Covering the Bases: Game 67

ShieldsSome notes and quotes from Saturday’s 13-2 win over the White Sox.

FIRST: Heading into Saturday’s game against Chicago, James Shields’ struggles were hardly a secret.

Shields earned the nickname “Big Game James” many years ago for his work with the Rays, but that moniker and his recent meltdowns make for perfect Twitter fodder. After yet another abysmal performance, though, whether you’re a White Sox fan or not, you have to feel for the guy.

Indians manager Terry Francona even admitted that, while Shields’ latest lapse was good for Cleveland, it is odd to see the big right-hander dealing with a slump this dramatic.

“I have seen him so good for so long,” Francona said, “in the American League East when he was going out against really good lineups, and staying for seven, eight, and nine innings. We want to win every game we can, but that’s a tough night for him.”

Shields issued a leadoff walk to Carlos Santana in the first inning and it did not take long for the wheels to come flying off. Jason Kipnis doubled off the left-field wall. Francisco Lindor chipped in an RBI single. Then, Mike Napoli crushed a three-run, opposite-field home run. Tyler Naquin’s two-out, run-scoring single gave the Tribe a 5-0 lead in the first.

In the second, the Indians added three runs, which were all charged to Shields, too.

“I’ve got to get better — bottom line,” Shields told reporters. “You want to come in to your new team and pitch well, play well for these guys. I mean, I’ve said it before: This is a special team and I see these guys want to win every single night. It’s disappointing.”

Chicago acquired Shields from San Diego on June 4 in exchange for Erik Johnson and Fernando Tatis Jr., and the White Sox are paying a considerable portion of his contract. In his past four starts, including his last one with the Padres, Shields has allowed 32 runs (31 earned) on 32 hits in 11 1/3 innings. He has 13 walks and six strikeouts in that span, with a .485 opponents’ average and a 24.62 ERA.

SECOND: When there are 13 runs and 15 hits, including a trio of home runs, it’s hard to single out one player as the highlight. Rookie Tyler Naquin stood tall on this evening, though.

Naquin ended the night 3-for-3 with a single, triple, homer, two walks and a career-high four RBIs. It marked only the 13th time in club history that a player had at least one homer, two walks, three hits and four RBIs in a game. The last player to do it for the Tribe was Grady Sizemore on Aug. 10, 2005.

“I think he’s more relaxed, especially at the plate,” Francona said. “He had a little bit of a tough week in the road trip and then bounces back and takes some good really swings and does some damage. When you have guys sitting down in the eight or nine holes, it really helps.”

On the year, Naquin is batting .320/.375/.553 with a 151 wRC+ in 103 at-bats across 41 games. Since his latest recall from Triple-A, following Marlon Byrd’s suspension on June 1, Naquin has turned in a .325/.426/.775 slash line in 14 games (40 at-bats). All five of the rook’s home runs and 12 of his 14 RBIs have come since he returned to the Majors.

Naquin’s homer was a 428-foot shot off former Tribe reliever Matt Albers. The solo shot in the sixth came against a changeup and had a 106-mph exit velocity, per Statcast.

“Albers, I knew he had that fastball and liked to go to his changeup,” Naquin said. “I was just looking for something out over the plate, took a good swing on a fastball, missed it. I was confident to just keep hunting the heater. He left the changeup up and I was able to put a pretty good swing on it.”

THIRD: The Indians also had a big bat back in the lineup on Saturday night.

Juan Uribe, who missed the past few games after taking a 106-mph Mike Trout one-hopper to his manhood, was batting sixth for the Tribe against Chicago. The Big Juan collected three hits, including an RBI single in the second and a two-run home run in the sixth. Progressive Field just could not contain Uribe’s 415-foot blast to center.

“Uribe comes back and swung the bat better than he has all year,” Francona said.

HOME: The wealth of offense helped Danny Salazar cruise to his eighth victory of the season. The right-hander went 6 2/3 innings, limiting the White Sox to two runs on five hits and ending with seven strikeouts against one walk.

Salazar’s ERA actually went up… to 2.23.

What was the key for Salazar in this one?

“Bauer wearing my jersey out there,” Salazar said. “That was great.”

No, seriously. Trevor Bauer wore a Salazar jersey in the dugout:

Kidding aside, Salazar was sharp against the Sox. He retired the first 10 batters he faced in order, escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the fourth and dialed it up when needed. In that fourth inning escape, for example, Salazar struck out Todd Frazier with a 97-mph heater up and in. He then got Dioner Navarro to ground out on a 98-mph fastball.

On the night, Salazar sat around 95-96 with his fastballs and topped at 99 mph. An 11-run cushion was more than ample.

“The way Danny was throwing the ball, his stuff was so good tonight,” Francona said. “You see his velocity, but his changeup almost looked like a breaking ball at times.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

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