Covering the Bases: Game 123
FIRST: How about we start where this one ended?
Andrew Miller fired an 86-mph slider low and inside to slugger Khris Davis, who is in the midst of a memorable season (32 homers and 79 RBIs), but struggled through a forgettable night. Davis’ donned the golden sombrero in this one, culminating in an embarrassingly feeble attempt at a check swing, which ended with him crumpling to the dirt for a game-ending strikeout.
Just take a look at this filth from Miller:
Here is the Gameday screengrab of the at-bat:
Really, though, Digital Davis should be collapsed in the batter’s box there.
Miller’s save consisted of 13 pitches and three strikeouts. It marked his Major League-leading fifth outing consisting of three punchouts and only three batters faced. His nine such outings over the past two seasons combined also lead MLB. Miller is first in the American League this year with 11 games of three strikeouts in one inning, and his 17 such games over 2015-16 are tops in the big leagues.
During the recent series against Toronto, Miller didn’t see the mound, so he was fresh for his outing against the A’s. Cody Allen, meanwhile, logged 30 pitches on Sunday and had worked four games in a five-day span, with the final in that series of appearances being the draining, five-run blown save on Wednesday.
Needless to say, when Cleveland headed to the ninth with a one-run lead Monday, it made sense to send Miller out for the save.
“It’s the coldest weather I’ve pitched in probably since April or May, but it felt pretty good,” said Miller, referring to the sub-60-degree temps in Oakland. “When you have a layoff like that, you want to go out and be sharp and, fortunately, I was. I went out there and put the ball where I wanted to for a little while. That gave me confidence.”
Confidence shouldn’t be an issue at this point.
Heading into the outing, Miller ranked first in the Majors in K-BB% with a mark of 39.8. His left-on-base percentage was 99.4. He was second among MLB relievers in WPA (3.58), K% (43.7) and K/9 (14.7). Miller also ranked second in the Majors with a 41-percent O-swing%, meaning hitters chase pitches outside the zone at that rate. Davis can attest to that, too.
“It was a good sequence,” Miller said of the knee-buckling slider. “I executed some pitches early. [Catcher Roberto Perez] came out and asked what we wanted to do. I put a breaking ball in the dirt and, fortunately, it worked out.”
Since joining the Indians, Miller has racked up 16 strikeouts against one walk in 10 2/3 innings, holding batters to a 4-for-36 showing. He has entered into the game in the sixth (once), seventh (three times), eighth (twice) and ninth (three times) for manager Terry Francona.
So far, Miller has liked the look of the Tribe’s bullpen, and how Francona has utilized the group.
“It seems like we’re all going to be flexible, and I think that’s good for us,” Miller said. “I think we’ve got a good group of guys and, as a unit, I think we’ve pitched really well top to bottom since I’ve been here. If we can give Tito as many options as possible, I think we’re better for it.”
SECOND: This one began with Carlos Carrasco.
“The key was just the start,” Miller said. “Carrasco is just so darn good.”
Against the A’s, Cookie collected nine strikeouts with no walks, giving him 28 whiffs and zero free passes in his past three outings. He has a 37:2 strikeout-to-walk ration over his past four turns for the Tribe. That quartet of starts comes after Carrasco allowed eight runs in 3 2/3 innings on Aug. 2. Needless to say, he has bounced back.
“He was terrific,” Francona said. “Command of his fastball and then off of that, the breaking ball. And he had to be good, because their guy was every bit as good.”
Indeed, A’s rookie Andrew Triggs was handcuffing the Indians’ bats all evening, too. In only his fourth Major League start, the righty blanked Cleveland for six frames. Carrasco matched him zero for zero, though, and added two more for good measure.
The potentially great news for Cleveland is this: Carrasco looks like he’s in mid-season form. He missed all of May due to a hamstring injury, but kept his arm in shape while sidelined. At 124 innings, Carrasco doesn’t have the same season mileage as many of the game’s top workhorses.
Should Cleveland keep its reservation for the October stage, having Carrasco feeling stronger than some other starters could be an advantage.
“Everybody has probably 40 more innings than him — somewhere around there,” Francona said. “But, you can tell his tank is not anywhere close to empty. I think with the repetition, you’re seeing his secondary pitches getting sharper.”
Carrasco agreed that his slider and changeup have continued to improve as the season has worn on.
“Right now, I feel fresh,” Carrasco said. “When I was on the DL, Kluber, Tomlin, Bauer and Danny were trying to do their best. Now that I took six weeks on the DL, it’s like the middle of the season for me. The more important thing is to work really hard and get on the same level as everyone else.”
THIRD: It was a cool night at the Coliseum, so much so that reporter Andre Knott (@DreKnott) took plenty of heat on Twitter for the coat he was wearing. Check his feed and mentions for a few laughs.
Fly balls were dying, giving an edge to Carrasco and Triggs, who can generate grounders. It was either going to take a pitcher losing command, a string of line-drive or ground-ball hits, or someone to get a hold of one down one of the lines to win this one. In the middle of the game, a local reporter quipped: “First one to zero wins.”
It certainly felt like one was probably going to do it.
“[Hits] were certainly hard to come by,” Francona said. “Both teams really pitched well.”
The one arrived in the eighth inning.
Oakland reliever Ryan Dull threw a 1-1 fastball and Carlos Santana pounced. He yanked the pitch down the right-field line, but stayed put at the plate. As the ball carried towards the stands, Santana leaned over the dish, cringing a little as he tried to will it to stay fair.
“It was in-between,” Santana said. “Is it foul? Will it stay fair?”
It stayed fair. The shot rocketed out with an exit velocity of 108 mph, per Statcast, and represented Santana’s 27th home run of the year. That ties his career high for one season, set in 2011 and again in ’14. He had 658 and 660 plate appearances, respectively, in those campaigns. Santana has 522 PAs right now.
“He’s been good all year,” Francona said. “He plays first. He DHs. He hits first. He hits cleanup. He’s been good for us all year.”
HOME: Oakland’s best shot at breaking through against the Indians came in the sixth, when Carrasco faced a two-out situation with runners on first and second base. He escaped by striking out Davis with hard slider.
Where the inning really went south for the A’s, however, was with one out. Coco Crisp stepped up to the plate and roped a pitch into the right-field corner. Crisp had a chance at a triple and, given the way the game was going, sprinted around second with his sights set on third.
“It was a good play,” Indians right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall said. “He made the right play, trying to get to three with one out. It was a good baseball play all around.”
Of course, Chisenhall probably felt a little better about that last statement, given that Cleveland’s defense cut down Crisp at third on the play. Chisenhall grabbed the ball in the corner and fired it to second baseman Jason Kipnis, who made a quick relay to third baseman Jose Ramirez.
Crisp slid head-first, Ramirez slapped on a tag, and the umpire called the runner out.
“It got to third in a hurry,” Francona said. “Lonnie fielded it cleanly and when Kip got it, that was a perfect throw. It was as bang-bang as you can get.”
The A’s challenged the call, which stood after a quick replay review.
“It was probably one of those where, if they call him safe, they probably don’t overturn either way,” Francona said.
“There might not have been enough evidence either way to call it,” Chisenhall added.
Asked about the play, Carrasco smirked.
“He was out,” said the pitcher, still smiling.
Stay tuned for more…