Covering the Bases: Game 26

Jose Ramirez

Some notes and quotes from Friday’s 7-1 win over the Royals.

FIRST: Earlier this season, we were jokingly trying to come up with a nickname for Indians utility man Jose Ramirez. Paul Hoynes of Cleveland.com didn’t hesitate.

“Boom Boom,” Hoynes said.

Since then, that’s what we have called Ramirez up in the press box. After every hit he gets, someone will say, “Boom Boom.” After a nice play in the field: “Boom Boom.” On Friday night, Boom Boom was out in force against the Royals. That said, Ramirez has been on a strong run since this season begam.

“He’s done a pretty good job,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “It’s worked out kind of how we mapped it out. You want to find places for him to play, so he can help you win. He’s done a really good job of staying ready.”

Against Kansas City, Boom Boom had three hits, including a pair of doubles, and a career-high five RBIs. We never saw his helmet fly off, though, and Zack Meisel of Cleveland.com says Ramirez’s helmet hasn’t flown from his head on the bases since April 23. That is very unlike the utility man.

After the game, we asked him why his helmet has been staying put lately.

Starter Danny Salazar laughed as he relayed the question to Ramirez in Spanish. Ramirez cracked a smile and gave his reply.

“He says it fell one time today,” Salazar said.

With his showing on Friday, Ramirez is now sporting a .324/.361/.456 slash line with a 133 wRC+ (which means he’s played 33-percent above league average) through 20 games. At this point last year, Ramirez also had appeared in 20 games, but was batting .194/.234/.264 slash line for the Tribe.

Francona could have easily given up on Ramirez, but the manager has been one of his biggest fans over the past few years. He calls Ramirez a weapon and has stressed since the spring that the Indians wanted to find ways to keep him involved in the lineup on a regular basis. Even with Juan Uribe at third and a surplus of outfielders, Francona has kept his word and Ramirez has thrived.

“I’m really thankful to Tito for believing in me, and giving me the opportunity,” Ramirez said through Salazar. “I’m taking advantage of that. Every time I get the opportunity to go out there, I’m just trying to do my job.”

SECOND: Going into this season, there was a growing sense that Salazar might be on the cusp of a breakout season. Granted, he won 14 games and fanned 195 last year, so it’s not really going out on a limb to say Salazar would be good again. But, we’ve been waiting to see him go from good to great.

Through six outings this year, Salazar has been great.

Now, more than ever, Cleveland needs that to continue. With Carlos Carrasco likely out until June, the Indians need Salazar to elevate his game and pitch like a No. 2. The hard-throwing right-hander is more than capable of doing so, as he’s shown to this point this season.

“We miss him in the rotation right now,” Salazar said. “But, we’re working really hard — all of us. I think we’re doing pretty good. We’re just going to wait for him to come back.”

Salazar’s line vs. Kansas City: 7.2 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 9 K

“That was his best start,” Francona said. “He had good stuff from start to finish and he had all of his pitches. He was really letting it go, reached back for more when he needed it. That was an impressive start.”

Entering Friday, Salazar was using his four-seam fastball 48.8 percent of the time. Against the Royals, that percentage spiked to 59.4 percent (63 of 106 pitches). Kansas City is an aggressive lineup, so Salazar attacked that with his four-seamer more than usual.

“You have to be smart when you go out there,” Salazar said. “You have to be real aggressive. You have to mix all your pitches when you face them. [Catcher Yan Gomes] and I were on the same page today. We talked about it during the bullpen and when we were walking to the dugout. I told him I want to follow him and I think it worked. He called a great game. That was awesome. That was huge today.”

THIRD: You never know how important an early-inning out will be as a game progressed. Now that we know Cleveland scored seven runs, and that Salazar was on top of his game into the eighth, well, that pick-off play in the first inning doesn’t seem like that big of a deal.

At the time, though, it was a big play.

“That was great,” Salazar said.

Lorenzo Cain reached with an infield single in the first inning and, as we all know from watching the Royals in recent years, he has a way of igniting things on the bases. He can toy with a pitcher from the basepaths, maybe forcing a rushed pitch that winds up elevated for the next batter. This time, the Indians saw to it that Kansas City didn’t get anything going in the opening frame.

Catcher Yan Gomes called for a pick-off play and Salazar obliged. With Kendrys Morales in the box, Salar fired the ball to first baseman Mike Napoli. Cain slipped and was caught in a rundown, which led to Napoli applying the tag for an inning-ending out.

“You never know [how a game will go],” Francona said. “Scoring first is always important. We’ve played them enough. We saw the way, even in the ninth inning, they’re not going to stop playing.”

HOME: And that brings us to tonight’s episode of Francisco Lindor Theater.

With two outs in the second inning, Salvador Perez sent a sharp grounder up the middle, just to the left of second base. I mean, this one had single to center field written all over it. I guess we should learn to remove that as the initial mental reaction from our thought process, considering that Lindor is out there playing shortstop.

Lindor swiftly ranged to his left, covering an estimated 25 feet, according to Statcast. He hit a top speed of 15.7 mph and had a route efficiency of 96.7 percent. Shoot, let’s just give him a score of 100. Lindor dove, snared the baseball, gathered himself in the outfield grass and made a pinpoint throw to first baseman Mike Napoli for the out.

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“He has the ability to do that all the time,” Francona said. “He’s going to make plays like that, because he’s really athletic, he has good hands, he has a good arm and he’s into the game.”

Yeah, no kidding.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

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