Covering the Bases: Game 19

KipnisSome notes and quotes from Wednesday’s 6-5 win over the Twins.

FIRST: Man, there are a lot of places we could start tonight.

We could delve into a great bounceback performance by Cleveland’s bullpen, which wound up on the wrong end of back-to-back walk-offs in Minnesota. Or, we could discuss another great night atop the lineup for Carlos Santana (3-for-4, one walk, one steal, one double, two runs). Maybe you’d like to focus on Michael Brantley inching towards looking like himself in the batter’s box.

I’m going to start with a trio of at-bats by Jason Kipnis.

When we approached Kipniss after Cleveland’s win, he quipped that *of course* we’d want to talk to him after he struck out four times. Here’s the thing, though, he also ignited a four-run rally in the fifth with a double down the right-field line. And, his two previous at-bats, while they ended in punchouts, set the stage for that moment.

“You’re talking to a guy who only put the ball in play once,” Kipnis said with a laugh.

A teammate heard him and fired over, “That’s all you needed!”

“That’s all I needed,” Kipnis repeated, while rolling his eyes.

Here’s the thing, though. Kipnis saw 20 pitches from Twins rookie Jose Berrios leading up to his double. Berrios, making his Major League debut, was firing anything and everything Kipnis’ way. Yes, he struck Kipnis out in the first and third innings, but the young pitcher was being worn out, and the Tribe’s second baseman was learning the right-hander’s tendencies, along the way.

“They were doing a good job of locating, speeding me up,” Kipnis said. “Pushing and pulling on me with the fastball away and then the changeup and curveball in. They had success the first two at-bats.”

Kipnis1

The above graphic is a a look at the first battle between Berrios and Kipnis. The righty focused on a fastball-changeup mix in this battle, but introduced the curveball seven pitches in. Not only was Berrios changing speeds, but he was altering Kipnis’ eye level. The at-bat ended with an elevated 94-mph fastball for a swinging strikeout.

Kipnis2

Here is the second at-bat. This time around, Berrios flooded Kipnis with offspeed pitches. He went changeup, changeup, curve out of the  gate. Then, he came back with a 92-mph fastball that Kipnis fouled off. Berrios then returned to the changeup and ended with back-to-back curves. No. 6 was fouled off. Kipnis swung through No. 7.

“He’s got good stuff. He’s got a good arm motion,” Kipnis said. “He keeps the same arm speed on a bunch of his pitches. He’ll get better, obviously, as he goes, once he cuts down on how many pitches he throws. I think we had him up near the 80-pitch count in the fourth inning.

“Just as I did, even though I struck out the first two at-bats, if we’re making him work, getting him deep in the counts, we’re seeing a lot more of his stuff and we’re going to, like you saw, get to him later in the game.”

Kipnis3

Here is the third battle. The first four pitches were fastballs between 91-93 mph. After the first pitch, Berrios was elevating for the remainder of this at-bat. Rather than go back to the changeup, though, the right-hander did the same thing he did to end the second meeting. He doubled up on curveballs. Kipnis fouled off the fifth pitch, but didn’t miss the next. Berrios hung an 81-mph curve and Kipnis ripped it into right.

“He threw the same pitch twice in a row. It was a mistake,” Kipnis said. “He’ll be the first one to probably tell you that. Kurt [Suszuki] behind the plate could probably tell you that. … He doubled up. And I just missed the previous curveball right before that and hung the
second one, almost in the same spot. So, I did my job to not miss it that time.

“The kid got me the at-bat before with the curveball, but at that time I had seen everything he’s had in almost in every spot inside and out. I was just making the adjustment.”

That hit pulled the game into a 3-3 tie, chased Berrios from the ballgame and ignited a four-run push that proved to be the difference.

“Kip strikes out four times,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “But the one at-bat, first and second, he drills a ball to right field that kind of changed the game.”

SECOND: Two batters after Kipnis came through, Brantley stepped in to face Twins lefty Fernando Abad. Heading into the night, Abad had 12 strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings this season with no runs allowed.

After watching three pitches and falling behind in the count, 1-2, Brantley fouled off five of the next six pitches to stay alive. He then lofted a pitch to deep left field, where Twins outfielder Eddie Rosario botched the catch for an error. It scored Kipnis from third and was deemed a sac fly for Brantley, who later scored on a hit from Mike Napoli.

“That was some kind of at-bat,” Francona said. “Abad had not given up a run yet, and I know technically he still hasn’t, but that was a pretty good at-bat. We’ve seen that from Brantley so many times. He’s not going to get beat the wrong way. That was good for him probably to see a lefty.”

