dives a lot, so he likes the ball middle or out on the outside part of the plate. But, you can kind of get him, if you keep the ball away on him for the most part, he can roll over some pitches.

“I just left two pitches kind of over the middle of the plate and that’s what he did with it. The curveball [for the first homer] just wasn’t executed. It wasn’t down low enough. And the fastball [for the second homer], I tried to get away, just leaked over the middle of the plate.”

Tomlin has now given up 13 home runs in 13 appearances this season. In the no-decision against the Yankees, he ended with five strikeouts, no walks, eight hits scattered, four runs surrendered and 96 pitches (72 strikes).

“I thought he was really good,” Francona said of Tomlin. “The first home run to Teixeira was a breaking ball down that I thought was a good pitch. After he gave up that one to him he stayed away with it and a fastball came back up over the plate for the two-run homer. He’s going give up some hits. He spread them out a little bit.
“Teixeira got him twice. That accounted for three of the runs. Josh will never back down, that’s not an issue.”

HOME: Some of the offensive highlights — Nick Swisher had two hits and two RBIs, giving him nine RBIs in his past eight games for Cleveland. He’s hit .276 with three extra-base hits over that span as well. … Lonnie Chisenhall finally surpassed the required plate-appearance benchmark to qualify for the batting race. That said, he went 0-for-5 and has seen his average drop from .393 to .325 in his past 22 games. … Michael Brantley went 1-for-6 and is tied with Chisenhall with a .325 average on the season. They are tied for fourth overall in the American League. … Jason Kipnis, Asdrubal Cabrera and Chris Dickerson also had multi-hit games for the Indians. … All of this said, the team went 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position, stranding 11 runners along the way. In the 10th, Cleveland had a prime chance to collect a walk-off win after former Tribe pitcher David Huff walked the bases loaded with one out. Against Shawn Kelley, Swisher struck out and David Murphy grounded out to end the promising rally.

Wednesday’s links:

On deck:

Yankees (46-44) at Indians (44-46)
at 7:05 p.m. ET on Thursday at Progressive Field


Covering the Bases: Game 89


BrantleyFinal: Indians 5, Yankees 3

FIRST: Nick Swisher’s eyes lit up when Michael Brantley’s name was mentioned on Tuesday night. And, why not? Cleveland’s lone guaranteed All-Star had himself a night against Yankees righty Masahiro Tanaka.

Then again, Brantley’s been having himself lots of nights in his breakout first-half showing.

“Dr. Smooth is doing it, man,” Swisher said. “He’s just a pro hitter. That’s all there is to it.”

All Brantley did against Tanaka, who entered the evening 12-3 with a 2.27 ERA, was go 3-for-4 with one home run, two doubles and three RBIs. Brantley became the first hitter to collect three extra-base hits in the same game against New York’s All-Star starter.

Of course, multi-hit games are becoming the norm for the good doctor. According to the Indians, Brantley’s team-high 30 multi-hit games makes him the first Cleveland hitter since 2006 (Grady Sizemore) to have at least that many multi-hit affairs within the club’s first 89 games.

Against Tanaka, Brantley pulled a double down the right-field line in the first, slashed a pitch down the left-field line for a double in the fifth and launched a homer to right-center in the seventh. Brantley joined Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox and Luis Valbuena of the Cubs (yes, you read that right) as the only players with three hits in one game against the pitcher this season.

“I really just tried to get mistake pitches,” Brantley said. “Balls out over the plate. Splits that didn’t go all the way down. I was just trying to get him up [in the zone]. I was lucky enough to get a couple balls out over the plate and put some good swings on it.”

Easier said than done, of course.

Dating back to May 1, Brantley has hit .359 (83-for-231) with 10 homers, 28 extra-base hits, 40 RBIs and 46 runs scored in 58 games. With his showing on Tuesday, he’s now hitting .369 with runners in scoring position, .438 with RISP and less than two outs and .278 with RISP and two outs. Overall, Brantley has hit .328 with 14 homers, 37 extra-base hits and 60 RBIs through 85 games.

Brantley and Angels outfielder Mike Trout are the only two players in the Majors right now with at least a .300 average, 35 extra-base hits, 60 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. Over the past 100 seasons, only one Indians player has hit those marks in the first half: Roberto Alomar in 1999. That’s some good company that Brantley is keeping right there.

“Even the outs he makes are good outs,’ Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer said. “He has good at-bats. It’s almost like a sigh of relief when he gets to the plate. It’s like ‘OK, Brantley’s at the plate, we’re in a good spot.'”

