August 2014

Covering the Bases: Game 132

828CookieFinal: Indians 3, White Sox 2

FIRST: The Indians hoped that Carlos Carrasco would carry the mentality of a late-inning reliever into his role as a starter in April. It took a rough opening act, and then a three-month stint back in the bullpen, for the big righty to figure out what that meant.

When Carrasco was sitting at 98-99 mph in the first inning on Thursday night, it was easy to see that he’s understanding and embracing what manager Terry Francona sums up nicely as “attack mode.”

“It’s something I learned in the bullpen: attack,” Carrasco said. “That’s what pitching’s about.”

It’s easy to say, and now Carrasco is making it look easy to do.

In one of the more incredible developments of this season — a story that once again has put the work of pitching coach Mickey Callaway and bullpen coach Kevin Cash on display — Carrasco has emerged as a formidable starting weapon for the Tribe. Four starts a season does not make, but it counts as a trend, and it’s the kind of trend Cleveland desperately needed in this season filled with starting pitching turmoil.

Against the White Sox, who dropped two of three to the Tribe this week, Carrasco spun 6.2 strong innings with his lone “mistake” an RBI single to slugger Jose Abreu (We’ll get to the quotation marks in the next item). Carrasco struck out seven, scattered four hits, walked one and ended with 71-percent strikes (73-of-103). It was the kind of line that has been the norm of late for the starter-turned-reliever-turned-starter-turned-reliever-turned-starter.

“He continues to do it,” Francona said. “He came out, he established his fastball, he held it. Especially when he kind of saw the end coming, he reached back for a little more. He had a good touch on his breaking ball and his changeup.”

The move to from the bullpen to the rotation was helped along by both a handful of off-days — allowing Francona to have a rested bullpen on high alert — and a steady showing by Carrasco. Over his last six games (the last four being starts), Carrasco’s pitch count has climbed in this manner: 21-59-77-79-90-103. Carrasco’s efficiency along the way has made this whole thing work.

“He’s in great shape. He’s a strong kid,” Francona said. “Fortunately, the way he’s pitched, he’s almost gone in increments, like 60, 70, 80, 90, 100. It’s worked out really well, where he hasn’t had a big increase in each game. And part of that is because he’s pitching so well. It’s been really good.”

Over his past four starts, Carrasco has gone 3-0 with a 0.73 ERA, 0.57 WHIP and a .131 (11-for-84) opponents’ average. In 24.2 innings in that span, the righty has 24 strikeouts, three walks and a 69-percent strike rate. Over his past 30 games, dating back to when he was pulled out of the rotation in April after going 0-3 with a6.95 ERA in four starts, Carrasco has a 1.73 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and .187 (45-for-241) opponents’ average in 67.2 innings (63 strikeouts against 12 walks).

“It’s miraculous, man,” Indians center fielder Michael Bourn said. “I’ve always thought he has great stuff. I’ve seen him since he’s 19. We came up in the Phillies organization almost together. So, I’ve been seeing him for a long time. People don’t understand, when you play at this level, it takes more than one years or two years to get adjusted to it.”

SECOND: I think we can forgive Cookie for the lone blemish on his pitching line.

The RBI single that Abreu delivered came on an 87-mph slider that was out of the strike zone. Chicago’s rookie slugger reached out and flicked the pitch into left-center, scoring Adam Eaton from third base. It was similar to Wednesday night, when Abreu saw seven cutters from Corey Kluber and sent the last one, on a full count, up the middle for the game’s decisive hit in the seventh.

“We’re finding out the hard way,” Francona said, “that with two strikes, you can’t expand the plate too much with Abreu. He can reach just about anything. That’s been a thorn in our side, and probably the rest of the league, too. That’s the only run he gave up.”

Carrasco was able to shrug it off, because he felt he executed the pitch.

“That was a good pitch,” Carrasco said. “I think he was looking for that, because I think I threw it before and I threw another one down and he took it.”

The Indians have found that the best way to attack Abreu is to try to mix things up vertically, or get him to offer at pitches with more up-and-down movement. That might explain why a pitcher as talented as Kluber — whose entire arsenal is more based on lateral movement — has struggled to the tune of a .462 average against Abreu.

In the three-game series, Abreu went 5-for-11 in the batter’s box with two doubles, two walks, two runs and three RBIs against Cleveland. On the season, the first baseman has hit .294 with five homers, 10 RBIs and a .627 slugging percentage in 13 games against the Indians.

Great, Paul Konerko is retiring, but the White Sox already have found their new Tribe killer.

THIRD: It appears that Bourn is feeling just fine these days, following all the left hamstring woes. He robbed Konerko of a hit on Tuesday night with a diving catch that required a perfect sprint. In the finale on Thursday, all the center fielder did was collect a pair of triples in the win over the White Sox.

