Covering the Bases: Game 4

Cleveland Indians v Chicago White Sox

Some quotes and notes from the Indians’ 7-3 loss to the White Sox on Saturday in Chicago.

FIRST: Reliever Joe Smith used to joke with reporters in Cleveland that we only ever interviewed him after he blew a game. Now, Smith was (still is) one of the best in terms of dealing with media, so it was a jab at us, but one made with a smirk.

A few seasons back, one local writer made a point to “interview” Smith before each game, even if it was just one question. It became a running gag, so a few of us would join in sometimes for scrums that would wind up just being bull sessions. Whether recorders were on or off, Smith was great to just talk shop with in his time with the Tribe.

Now, there’s some truth to what Smith said. Starting pitchers know that they’ll talk to reporters after each outing. Position players can expect to be interviewed after games both good and bad. Closers might get swarmed after a big save. Other relievers tend to get lost in the interview shuffle.

So, it came as no surprise that Bryan Shaw was a little miffed when media approached him after Saturday’s loss. The righty allowed a career-worst five runs in the seventh inning to not just erase Cleveland’s lead, but blow the door wide open for Chicago. He did have a clean inning of work on Wednesday, but Saturday marked the first time reporters stuck out the microphones and hoisted the cameras.

“You guys only want to talk to me when I [pitch bad],” said Shaw, but with a couple expletives mixed in. “Nobody wants to come up to me when I do good.”

Shaw is hardly the first reliever to make this complaint, and he will be far from the last one to do so. It comes with the territory of being in a bullpen.

I will note, however, that it’s not the case across the board. It just might sometimes feel like it, since the bad outings always stick out more in the memory than the good days. For example, reporters in Chicago chatted with Trevor Bauer after his two-inning appearance on Friday night. It was a strong bounceback outing, so we felt it was a good chance to talk to Bauer about his progress. You have to pick your spots. Unfortunately, Shaw found a really rough spot two outings into the season.

Now, the Indians have seen Shaw recover from such performances in the past. Shoot, two springs in a row now he’s had a rocky showing right out of the chute. Then, he settles in and gives Cleveland a durable arm to help set things up for closer Cody Allen. Over the past two years combined, Shaw has a 2.76 ERA in 154 games (140 1/3 innings). That’s pretty good. Last year, Shaw posted a 5.06 ERA in his first 10 games, and then spun a 1.19 ERA through the end of July. August and September had a couple tough days, but nothing like Saturday.

To Shaw’s credit, following his initial reaction to reporters — one that may have been a mix of sarcasm and seriousness — he was accountable and offered no excuses for his performance. Said Shaw: “It’s just one of those things. I wasn’t locating real well and kind of leaving pitches middle. The balls were over the plate. I wasn’t attacking like I should have and obviously we saw what happened.”

Maybe he’ll get on a roll now for the Tribe. If he does, you can bet we’ll be looking into what’s working for him, whether through pitching coach Mickey Callaway, manager Terry Francona or Shaw.

“Talk to you in three months,” he said as reporters walked away.

SECOND: Over the past few seasons, Shaw has been Francona’s primary eighth-inning arm. On Saturday, though, Tito handed the right-hander the ball in the seventh, even when he had fellow righty Zach McAllister warming and available.

Francona’s reasoning was based on the matchups.

The top of the White Sox order was due up in the seventh and Shaw had better success than McAllister against the hitters at the top. Leadoff man Austin Jackson, for example, was 9-for-18 against McAllister, compared to 2-for-7 against Shaw. The first seven batters were 6-for-35 (.171) combined against Shaw, and 15-for-36 (.417) against McAllister. I know, I know. Sample size alert! But, that played into Francona’s thinking.

“Zach and Shaw were going to throw the seventh and eighth,” Francona said. “And it just seemed like it was backwards to me. … Obviously, it didn’t work, but I would’ve felt worse if I wouldn’t have done that. I just thought it was the right thing to do. It could’ve very easily been, Zach could’ve come in and got them out, but in my mind, Shaw was facing the guys he was supposed to.”

Here is how the inning unfolded…

Austin Jackson: Single to left
Jimmy Rollins: Double to left
Jose Abreu: Intetional walk
Todd Frazier: Fielder’s choice 6-4 groundout (run scores)
Melky Cabrera: Single to right (run scores)
Brett Lawrie: Flyout to center
Avisail Garcia: Home run (three runs score)

Francona said he did not consider pulling Shaw in the stretch leading up to Garcia’s three-run home run.

“Not there,” Francona said, “because again, besides falling behind, which a lot of pitchers were, his stuff was fine. We wanted him facing those guys. Garcia hit the home run, but he had been 0-for-8 with three strikeouts, so he had handled the guys he was facing.”

Shaw worked the count full three times — at-bats that resulted in two hits and a run-scoring groundout. He was struggling to command his pitches, but didn’t blame the near-freezing conditions in Chicago.

“I was trying to nibble too much,” Shaw said. “And when I wasn’t nibbling, I was throwing it down the middle. It was just one of those days.”

THIRD: The seventh-inning collapse canceled out the solid work by the Indians’ offense in the sixth and seventh innings.

The first 20 batters to face White Sox ace Chris Sale went 2-for-18 with five strikeouts and seven groundouts. Then, with two outs in the sixth, Francisco Lindor singled and Mike Napoli drilled a two-run home run. One frame later, Yan Gomes led off with a home run to push the Indians to a 3-2 lead.

Francona enjoyed seeing that fight in his offense against a great pitcher.

“Like Nap can do, he can change the game with one swing,” Francona said. “It was exciting. I know it didn’t end like we wanted it to, but that’s nice to see us claw back like that. Sale was starting to kick it in gear. You could tell he was starting to smell it a little bit. He had a little extra on it those last couple innings he pitched.”

HOME: The other negative result of the meltdown was that righty Cody Anderson was saddled with a no-decision.

Anderson worked six innings, limiting Chicago to two runs on six hits and ending with two strikeouts and a pair of walks. It was a very Cody Anderson-esque outing. He gave up a solo homer to Abreu in the third and surrendered a run-scoring single to Alex Avila in the fourth. That was it.

What was encouraging about Anderson’s outing was that — as has been the theme early on in this week’s frigid temperatures — he was working without his sharpest stuff.

“It’s pretty tough, but we knew that coming in,” Anderson said of pitching in the cold. “Yesterday, playing catch, you knew that. I just had a little bit of a tough time there at the beginning getting the ball down. But, overall, it wasn’t too bad. I was pretty pleased with the results, as far as the start went. But, I could’ve made some better pitches.”

On top of his command issues early on, the defense was kicking the ball around (including a throwing error by Anderson). The fact that the White Sox only led by two through five innings seemed lucky for Cleveland.

“We didn’t make all the plays, but kind of like Cody [does], he didn’t get rattled,” Francona said.  He kept it in check, made some pitches with men on base and gave us a chance where, all of a sudden Nap hits the two-run homer and then Gomer hits the solo, and we actually got a lead.

“So, I think it says a lot about Cody and his ability to manage a game and manage the weather, all the things that are thrown at you.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

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