Some thoughts on the Indians’ season-opening 6-2 loss to the Red Sox. It was cold, and so were the Indians’ bats.
FIRST: The old adage in baseball is that pitchers are ahead of the hitters at the start of the season. Well, when the pitcher is ace lefty David Price, and it’s near-freezing outside, you can bet it’s going to be even worse for the hitters.
That said, Corey Kluber also has a Cy Young Award in his trophy case and Boston’s batters were dealing with the same elements. In this case, the conditions were the coldest on record (34 degrees) for a season-opening game for the Indians.
“I don’t think the conditions are an excuse,” Kluber said. “Yeah, it was cold out there, but both teams dealt with it. You have to find a way to get it done. I don’t think that that’s something I’m looking to use as an excuse.”
Warm weather. Cold weather. Price simply out-pitched Kluber this time around. The Red Sox ace went six strong, striking out 10 and limiting the Tribe to one two-run mini-rally in the fourth inning. Boston, meanwhile, connected for four runs on nine hits, including a two-run homer by Mookie Betts in the third, against Kluber.
“I was trying to go down and away with a fastball,” Kluber explained. “I just got on the side of it and it came right back to the middle. He did what he was supposed to do with it. I was trying to go down and away and see if we could get a ground ball and turn two.”
The hitters admitted that it was tough to play in Tuesday’s elements. Francisco Lindor said he couldn’t feel his fingers after rolling over and grounding out in the first inning. Jason Kipnis said it was tough to stay loose while in the field. Again, though, it’s not like the Red Sox had some secret to staying warm that the Indians didn’t know about.
“Both teams are going through it. It’s part of the game,” Kipnis said. “If you want to play late in October, it’s going to be cold, too.”
In the wake of the loss, Kluber was in no mood to self-evaluate, either. His pitching line said all that needed to be said. It goes without saying that he was disappointed not to deliver a win on Opening Day.
One reporter asked simply, “How do you think you pitched?”
“How do you think I pitched?” Kluber shot back with a stare.
SECOND: Run support was an issue last season for Kluber, who received two runs or fewer to work with in 21 of his 32 outings a year ago. Make that 22 of the past 33 starts, considering two was all he received this time around against Boston.
To reiterate, though, it was cold — really cold — and the Indians were facing Price.
“We’re going to have a good offense,” Kipnis said. “Obviously, we didn’t hit the way we wanted today. It’s Day One, so that’s all you guys have to talk about and all we have to look at. We’re going to get better.”
Want to find some positives? Look no further than the fourth inning.
Lindor singled and Mike Napoli followed with an 11-pitch at-bat against Price that ended with a strikeout. Napoli reacted such that it was clear he felt it was Ball Four. While it didn’t net a walk, the battle did wear Price down for a moment. Yan Gomes attacked the first pitch in the next at-bat, and delivered an RBI single.
On that play, second baseman Dustin Pedroia dove and got the glove on the ball, deflecting it into shallow center field. Lindor scored from second on the play and Carlos Santana had some heads-up hustle in going from first to third. Santana’s sprint set up a sacrifice fly by Marlon Byrd.
“It was a good inning,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “We certainly need to do more than a good inning, but you’re right. We strung together real good at-bats and worked hard for [the runs]. We ran the bases aggressively and intelligently and gave ourselves a chance, where a flyout scores a run instead of just being an out.”
Lindor said that’s the brand of baseball Cleveland needs to play.
“We have to do the little things,” Lindor said. “I don’t think we have the talent to go out there and just show up and win. I think we’re going to have to compete day in and day out. We’ve got the talent to win, but not just to go out there and … be like, ‘All right, we’ll win no matter what.'”
THIRD: The Indians believe Trevor Bauer can evolve into a weapon in the bullpen.
“I think we can use him really any way we want,” Francona said. “If he pitches like he can, he can be very valuable in any role.”
He has said numerous times that he loves throwing hard. Well, no better place to do that than in the ‘pen. And, hey, he hasn’t always done well with the media. While that’s not a big deal in terms of winning or losing games, relievers don’t deal with the public eye as often as starting pitchers. Maybe narrowing his pitch selection and adding some velocity in shortened outings can help with the command issues, too. Maybe.
In the ninth inning, Bauer took the mound for his first relief appearance of the season and… issued a leadoff walk. He led the American League in walks last year and those control woes contributed to the decision to go with strike-throwers like Cody Anderson and Josh Tomlin out of the gates in the rotation.
Armed with protecting a 4-2 deficit — making it at least seem plausible that a ninth-inning rally might be up the Tribe’s sleeve — Bauer then allowed a two-run home run to David Ortiz. Career blast No. 504 was a no-doubter to the right-field bleachers. The righty escaped further harm, but it wasn’t a great first impression.
“I thought the ball was coming out of his hand probably as good as anybody,” Francona said. “It looked to me like almost every pitcher was down a couple clicks, because it was so cold. But, he had real good arm speed. He just misfired on that pitch.”
HOME: Not a banner day for the new guys in Cleveland. Rajai Davis, Juan Uribe, Collin Cowgill, Napoli and Byrd combined to go 1-for-15 with 12 strikeouts. There were also two walks and a sac fly, but that was it. Granted, again, they were facing David “$217-million” Price, so let’s not go crazy in reading into one game. Rookie Tyler Naquin also made his Major League debut and struck out as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning.
Let’s let Lindor handle this one…
“We have 161 games left,” Lindor said. “We’ll be fine.”
Stay tuned for more.