Covering the Bases: Game 102
FIRST: It was not the easiest of transitions when Roberto Perez was pressed into duty last year. After Yan Gomes was shelved in April with a right knee injury, the backup catcher was thrust into a starting role at the Major League level for the first time.
Perez’s inexperience back then was most glaring when he was catching Corey Kluber, who has formed a great working relationship with Gomes. Kluber was coming off a Cy Young season. Perez was getting his feet wet for a team expecting to compete.
“We’ve all seen where that’s the case,” Indians manager Terry Francona said, “where you’ve got a starting pitcher that’s got a pretty good resume and he makes the guy behind there nervous. That doesn’t help anything.”
Perez said he was just nervous in general early on last year.
“Last year, I put a lot of pressure on myself,” Perez said. “I went through it last year. But, this year, I told myself I went through that already, so I’m not going to put pressure on myself and try to go out there and simply play the game, try not to do too much.”
Circumstances have heaped more duties on Perez once again. Gomes went down with a separated right shoulder earlier this month, forcing Cleveland to activate Perez off the disabled list before the team initially planned. As part of his return, Perez would be asked to catch Kluber, who had worked with Gomes for 40 consecutive starts.
It has gone much better this time around.
In their first five games together in 2015, Kluber posted a 6.10 ERA and allowed an .843 opponents’ OPS. The righty said at the time that they were having trouble getting on the same page with pitch sequencing. In their final three starts together, following that ugly stretch, Kluber issued one walk, gave up two runs and struck out 37 in 25 innings.
“We went through some struggles at the beginning,” Kluber said. “We worked at it and got to the point where we were comfortable with each other. I think that he’s told me, and would probably tell you as well, that he was a little hesitant at first. He didn’t want to put down the wrong fingers.
“I told him, ‘Hey, just go out there and call the game like you normally would. If I don’t like it, I’ll shake it off.’ I think once we got to that point, he was a lot more comfortable, I was a lot more comfortable, and it’s worked well.”
During Sunday’s win over the A’s, Kluber spun seven shutout innings with Perez behind the dish. It’s the second time in as many starts that the pitcher logged seven shutout innings with the catcher. In their three pairings since Gomes landed on the DL, Kluber has turned in a 1.29 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and .213 opponents’ average, with 23 strikeouts and six walks in 21 innings.
“That’s not the easiest thing in the world,” Francona said. “Going into a couple starts ago, Yan had caught, I want to say, almost every inning of every game [Kluber] pitched. I’m sure ‘Berto knows that, and he’s worked hard to find a comfort zone. And I also think Kluber has done a good job of allowing Roberto to relax back there, and not feel like he’s on pins and needles.”
Indians backup catcher Chris Gimenez praised Perez’s work with Kluber.
“He’s done a great job,” Gimenez said. ” The ability to come in and just kind of pick up right where Gomer and Klubes left off, I think, is a big attribute to have. Because, I know
[Kluber] is very particular about that. When you’ve worked with a guy so many times, it’s like second nature. Those two guys [Kluber and Gomes], I don’t even know if they put down signs half the time. They know what they’re going to do.
“With ‘Berto coming back there, you might not have that sense of clarity and that sense of comfort, but I don’t see Klubes shaking too much, so he’s doing something right. And that’s big.”
SECOND: The bottom third of Cleveland’s lineup (Tyler Naquin, Abraham Almonte and Perez on Sunday) came up big against the A’s.
That trio combined to go 5-for-8 with two RBI, three walks and five runs scored for the Indians. Almonte, specifically, continued his recent offensive turnaround for the Tribe. Want to have some fun with a small sample size? On July 20, Almonte was batting .143 with a .468 OPS (Oh no!). Well, he’s gone 7-for-16 since then and is not batting .270 with a .786 OPS (hmm, not too bad).
“Abe’s given us a big lift the last couple days,” Francona said. “And again, I know it’s kind of common sense, but we need to be that kind of team where we’re getting contributions and not giving a pitcher an inning off and things like that. Even when you don’t score, if you make them work, you’ve got a chance.”
THIRD: Jason Kipnis stayed hot at the plate on Sunday, ending 1-for-3 with a two-run single and a run-scoring sacrifice fly. His wRC+ for July was 179 going into Sunday, up from .135 in June and 91 in May. Likewise, Kipnis OPS had gone up to 1.036 (July) from .876 (June) and .712 (May).
Kipnis also came around to score on a towering two-run homer from Mike Napoli in the third inning.
“He’s a good baseball player,” Napoli said of Kipnis. “Before I got over here, I always liked the way he played and I always thought he was a good ballplayer. It’s huge, having guys at the top of the lineup to be able to get on base and cause havoc for the defense of the other team, and have RBI situations. It’s something you need to be a winning ballclub. He’s been able to do it all year.”
HOME: It’s easy to say after a win, but it sure looked like the Indians were a bit energized on Sunday morning.
“I think there was definitely a good vibe in the locker room,” Kluber said. “You could tell that there was a little more excitement than normal at nine o’clock in the morning.”
That was due to the news spreading in the clubhouse before the game that Cleveland had acquired lefty Andrew Miller from the Yankees. Gimenez said, “You should’ve seen the smiles on guys’ faces. Everyone had their phones out, screaming, ‘We got Miller!'”
Here are Sunday’s stories on the Miller trade and more:
- Indians land Miller, but not Lucroy (Bastian)
- Tribe players excited to welcome Miller (Jackson)
- Column on Tribe’s trade activity (Castrovince)
- Tito’s plans for Miller-Allen duo (Bastian)
- Catchers react to Lucroy‘s decision (Bastian)
- Lucroy blocks trade to Cleveland (McCalvy)
Stay tuned for more…