“I got tested pretty well today,” Bourn said with a smile.

This actually marked Bourn’s second two-triple game of the season for the Tribe. He’s the first hitter in the Majors to have at least a pair of two-triple games in the same year since 2011 (Jose Reyes, 3; Austin Jackson, 2). Bourn and Kenny Lofton (3 such games in 1995) are the only Cleveland hitters to accomplish that feat since 1941.

The others to do so for Cleveland in the past 100 seasons: Gee Walker (2 in 1941), Earl Averill (2 in 1932), Lew Fonseca (2 in 1929), Bill Wambsganss (2 in 1920) and Larry Gardner (2 in 1920).

In the first inning, Bourn tripled and then scored on Jose Ramirez’s groundout to shortstop Alexei Ramirez. On the play, Bourn hesitated, but then sprinted for the plate as soon as the shortstop released the relay throw to first base. Bourn didn’t go on contact, because he had a bad angle and couldn’t tell right away if third baseman Conor Gillaspie had a shot at the chopper. But, as soon Ramirez gloved the ball, Bourn knew he still had time to score.

“I had a bad read,” Bourn said. “I didn’t know if the third baseman had a chance at making the play when he went at the ball. Once I saw it bounce and the shortstop got it, I knew he wasn’t going to be focused on me. As soon as I saw him release it, I was off and running. I felt like it was hard for him to make the throw all the way across and then all the way back home.”

That’s the Bourn Cleveland needs to see more often.

“He desperately wants to be that sparkplug,” Francona said. “And you can see — two triples — he’s pretty into it. He knows how important he is at the top of the lineup.”

HOME: And what about Cody Allen’s importance to the end of the game? In the eighth inning, Bryan Shaw gave up a two-out single and then third baseman Mike Aviles booted a ball for an error, putting runners on first and second base for Adam Dunn. As it happens, Allen entered Thursday holding lefties to a .125 average with 47-percent of the at-bats (104) ending with a strikeout (49).

“When you have a big lefty,” Francona said, “to be able to go to a righty is really valuable.”

Dunn won this battle, sending a duck snort into right field — just out of the reach of second baseman Jason Kipnis — to score a run to pull Chicago within one. No harm done. Allen recovered with four consecutive strikeouts — one to end the eighth and three to finish off the ninth for his 18th save.

A local reporter asked Francona is that was as dominant a four-out save as he’s seen in recent years.

“Oh boy, I don’t know,” Francona said sharply. “I think he had one the other day. He’s pretty good. You maybe need to get cable or something and watch him. He’s pretty good.”

Well, as it happens, it marked only the second four-out, four-strikeout save in the past 100 seasons for a Cleveland reliever. The only other one came on July 28, 1976, when Dave LaRoche achieved the rare feat. It’s happened three times in the American League this season. The other arms to do it are Josh Fields (Aug. 5) and Ernesto Frieri (April 14).

EXTRA: In the sixth inning, Kipnis came through with an RBI single and then went from first to third on a base his by Aviles. On that sprint to the hot corner, Kipnis slid in head-first and was accidentally kicked in the face by Gillaspie, as the third baseman fielded the relay throw. Kipnis was checked out by the trainers and stayed in the game. Said Francona: “He got like a heel to the nose, and I know it hurt and I know he’s probably going to be black and blue. But I was relieved, because I thought maybe it was a finger or something. He’s a pretty tough kid. He’ll be all right.”

NOTE: I will not be making the trip to Kansas City for the upcoming division clash between the Tribe and Royals. You’ll have to forgive me for taking a few days off. It’s MLBastian Jr.’s fifth birthday and it’ll be family time until I return to Indians.com coverage on Tuesday in Cleveland. Keep checking the site and following @Indians and @tribeinsider on Twitter for updates.

On deck:

Indians (68-64) at Royals (74-59)
at 8:10 p.m. ET Friday at Kauffman Stadium

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 131

827KluberFinal: White Sox 3, Indians 2

FIRST: What’s your dream pitcher vs. batter matchup right now in baseball? Clayton Kershaw against Mike Trout? King Felix against Giancarlo Stanton? How about an American League Central heavyweight bout? You could wager that Corey Kluber vs. Jose Abreu is worth the price of admission.

Through four rounds this season, Abreu has the edge.

On Wednesday night, Chicago’s rookie slugger went 3-for-4 with a double, a run and two RBIs against Kluber, who headed into the night ranked second only to King Felix (6.1) in baseball in fWAR (5.5). If you prefer a more basic statistical breakdown, well, Abreu now has a .462 (6-for-13) batting average this season against Kluber, who has held hitters to a .210 (77-for-367) over his last 14 starts.

“He does good against a lot of people, if you look at his numbers,” Kluber said. “He’s a good hitter. He covers a lot of pitches, so you’ve just got to kind of mix it up on him. Even when you make some good pitches, sometimes good hitters are able to get their hits.”