SECOND: The hope for the Indians would be to once again experience the same feeling when Swisher is in the batter’s box. Well, in Tuesday’s win, he belted a two-run home run off Tanaka in the sixth inning to put Cleveland ahead for good.

Over his past seven games, Swisher has hit .261 (6-for-23) with two homers, one double, seven RBIs, two walks and 10 strikeouts. Is that a great showing? Not by any means. What it is, though, is possibly a positive stepping stone for a hitter batting .198 on the season. It’s the first time this season that Swisher has at least seven RBIs in a seven-game span.

“I really kind of feel like things are really kind of turning the corner for me, man,” said Swisher, who has two homers in as many games. “I need to clean up my defensive game, for sure. But, on the offensive end, things are really kind of turning in the right direction for me.”

You’ll note that Swisher — unsolicited, I’ll add — brought up his defense at first base. In the fifth inning, Swisher let a ball go through his wickets for his ninth official miscue of the season. It was one of three errors on the night for the Tribe, but fortunately for the club, Swisher’s did not lead to a run.

THIRD: The main reason that Cleveland’s three errors did not bite the team more than they could have was the solid effort from Bauer. The right-hander weathered some early command issues, along with two errors within the first three innings, and pieced together seven strong frames opposite Tanaka.

Bauer’s pitches by inning looked like this: 25-17-25-12-8-11-14

Across the first three innings, Bauer logged 39 strikes within 67 pitches for a 58-percent strike rate. Across his final four frames, he registered 32 strikes within 45 pitches for a rate of 71 percent. Bauer also began hitting 96-97 mph by the third inning and held the velocity throughout the outing. After giving up a single to Ichiro Suzuki in the second, Bauer gave up one hit to the final 21 batters he faced.

“It was the same game plan the whole time,” Bauer said. “I was just better able to execute it. It takes me a little while to get comfortable in the game situation. So when I did get comfortable, my velocity picked up a little bit, my stuff a little bit sharper and I was able to locate better.”

Francona liked what he saw from Bauer as the game progressed.

“It seemed like after about his 70th pitch, he had another gear,” Francona said. “I’m sure then, once he starts throwing that fastball where he wants to with probably a little added velocity, then you’re starting to see confidence. They have to respect it more and then he starts flipping the breaking ball in there. It just kind of goes hand in hand.

“I think that’s a good sign. I mean, you’d love to see a guy come out and put up zeros right off the bat, but I still think it’s a good sign that he’s into the seventh inning and it looked like that was his best inning. I think that really speaks volumes. You see a lot of good pitchers that have that quality.”

HOME: Indians third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall went 1-for-3 with a single and walk in four plate appearances on Tuesday, giving him a .332 average on the season. It also gave him 275 plate appearances, which is just under the 275.9 required (3.1 pate appearances per 89 team games) to qualify for the American League batting race. If Chisenhall reaches four PA’s on Wednesday, look for him on the AL batting leaderboard on Thursday morning. Right now, he’d rank third in the league, though Brantley is suddenly right on his heals.

Tuesday’s links:

On deck:

Yankees (45-44) at Indians (44-45)
at 7:05 p.m. ET Wednesday at Progressive Field


What can Tribe do with Masterson?

MastyIt seems pretty clear that something’s got to give on the Justin Masterson front. There were no signs on Monday night that the sinkerballer is close to pulling out of his recent funk on the mound.

Masterson’s issues have put the offense in early holes and taxed the bullpen (he’s averaged roughly 3.2 IP across his last five starts). Monday was more of the same: a 5-0 hole by the third inning and seven required innings from the relievers.

After the latest effort, Masterson seemed to be at a loss.

“I think I feel good,” Masterson said. “I don’t know. Who knows? It’s one of those where it’s a tick [off]. You’re so close and yet you’re so far away. I felt like tonight was going to be such a great one. We had a great bullpen session, got some good things in. Something so, so tiny can make such a big difference when you’re  going 60 feet, six inches.”

Here are some of the ugly details:

