Covering the Bases: Game 10

KluberSome notes and quotes from the Indians’ 6-0 loss to the Mets on Sunday.

FIRST: Let’s first get something out of the way: Corey Kluber was not entirely at fault for what took place at Progressive Field on Sunday.

Was Kluber at his best? Hardly. But, per usual, he had a lack of run support. And, per the unusual, the sun played an unfortunate role in ballooning his season ERA. Naturally, after rain delays, postponements and snowstorms, a sunny cloudless sky cost Cleveland a few crucial runs against New York.

“It was unfortunate that it had to turn out this way for him,” Indians center fielder Rajai Davis said of Kluber. “But this is the game of baseball, and sometimes we don’t have control over these things.”

OK, now that we’ve got that out of the way, should there be some level of concern over how Kluber is pitching so far this year? Maybe. Three starts isn’t really enough to draw much of a conclusion, but it’s enough to give you things to monitor as the season progresses.

Three starts in, Kluber has displayed diminished velocity, which both he and manager Terry Francona downplayed after the loss.

“There’s maybe a couple things,” Francona said. “One, I think there’s times when mechanically he might swing open a little bit. You’d be much better to talk to [pitching coach Mickey Callaway] and Klubes about that, because I’m not very good about that. But I also think confidence plays a big part in it.

“We’ve all seen him, as he gets into a game, he gets on a roll, it seems like it creeps up. He still has the ability, when he gets going, you saw how many bats he missed. He just made some mistakes early and they made him pay for it. I’ve always felt, though, watching him pitch, as he gets going into a game his velocity can really start to creep up.”

Kluber didn’t go into much detail, other than to say: “I feel fine, so it’s probably just a little mechanical adjustment.”

KluberVelo

Kluber velocity 2014-16, entering Sunday (via brooksbaseball.net)

On Sunday, Kluber’s four-seamer (91.5 mph on average) and sinker (91.9) were both down against the Mets. Perhaps not coincidentally, New York went 7-for-15 against the right-hander’s fastballs in the win. The velo on Kluber’s curve (82.5) and cutter (88.2) were also down. As the game wore on, Kluber became more effective, and had the most success with his curve (0-for-7 with five of Kluber’s eight strikeouts).

Kluber averaged 93.6 mph in April of 2014 and posted a near-identical 93.7 average in April 2015. He’s down a little more than 1 mph so far this month.

I’m no scout, but the biggest issue that I see here is that Kluber, when he was at his peak during his 2014 Cy Young season, worked in three very distinct velocity tiers. The curve (called a slider in the above chart) came in around 82-84, the cutter came in around 88-91 and the fastball (four-seam or sinker) came in around 94-96. Combined with the movement on the three pitches, it can be a devastating arsenal that keeps hitters guessing and off-balance.

So far this season, all of Kluber’s pitches are down a touch, but what seemed most glaring on Sunday was the fact that his cutter was in same velo range as his other fastballs. While the movement is obviously different between a sinker and cutter, if they are coming in around the same range, that can only help a hitter’s timing. And, if hitters can have success against the fastballs and cutters, it hinders Kluber from getting into counts where he can put them away with his curve.

Maybe it is a mechanical issue, as Kluber and Francona said after the game. Maybe Kluber heads to the bullpen this week to work on it with Callaway and next outing he comes out looking like the starter we’ve grown accustomed to seeing over the past two years. It’s not like Kluber was a complete mess Sunday. Issues out of his control played a role, and then he held New York to a 2-for-15 showing to close out his outing.

This is something worth keeping an eye on, though.

SECOND: There is no getting around the first inning. It was vintage Kluber… if we’re talking about the 2012 Kluber that put up a 10.50 first-inning ERA.

Leadoff walk to Curtis Granderson. Base hit pulled through the hole by Asdrubal Cabrera. No-doubt double by Michael Conforto, with no interference by the sun. Two batters and one mound visit from Callaway later, Lucas Duda delivered a two-run single.

There were no excuses about that game-opening sequence.

“Walking the leadoff guy is never good to start a game,” Kluber said. “But, we got a rollover ground ball from Cabby that just found a hole. I just didn’t make a good pitch to Conforto or Duda. They both drove in runs with them.”

THIRD: About the sun, though…

With two outs in the second inning, Granderson sent a pitch from Kluber to deep center field.

Now, we had already received a clue that the sun was an issue. In the first, catcher Yan Gomes went into foul ground to chase down a routine pop-up from Yoenis Cespedes. It dropped in and Gomes was (temporarily) given an error. The error was removed by the official scorer when, after looking at the replay, it was clear that Gomes couldn’t see the ball. That was, unfortunately, foreshadowing.

Davis sprinted toward the wall with his glove high in the air, and the ball dropped a few feet in front of him at the warning track. Granderson was given a triple.

“I had all the way,” Davis said. “And then as it was coming down, it came down right into the sun. I guess it was a little late to tell my left fielder, but it is what it is.”

Rather than an inning-ending catch, Davis’ troubles opened the door for the Mets. Cabrera followed with an infield dribbler, and made it to second on a throwing error by Kluber. Conforto added another double — this one bouncing off first base. And then, Cespedes sent a pitch high over center field.

Once again, Davis lifted his glove in the air to shield the blazing orb that was messing with him all afternoon. Once again, the center fielder had no shot as the ball plopped to the grass for an RBI double.

“I did see it off the bat,” Davis said. “Those are the ones you just have to play out of position to catch those balls. They’re not going to be easy balls to catch, especially with the sun out like that as high as it is, but you just have to make the adjustment, especially at this level.”

In the fifth, Marlon Byrd lost a ball in the sun in right, Davis made it there in time to make the catch, and the Cleveland crowd let out sarcastic cheers of approval.

Kluber’s pitching line now says six runs (all earned) allowed over six innings for this one. Three may never have happened had it not been for the sun. Go figure, too, considering that Davis made a catch in a snowstorm in Chicago a little over a week ago.

 

HOME: Through 10 games, the Indians have seen six left-handed starting pitchers. The latest, rookie Steven Matz, spun six shutout innings with a career-high nine strikeouts. It goes without saying that a six-run cushion after two frames helps, but the early returns against southpaws has not been great for Cleveland.

With Sunday’s showing, the Indians are now hitting .202 (34-for-168) against left-handed pitching this season. Collin Cowgill, Juan Uribe, Byrd and Davis — all with a solid track record against lefties — have gone a combined 5-for-59 (.085) against left-handers so far this year. Indians need that to turn around in a big way.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

2 Comments

Davis torched the 2nd. Our bats torched the game.

I enjoy seeing myself pop up on the Internet, but really think there are dozens of my friends who would have been better choices.

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