Here is a summary of their confrontations on Wednesday night:

First at-bat: Kluber sat at 96-97 mph with four two-seamers and mixed in one 92-mph cutter in the middle of the at-bat. On a 2-2 count, the right-hander went with a 97-mph sinker and Abreu came through with a double to right field.

Second at-bat: Kluber again stuck with sinkers and cutters, staying in the 90-96 mph range for the entire five-pitch at-bat. This time, the righty went sinker, sinker, sinker, cutter, cutter. The final pitch in that sequence was a 91-mph offering on a 3-1 count that was shot up the middle for an RBI single.

Third at-bat: For the third time, Kluber and Abreu engaged in a five-pitch battle. Kluber threw five fastballs, staying in the 92-95 mph range. After three sinkers, he came back with a four-seamer and then finished Abreu off with a 2-2 two-seamer for a swinging strikeout.

Fourth at-bat: For their final meeting, Kluber stuck with his cutter for all seven pitches. The velocity was around 88-89 mph as Kluber pitch count climbed from 110 to 117. On the final pitch, Kluber sent a 3-2 pitch to center for another RBI single.

“He left a pitch there and I was able to connect and get the ball through the middle,” Abreu said. “A lot of respect goes to him. He’s one of the better pitchers in the Major Leagues I’ve faced.”

SECOND: When Kluber elected to pitch to Abreu, the White Sox had runners on the corners with one out. Lefty-swinging Adam Dunn was on deck and has hit over .300 in his career against Kluber, who gave up an RBI double to him earlier in the game.

Indians manager Terry Francona was asked if they considered walking Abreu in that situation.

“There were a lot of considerations,” said the manager. “If they had elected to run [opening first base], we would have walked him. That’s a tough situation. He’s hit into a number of double plays, but he’s a really good hitter. It’s tough, really tough. [Pitching coach Mickey Callaway] made a trip to the mound. We knew how we wanted to pitch him. The last pitch just caught too much of the plate. If we walk him there, it’s not the en of the world.”

After Abreu’s hit, Kluber was pulled from the contest and hung with a hard luck loss. Overall, he allowed three runs on nine hits in 6.1 innings. The righty ended with eight strikeouts, making him the first Cleveland pitcher since 1970 (Sam McDowell) to have at least 17 games with eight or more strikeouts in one season. At 213 strikeouts on the year, Kluber is now 19th on Cleveland’s all-time single-season list.

He’s also been the victim of some poor run support of late, getting three runs or fewer in six of his last seven starts and two runs or fewer in five of those seven turns.

“If we score five or six,” Francona said, “we’re talking ab out him cruising.”

Kluber also reached a career-high 193.2 innings on the season. it’s uncharted territory for the right-hander, who logged 159.2 IP in 2013 between MLB and the Minors. His previous innings totals (MLB and Minors combined) are 188.1 (2012), 155 (2011), 160 (2010), 154 (2009), 141.1 (2008) and 33.1 (2007).

Kluber was so strong from June 15-Aug. 15, turning in a 1.43 ERA and 0.88 WHIP in 12 starts, that his last two outings have made him look off. In his past two trips up the hill, he’s posted a 4.05 ERA and 1.57 WHIP with 16 strikeouts, 15 hits and six walks in 13.1 IP.

Is Kluber feeling fatigued?

“No, not at all,” Kluber said. “I feel as good now as I did at the beginning of the year. Stuff wise, I think my stuff has carried on throughout the year. I haven’t lost anything. I just made a couple mistakes today.”

THIRD: With no outs, runners on second and third base and Alexei Ramirez at the plate in the seventh, Kluber induced a chopper to third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall. He gloved the grounder and threw a strike to catcher Roberto Perez, who received the ball with plenty of time to apply the tag on Chicago’s Carlos Sanchez.

Initially, Perez appeared to block the plate, but the rookie catcher quickly stepped forward, and then stepped back in order to put the tag on. White Sox manager Robin Ventura came out of the dugout and requested a crew-chief review. The umpires obliged, but the out call was confirmed.

Given that it was an easy out, and Sanchez still had several steps before reaching Perez, it seemed like an iffy play to review. That said, the rules dictate that if a catcher is indeed blocking the plate, the runner can be ruled safe. For a moment, it appeared that could be the case in Chicago.

Perez said his quick move away from the plate was to give the runner a path.

“I was making sure I had the ball first,” Perez said. “I got it and went forward a couple steps and tagged him.”

Perez said he asked home-plate ump Rob Drake if, in that type of situation, the catcher can run towards the baserunner to apply the tag.

“He said, ‘Yeah, you can,” Perez said. “Now that that happened to me, when I get the ball I’m going to make sure I go right at him. I’m not going to try to [wait to] tag him. I’m just going to go right at him.”

