Covering the Bases: Game 18

AndersonSome notes and quotes from Tuesday’s 6-5 loss to the Twins.

FIRST: While the Indians were playing the Twins on Tuesday night, Corey Kluber left the dugout and headed to a video room. The leader of Cleveland’s rotation wanted to see if he could quickly find something to help Cody Anderson.

For the third straight start, Anderson was struggling with leaving pitches up in the strike zone. On top of that, his sinker was flat and his changeup lacked the usual depth. Pitches were spinning back over the plate and into hitter-friendly areas. It was, once again, not the Anderson that the Indians saw in Spring Training.

Before Anderson went out for the sixth inning, Kluber found something.

“Kluber was doing some hard work in-between innings, looking at some stuff,” Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said. “And [we] maybe have identified something that might help Cody out. We talked a little bit about it before the last inning he pitched and then he put together probably the best pitches he had thrown the whole game to the first two batters.”

Kluber noticed that Anderson was closing off too much with his lead foot during his stride towards the plate. Last season, Anderson’s stride continued to drift open a little more with each outing, so Callaway set an offseason goal of closing his stride off more. Basically, the goal was to have Anderson planting his lead foot in a more direct line to the plate, helping create a chain reaction that produces more velocity.

Let’s let Mickey explain…

“Last year, he had a really open stride,” Callaway said, “which was kind of killing his velo and wouldn’t allow him to block himself off to get the velocity he wanted. So, [we made] a slight adjustment in the offseason to close it off a little bit. It looks like he’s closed it off too much and he’s spinning off, getting a little more side to side, and not getting through the ball with good direction. It’s causing either a yanked fastball or a fastball that leaks back with flat run over the middle of the plate.”

Callaway said the idea over the winter was to get Anderson’s stride closer to where it was in his Major League debut on June 21 last year. In that start, he maxed out at 98.2 mph. After that start, he never got near that velo range again. This spring, Anderson looked better, sitting at 95-97 in some outings.

“We were looking for the power that we saw in his first start last year,” Callaway said. “You saw the 96-97, and he started opening up, opening up, opening up and pitching at 90-91. The peripherals last year probably didn’t say that he was going to be able to sustain success like he had last year, because of the strikeouts and things like that. So, we went and looked at it in the offseason and wanted to go get that velo that we saw the first game. We wanted him to maintain it throughout the season, so we tried to straighten his stride, maybe close it off a little bit, so he had something to throw against.”

In the sixth inning, following his brief chat with Kluber and Callaway, Anderson worked Eduardo Escobar into an 0-2 count and got the batter to ground out against a curveball. Then, Anderson worked ahead, 1-2, against Kurt Suzuki, who had burned the pitcher all night, and used a sinker to induce another groundout.

“I actually thought his last inning was probably his best inning,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “Until he threw a changeup that was just up too much to [Eddie] Rosario.”

SECOND: Yeah, about that changeup.

Anderson said he wanted to throw it out of the zone, but the pitch betrayed him and caught too much of the plate. Rosario did what any good Major League hitter is paid to do. He smacked the mistake out of the ballpark. It was the second start in a row that Anderson gave up a homer on his signature offspeed offering.

“That’s his pitch,” Indians catcher Yan Gomes said. “I don’t want to call that one one of the mistakes. Rosario, we knew he was going to swing first pitch, and we tried to go with his best pitch right out of the get-go. Rosario, tip our cap to him, he stayed back on it and put a good swing on it.”

Fair enough.

Now, while the Indians think they may have found a fix for Anderson, what has been happening of late has been ugly. Tuesday marked the third straight start in which the righty has given up five runs on nine-plus hits. In that three-start span, Anderson has given up 15 runs on 28 hits in 14 innings.

“A lot of hits,” Francona said in the understatement of the day.

Here’s the thing now. We know Trevor Bauer is going to start against the Phillies on Saturday. That creates a unique situation for the Indians and their rotation. With off-days coming Thursday and Monday, Cleveland has the ability to use a four-man rotation through May 6, if so desired.