  • Masterson has posted a 13.00 ERA in his past three starts, throwing 230 pitches in that span with nearly as many balls (109) as strikes (121). That sample includes just nine innings, in which he’s given up 13 earned runs on 20 hits with 10 walks against 14 strikeouts.
  • It’s not much better if you keep going back over the past six weeks or so. Masterson has a 9.50 ERA in his last five starts (19 earned runs on 27 hits with 17 walks in 18 innings) and a 7.16 ERA in his last 11 turns (39 earned runs on 60 hits with 36 walks in 49 innings).
  • This is only the fourth time in the past 100 seasons that an Indians starter has lasted four innings or fewer with at least three walks issued in three straight starts (a club record). The others include: Roberto Hernandez (2009), Ray Lamb (1971) and Willie Mitchell (1915).
  • The previous three occurrences of a Cleveland started logging four innings or fewer in at least three straight starts came in 2012 (Jeanmar Gomez) and 2009 (David Huff and Hernandez). The club record is five such outings in a row (done five times).
  • If this was Masterson’s last outing of the first half (a distinct possibility), he will have given up 66 runs in 98 innings. There have only been two other Cleveland pitchers in the past 100 seasons to allow at least that many runs in no more than 98 innings: Dave Burba in 2001 and Tom Candiotti in 1987.
  • Masterson already has eight starts this season with fewer than five innings logged. To be fair, I’ll point out that one of those was abbreviated due to a rain delay. Still, the last Cleveland pitcher to have at least eight such starts in a single season was Cliff Lee, who had eight in all of 2004.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, what are the Indians’ options for Masterson?

  1.  The obvious option is to place Masterson on the 15-day disabled list. He’s been open about the fact that he’s been bothered off and on by a right knee injury since around his second start of the season. It would then seem logical, given the continued issues on the mound, to place Masterson on the DL, especially with the All-Star break coming up soon. Cleveland could make the move and call up a reliever until a fifth starter would be needed on Saturday. Masterson would be eligible to be activated on July 23.
  2. The only issue with that option is the fact that Cleveland could need a sixth starter for July 22, because of the doubleheader with Detroit on July 19. So, another option is to keep Masterson active, but do the ol’ temporary move to the bullpen. Under that scenario, Cleveland could option its eighth reliever to the Minors to call up a fifth starter (Zach McAllister or Danny Salazar) for Saturday’s game before the four-day All-Star break. The Indians can afford to be short one of its eight relievers with the break coming, and Masterson can act, technically, as the extra reliever.
  3. If Masterson isn’t put on the disabled list, he could be brought back to start on July 22 (assuming Cleveland goes with its MLB five-man rotation for the first four games, including the doubleheader). Here’s the catch, if the Indians use the 26th-man rule to add a starter for the twin bill (let’s say, Salazar, for example), the rotation can essentially stay untouched one through five until Aug. 3 (thanks to the scheduled team off-day on July 28). Of course, maybe manager Terry Francona wants that 26th spot for another reliever. If it is used on a starting pitcher, that would basically give the Indians and Masterson their pick for which game best suits him for returning. He could come back in any one of the five series after the break. At a minimum, he’d have two weeks to sort through any issues behind the scenes before rejoining the rotation, all without having “DL” on his career resume.
  4. Then again, if Cleveland wants to avoid the roster trickery and increase the team’s flexibility, it goes back to DL’ing Masterson. They could use his stint to call up an extra catcher (optioning rookie outfielder Tyler Holt to clear a spot for that potential move is also an option) or an added reliever for Francona’s bullpen army. Then, Cleveland would worry about the fifth starter on Saturday and Masterson would be eligible to come back in roughly two weeks anyways.
  5. The other choice is to continue to let Masterson work the kinks out on the mound. If he feels like he’s just a “tick” off, give him the last start of the first half, let him use the All-Star break to his advantage physically and mentally, and then bring him back as the fifth (or sixth) starter to start the second half. In that scenario, he’d have at least nine days between starts.

Were you able to follow along with that stream of thought? No matter how you slice it, Masterson will have some extra rest between outings coming up. How Cleveland handles that (DL stint or no DL stint) will likely be with the idea of keeping as much roster flexibility as possible, while also giving Masterson time to work things out. We haven’t even touched on the fact that the Indians are sitting less than a month away from the July 31 Trade Deadline. That surely factors somewhat into the team’s thinking, too.

Francona will likely shed more light on the situation and the club’s plans on Tuesday. Stay tuned…

UPDATE — 2:45 p.m. ET Tuesday: The Indians placed Masterson on the DL prior to Tuesday’s game against the Yankees. The Tribe called up a reliever (Nick Hagadone) for the time being, considering the team won’t need another starter until Saturday. Now, Masterson can rest his right knee and Cleveland will have its pick of when to bring him back after July 23 and into August (thanks to the doubleheader 26th man rule for July 19 and the off-day on July 28).


Month in review: June


The Indians got off on the wrong foot in April and got their act together in May. June was about staying afloat for a Cleveland club that is trying to stick in the American League playoff race despite rough first-half acts from key players such as Justin Masterson and Nick Swisher.

June was about Michael Brantley’s continued emergence as Cleveland’s best all-around player, Carlos Santana’s comeback from two awful months and the breakout showing from surprise batting crown contender Lonnie Chisenhall. It wasn’t a great month overall, but the Tribe had plenty of historical footnotes in what ultimately was a .500 showing for the club.