HOME: The Indians were fine with the crew-chief review, but they were not too happy about what happened after the play was confirmed as an out. Kluber requested a handful of warmup pitches, but was denied by both Drake and crew chief Joe West. In previous review situations this season, Kluber has been permitted to do his warmup throws after the review’s conclusion.

“If it’s one of those four or five minute replays,” Kluber explained, “what’s the point of throwing as soon as they go over there and put the headset on? I’ve had instances where I’ve been out there this year and they’re standing out there for three, four, five minutes. Am I just supposed to figure out how long a replay is going to take? I’m not even sure why they looked at that play, to be honest.”

Francona wasn’t pleased with how the umpires handled the situation, either.

“That was disappointing,” Francona said. “Klubes doesn’t know how long they’re going to be over there, so he doesn’t want to keep throwing, because he was at a pretty high pitch count. I didn’t think a couple of pitches would make the crowd go away.  I thought some common sense would have prevailed a little bit.”

What was Drake’s explanation?

“He just said that’s the way he’s done it,” Francona said. “We said, ‘That’s a new one to us. I could’ve gone out and argued, but that would’ve made it go on longer.”

Said Kluber: “I understand that replay is part of the game now. Tonight, I don’t get the whole making up rules as we go thing. Every other time I’ve been out there for a replay, I’ve waited until they finish the replay and then have thrown a couple pitches. All of a sudden, tonight I’m told that you’re only allowed to throw pitches while they’re reviewing the play. If the umpires are making up stuff as we’re going, then the system needs to be looked at, I think.”

On deck:

Indians (67-64) at White Sox (60-72)
at 8:10 p.m. ET Thursday at U.S. Cellular Field

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 130

826WaltersFinal: Indians 8, White Sox 6 (10 innings)

FIRST: Zach Walters did two things that were out of character on Tuesday night. The rookie had a single in Cleveland’s win over the White Sox and he stood up for his postgame interview with reporters. He’s only been up with Cleveland for a few weeks, but this rookie is winning people over both on the field and in the clubhouse, with a potent bat and unique personality, respectively.

Walters likes to do interviews sitting down, leaning back and relaxed, if the situation allows for it. Fireside chats with Zach Walters. He likes to joke that his four gloves are just to make him look like a ballplayer, because he’s mostly been a DH with the Indians. In past winters, he’s played on the same softball team as Jose Canseco in Las Vegas. He swears he’s a good at bunting, even though he has misfired on two attempts this season … shortly before launching a game-winning home run. He enjoys the phrase “freaking awesome.” He’s dropped it multiple times since coming to the Tribe via trade from the Nationals.

What could this rook possibly do next? How about belt a two-run home run in the 10th inning to propel Cleveland to a win in Chicago, opening a stretch of 30 games in 30 days with style. Walters now has six homers in 48 at-bats with the Indians, and all six have either tied a game or given the Indians a lead.

“It’s for the kids,” Walters said of the home runs. “I eat my spinach and I drink milk. That’s the only reason why.”

Cleveland reporters already are calling this trade with Washington a win for the Indians.

Walters was stuck in a pinch-hitting role with the Nats, who sent him to Cleveland on July 31 for shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. Overall this season, the 24-year-old Walters has belted nine home runs in 87 at-bats in the Majors. Half of his 18 hits in the big leagues have been long balls this year, and he’s launching one every 9.67 at-bats on average. Combined with his Minor League showing this year, Walters has 26 homers in 355 at-bats, or one per 13.65 at-bats, and the shots account for 25.7 percent of his hits overall this season.

Walters hit .310 in the Minors this season, but only has a .208 average with the Indians and a .207 average overall in the Majors this year.

Still…

“He’s a strong kid and there’s a lot of life in that bat,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He’s that threat. His batting average might not be the highest, but there’s been a lot of home runs and they seem like they come at points in the game that really mean something.”

Walters is confident that the consistency will soon follow the power.

“It’s an unbelievable opportunity the Indians have given me,” Walters said. “I was in a tough spot [in Washington]. It’s been a night-and-day difference over here. They’re giving me kind of the keys to drive the car, I guess you’d say. They’re letting me play. All I ask for is just at-bats to get consistent and they’re giving me that and I’m happy with that.”

SECOND: About that bunt attempt…

After Lonnie Chisenhall delivered a leadoff pinch-hit double against White Sox reliever Jake Petricka in the 10th inning, Walters worked to a 2-0 count. He wanted to time Petricka’s fastball, so he offered at the next pitch, fouled it off and then decided to bunt on his own. Why? Because Francona gave him clear instructions.

“He didn’t have to bunt,” Francona said. “I just wanted him to make sure that that runner was on third when he was done. … I just wanted to make sure he pulled the ball.”

Walters was not able to get the bunt down and then slipped into a full count.

