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

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