Here is a glance at the month that was for the Tribe…

AL Central standings heading into July:

1. Tigers 45-34 (–)
2. Royals 43-39 (3.5)
3. Indians 39-43 (7.5)
4. White Sox 39-44 (8)
5. Twins 37-44 (9)

Overall: 13-13
Record at home: 6-4
Record on road: 7-9

Offense (AL rank)

.249 AVG (t9)
.307 OBP (11)
.388 SLG (9)
.695 OPS (10)
115 R (7)
228 H (9)
42 2B (t-7)
5 3B (t-5)
25 HR (8)
113 RBI (7)
13 SB (9)
73 BB (10)
216 K (t-12)
355 TB (10)

Notes: A pretty average to below-average month for the Tribe’s offense, which looked to be turning a corner in May. Cleveland’s .695 OPS was its lowest for June since the team posted a .656 mark in 2011. It was kind of an odd offensive month. This was the first June since 1971 that the Tribe had at least 115 runs and 228 hits, but an OPS of .695 or below. Cleveland hadn’t done that in any month since September 2010.

Pitching (AL rank)

13 wins (t-7)
4.02 ERA (9)
4.20 rot. ERA (12)
3.69 rel. ERA (8)
5 saves (t-11)
237.1 IP (11)
239 H (12)
116 R (10)
106 R (10)
26 HR (8)
80 BB (t-10)
212 K (5)
.265 AVG (12)
1.34 WHIP (12)

Notes: Cleveland collected at least 212 strikeouts in one month for the third time this year. They did so in three months last season, too. Prior to 2013, the Indians achieved that feat in September 2010 and then you have to go back to 2001 to find the next prior occurrence. The last time Cleveland gave up at least 116 runs, but no more than 106 earned runs was August 2012 (that was a fun month, remember?). The list of months in team history with at least 212 strikeouts and 80 walks or fewer is short: June 2014, September 2013, September 2010, May 1968, September 1966 and June 1963. The 116 runs allowed are the most among any of the months listed.

Player of the Month: 3B Lonnie Chisenhall
Stats: .311/.364/.556/.919, 5 HR, 11 XBH, 21 RBI, 11 R, 28 H, 24 games

Notes: Shin-Soo Choo (September 2010) was the last Indians batter to have at least a .311 average, .556 slugging, five homers and 21 RBIs in a single month. He also did so in 2008 and Travis Hafner accomplished the feat three times across the 2004-06 seasons. The last third baseman to have those numbers in one month was Case Blake in June 2004.

Apologies to… Michael Brantley (.341/.413/.516) and Carlos Santana (.308/.426/.590). Any one of the three players could’ve gotten the nod this month. I gave it to Brantley in May even though Chisenhall had a stellar month as well. I have the edge to Lonnie Baseball in June, because he had been building toward the breakout showing that has him on the cusp of the batting race qualifiers. Santana’s first two months were abysmal, making his rebound impressive. Let’s see it continue deep into July and the second half.

Previous ’14 winners: OF David Murphy (April), OF Michael Brantley (May)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Corey Kluber
Stats: 1-3, 2.89 ERA, 37.1 IP, 32 K, 11 BB, .248 AVG, 1.21 WHIP, 6 starts

Notes: Low run support took a toll on Kluber’s win-loss record, but loyal readers should know I don’t pay too much attention to those columns. With or without support, Kluber was again Cleveland’s top pitcher for June. He wasn’t as strong as he was in May, but that was an impossible pace to keep going. The tough luck made for a rare month for Kluber. He became the first Indians starter to have at least three losses to go along with at least 37.1 IP and an ERA of 2.89 or better since Cliff Lee in May 2009. The last righty to have that kind of bad luck was Tom Candiotti in July 1990.

Previous ’14 winners: RHP Zach McAllister (April), Kluber (May)

Reliever of the Month: RHP Cody Allen
Stats: 1.59 ERA, 11.1 IP, 15 K, 2 BB, .086 AVG, 0.44 WHIP, 4 saves, 11 games

Notes: Allen became the first pitcher in Indians history to have a WHIP of 0.44 or better while appearing in at least 10 games in a single month. The list of pitchers in team history with at least 10 appearances and an opponents’ average of .086 or better includes: Rich Hill (July 2013), Aaron Fultz (May 2007) and Steve Karsay (April 2001). This marked the 10th time a pitcher for Cleveland had a 1.59 ERA or better with at least 15 strikeouts and four saves in 10 or more games in a month. The last to do it was Bob Wickman in May 2001. Allen and Wickman are the only pitchers in that grouping with two or fewer walks.

