Covering the Bases: Game 52
Some notes and quotes from Friday’s 6-1 win over the Royals.
FIRST: Remember the scene in Bull Durham? Crash Davis jogs out to the mound and instructs the flame-throwing Nuke Laloosh to throw the next pitch at the mascot. Laloosh plays along and hits the ball.
“I wouldn’t dig in if I was you,” Davis tells the hitter through laughter. “I don’t know where it’s going to go. Swear to God.”
Danny Salazar wore the Wild Thing glasses during Spring Training, but the Tribe’s hard-throwing righty has a touch of Nuke in him this season. He has been the epitome of “effectively wild” and Salazar has been one of the American League’s best pitchers in the process.
With his eight-inning performance on Friday night, Salazar’s statistics to this point paint a picture of a top-five starter in the AL. Here are his ranks among starters in the league as of this writing:
10.7 K/9 (first)
29.2 K% (first)
2.24 ERA (second)
5.8 H/9 (second)
.181 AVG (second)
1.8 fWAR (fourth)
3.01 FIP (fourth)
Look at this one, though…
4.4 BB/9 (45th out of 49 qualified starters)
On Friday night, that overall pattern continued. Salazar issued five walks, but he limited Kansas City to just one run via a solo homer by Drew Butera in the third inning. The righty only allowed three hits overall, and he balanced out the occasional lapses in command with nine strikeouts.
“Even though he did have some walks, his stuff was so good,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “His fastball, I think even on his last pitch was 97 or 98 [mph]. Really effective offspeed to go with it. When you are throwing that hard, and he starts throwing that breaking ball and changeup — a lot of good weapons. He did a good job, because they came into the series swinging the bat pretty good.”
It was impressive that Salazar even made it eight innings.
Typically, between a hefty pile of walks and a high volume of strikeouts, a pitcher will leave early due to a high pitch count. Salazar threw 67 of his 113 pitches between the walks and punchouts on Friday night, but he managed to stay on the hill thanks in part to Kansas City’s aggressive lineup.
Consider this: The last pitcher to go at least eight innings with at least nine strikeouts and five walks was A.J. Burnett on May 12, 2001. If you recall, that was his wild no-hitter for the Marlins. Before Salazar on Friday, it hadn’t happened since Sept. 7, 2000, when Kansas City’s Dan Reichert had that rare combination. Prior to that? Not since 1993.
“I think trying to stay focused there and a little bit mad,” Salazar said, “helped me a lot to be aggressive and forget about the walks.”
Salazar said the Butera home run got underneath his skin.
“That made me mad,” he said. “I tried to throw a slider there and I threw it for a strike. I just put it there, instead of throwing it down in the zone. After that, I got a little bit mad and started being aggressive.”
SECOND: Tyler Naquin experienced the joy of making an Opening Day roster this season. He has also felt the sting of being sent back to Triple-A more than once. It can be tough to be a young player with options when a team is in a roster crunch.
“I agree with that. I think it is [tough],” Francona said. “The last time was harder than maybe we realized. I think that’s when you have conversations with guys. The big
thing is maybe not the emotions at the time, but where do you go from here. How do you make it better?
“I think we are in a really good place, which is really good. This kid’s got a chance to be a good player for awhile.”
On Friday night — in his second game back with the Tribe from Triple-A Columbus — Naquin cleared a Major League wall for the first time. He hit .315 in the 22 games before his first trip back to the Minors. He hit .333 in five games in his second brief stint with Cleveland. Since coming back this time, Naquin has gone 2-for-6.
Lonnie Chisenhall, who remembers all too well what it was like to deal with the trips back to Triple-A, has been impressed with how Naquin has handled things.
“When he comes up, he’s positive. When he gets sent down, he’s positive,” Chisenhall said. “It’s part of the game. I know he’s put a lot of miles on his truck from here to Columbus, but when he comes up, he’s got energy when he’s here. He doesn’t feel sorry for himself. He doesn’t sulk.
“He goes down and gets to work and, when he gets back, he’s working here, too. That’s good to see, especially out of a young guy who has options, and he’s not really sure of his fate.”
Chisenhall was also impressed with Naquin’s home run in the seventh inning, when the rookie outfielder shot a pitch from Edinson Volquez over the 19-foot wall in left for a solo shot. It rocketed off the bat at 104.5 mph and soared 401 feet.
“I haven’t seen too many lefty oppo home runs here,” Chisenhall said. “There’s probably been six or seven that I’ve seen and that was one of the more impressive ones. It’s up there. He’s got pop and quick hands.”
Naquin obtained the baseball and said he’s “just gonna put it in a case and let it sit there.”
“[It’s] awesome,” Naquin said. “A Major League home run. No words that could describe that.”
Did he know it was gone?
“I knew when I hit it that I hit it well enough to get it out,” Naquin said. “I always run hard. I’m always going to run hard. You never know. The wall is a little tall out there.”
Said Francona: “That ball went out in a hurry. That’s hard to do. Good for him. He’s come back this time and seems more relaxed, which I think is good.”
THIRD: Also in the seventh, Chisenhall flashed some of his defensive prowess.
Cheslor Cuthbert ripped a pitch from Salazar to deep right field for a sure single, but he was tempted to try for a two-base hit. Chisenhall gathered the baseball near the warning track and had other plans.
Chisenhall uncorked a 90-mph throw that covered 225 feet, per Statcast. Shortstop Francisco Lindor snagged the throw from the dirt with a nice pick, and applied a swift tag for a highlight-reel out.
“I loved it. I was jumping there,” Salazar said. “He has a great arm. He’s becoming a great outfielder going from third base to right field. The way he’s playing, the way he works every day, he’s out there taking fly balls and things like that. I love having him back there when I’m pitching.”
After the tag, Lindor stood up quickly and pointed out to Chisenhall in celebration.
“He told me to hit him in the chest next time, too,” Chisenhall quipped. “He made a great pick. That was probably one of the better parts of the play. The throw was on line, but he did a good job staying with it. I’ll try to hit him in the chest next time.”
HOME: We’ve mentioned Cleveland’s above-average baserunning in this space this year, because that aspect of the Tribe’s game has been a great development this season. The Indians have been, and continue to be, arguably the top baserunning team in the AL.
This came into play again in the eighth inning, when Jose Ramirez delivered a one-out double down the left-field line. Ramirez then stole third base, forcing an errant throw by Royals catcher Drew Butera. That allowed Ramirez — sans helmet — to sprint home for an insurance run for the Tribe.
“I think, in general,” Francona said, “our entire team has done a really good job of going hard but being smart. Not running into outs, but trying to be aggressive while still being intelligent. That’s a good combination, our guys have done a good job of that.”
Stay tuned for more…