“Tito told me get him over however you want,” Walters said “I’m hitting down there in the lineup for a reason. I was like I’ll bunt first. I got to a 2-0 count and took a swing, kind of timed up his fastball, missed the bunt. I knew he was going to come at me, but I wasn’t expecting to hit a home run. I was just trying to put the ball in play. I got lucky.”

Lucky or not, the Indians will take it.

“I promise, I’m a good bunter,” Walters said. “I swear, I’m a good bunter. Maybe I had a little anxiety, being the rookie guy. I don’t know.”

Said Francona: “Fortunately, he didn’t get the bunt down.”

THIRD: Cleveland’s starting rotation has carried the club of late, posting a 1.71 ERA over the 13 games heading into Tuesday’s meeting with the White Sox. Lefty T.J. House had not given up more than three earned runs in eight straight starts, posting a 3.07 ERA in that span. Well, against Chicago, House hit a wall by allowing five runs on seven hits in 4.2 innings of work. He was chased after giving up a two-run homer to Alexei Ramirez to put the White Sox up 5-4 in the fifth inning.

“The way we’ve pitched lately,” Francona said, “it was nice to see the hitters kind of pick us up a little bit.”

HOME: Tito’s bullpen army helped out, piecing together the final 5.1 innings and giving up just one run. Hey, they’re allowed to flinch every once in a while. With closer Cody Allen unavailable (Francona wanted to give him two days off in a row), Bryan Shaw handled the final 2.1 innings to seal the win. Among the five arms used was lefty Nick Hagadone, who continues to quietly be one of the best stories of Cleveland’s season. Over his past 20 appearances, Hags has turned in a 0.52 ERA, 0.58 WHIP and .138 opponents’ average, piling up 18 strikeouts against two walks in 17.1 innings along the way. The left-hander has a 1.37 ERA in 25 outings overall this year.

On deck:

Indians (67-63) at White Sox (59-72)
at 8:10 p.m. ET Wednesday at U.S. Cellular Field

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 129

824BauerFinal: Indians 3, Astros 1

FIRST: Cleveland claimed its third series in a row and has now won or split seven of its past eight sets. The Indians have won nine of 13 and continue to hang within earshot of the American League playoff picture.

What has been driving it of late? The rotation.

“It’s been unbelievable,” Indians starter Trevor Bauer said. “Every day, you run a new guy out there and have this feeling that he’s going to post a really good start and we’re going to win the game. It’s nice to have that confidence as a team.”

On Sunday, it was Bauer who grabbed the torch and carried it through another outing for the Tribe.

Over the recent 13-game stretch, Cleveland’s starting staff — three starts apiece for Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Bauer; two for Danny Salazar; and one each for T.J. House and Josh Tomlin — has logged a 1.71 ERA, .176 opponents’ average and 0.90 WHIP. Across 79 combined innings, that group has surrendered 15 earned runs and piled up 87 strikeouts against 22 walks.

“We haven’t been scoring a ton of runs,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “And we’ve won a couple series in a row because of [our pitching].  The hope is the pitching stays strong, we start scoring a few more runs and we stretch a couple of games out. We have our work cut out for us, but if we pitch like that, we’ll give ourselves a chance.”

SECOND: Bauer logged one of his best outings of the season, lasting one batter into the seventh inning, blanking Houston’s bats and ending with 115 pitches, 73 strikes, nine strikeouts, four hits, three walks, one hit batsmen and a partridge in a pear tree. Those first-inning troubles that have been so well-d0cumented? Non-existent.

Well, OK, let’s be fair. Bauer escaped the first inning on only 12 pitches, but he did give up a single and stolen base to Jose Altuve, and right fielder Tyler Holt rescued the frame with a diving catch to rob Marc Krauss of a hit. That said, Bauer was more aggressive with his fastball out of the gates, which is something pitching coach Mickey Callaway hoped to see from the young righty.

Here’s what Callaway said on Wednesday in Minnesota: ” What we talked about …. was make a little bit different of an approach, as far as the way he’s attacking hitters early in the game. Get more on the plate. Don’t try to be so fine. Setting up more on the plate with the catcher and letting his stuff play a little bit better.”

Bauer throws so many pitches that it sometimes takes him a little bit of time to figure out which ones he has the best feel for on any given day. That can lead to some feeling-out in the early innings. That said, Callaway hoped to see the pitcher leave a few pitches in his back pocket early on, establishing his fastball before beginning to mix in everything and the kitchen sink.

In the first inning Sunday, Bauer threw 10 of 12 pitches for fastballs and eight of 12 for strikes.

“I had a pretty good feel for my fastball early, so I used it,” Bauer said. “That’s kind of my mindset going into every game. Find what I have a feel for and use it. Sometimes I pick the wrong pitch, or I don’t know what I have a feel for yet, so I have to throw a couple different pitch types to find out what I do have a feel for. I had a feel for my fastball and my cutter early and it worked out.”

