Covering the Bases: Game 23

LindorSantanaSome notes and quotes from Tuesday’s 7-3 win over the Tigers.

FIRST: Francisco Lindor is pretty good at this whole baseball thing.

Exhibit A: Three-run home run off Justin Verlander in fifth:

Exhibit B: Ho-hum diving stop and perfect one-hop throw in second:

Needless to say, it was the Lindor Show on Tuesday night in Cleveland. The shortstop singled and scored in the first inning. He doubled and scored in the third. And, after Detroit threatened to make a comeback with a two-run showing in the top of the fifth, Lindor belted that three-run homer in the home half to spread the game open.

“That’s part of the reason he has a chance to be so good,” Indians manager Terry Francona said, “because he can impact the game in so many different ways.”

Lindor being Lindor, he was more focused on the one time he didn’t come through against the Tigers. In the sixth inning, the switch-hitting shortstop stepped to the plate a triple shy of a cycle, and with a chance to really do some damage with the bases loaded and one out. He grounded into a double play to end the inning.

“The last at-bat I had, I was a little upset,” Lindor said. “But, we were still winning. I went out and talked to [Michael] Brantley. He told me how the approach should be, how I can improve. Those things, you guys don’t see,  but that’s huge.”

Lindor’s diving play came against Justin Upton to begin the second. The Tigers outfielder hit it 103 mph off the bat and sent it sharply towards the hole between third and short. Lindor ranged swiftly to his right, snared the ball with a diving grab and then made an accurate throw to first baseman Mike Napoli.

Those plays are beginning to feel routine at this point.

“He makes it look routine,” Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin agreed. “That’s a tough play and he makes it look easy and gets up like he’s done it 100 times. He probably has. He’s a stud, that’s for sure.”

After Lindor’s torrid second half last year, the big question was how the league would adjust to him this season. Well, Lindor hit .313/.353/.482 in 99 games last summer. Through 101 plate appearances this year, Lindor is batting .315/.380/.438.

“Pitchers make adjustments,” Lindor said. “So do I.”

SECOND: It’s a play that could easily get lost in the shuffle, but Indians catcher Yan Gomes and Napoli teamed for another impressive pick-off. Once again, it was Upton who was on the wrong end of a great defensive play by Cleveland.

On a 1-1 pitch from Tomlin, Gomes received the ball and quickly snapped off a throw to Napoli, who was positioned between Upton and the bag. Unlike the pick-off play in Chicago on April 8, when Napoli snuck behind the runner, the first baseman needed only to take a step, glove the relay and slam the tag on Upton.

“Gomer’s feet, he’s so quick,” Francona said. “Everybody talks about his arm, but his feet are so quick. And his awareness — same with Nap. Again, taking outs. It’s almost like the opposite of, if you make an error, you prolong an inning. It’s just in reverse. It’s part of what Gomer can do, and it certainly is helpful.”

There was another critical play involving Gomes in the first inning.

Tomlin (6 IP, 9 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 5 K) was off to a shaky start, allowing two hits within his first three batters faced. Then, he induced a flyout to right field from Victor Martinez. J.D. Martinez tagged up at third and tested the arm of right fielder Marlon Byrd. He slid in safely ahead of the tag from Gomes and the Tigers had a 1-0 lead on a sacrifice fly.

Except, no they didn’t.

Inside the Indians’ clubhouse, replay coordinator Mike Barnett was quick in noticing that Martinez’s foot was off the ground while Gomes applied a high tag. Francona got the message, challenged the ruling and the call was overturned after an examination of the instant replay. Detroit was robbed of its run and the Indians then grabbed a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first.

“You never want them to score first,” Tomlin said. “It doesn’t matter who you’re facing, but a lineup like that, that’s a huge play. I know it’s the first inning, but that’s still a huge play in the game. That inning could have snowballed in a hurry if he was safe. Byrd made a good throw and Yan made a great tag and, fortunately, we got him out.”

THIRD: During the recent 1-5 swing through Minnesota and Philadelphia, the offense was a major issue. The heart of the lineup, specifically, had plenty of woes. The trio of Michael Brantley, Mike Napoli and Yan Gomes — the Nos. 4-6 hitters on Tuesday — went a combined 5-for-54 during those six games.

On Tuesday night, those three delivered big for the Indians. Napoli came through with a twor-run double in the first inning, and Gomes followed with an RBI single. Brantley brought Lindor home with a base hit in the third inning. That is the kind of production Cleveland needs from the middle, especially on a night like Tuesday, when the Nos. 1-3 hitters went a combined 5-for-9 with three walks.

“Hopefully, it thickens out [the lineup] a little bit,” Francona said of getting Brantley, Napoli and Gomes going, “and you don’t give a pitcher an inning off ever.”

HOME: Remember the Bryan Shaw wedding ring controversy in Detroit?

Some background, during the eighth inning of the Tribe’s 6-3 win over the Tigers on April 24, Detroit manager Brad Ausmus complained about a rubber wedding band that Shaw was wearing under his glove. Ausmus was concerned that Shaw was scuffing the baseball. So, following a meeting with the umpires, and a second complaint by Ausmus, Shaw stuff the ring in his back pocket and everyone moved on with their lives.

On Tuesday, Shaw once again took the mound in the eighth against the Tigers. This time, the reliever waited until he reached the mound to remove the ring. He didn’t want Ausmus to throw a fit again.

“I had it on, actually. I had it on since we played Detroit,” Shaw said. “I kind of forgot it was one there. Brad [Ausmus] made a stink about it last time, so when I got out there and realized I had it on, I took it off for him, just to give him some peace of mind. He seems to be the only one with an issue with it, so whatever. I’ll take it off when I play Detroit and I’ll put it on when I play everybody else.”

Without his wedding ring on, Shaw struck out James McCann and then created a groundout off the bat of Jarrod Saltalamacchia to end the inning.

In the outing, Shaw averaged 94.9 mph with his cut fastball, continuing a recent trend for the reliever. He has averaged at least 94.9 mph with the cutter in each of his past five appearances. Last season, Shaw topped a 94-mph average in only three of his 74 appearances. Since “The Ring Game,” Shaw has spun 3.2 shutout innings with five strikeouts and no walks.

In that span, Shaw has lowered his ERA from 14.21 to 9.00!

“I know his ERA is kind of elevated because of the first couple weeks,” Francona said. “But he’s throwing the ball with more power than I’ve seen since we got him. I think that bodes well. We talk about hitters finding their level. He’ll get there, too. And it’ll be fun to watch.”

Also fun: Shaw has kind of become the unofficial spokesman for Qalo Athletics. After the game, he was wearing a T-shirt repping the company, which makes the rubber rings. During his postgame chat, Shaw was actually wearing five different versions of the band on his ring finger. Shaw said that Ollie Linton, a friend of his and a former Indians’ Minor Leaguer, works for Qalo now.

“When all this stuff was going down, [the people at Qalo] were talking about it,” Shaw said. “It was before he actually told them that he knew me. So, they were going to send the T-shirt that I’ve got on, extra rings, different stuff like that to showcase. It’s kind of cool.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

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