Covering the Bases: Game 3

Cleveland Indians v Chicago White Sox

Some quotes and notes from the Indians’ 7-1 victory over the White Sox on Friday afternoon in Chicago.

FIRST: After arriving at my hotel this morning, I had two orders of business. First and foremost, I needed a large coffee. Next, I needed to go buy a winter hat, because it was cold and snowing in Chicago. The good news is you can find great deals on winter hats in April!

Needless to say, it figured to be an interesting day weather-wise for the Tribe. Sure enough, it was snowing a few hours before the game. But, then it cleared up and the tarp came off. And after the national anthem, which included military members wrestling with the oversized American flag — nearly pulled away by the wintry winds — it began snowing again.

It was more of the same during the game: Snow. Sun. Snow. Sun. Snow.

“It was a little bit weird, first time pitching in really cold weather,” Indians righty Danny Salazar said. “And then it was snowing.”

The elements make it tough to get a solid read on Salazar’s performance. We can say this: it was an admirable outing of survival. The right-hander allowed only one run (on a solo homer by Todd Frazier) and scattered two hits. He struck out seven and walked three. And he did all of that by mostly sticking with fastballs (75 between his four-seamer and two-seamer, per PITCHf/x).

Here’s the catch: Salazar had a tough time commanding his fastball. And the weather made things even harder for his secondary pitches. The pitcher said his four-seamer, especially, was problematic in the cold climate.

“That’s a pitch that you just throw it,” he explained, “and you don’t have to do anything different with your hand. So, it’s a little bit hard sometimes, because if you squeeze it too much, you’re going to throw it in the dirt. It was hard to control it. I tried to mix it with my two-seam, when I was throwing the four-seam up. Then, I told [catcher Yan Gomes], ‘I’ll try to throw a two-seam and come back in the count again.’ And it worked.”

A sign of a maturing pitcher is turning in a solid outing even when he doesn’t have his best stuff. On the surface, that’s what this looked like, but manager Terry Francona said it was not that cut-and-dry in this case.

“I think it was not so much maybe not having his best stuff,” Francona said. “I just think the elements kind of play into it — trying to grip the ball and staying loose and stuff. But, he kept them off the scoreboard. He needs to work ahead, and he knows all those things, but we’ll take it. Fighting through a day like today, I know it’s cold, but it feels colder when you’re losing.”

SECOND: Pour one out for the three-inning save. It’s a dying art and we were robbed of seeing one on Friday.

Now, this is where I’ll drop the act and say that the save, in general, is not a great statistic. It’s a great moneymaker for players come the offseason, but there are a lot of flaws to it, and you could argue that the stat has hurt how bullpens are used. Saying that, I also place little to no value on the three-inning variety of the save, other than that I find it neat. Remember the Rangers’ 30-3 romp over the Orioles in 2007? Never forget that Wes Littleton logged a save in that game. A save in a 27-run victory!

When Trevor Bauer took over in the seventh inning, and proceeded to retire six batters in a row through the eighth, we had the possibility of seeing a three-inning save. Alas, Francona handed the ball to Dan Otero, who worked the ninth and got rewarded with a “game finished” for his stats page.

Do you remember the last three-inning save by an Indians pitcher? Try lefty Scott Barnes, who had one on May 23, 2013 for the Tribe. Since 2000, only three other Cleveland pitchers have a three-inning save: Luis Vizcaino (May 27, 2009), Aaron Laffey (May 6, 2009) and Steve Karsay (May 5, 2001).

All of this aside, it was nice to see two strong innings from Bauer, who is still getting used to life out in the bullpen.

“It’s always good to pitch well,” Bauer said. “Anytime you have a positive one, you celebrate it and it’s nice that it came in a team win. … I hope to get back to starting at some point, so I’ll try to pitch as well as I can every time I go out there. But, that doesn’t change regardless of what my role is.”

Said Francona: “Trevor did a really good job. Really, two innings of just really pounding the zone. He really threw the ball well.”

THIRD: With a runner on first and two outs in the fifth inning, Chicago’s Adam Eaton connected with a pitch from Salazar? Or did he? The ball went into stealth mode after it left the bat, toying with center fielder Rajai Davis.

Let’s have Davis walk you through what wound up being an incredible catch:

“Right before that pitch, I could see that the snow started coming down really, really hard. And it was really cloudy there, too. So, it was kind of tough to pick up the ball. Once he swung, I saw his swing, but I didn’t see any [trajectory]. I didn’t see the ball do anything. It seemed like it was all cloudy in the back and gray, so the ball kind of blended in. And then, once I looked in and saw everybody looking at me, I knew that ball was coming my way. So, I just looked up and it happened to be in the blue sky. It got over the stadium and I was able to track it down. I lost it with the snow and everything. There was a lot of snow.”

Davis also delivered a triple in the second and scored on a Jason Kipnis sacrifice fly. It was nice to see the center fielder’s speed come into play on the bases and also in the field. His legs bailed him out on the play in the fifth.

HOME: Francona said Gomes and first baseman Mike Napoli have been discussing and strategizing pick-off plays since Spring Training. We saw the result of their preparation in the second inning.

After Salazar issued back-to-back one-out walks to Melky Cabrera and Avisail Garcia, he worked ahead, 0-1, against Brett Lawrie. On the next pitch — a swinging strike — Gomes swiftly fired the ball up the first-base line to Napoli, who made a quick tag on Garcia, who wandered too far off the base and stood no chance in his retreat.

Even Salazar was caught off-guard.

“That was amazing,” Salazar said. “I know he gave Napoli an eye or something, to be there. It got me. I was surprised. I didn’t think he was going to throw there, but he did and he got the out. That was huge.”

Salazar then struck out Lawrie to end the inning. After the rally was effectively snuffed out, Salazar bounded off the mound and went straight for his catcher. He high-fived Gomes and gave him a celebratory slap on the shoulder.

“It’s communication between both of them,” Francona said of Gomes and Napoli. “Both of them have to be on the same page, because Nap can’t vacate. But, they did a really good job.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

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