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

–JB

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