Covering the Bases: Game 64

PerezHosmerSome notes and quotes from Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to the Royals.

FIRST: The cards and cribbage board were sitting on Terry Francona’s desk in the visiting manager’s office on Tuesday afternoon. As is typically the case before each game, Bryan Shaw had been in there, taking on his manager. Josh Tomlin joined this time, too.

After the daily meeting with the media, Francona was asked how he fared.

“I got killed,” the manager said in disgust.

When the eighth inning rolled around later in the evening against the Royals, Francona played the card he usually plays, sending Shaw out to the mound. Through thick and thin, the manager has remained loyal to his setup man. And that is not expected to change after what took place in the latest loss to Kansas City.

Shaw allowed a two-out, two-run home run to Salvador Perez to put Cleveland on a path to another tough defeat. It’s the third straight outing in which the righty has given up at least one run. Two of those included a homer. His rate of 2.5 homers allowed per nine innings in a career worst. His ERA has ballooned to 5.68.

Francona is sticking with his guy.

“I don’t want an alternative,” said the manager. “That would not be a smart move on my part. He’s been a good pitcher for us and his stuff’s good. We can’t run away from guys when they have a tough week. That doesn’t make sense to me.”

Francona’s argument for keeping Shaw as his eighth-inning man stems from a few things.

First, nine of the 16 runs allowed by the righty came within two ugly outings in early April. That did a number on Shaw’s overall ERA. After that rough start to the year, Shaw spun a 1.35 ERA with a .200 opponents’ average over the 23 games (20 innings) prior to his last three appearances. On top of that, Shaw has averaged a career-high 94.5 mph on his cutter.

“His stuff’s been really good,” Francona said. “It’s not always one thing. I remember there was a bloop. There’s factors. I think the one recurring thing when he has a tough time is he’s fallen behind in the count.”

To Francona’s point, Shaw slipped behind, 2-0, to four of the five hitters he faced in this loss.

The bloop he probably remembers from this week was the broken-bat, walk-off single by Yunel Escobar vs. Shaw. If that bat doesn’t break, it’s probably a flyout to center field on Thursday night. Similarly, if Jose Ramirez didn’t botch a play in the eighth on Tuesday, Perez might never have stepped into the batter’s box.

SECOND: With one out in the eighth inning, Shaw got Eric Hosmer to chop a full-count offering to the left side of the infield. Playing in the shift, Ramirez ran in and gloved the grounder cleanly.

But, then…

“The transfer, I think he tried to rush a little bit,” Shaw said. “It just looked like he tried to rush a little bit, tried to get it over there, get the out, and it just came out. It’s one of those things. It happens.”

Ramirez fumbled the ball on the transfer and Hosmer was rewarded with an infield single (that could have easily been ruled an error). Said Francona: “That’s a good pitch. We probably need to make that play.”

Asked about the miscue, Ramirez said through a translator: “It was a grounder that wasn’t that easy. It was a grounder that was moving forward and I tried to throw it and I couldn’t. I try to do the best that I can, but this happens. I can’t always do the best.”

Shaw followed with a strikout of Lorenzo Cain. Had Ramirez retired Hosmer on the previous play, the inning would have ended with that punchout and Cleveland would’ve carried a 2-1 lead into the ninth. Instead, the Royals were given a extra life and Perez (1-for-12 against Shaw before that at-bat) took advantage.

“I threw the pitch where I wanted to,” Shaw said. “I probably should’ve maybe thrown it more off the plate, but I threw it for a strike. Obviously, he hit that. Everybody else, we fell behind, but we came back at them and attacked and got the outs when we needed to. I think falling behind guys.

“Maybe I should’ve shook. Maybe I should’ve thrown something else there. You can second-guess the pitches all you want. Obviously, hindsight, after what happens. If it hits a popup there to center, we get out of the inning, we’re not even having a conversation.”

It went 415 feet.

THIRD: That three-batter span in the eighth inning was the difference in Josh Tomlin walking away with a no-decision instead of improving to 9-1 on the year.

Tomlin had “everything” working, per Francona. The right-hander logged seven strong innings, with his lone hiccup coming via a homer by rookie Whit Merrifield in the third. Tomlin struck out five and walked none, improving his American League-leading strikeout-to-walk ratio to 7.14.

“He commanded. He competed. He changed speeds,” Francona said. “We didn’t always help him. We had one inning where, man, he gets a big popup and all of a sudden it’s second-and-third and he pitched out of that. There were some high-leverage innings because of the score of the game, but he was terrific.”

About that popup.

With a runner on first and two outs in the sixth, Perez sent a high fly to shallow center and the Royals catcher flipped his bat away in anger. Rookie center fielder Tyler Naquin sprinted in and, as shortstop Francisco Lindor closed in fast as well, called for the ball and made a sliding catch attempt.

Naquin didn’t make the grab, Perez got a double and Tomlin was forced to work out of a tough jam with a 2-1 lead.

“Naquin called him off. Frankie would’ve caught it,” Francona said. “That’s just I think a little bit of inexperience. He’s got to let Frankie take it if he can’t there. It’s not his fault he can’t get there. We had him [playing] really deep. But, you can’t call it unless you know you’ve got it.”

Heading into the night, Naquin had an MLB-worst minus-10 Defensive Runs Saved in center field this season. His minus-32.5 UZR/150 was the lowest among the 36 big leaguers with at least 200 innings in center this season. Naquin was lauded for his defense coming up through the Minors, but the transition to the Majors has been rocky to date.

HOME: The eighth inning did end in spectacular fashion for the Indians.

After Perez’s game-changing shot, Shaw induced a grounder up the middle off the bat of Kendrys Morales. Just as they did in Cleveland on June 4, shortstop Francisco Lindor and Ramirez teamed for a highlight-reel 6-5-3 putout. Lindor dove, snared the ball and flipped it to Ramirez, who threw out Morales at first base to end the inning.

EXTRAS: The late collapse also spoiled a handful of good offensive performances (albeit in a low-scoring affair). On the one-year anniversary of his MLB debut, Lindor collected three hits for the Tribe. Jason Kipnis, who headed into the game with an .888 OPS this June and an .864 OPS in June for his career, chipped in a go-ahead, RBI single in the fifth. Carlos Santana also belted a home run in the third inning.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

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