Covering the Bases: Game 15

GomesSome notes and quotes from Saturday’s 10-1 win over Detroit.

FIRST: When the Indians scored their first run in the opening inning on Saturday, it was more support that Corey Kluber received in his last start. When the Tribe scored two, it was more than his previous two starts combined. The third run in the first equaled the support of the pitcher’s previous three starts combined.

So, what was Kluber thinking before he took the mound to face the Tigers?

“It’s awesome,” he said with a grin.

The Indians didn’t stop there, either. Eight runs through three innings and 10 by the seventh. If that cushion wasn’t enough for Kluber, well, Cleveland would’ve had bigger issues at hand. The former Cy Young winner cruised, striking out 10, walking none and yielding just one run over eight innings.

You can bet that both Kluber and his teammates are tired of talking about the run-support problem. Hey, for what it’s worth, we’re tired of writing about it! The Indians needed this kind of showing with their staff ace on the hill. Maybe it will be a mental load off for the Tribe as it moves forward.

“It’s sort of a relief, you know?” Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor said. “We’ve had trouble scoring when he pitches. It was good that we put up a lot of runs today.”

SECOND: All of that said, we hadn’t seen Kluber at his best yet this season before Saturday’s win.

One issue that pitching coach Mickey Callaway raised earlier this week was the fact that Kluber wasn’t mixing in his curve that much in the early innings. Callaway felt that, once the right-hander began working in the breaking ball, it actually helped the mechanics of his other pitches.

Well, Kluber broke out the curve on the first pitch to Justin Upton, Detroit’s No. 2 hitter, in the first inning. The starter used it two more times in the first, too. if Callaway is right, perhaps that early use helped Kluber find a comfort zone, one that was only helped by the surplus of offensive support.

“We’ve just been working on going at them from the get-go,” Indians catcher Yan Gomes said. “I think we sometimes have been a little timid and passive and tried to hold back some pitches. Early in the season, you want to just go for it and just kind of throw everything right out of the gate, go get everything feeling good and see which pitch is going to work out that day.”

The pitch that Kluber relied heavily on against Detroit was his signature sinker. He threw 42-percent sinkers, in fact, which was a noticeable increase over his season average (30.6) heading into the outing. Kluber featured fewer four-seamers and changeups, and was in relatively the same usage range with his cutter and curve.

In short, it was a pitch distribution closer to what we saw with peak Kluber.

“I think the biggest thing was fastball command,” Kluber said. “I was a little more down in the zone than I have been the last few times out. It probably was the difference.”

Here is how Detroit fared vs. Kluber’s pitches…

Sinker: 1-for-10 with five strikeouts and one home run
Cutter: 0-for-5 with two strikeouts
Curve: 0-for-5 with three strikeouts
Four-searmer: 1-for-4 with a single
Changeup: 0-for-2

The pitch that stood out to me was a 2-2 curveball to Nick Castellanos that tailed way out of the strike zone in the fifth inning. The Tigers third baseman was fooled badly and chased the breaking pitch with a feeble swing.

Here is where the pitch (No. 5) was located:

KluberK

Here is what the swing looked like:

I mean, that’s not even fair.

Now, following Kluber’s first three starts, it was pretty well-documented (here included) that he was displaying diminished velocity compared to previous years. It’s only fair to point out that the pitcher’s velo was up roughly 1 mph on his cutter, curve and change, when compared to his season averages. The fastballs (sinker/four-seam) were right around the same as they have been all season.

What’s important on the velocity topic is this: When things are going wrong, we’re going to search for potential reasons why, and Kluber’s drop in pitch speed was one thing that stood out. An outing like Saturday in Detroit shows, however, that Kluber has the arsenal to be an overpowering pitcher.

THIRD: Let it be known: Lindor is ridiculous in the field.

This is not breaking news, of course, but the Indians’ talented young shortstop made a pair of breathtaking plays in the win over Detroit. He made a diving catch up the middle in the fifth to snag an Andrew Romine chopper that was brilliant, but it almost felt like a routine play given what we’ve seen over the past year.

Now, the play he made in the seventh? Wow.

Miguel Cabrera smoked an 0-1 pitch to the left side of the infield, where it hit the dirt right in front of Lindor. The shortstop didn’t have time to think, or pick a direction to move. What he did was shuffle back a step before quickly raising his glove — perhaps for the sake of protection as much as wanting to snare the baseball.

“He put his glove out,” Gomes said. “If not, it’s going to hit him right in the stomach.”

The baseball found its way into Lindor’s glove and the shortstop tumbled over into the outfield grass.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. “If anyone’s going to knock someone over, it’d be Miggy. He hits the ball hard. The ball comes off his bat with a little more acceleration than most.”

This one had a 106.6 mph exit velocity.

“I just threw the glove and it got me,” Lindor said. “I tried to get up as fast as I could. I fell and the only thing I saw when I looked up were my toes, the white part of my cleats. I was like, ‘Uh oh!’ So, I got up and threw the ball.”

Lindor’s throw beat Cabrera to first base by a step.

HOME: Pitching and defense are critical, but it was the Tribe’s offense that set the tone for this win. And, with the victory, Cleveland is in a position to complete its first three-game sweep in Detroit for the first time since Aug. 25-27, 2008.

There were multiple offensive contributors in this one. Carlos Santana, Leadoff Man, had two hits, including an RBI double. Jason Kipnis had two hits, one walk and a run scored. Lindor singled, stole a base, drew a walk and scored twice. Mike Napoli had a pair of singles and crossed the plate two times. Jose Ramirez had an RBI base hit. Lonnie Chisenhall tripled and scored. Rajai Davis singled, doubled and knocked in a pair. Tyler Naquin doubled and scored.

The most outstanding offensive performance, through, came from Gomes. After hitting .143 in his past eight games, and going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts on Friday night, the catcher went 3-for-4 with a single, double, home run, three runs scored and five RBIs.

“As much of a good game as yesterday was, I don’t think I did much there,” Gomes said. “It was definitely good to come out and be able to help in some way.”

Gomes said it was important that he did not alter his approach in light of a handful of poor offensive games.

“Yesterday, even though the results didn’t quite go [my] way,” Gomes said, “I actually felt
really good. I was feeling really good during BP. I was feeling good during the game. I just think it was pitch selection in yesterday’s game that didn’t work out.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

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