In his previous start, Bauer threw 15 fastballs within his first 23 pitches (only 12 strikes) and allowed five runs during that five-batter stretch. Since then, though, the righty has given up no runs and held hitters to a .114 (4-for-35) showing.

THIRD: Holt made not just one, but two potential run-saving catches for Bauer on Sunday. As mentioned, he made a diving catch to steal a hit away from Krauss with two outs and a runner on second in the first. Then, in the sixth, Holt ran in hard and to his left, dove and once again stole a hit from Krauss with no outs and a runner on first.

“The first one, [center fielder Michael] Bourn pulled me a little bit towards him,” Holt said. “It was an easier catch straight on. The other one was more difficult, where it was slicing away. Bourn was backing me up. I don’t know if he thought I would catch it or not.”

Francona was impressed.

“He played a really good right field,” said the manager. “Everybody sees the dives, but the jumps to get to the point where he could dive was impressive. He works hard. That’s the one position he’s probably played the least, but his jumps are really good.”

Bauer quipped: “I kind of felt bad for Marc.”

Did Holt?

“Not at all,” he said with a laugh.

HOME: After trading veteran shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera to the Nationals on July 31, the Indians made it clear that they wanted to take a good look at youngster Jose Ramirez as a starter. After hitting .182 (8-for-44) in his first 15 games for Cleveland this season, Ramirez has hit at a .306 (19-for-62) clip in 19 games since the trade with Washington.

“He’s starting to play with a little confidence,” Francona said. “You can see that in his body language. He got a couple of hits today and he’s pretty excited. That was the kid we saw last year when he got called up. He plays such good shortstop. He’s all over the place at shortstop. When he’s hitting second, he can get a bunt down. He’s getting some hits now. That’s a real help for us.”

Ramirez did make one blunder on Sunday, getting thrown out at the plate to end the third inning. A pitch in the dirt did not get too far away from catcher Carlos Corporan, Ramirez misread the situation and was a dead duck as he tried to score. No matter, Ramirez ended the afternoon with three hits, including a double off the wall in left in the third and an RBI single in the seventh.

Ramirez hit .538 (7-for-13) in the three-game set with Houston, has hit .405 (15-for-37) over his past 10 games and has a .432 (16-or-37) average as Cleveland’s No. 2 hitter.

“He’s coming up big,” Holt said. “Every time I go down to the video room he is watching his hits. His confidence is up there. He’s having great at bats and keeping us in the game.”

Today’s links…

On deck:

Indians (66-63) at White Sox (59-71)
at 8:10 p.m. ET Tuesday at U.S. Cellular Field

–JB

Month in review: July

asdrubaltrade copy

Change was in the air for Cleveland in July.

The team’s position in the standings, combined with the below-average seasons and contract situations of starter Justin Masterson and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, led to a pair of trades at the Deadline. Masterson was sent packing to St. Louis for outfield prospect James Ramsey. Cabrera (shown in the Progressive Field tunnel in the above photo from Brian Dulik of the Chronicle-Telegram) was dealt to D.C. for infield prospect Zach Walters.

Behind near-All-Star Corey Kluber (he fell short in the Final Vote) and rookie Trevor Bauer, the rotation turned into a fluid group of five. Center fielder Michael Bourn hit the shelf again with a left hamstring injury, the Tribe traded for outfielder Chris Dickerson to help out and Michael Brantley made his first All-Star team and shifted to center. Carlos Santana continued his mid-summer surge. Nick Swisher continued to slump.

Through the ups and downs, the Indians turned in a winning month. The offense — despite its own peaks and valleys — was one of the American League’s best groups for July. Kluber continued to assert himself as an ace-in-the-making, going undefeated, flirting with perfection and delivering historical footnotes with every step.

Kluber’s stellar season aside, what has held the Indians back to this point has been their starting staff. For the month of July, Kluber went 4-0 with a 1.54 ERA and 0.68 in 41 innings. The rest of the rotation (a mix of six other arms) went a combined 5-7 with a 5.35 ERA and 1.58 WHIP in 111 innings.

Meanwhile, the Tigers went out and traded for ace lefty David Price to bolster their already strong staff.

Inside the Indians’ clubhouse, the players did what they could to shrug off the lack of Major League additions made by the Tribe at this year’s Deadline.

“You can look at it two ways,” Indians closer Cody Allen said. “You can look at it as, we have the pieces here that we feel like we can win with. We’re still right there within striking distance of that second Wild Card spot. We’ve got a lot of guys here that this organization is going to build itself around for the next few years and if you add a guy, it may push a guy out.

“So, the way I look at it is, we’ve got the pieces we need already here.”

We’ll see. There are two months left to put that theory to the test.

