Covering the Bases: Game 41

Cleveland Indians v Boston Red Sox

Some notes and quotes from Sunday’s 5-2 loss to the Red Sox.

FIRST: Danny Salazar gushed about Davis Ortiz on Saturday. The pitcher spoke about growing up a Red Sox fan and pulling for Big Papi. With Ortiz retiring, Salazar wanted to face him one last time.

Salazar even went as far as saying: “I don’t care if he gets a home run or I strike him out. I just want to do it.”

Well, that statement was put to the test on Sunday.

Ortiz hit that home run — the 514th of his career — in the fifth inning. He also knocked in a run with a single in the first and drove in another with a double in the second. After Salazar exited the game, Ortiz shot a pitch to deep center, where the ball rattled around the wall in Fenway’s dirt triangle. Had it not then bounced up into the seats, Ortiz might have had a triple to complete a cycle.

So, was Salazar still happy he got to face Ortiz?

“Yes, yes,” said the pitcher.

Facing Ortiz is no easy task right now.

“He’s kind of on a different level right now,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “It looks like he’s playing softball.”

In their first battle, Salazar stayed away from the strike zone. He started with a fastball inside and way low for a ball. He came back with a 96-mph heater up and away for a swinging strike. The third pitch was a low changeup that lacked its usual break and wound up pulled through the hole on the right side for a single.

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Salazar mostly stayed out of the strike zone in their second meeting, too. Only twice did he go into the zone: On a 3-1 fastball (Pitch 5) and a 3-2 fastball (Pitch 7). Following a first-pitch changeup in the dirt, Salazar suck with 96-97 mph fastballs. Ortiz fouled off three of them, but yanked the last one (97 mph) to right-center for a ground-rule double.

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Salazar fell behind in the third confrontation and paid for it again. After a ball-one heater that sailed high and outside, the pitcher came back with a 94-mph fastball. Ortiz smacked the low-and-away offering over the right-field wall for his homer.

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“He doesn’t swing at balls,” Francona said. “And, the ones he swings at, man. Even the ones he fouls off, you kind of take a deep breath. We tried not to pitch to him whenever we could, but they’ve done a good job with their lineup. If you end up walking people, they’re going to score. They’ve got a good thing going right now.”

Salazar added: “He’s hot right now. When you get behind in the count, you know you have to come back to the middle to throw a strike. He’s a guy that makes quick adjustments and I have to give him credit. He’s a really talented player and he’s been here for a long time.”

The pitcher said — given how well Ortiz is playing — he is surprised that the veteran is hanging up his spikes after this season.

“I was wondering, ‘Why is he retiring?'” Salazar said. “I know he has way more to give.”

Francona wasn’t as polite.

“I wish he would’ve retired last year,” quipped the manager.

SECOND: The Indians had a slight scare in the first inning, when Salazar was struck by a sharp comebacker off the bat of Hanley Ramirez. The baseball flew off Ramirez’s bat at 114 mph (per Statcast), hit the grass and then caromed off Salazar’s left leg just under his calf muscle.

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Salazar walked off the mound, dropped to a knee and then rolled onto his back while in clear pain. He was checked by head trainer James Quinlan and remained in the game after doing some walking, stretching and warm-up throws.

“It hit him hard,” Francona said. “I don’t think it’s anything other than it’s going to be a nice bruise.”

Salazar issued a walk to the next batter, but then escaped a bases-loaded jam with back-to-back strikeouts of Travis Shaw and Blake Swihart. All told, Salazar threw 40 pitches — the most he’s ever thrown in an inning. That helped run his pitch count up over 100 quickly and he was chased after 4.1 innings.

“A 40-pitch first inning. That’s hard,” Francona said. “Part of it was he wasn’t commanding. Part of it is that lineup is, from top to bottom, about as dangerous as you’re going to see. Whether they sustain it or not, I don’t know, but when you’re catching them at a time like this, in that streak that they’re in, they take some pretty good swings.

“There’s some days maybe against a different lineup, or because of Danny’s stuff, you can get by with it. But, the way they command the strike zone and the way they swing the bat, man, they make you work hard. Every pitch. Every out. Every inning is like a high-leverage, high-intensity inning.”

THIRD: Mike Napoli had a nice moment on Friday night, when the Red Sox aired a video tribute and the Fenway faithful gave him a standing O. Nap tipped his cap to the crowd in appreciation.

It was all downhill from there.

“For him to come back here, I know was pretty special,” Francona said. “But you can’t
just flick the switch the way you’re going to hit and the way you’re not.”

Napoli finished the three-game set with an 0-for-13 showing, which included nine strikeouts. From the ninth inning on Friday to the fifth inning Sunday, the first baseman struck out in eight consecutive plate appearances.

On the season, Napoli has a 37.8-percent strikeout rate, which is the highest in the Majors. His 62 strikeouts are tied for second-most in MLB, as of this writing. His 25 called strikeouts also lead baseball. Cleveland is counting on power to off-set that trend.

“That’s going to happen sometimes,” Francona said. “We’ve kind of said all along: We know there’s some swing and miss in there. But, shoot, man, he’s a tough kid. He’ll be right back in there tomorrow and he’ll be letting it fly.”

HOME: Before the game, the Indians promoted Austin Adams from Triple-A Columbus and sent lefty Kyle Crockett back to the Minors. Adams logged the final two innings for Cleveland and impressed Francona with his work.

“That was probably the highlight of the day,” Francona said. “Shoot, two innings against that lineup on 20 pitches. He got a couple quick outs. And I know the game’s late and it’s getting hard to see, but he also worked ahead and he threw his breaking ball, even when he was behind the one time. That was really god to see.”

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Adams went through seven batters on 21 pitches with his lone hiccup being a ground-rule double to Ortiz. The righty fired 14 fastballs, averaging 97.5 mph and topping out at 98.7. He featured a pair of 90-mph changeups and mixed in five sliders (four getting whiffs).

“It’s great just to get up here and get back into the groove of things,” Adams said, “and go out and relax and attack hitters.”

In 14 appearances with the Clippers this year, Adams posted a 1.10 ERA with 18 strikeouts and five walks in 16.1 innings.

“Really, I’ve been just focusing on first-pitch strikes,” Adams said, “and not shying away from contact at all. It’s just, if they hit it, they hit it. And, if they don’t, keep throwing.”

Programming note: I will not be making the trip to Chicago for the upcoming series. I can’t believe I won’t be there for the 18,000th game (Game 1 on Monday) in team history! So, this space will be quiet for a few days. Catch you from Cleveland on Friday.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

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