Previous ’14 winners: RHP Bryan Shaw (April, May)

Game of the Month (hitter): 3B Lonnie Chisenhall
June 9 at Rangers: 5-for-5, 3 HR, 1 2B, 3 R, 9 RBI, 15 TB

Notes: Chisenhall became only the fourth player since at least 1914 to have at least 3 homers, 5 hits and 9 RBIs in a game, joining Fred Lynn (1975), Gil Hodges (1950) and Walker Cooper (1949). Chisenhall is the only player in MLB history to do so in just five plate appearances. He tied Cleveland’s franchise record for RBIs in a single game at nine (Chris James on May 4, 1991).

Game of the Month (pitcher): RHP Josh Tomlin
June 28 at Mariners: 9 IP, 1 H, 0 R/ER, 0 BB, 11 K, 111 (77), 96 game score

Notes: Tomlin’s 96 game score was the highest in the American League this season and only second to Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw’s June no-hitter against the Rockies. Tomlin became the second pitcher in Cleveland history at least 11 strikeouts, no walks and no more than one hit allowed in a shutout, joining Len Barker (perfect game vs. Blue Jays in 1981). Tomlin’s outing marked only the 21st time since at least 1914 that an MLB pitcher had that kind of line.


Minor League standouts for June

Triple-A Columbus

Player of the Month: C Roberto Perez
Stats: .312/.400/.532/.932, 3 HR, 10 XBH, 21 RBI, 12 R, 21 games

Previous ’14 winners: 1B Jesus Aguilar (April), OF Matt Carson (May)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Austin Adams
Stats: 0.00 ERA, 12.1 IP, 10 K, 1 BB, .171 AVG, 0.65 WHIP, 1 save, 10 games

Previous ’14 winners: RHP Trevor Bauer (April), LHP Nick Hagadone (May)

Double-A Akron

Player of the Month: OF Tyler Naquin
Stats: .333/.394/.448/.842, 2 HR, 6 XBH, 10 RBI, 17 R, 24 games

Previous ’14 winners: 3B Giovanny Urshela (April), Naquin (May)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Bryan Price
Stats: 1.80 ERA, 10 IP, 16 K, 2 BB, .189 AVG, 0.90 WHIP, 1 saves, 8 games

Previous ’14 winners: LHP Kyle Crockett (April), RHP Tyler Sturdevant (May)

Class A (high) Carolina

Player of the Month: OF Luigi Rodriguez
Stats: .329/.444/.534/.979, 3 HR, 8 XBH, 8 RBI, 14 R, 16 BB, 22 games

Previous ’14 winners: SS Erik Gonzalez (April), OF Anthony Gallas (May)

Pitcher of the Month: LHP Ryan Merritt
Stats: 2-0, 1.29 ERA, 28 IP, 20 K, 6 BB, .170 AVG, 0.82 WHIP, 4 starts

Previous ’14 winners: Merritt (April, May)

Class A (low) Lake County

Player of the Month: INF Claudio Bautista
Stats: .309/.321/.556/.877, 4 HR, 10 XBH, 15 RBI, 14 R 21 games

Previous ’14 winners: OF Cody Farrell (April), INF Paul Hendrix (May)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Ben Heller
Stats: 0.00 ERA, 12.2 IP, 27 K, 3 BB, .095 AVG, 0.55 WHIP, 2 saves, 8 games

Previous ’14 winners: RHP Jordan Milbrath (April), RHP Robbie Aviles (May)

Class A (short season) Mahoning Valley

Player of the Month: OF Jorge Martinez
Stats: .283/.327/.522/.848, 2 HR, 6 XBH, 13 RBI, 6 R, 12 games

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Justin Garcia
Stats: 0.00 ERA, 10 IP, 4 K, 3 BB, .212 AVG, 0.78 WHIP, 4 games

Arizona (Rookie) League

Player of the Month: 1B Emmanuel Tapia
Stats: .391/.417/.652/1.069, 1 HR, 4 XBH, 6 RBI, 5 R, 6 games

Pitcher of the Month: LHP Thomas Pannone
Stats: 1-0, 2.00 ERA, 9 IP, 11 K, 2 BB, .156 AVG, 0.78 WHIP, 2 starts

Dominican Summer League

Player of the Month: OF Gabriel Mejia
Stats: .333/.444/.411/.856, 5 XBH, 10 RBI, 17 BB, 27 SB, 21 R, 25 games

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Cesar Ventura
Stats: 2-0, 1.54 ERA, 23.1 IP, 14 K, 5 BB, .184 AVG, 0.90 WHIP, 5 games (3 starts)


Month in review: April
Month in review: May