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

AL Central standings heading into August:

1. Tigers 58-47 (–)
2. Royals 55-52 (4.0)
3. Indians 53-55 (6.5)
4. White Sox 53-56 (7.0)
5. Twins 48-59 (11.0)

Overall: 14-12
Record at home: 7-6
Record on road: 7-6

Offense (AL rank)

.269 AVG (4)
.328 OBP (6)
.425 SLG (2)
.754 OPS (2)
122 R (3)
247 H (2)
47 2B (5)
2 3B (12)
31 HR (2)
121 RBI (2)
17 SB (2)
78 BB (5)
196 K (t-8)
391 TB (1)

Notes: The Indians enjoyed an offensive renaissance in July, led by first baseman Carlos Santana, catcher Yan Gomes and outfielder Michael Brantley. The club ranked within the top three in the league in multiple categories and enjoyed its best July in a decade in terms off offensive output. The last Cleveland team to have at least 17 stolen bases, 31 homers, 122 runs and 391 total bases in July was the 2004 club. In-between the Indians only hit those marks in a single month in May 2007 and May 2013.

Pitching (AL rank)

14 wins (t-6)
3.44 ERA (6)
4.32 rot. ERA (12)
1.88 rel. ERA (3)
6 saves (t-8)
238.1 IP (2)
228 H (9)
96 R (6)
91 ER (t-7)
22 HR (8)
59 BB (3)
228 K (t-2)
.252 AVG (8)
1.20 WHIP (6)

Notes: Rotation issues aside, this was an historic month for the Tribe’s pitching staff as a whole. Cleveland hadn’t registered at least 228 strikeouts in July since 1964. This was the first time in team history for any month that the Indians had at least 200 strikeouts and fewer than 60 walks. In fact, the list of teams ever to achieve at least 220 strikeouts and fewer than 60 walks in a single month is a short one: Indians (July 2014), Angels (July 2014), Dodgers (June 2013), Phillies (August 2010), D-backs (August 2008 and August 2001).

Player of the Month: 1B Carlos Santana
Stats: .313/.407/.615/1.022, 8 HR, 13 XBH, 20 RBI, 15 R, 15 BB, 26 games

Notes: Santana continued his season turnaround in July, becoming the first Indians batter to turn in a .300/.400/.600 slash with at least eight homers, 15 walks and 20 RBIs in a single month since Travis Hafner did so in August 2006. The last switch hitter to achieve that feat in the Majors was Chase Headley in Sept/Oct 2012. The last switch hitter have that slash line with at least 15 walks in a month was Roberto Alomar, who enjoyed that type of showing in June 2001 and July 1999.

Previous ’14 winners: OF David Murphy (April), OF Michael Brantley (May), 3B Lonnie Chisenhall (June)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Corey Kluber
Stats: 4-0, 1.54 ERA, 41 IP, 43 K, 4 BB, .169 AVG, 0.68 WHIP, 5 starts

Notes: Only 33 times in the past 100 seasons has a pitcher enjoyed a month with at least 40 innings, and ERA, WHIP and opponents’ average marks as good or better than Kluber did in July. The last five such occurrences before Kluber were Clayton Kershaw (June 2014 and July 2013), R.A. Dickey (June 2012), Felix Hernandez (August 2012) and Cliff Lee (June 2011). The last and only other Cleveland pitcher to have no losses, 40-plus innings, a 1.54 ERA or better and no more than four walks in a month was Eddie Fisher in August 1968. That’s only been accomplished 16 times in the past 100 seasons in the Majors. The last four on that list include: Kershaw (June 2014), Esteban Loaiza (August 2006), Mike Mussina (Sept/Oct 2001) and some guy named Greg Maddux (June 1998).

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

Reliever of the Month: RHP Cody Allen
Stats: 0.00 ERA, 11 IP, 16 K, 3 BB, .179 AVG, 0.91 WHIP, 6 saves, 12 games

Notes: Allen became the first pitcher in Indians history to allow no runs, record multiple saves and appear in at least 12 games in one month for the club. If you remove the save element, the only others to have 12 scoreless outings in a single month are Bryan Shaw (September 2013), Vinnie Pestano (July 2012), Scott Sauerbeck (August 2005), Matt Miller (August 2004) and Paul Assenmacher (May 1998 and July 1997). This marked the 28th time in the past 100 seasons that a Major League pitcher gave up no runs with at least six saves, 12 appearances and 16 strikeouts. Recent names on that list also include Francisco Rodriguez (April 2014), Craig Kimbrel (August 2013 and Sept/Oct 2012) and Fernando Rodney (Sept/Oct 2012).

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

Game of the Month (hitter): 1B Carlos Santana
July 27 at Royals: 3-for-3, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 2 R, 1 BB, 1 HBP

Notes: With his two blasts, Santana equaled a franchise record with five home runs in a single series, joining Travis Hafner (2004), Matt Williams (1997), Albert Belle (1995), Joe Carter (1989) and Hal Trosky (1934) on that short list. Santana also became the first Cleveland batter to have at least one walk, one homer and two extra-base hits in three straight games since Elmer Smith in 1921.

