Covering the Bases: Game 129

KipnisDiveSome notes and quotes on Sunday’s 2-1 loss to Texas

FIRST: Jason Kipnis reads the papers. The Indians second baseman is also very active on Twitter. He’s got his finger on the pulse, and he doesn’t like how fast hearts are beating back in Cleveland right now.

Even in the wake of this 2-5 trip through Oakland and Texas — a venture that saw the lineup produce one or zero runs in six games — Kipnis wants everyone to take a deep breath for a moment.

“We played like [crap] and we’re still 4 1/2 up,” Kipnis said. “I know you guys and a bunch of the people back home are writing about how worried you are. That’s your job as media people, and people who don’t understand inside the locker room. Our job is to stay confident and stay focused.

“Having played so well in the first half and up to this point, we have the luxury of having that lead that we do have. That allows us to, I guess, shoot ourselves in the foot and still be OK in the end. We’re doing the shooting part right now. Now, it’s time to, this home stretch, it’s going to be good to get home and we’ve got some games we need to win.”

After Cleveland took the first game against the A’s on Monday, the Tribe increased its lead atop the division to 7 1/2 games. That has since been whittled down by three games in the wake of the Indians’ 1-5 showing over the past six. Texas blew out the Indians on Thursday and Saturday.

Was it any easier to swallow this loss, given that it was a more competitive game?

“The only thing that makes it easier is that Detroit lost, to be honest,” Kipnis said. “We want these games. We want the wins. As it comes down to the home stretch, and to getting into the playoffs, it all comes down to winning games. And we need to start doing more of that.

“That being said, that will require us to play better baseball and to show up a little bit better. We have that small cushion, but we can’t rest on it forever. We need to start doing our part here.”

Kipnis also wanted to remind fans that a 4 1/2-game lead isn’t easily overcome against a team like Cleveland.

“Guys are still confident. They’re not losing hope,” Kipnis said. “We still have 4 1/2. You can’t take that lightly, how hard it is to catch us if we start playing our game. So, we’re really focused on what’s going on in here, and not trying to be too focused on what’s behind us.”

SECOND: The Indians could at least walk away from Sunday’s game with this silver lining: Danny Salazar looked a lot more like himself. It wasn’t just the pitching line, either. Anyone can look at that and see he performed better in terms of results.

Salazar’s demeanor on the mound was markedly better. The righty looked more aggressive out of the chute, firing fastballs with more conviction. He still left some up in the zone, but the attack mode helped create a couple quick innings right away, and made his secondary stuff more effective.

“It was a lot better,” Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said. “I thought he did a really good job of maintaining his tempo and really repeating his delivery, which was something he didn’t do the last couple with the long break and no rehab outings. It’s good to see him go out there and do that, repeat his delivery and throw the ball over the plate and give himself a chance to have success.”

After Salazar’s outing in Oakland on Tuesday, both Callaway and manager Terry Francona made a point to mention that the pitcher’s between-start routine to use some improvement. Callaway said Salazar needed to “shore up” some things, and Francona reminded that the season doesn’t end at the All-Star break.

Salazar, who had a 15.55 ERA in his previous four starts and a 9.31 ERA in his previous seven, seemed to get the message.

“I think it’s just getting back to some things I was doing earlier in the year,” Salazar said. “They help a lot, but I was getting a little bit too much stress in my arm when I was doing it. But, it was helping. I think what I’m doing now, I’m getting back to it.”

Callaway said there were aspects of Salazar’s throwing program that help emphasize keeping the ball down and over the plate. When the righty dealt with elbow soreness a few weeks ago, he stopped doing some of those drills. Salazar is feeling better health-wise now, so he got back to work on some of those things over the past few days.

“It was really good,” Callaway said. “We made sure that he went about things the right way. We started implementing some things that he had kind of gotten away from in the last three weeks, and I think it really paid dividends.”

Over 5 1/3 innings, Salazar struck out 10, scattered five hits, walked two and gave up two runs. Both walks came around to score on singles, which both came on first-pitch fastballs. The pitcher said the biggest change was that he was focusing more on his mind-set than making any in-game tweaks with his delivery after a bad pitch.

