Covering the Bases: Game 130
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.
“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.
Indians (67-63) at White Sox (59-72)
at 8:10 p.m. ET Wednesday at U.S. Cellular Field