Do the math. That’s 10 days until the Indians need a fifth starter. That means Cleveland could option Anderson to Triple-A on Wednesday, give him a start to work on the adjustments noted above and then recall him for the May 7 game against the Royals. Now, I’m not saying this is necessarily going to happen. I’m just thinking outloud and this is a plausible scenario currently in play. The Indians did something similar with TJ House in 2014.

Francona didn’t take the bait when prodded about a potential roster move.

“When we do things we always talk to players [first],” Francona said. “We have some things to talk through, but we’ll get there.”

THIRD: OK, let’s take a moment to do some hat-tipping to the Tribe offense.

In the first inning, Jason Kipnis stayed back on a curveball from Ricky Nolasco and pulled it over the right-field wall for a home run. [tips cap] In the third, Juan Uribe used his old-man strength to rip a pitch out to left with an exit velo of 102.5 mph for his first homer of the year. [tips cap] Carlos Santana added an opposite-field shot to the base of the left-center wall in the sixth for an RBI double. [tips cap]

And, man, did Mike Napoli ever need the shot he delivered in the ninth. Mired in a 2-for-21 slump that included 12 strikeouts, Napoli absolutely crushed a 94-mph heater from Kevin Jepsen. It rocketed off the bat at 109.5 mph and had a projected distance of 442 feet, per Statcast. Napoli strolled out of the box, admired his work and mic dropped his bat before trotting around the bases. [tips cap]

That blast pulled the game into a 5-5 deadlock.

HOME: Indians closer Cody Allen says he has no issues coming into a game when it’s a non-save situation. After Nap’s home run evened things up, Francona handed Allen the ball for the home half of the ninth.

“When it’s a tie ballgame, your room for error is a little less, especially on the road,” Allen said. “It’s one of those things, even with a three-run lead, you’re trying to go 1-2-3. You’re not trying to give up runs or fall behind guys.”

Allen yielded a leadoff single, but Danny Santana was then sent back to the dugout after being caught stealing by Gomes. Brian Dozier followed with a double, leading to an intentional walk to Joe Mauer. Then, Miguel Sano placed a 1-1 fastball in center field for a game-winning single. Ballgame.

It added to another tough April for Allen.

“When you give up a few runs and haven’t thrown a lot,” he said, “your stuff gets inflated. It’s been a little bit of a struggle.”

No kidding.

Allen and setup man Bryan Shaw have combined for a 9.56 ERA and a 1.69 WHIP. They have allowed 17 runs on 18 hits with 17 strikeouts and nine walks in 16 innings. Meanwhile, the rest of the bullpen has turned in a 2.27 ERA with a 1.01 WHIP in their 39.2 combined innings.

Of course, we’ve seen this movie before. The hope once again, though, is that this is simply a bad start and not a case of heavy usage catching up to Allen and Shaw. We’ve wondered the same the past two years, and then the late-inning duo has a way of getting on a roll and fashioning solid overall numbers.

Over the 2013-15 seasons, Allen had a 2.49 ERA overall and Shaw turned in a 2.93 ERA overall. Allen actually led baseball in relief fWAR last season, too. But, their collective workload is a bit staggering. Over that same three-year period, among all Major League relievers, Shaw ranked first in games, second in batters faced, third in innings and fourth in pitches thrown. Allen ranked second, seventh, fifth and fifth in those same categories.

Is this the year it finally comes back to bite them? We don’t know that, yet. All we know is it’s been another rough first month for the pair of righties.

“It’s definitely tough,” Gomes said. “I don’t want to give the excuse that it’s early in the season or anything like that, because I think that’s the easy route. But, even with the rough patches right now that are going on, those two guys are going to be in when the game’s on the line every time for us.

“They have a track record of doing really well, so we’re not hitting any kind of panic button. We’re still going to rely on those two guys to be in the back of the line, closing games out.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

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