“I’m working really hard,” Salazar said, “and I’m going to try to just get that confidence back. And, I’m trying to — when I’m losing it during the game — trying not to make an adjustment with my delivery. I’m just trying to make the adjustment in my head and stay really aggressive.”

The Indians liked what they saw against Texas.

“I thought it was significantly better than we’ve seen, which is really good,” Francona said. “It’s wasn’t enough to win the game, but to see him make those strides was really good, because now we can hopefully get him on a roll.”

“That’s the Danny we remember,” Kipnis added. “That’s the Danny we want to see every time out. That’s the Danny that’s capable of going and winning a bunch of games, that got him to the All-Star Game. He can play a big factor for us down the stretch here if that’s the pitcher that we’re going to have back on the mound every fifth day. So, we’re encouraged by that.”

THIRD: Cleveland has been one of the top-scoring offenses in the AL this season, but was absolutely manhandled this week (with the exception of Friday’s blowout win).

The Indians saw these seven starting pitchers: Andrew Triggs, Sean Manaea, Kendall Graveman, Cole Hamels, Martin Perez, A.J. Griffin and Derek Holland. That group combined for a 1.79 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, .204 opponents’ average and 6.2 strikeout-to-walk ration in 45.1 innings (more than 6.1 per start) against the Indians this week.

So, was this a run of good pitching, or a lineup failing to make adjustments?

“A little bit of both,” Kipnis said. “Some of the guys, you can tip the caps to their side for certain at-bats. But, there were definitely at-bats we didn’t make the adjustments on, at least not quick enough. We’ll just have to go back up there with a better game plan. I know a bunch of guys are looking forward to going back home right now.”

HOME: … is apparently where the runs are for the Tribe. For whatever reason this year, Cleveland features one of baseball’s best offenses at Progressive Field, but has looked rather mediocre on the road.

Here’s how Cleveland has fared:

Home (39-23): .293/.357/.482, 358 R, 122 wRC+, 9.1 BB%, 19 K%
Road (34-33): .239/.296/.398, 273 R, 85 wRC+, 6.8 BB%, 22.2 K%

The good news is that the Indians play 19 of their last 33 games at home. On top of that, Cleveland has gone 34-19 this season against its remaining opponents, excluding a Miami team that the Tribe hasn’t seen yet.

“You’d be surprised,” said Kipnis, asked how much the team wanted to getting back home. “Every time we go home, it’s like we’re a different team. Not to say we can’t win on the road, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you see some high-scoring games from us as soon as we get home. It’s just the way it happens, or the way it’s been going.”

A few more things before we call it a day…

Brandon Guyer was hit by a pitch again! That’s now 28 this year for Guyer, who is closing in on Don Baylor’s American League record of 35, set in 1986. Guyer’s 28 are the most in the AL since Baylor also had 28 in 1987.

That means I had to update this handy-dandy HBP graphic:

Cleveland Indians v New York Yankees

Also, there have been a lot of fans asking why Mike Napoli has been DHing more than usual lately. We spoke again with Francona on the matter today, so CLICK HERE for more on that topic.

Sunday also provided a classic example of how an early-inning call by an umpire can have a carryover effect for hitters later in the game. In the first inning, home-plate umpire John Tumpane called Kipnis out on strikes a pitch that popped in the glove off the plate. It’s No. 6 in this graphic.

KipK1

In the fourth inning, Holland worked Kipnis in a very similar manner and, once again, went middle away, off the plate with his sixth pitch. This time, with that first-inning at-bat in his memory bank, Kipnis swung through the pitch for his second strikeout of the afternoon. Here’s a look at that sequence:

KipK4

Kipnis tried to make the adjustment, but he wasn’t adjusting to the pitcher. He was trying to adjust for the strike zone. The Indians second baseman did break through in the sixth, pulling a low sinker two pitches into his third meeting with Holland into right for an RBI single.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

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