Covering the Bases: Game 127

KluberSome notes and quotes from Friday’s 12-1 win over Texas

FIRST: Would you just look at that smile on Kluber’s face? That just about sums up Friday night in Arlington. Even the Klubot was grinning.

There have been plenty of reasons for concern lately. Josh Tomlin and Danny Salazar have looked like shells of themselves of late, putting a few chinks in the rotation’s armor. The offense has ranked near the top of the league in scoring this year, but had suddenly been eerily quiet on this trip.

All those worries disappeared for one night in Texas.

“It was a good night for us,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “It let guys breathe a little bit.”

This was also another reminder that a baseball season is long, and it includes a lot of peaks and valleys. Overreacting to small sample sizes — They stink! Wait, they’re good again! No, wait, they stink! — is ill-advised. Shoot, let’s not even go and make too much of Friday’s 12-1 win. It doesn’t erase all the bad that’s happened lately, but man, if you’re the Indians, or a Tribe fan following along, it felt good.

Through it all this year, the Indians have not lost more than three games in a row. No other team in baseball can still say that this season. So, while there have been dramatic highs and lows, Cleveland has been one of the most consistent teams in the Majors in 2016.

“Throughout the course of a long season,” Kluber said, “you’re bound to have a stretch where the offense doesn’t score, or the pitching [struggles], like that series against the Twins, where the pitching was awful. It’s bound to happen. I think it’s just a matter of keeping trust in each other and not getting down or anything like that.”

SECOND: On Thursday night, Cole Hamels showed why he’s a Cy Young candidate, blanking the Indians over eight innings in a 9-0 laugher. On Friday night, Kluber showed why he’s a Cy Young candidate, turning in six strong innings in a 12-1 laugher.

As much as the postseason races will be fun to watch down the stretch, the American League Cy Young battle will be intriguing to follow, too. There is no one pitcher separating himself from the pack (which is why there are some people starting to state Zach Britton’s potential case for the annual award).

If Kluber winds up winning, it will probably be for two main reasons: He will have continued his current run through September, and he is the face of Cleveland’s highly-touted rotation. The preseason narrative was that it would be the Tribe’s rotation that carried the team to the postseason. Well, Kluber has been the leader of that group.

Three starts into this season, it wasn’t so pretty. Kluber was 0-3 with a 6.16 ERA. In the 23 starts that have followed, he has gone 14-5 with a 2.70 ERA, .209 opponents’ average, 1.00 WHIP and 159 strikeouts in 156.2 innings. Kluber has a 2.55 ERA in his last 17 turns, a 1.75 ERA in his last nine and a 2.20 ERA in August.

“He’s our ace,” Indians catcher Roberto Perez said. “Every time he steps on the mound, we’re really confident that he’s going to give us six or seven or eight innings. He came out today and it was a battle. They put great ABs against him. They fouled off a lot of pitches. That’s why his pitch count went up, but he was awesome today.”

Texas got Kluber out of the game after six innings, pushing his pitch count up to 113. Francona noted that the Rangers did a good job of laying off some of the breaking stuff, and then fouled off a lot of fastballs. In the end, Kluber allowed one run on five hits, ending with seven strikeouts and two walks.

The Rangers had the leadoff man on in each of the first four innings, but Kluber held them to a 1-for-12 showing with men on.

“They had a lot of tough at-bats,” Kluber said. “They fought off a lot of pitches, made me work. I tried not to get too caught up in it. I tried to keep going out there and execute pitches.”

THIRD: It certainly helped that Kluber had a wealth of run support.

After Thursday’s loss, Jason Kipnis was in a great mood, and he mostly shrugged off the recent offensive woes before saying this: “Tomorrow’s going to be a good day to say we’re just going to get back to the basics of some good line drives, put it in play, get some guys on base and have a little bit more fun.”

Talk about backing up what you say.

In the third, Kipnis stayed with an outside slider and shot it down the left-field line for a double. Perez, who singled two hitters earlier, scored from first base on the play to give the Indians a 1-0 lead. It was the first run scored by Cleveland not via a homer since the sixth inning on Sunday.

Take a look at pitch No. 4, which Kipnis hit:

Kipnis

As you can see by the chart below, Martin Perez didn’t necessarily make a bad pitch. A breaking ball from a lefty to that part of the zone has been a weak area for Kipnis throughout his career. But, give Kipnis credit on this one. He made the adjustment, took the pitch the opposite way and got Cleveland’s offense rolling.

KipMap

HOME: There contributions up and down Cleveland’s lineup, but the bottom of the order was especially productive. Abraham Almonte and Perez — batting eighth and ninth, respectively — went a combined 7-for-10 with seven RBIs in the win for the Indians.

Much has been made among Indians fans about the fact that Almonte will be ineligible for the playoffs, if Cleveland gets there. Said Almonte: “I think I’ve got a huge responsibility to do my best every day that I come out there. I think when Tito puts me in the lineup, he expects me to try to do my best. This is what I’m trying to do.”

Much has also been made of the offensive struggles of Perez, who came in hitting .104. On his four hits, Perez said: “Oh man, I feel good. It feels good. I’ve been working really hard on my batting. I kind of changed stances and everything, so finally today, it paid off.”

Since rejoining the Indians in July, Perez’s average exit velocity on balls in play has been 89.9 mph, per Statcast. Over the past 10 days, the average has ticked up to 91.8 mph. On Friday, the three hits recorded by Statcast were 88.6, 102.1 and 96 mph. It’s a very small sample, but it’s definitely a good trend.

“I feel like I’m seeing the ball pretty good,” Perez said. “It’s a matter of staying with it. I think I’m pulling off with a lot of pitches, even fastballs down and away, and I’m rolling over a lot. So, I’ve been working on trying to hit the hole. I had success last year doing that. So, I’m just trying to hit the second baseman. I found the hole today.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

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