In Brantley’s next at-bat, he collected his first hit of the season with a slashed single to left field. Cleveland’s star left fielder was later intentionally walked in the ninth inning. After he opened with an 0-for-7 showing, it was good for the Indians to see Brantley looking much better in his final three plate appearances.

THIRD: It was a rough night for Indians starter Josh Tomlin, but the offense and bullpen bailed him out in this one.

Over 5 1/3 innings, Tomlin allowed five runs (four earned) on six hits, ending with one strikeout and one walk. The right-hander only threw 65 pitches, but Minnesota was in ambush mode all evening. Seventeen of the 23 batters Tomlin faced had their at-bats end within three pitches. We asked Tomlin how he tries to adjust when hitters are attacking in early counts so often.

“For me, it’s throwing quality pitches down in the zone,” Tomlin said. “I think they swung first or second pitch and, if it wasn’t that one, it was probably the third or fourth pitch. They were swinging early, I knew that. But, I was trying to execute good pitches down in the zone or good quality pitches up in the zone. Maybe close to them.

“But, I wasn’t able to execute those pitches early in the count. When I got into little bit deeper counts, and got guys 0-2, I was able to make pretty good pitches when that happened. They were putting good swings on balls that were over the heart of the plate early in the count.”

Tomlin’s final pitch was the first pitch to Byung Ho Park with one out in the sixth inning. Park crushed a cutter to deep center, where it crashed off the black backdrop behind the center-field wall. The shot had an exit velo of 106.7 mph and soared 441 feet, according to Statcast.

Tomlin was asked what he was trying to do on the pitch.

“Not that,” he said with a laugh. ” I was trying to throw a cutter down and away. I tried to get an early-contact, early out. I kind of looked back when I got a pitch back early in that inning and saw the bullpen going, so I knew if there was going to be guys on base, or if I had traffic, I was probably done.

“So, for me, I kind of assumed he was going to be swinging there, so I just wanted to make a quality pitch down and away in the zone, or maybe just off the plate to try to get an early-contact rollover, weak contact to get an out. That cutter just kind of backed up on me and it stayed over the middle, the heart of the plate, and he put a good swing on it.”

HOME: On Monday night, Zach McAllister gave up a walk-off home run to Oswaldo Arcia. On Tuesday night, Cody Allen gave up a walk-off single to Miguel Sano. So, naturally, each of the relievers were tasked with critical moments in Wednesday’s win.

In the bottom of the seventh, an infield hit and back-to-back walks put McAllister in a bases-loaded, two-out jam with Park at the plate. The big righty fed the slugger a steady dose of fastballs and came away victorious. The final heater was an elevated 95-mph fastball that Park swung through, eliciting a collective groan from the crowd.

After the punchout, McAllister flexed and shouted as be bounced off the mound.

“I knew it was one of those moments throughout the game where it’s really meaningful,” McAllister said. “In that situation, when the bases are loaded and they’re down by one, he can do a lot of damage. You saw what he did the at-bat before. So, it was definitely a good feeling to get out of that.”

Before we get to Allen, let’s tip our cap to Big Mac’s puma-like reflexes.

After Eddie Rosario’s leadoff single in the seventh, Danny Santana tried to move him up 90 feet with a bunt. Instead, he popped it up in front of the mound. McAllister ran forward, reached out and made the catch as he fell hard to the grass.

“That’s athleticism,” Allen said with a smile. “That’s an athletic dude right there.”

Told of Allen’s commentary, McAllister laughed.

“Yeah, I’m sure you can go back and watch more video of it,” he said, “and probably see how athletic I looked doing that. I mean, an out’s an out in my opinion.”

As for Allen, he wound up facing Joe Mauer with two outs and a runner on second base with the game on the line in the ninth. The closer went right after the Twins first baseman and won a nine-pitch battle by inducing a flyout to center field. After Tuesday night, Allen was thrilled to get right back out there.

“It’s a good feeling,” Allen said. “You want to stop riding this roller coaster I’ve been on for the last few weeks. It’s a good feeling. It’s a step in the right direction. I wouldn’t necessarily say I won the battle with Mauer, because he put a really good swing on it right there.

“But, just to get a win [was great]. Everybody before me pitched unbelievable. They came in did their job and held them where they were. The offense and defense did some really good things too. That was a baseball team win right there. It’s kind of what we needed after the last couple of games.”

Programming note: I will not be making the trip to Philadelphia, so the blog will be quiet for a few days. Keep checking Indians.com for all the latest on the Tribe from the City of Brotherly Love.

–JB

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