Covering the Bases: Game 86

NapoliSome notes and quotes from Friday’s 10-2 win over the Yankees.

FIRST: John Adams kept drumming.

Even as the baseball sailed to the top row of the left-field bleachers, and rattled around a section of stands rarely visited by a baseball, Adams just kept pounding away. I think the only thing that would’ve stopped his rhythm was the ball actually knocking one of the sticks out of his hands.

We have seed prodigious blasts by Mike Napoli to date, but not like this. His two-run shot in the third inning against the Yankees nearly struck the new videoboard. It fell just shy of where Mark McGwire’s famous blast caromed off the bottom of the old Budweiser sign that hung beneath the old board. Statcast measure it at 460 feet. Statcast has never recorded a longer home run by an Indians batter.

“Wow,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I don’t know how you hit a ball that far.”

After the game, Napoli was asked if he was trying to hit the drummer.

“No,” he said with a laugh.

Francisco Lindor yelled from across the clubhouse.

“Tell them the truth!”

“I’m going to tell them the truth.”

Lindor kept shouting as Napoli tried to talk.

“You got jammed a little bit!”

“It rattled in my hand a little bit. No, I got a pitch up in the zone and I swung hard. I just caught it perfect.”

“Sometimes you surprise yourself!”

“That was a good game all around. We got a good performance out of Kluber…”

“He just missed it!”

“A good first inning for the boys. It was a good win for us…”

“Don’t lie, Nap!”

Finally, Napoli caved to the distraction.

“Hey, you come do this!”

The home run was the 18th of the year for Napoli, but this one will probably be remembered more than any other one he hits. Well, that is until he actually does hit the scoreboard, or take out Adams with another tape-measure shot.

Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis was asked what Napoli has brought to this Indians team, which is now 52-34 with a 7.5-game lead in the American League Central.

“A little bit more concentration,” Kipnis said. “Not that we were lacking, but with his experience of being in the playoffs seven of the last nine, or something like that, he knows what it takes. He knows the qualities that certain teams that he’s been on have, so he makes that a point of emphasis to, ‘Hey, we need to do the little things. We need to prepare to win each day.’

“I think that’s just a veteran-type leadership, that experience that he’s been there before.”

Kipnis paused.

“And he hits balls like he did today. Those help, too.”

SECOND: Napoli hogged the spotlight, but Kipnis hit 775 feet worth of home runs on Friday night, too.

As part of back-to-back blasts with Carlos Santana in the first inning, Kipnis pulled a pitch from Yankees righty Chad Green into the right-field seats for his 13th homer of the year. No. 14 arrived in the seventh, when Kipnis again pulled one into the seats, this time off Anthony Swarzak.

“I’ve always thought he was a great hitter playing against him,” Napoli said of Kipnis. “But to see it on the daily basis, to be able to talk hitting with him, hit in his group, he’s a great hitter. He can do so many different things. Hit the ball the other way. He’s been good pulling his hands in and pulling the ball with power. It’s nice.”

Hitting the ball the other way was Kipnis’ M.O. over the past few years. This year, however, the second baseman has been having far greater success to the pull side.

Here is where his extra-base hits fell in 2015:

2015KipXBH

Here is what they look like in ’16 (not including the two pulled homers):

2016KipXBH

Kipnis said his normal opposite-field approach wasn’t working early in the season, so he made an adjustment.

“I was kind of chasing that down the rabbit hole,” Kipnis said, “trying to force my way there and making sure that I’m going to left field. It just wasn’t working for me yet. That’s not to say that it might not in the second half, or anything like that, but right now, the way guys are pitching me, and the way my swing’s going and the way I feel, we’re just getting the bat through the zone kind of with a little more whip and a little more, I don’t know what to say, power. It’s just kind of the pull side is working for me right now.”

Kipnis said pitchers have been attacking him in more — perhaps the result of his past success with taking outside pitches the other way.

“You know this is a game of adjustments,” Kipnis said. “The pitchers and the hitters make adjustments back and forth to each other. I think I made the adjustment on the fastball away last year and started to get them. Now, they might be trying to make the adjustment back, but I’m trying to stay ahead of the curve on them. So far, it’s working. We’ll see how it plays out. There’s always new little wrinkles every day. You just try to stay ahead of them.”

Kipnis already has 14 homers, which is three shy of his career high of 17 in 2013. The second baseman is currently averaging one homer every 23.8 at-bats, following a rate of a homer every 71 at-bats over the 2014-15 seasons. Kipnis’ .474 slugging percentage is also a career best, if you exclude his 36-game stay in the big leagues in 2011.

“Early on, everybody seemed like they wanted to talk about his strikeouts,” Francona said. “But, I think through the whole entire year, he’s been very consistent and he’s also been very productive. So, it’s good. That was one of his goals, and I think he’s done a very good job of that.”

THIRD: The first time that Francona used Santana as a leadoff hitter, the designated hitter belted a home run. Of course. Now, following his shot that set the tone on Friday night, Santana has four leadoff home runs this season.

Kipnis said facing Santana first is a tough task for a pitcher.

“He’s not worrying about someone slapping the other way to start the game,” Kipnis said. “What was that, his 20th? A leadoff hitter who has 20 home runs at the break? Not many teams can say that. They know they better locate from the first batter on. That’s the luxury that we have with him in the leadoff spot.

“He’s done a great job to date. You know he can work pitches, work at-bats with the best of them and draw out some long at-bats. He’s done a great job for us.”

Santana came into this year averaging 4.3 pitches per plate appearance across the 2011-15 seasons. Last year, though, the power dipped dramatically. This year? Santana has maintained his patient approach, but he is currently sporting a career-best .494 slugging percentage.

Santana and Josh Donaldson — the reigning American League MVP — are the only players in baseball with at least 20 homers and 50 walks in the first half. No Indians batter had done that before this year since 2008 (Grady Sizemore).

“He’s setting the table,” Napoli said. “To get off to a start like that, hit a homer or get on base, give us a chance to score in the first inning, it’s huge. We have power. He has power at the top of the lineup. It’s nice. We want to get off to a nice start for our starter.”

HOME: Speaking of that, Cleveland’s offensive outpouring (hey, Lonnie Chisenhall homered, too) spotted Corey Kluber a 4-0 lead after one, a 6-0 lead after three and a 9-0 lead by the sixth.

“They go out there and get four runs in the first inning,” Kluber said. “That’s a nice cushion, but they just kept pouring it on. They didn’t really stop. Those are fun games to be a part of in the dugout. That definitely gives you some low-stress innings when they’re putting 10 runs up on the board.”

Kluber went into attack made and showed exactly why he was named to the All-Star team. Over eight innings, the righty scattered five hits, allowed one run and ended with eight strikeouts against no walks.

“Man, he’s good,” Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said. “He’s a Cy Young [winner] for a reason. He’s an All-Star for a reason. Just carving us up. He was really good, especially pitching with a lead. He was comfortable going after guys, and he pitched very well.”

For the why-is-Kluber-an-All-Star crowd: He now ranks first among AL starters in fWAR (3.4), second in innings (122) and WHIP (1.02), third in strikeout-minus-walk percentage (19.6%), fourth in strikeouts (122) and fifth in FIP (2.95).

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

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