Game of the Month (pitcher): RHP Corey Kluber
July 30 vs. Mariners: 9 IP, 3 H, 0 R/ER, 0 BB, 8 K, 85 (69), 89 game score

Notes: Kluber became one of seven Indians pitchers to record a “Maddux” (a nine-inning shutout with fewer than 100 pitches) since 1988, when MLB first began tracking pitch counts. He was the first to achieve the feat since Cliff Lee on June 14, 2009. The others are Greg Swindell (1988), Charlie Nagy (1992), Bartolo Colon (1998 and 2002) and Paul Byrd (2007). Kluber’s 85 pitches were the fewest in that group. Kluber also became the first pitcher in Major League history to face 28 batters or fewer in back-to-back starts of at least nine innings. The righty also set a single-season franchise record with his 10th start consisting of at least eight strikeouts and no more than one walk issued. CC Sabathia had nine such outings in 2007. Kluber is the first Indians pitcher to have back-to-back outings with no walks, no earned runs and at least nine innings since Dick Donovan in 1963. The last American League pitcher to accomplish that feat was Rob Guidry in 1977. The last pitcher in the Majors to do so was Maddux in 2000. The MLB record is three such outings in a row, a record shared by Randy Jones (1980), Allie Reynolds (1951) and Pete Alexander (1916).

———————————————————————————–

Minor League standouts for July

Triple-A Columbus

Player of the Month: 3B Giovanny Urshela
Stats: .321/.398/.526/.923, 2 HR, 11 XBH, 16 RBI, 15 R, 24 games

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

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Tyler Cloyd
Stats: 3-1, 2.63 ERA, 41 IP, 24 K, 6 BB, .255 AVG, 1.12 WHIP, 6 starts

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

Double-A Akron

Player of the Month: OF Anthony Gallas
Stats: .269/.347/.546/.893, 7 HR, 15 XBH, 20 RBI, 18 R, 13 BB, 29 games

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

Pitcher of the Month: LHP Giovanni Soto
Stats: 0.61 ERA, 14.2 IP, 8 K, 1 BB, .125 AVG, 0.48 WHIP, 9 games

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

Class A (high) Carolina

Player of the Month: INF Yhoxian Medina
Stats: .379/.434/.505/.939, 10 XBH, 13 RBI, 20 R, 10 BB, 6 SB, 24 games

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

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Jacob Lee
Stats: 0.00 ERA, 16.1 IP, 16 K, 5 BB, .186 AVG, 0.98 WHIP, 10 games

Previous ’14 winners: LHP Ryan Merritt (April, May, June)

Class A (low) Lake County

Player of the Month: OF Clint Frazier
Stats: .309/.414/.543/.957, 6 HR, 9 XBH, 13 RBI, 20 R, 15 BB, 25 games

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

Pitcher of the Month: LHP Wander Beras
Stats: 1.62 ERA, 16.2 IP, 18 K, 5 BB, .158 AVG, 0.84 WHIP, 7 games

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

Class A (short season) Mahoning Valley

Player of the Month: OF Bradley Zimmer
Stats: .287/.365/.446/.811, 2 HR, 11 XBH, 16 RBI, 20 R, 11 BB, 5 SB, 26 games

Previous ’14 winners: OF Jorge Martinez (June)

Pitcher of the Month: LHP Sean Brady
Stats: 1-1, 1.69 ERA, 32 IP, 22 K, 13 BB, .207 AVG, 1.16 WHIP, 6 starts

Previous ’14 winners: RHP Justin Garcia (June)

Arizona (Rookie) League

Player of the Month: 1B Bobby Bradley
Stats: .379/.460/.644/1.104, 4 HR, 14 XBH, 27 RBI, 18 R, 11 BB, 21 games

Previous ’14 winners: 1B Emmanuel Tapia (June)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Cortland Cox
Stats: 0.00 ERA, 10 IP, 12 K, 1 BB, .152 AVG, 0.60 WHIP, 1 save, 9 games

Previous ’14 winners: LHP Thomas Pannone (June)

Dominican Summer League

Player of the Month: OF Gabriel Mejia
Stats: .347/.463/.396/.859, 4 XBH, 4 RBI, 28 R, 22 BB, 26 SB, 26 games

Previous ’14 winners: Mejia (June)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Luis Jimenez
Stats: 1-1, 0.75 ERA, 24 IP, 20 K, 5 BB, .163 AVG, 0.75 WHIP, 5 starts

Previous ’14 winners: RHP  Cesar Ventura (June)

———————————

Month in review: April
Month in review: May
Month in review: June

–JB

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