Covering the Bases: Game 131
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.”
Indians (67-64) at White Sox (60-72)
at 8:10 p.m. ET Thursday at U.S. Cellular Field