Covering the Bases: Game 132

KluberSome notes and quotes from Wednesday’s 8-4 win over the Twins

FIRST: There are some nights where you can tell a pitcher has it right out of the chute. Five pitches into Wednesday’s game, it sure looked like Tribe ace Corey Kluber was positioned for another strong performance.

Kluber fired a 93-mph two-seamer on a 2-2 count, sending it off the plate outside. At the last second, the pitch zipped back near the edge, close enough for home-plate umpire Paul Nauert to ring up Brian Dozier for the first of 11 strikeouts on the night for the Klubot.

DozierK

A day after the Indians needed 7.1 innings from the bullpen — a relief corps that had logged more innings than the rotation in the four games leading up to this one – Kluber worked eight innings. The righty allowed three runs (two on a homer by Dozier in the eighth and another on a homer by Max Kepler in the third) and ended with double-digit strikeouts and two walks.

Indians manager Terry Francona doesn’t like to look to far ahead, but even he admitted that, during Tuesday’s draining bullpen day, he kept in mind that Kluber was starting the next game.

“You certainly think that,” said the manager.

Over his past 10 starts, Kluber has gone 7-0 with a 1.94 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and a .216 opponents’ average in 69.2 innings. He has 75 strikeouts against 19 walks in that span. That stretch comes in the time since his last loss: On July 3 at Toronto.

Kluber has been getting stronger throughout the season. Consider how he has slowly shaved down his ERA as the year has progressed:

6.16 on April 17
4.30 on May 14
3.94 on June 15
3.42 on July 18
3.15 on Aug. 16

And now, he’s 15-8 with a 3.09 ERA and an AL-high (tied with Chris Sale) 4.6 fWAR.

“I think that it comes back to his work ethic and his routines and how consistent he is,” Francona said. “I think he’s at 183 innings and he looks every bit as fresh as he did on Opening Day, and that’s not easy to do.”

Kluber has put himself right in the thick of the AL Cy Young race, but it is a crowded class of contenders with one month to go.

With apologies to Zach Britton, who I know has garnered plenty of attention of late in light of the muddled Cy Young field, here is a look at the AL’s top 20 qualified pitchers, ranked by fWAR. These numbers are as of the this writing:

CyPitchers

Good luck to all the AL Cy Young voters this year.

SECOND: During the recent road trip, Roberto Perez said he had tweaked some things in his swing mechanics and was trying to fine-tune his approach. The catcher said the basic explanation of his approach was that he is trying to hit the ball at second base.

In the fifth inning on Wednesday, Perez drilled a 91-mph fastball from Twins pitcher Pat Dean to straightaway center. Per Statcast, it flew off his bat at 105 mph and traveled 410 feet. Dating back to the start of the recent trip, the catcher is batting .333 (7-for-21) with two homers, three walks and seven strikeouts.

“That’s what I’ve been doing the last couple of days, trying to hit the ball to second base,” Perez reiterated. “And it’s working. I think I’m driving the ball now. As you can see today, I hit a ball dead center. But, I’ve just got to keep working and take it day by day, at-bat by at-bat, not trying to do too much, and hopefully contribute to the team.”

The chart below shows where Perez’s singles, homers, groundouts and flyouts have all gone since Aug. 22 (the start of the seven-game swing through Oakland and Texas). I added the two white X’s to show roughly where his home run and flyout to center went in tonight’s game. As you can see, he’s been staying up the middle of late, for the most part.

RobertoPerez

“You look at all of his lately,” Francona said, “they’ve all been in the middle of the field and there is something to that. When he stays on the ball, he can be dangerous.”

Carlos Santana, who has plenty of experience with getting out of a slump, said he has talked to Perez a lot about hitting. Santana’s advice was for the catcher to not swing full strength all the time, trying to do more than necessary with certain pitches.

“He lost a lot of games in the season,” Santana said. “But he’s come back and he feels comfortable. He talks to me all the time and I try to help him. I told him the other day in Texas, ‘When a player is struggling, we’re thinking too much. So, you have to see the ball, and swing 85 percent, 90 percent. Don’t try too much.’ This is what I told him. He’s come back. He feels good. He can help the team.

“And I respect him, because he works all the time. He comes early. And now, he feels good. He tells me every day when we hit in the same group in BP. He says, ‘Hey ‘Los, I feel good.’ I say, ‘You have to do it. You have to do what you can. Don’t think too much. Try to let that [carry over] into the game.’ I’ve done it in the past and I learned about that situation.”

THIRD: There were a lot of positives offensively in this one.

Abraham Almonte continued to pull his weight, delivering an RBI double in the second. Santana belted a solo homer in the fourth, giving him a career-high 28 on the year, and besting his own franchise record for most homers in one season by a switch-hitter. Besides Perez’s homer in the fifth, Santana (RBI single), Jose Ramirez (two-run double) and Lonnie Chisenhall (pinch-hit sac fly) all came through. Jason Kipnis later added a sacrifice fly in the eighth.

One thing that’d be easily to overlook was Rajai Davis’ contribution in the eighth inning, leading up to Kipnis’ RBI. Davis doubled and then stole his 34th base of the year. That leads the AL. That’s impressive enough by itself, but Davis is doing this at 35 years old. He has the most steals among players 35 and up since 2011, when Ichiro had 40. Besides Ichiro, who also did it in 2010, you have to go back to 2001 (Mark McLemore, 39).

Davis isn’t dragging, either. He stole seven in April, four in May, 10 in June, four in July and nine in August.

“We were talking about that the other day,” Francona said. “He was out there early before the game and I was watching him go through his routine. Because you see him on the field doing his running, but in the dugout before he goes out there, he does a band routine with his legs. And he’s so consistent with it.

“He’s been so consistent with his legs. There’s never been a game or two where he’s slow or slower. He’s always ready to go full speed, and it’s fun to watch him work at it, because he does get after it.”

HOME: Before the game, Francona flashed a proud smile when asked about being able to talk to rookie reliever Perci Garner. Released as a Minor Leaguer by the Phillies, Garner was signed by Cleveland, converted to a relief role and worked his way up the ladder and to the big leagues on Wednesday.

“Oh my goodness,” Francona said. “If you need a little pick up for your day, spend about five minutes with him. … He’s already leading the American League in smiles.”

In the ninth, Garner made his Major League debut.

The righty featured a power sinker and a slider. The two-seamer came in at 96 mph on average and topped at 98 mph. Perez, who caught him briefly at Triple-A Columbus earlier this year, came away impressed.

“I caught him for an inning or two,” Perez said. “He’s got an unbelievable sinker. And he’s throwing 97-98. A sinkerballer? That’s hard to hit.”

Garner gave up a couple singles to start things off, and then came back with a strikeout against Kepler and a groundout from Eduardo Nunez. Then, Garner walked Logan Schafer, convincing Francona to turn to Bryan Shaw for the final out. There’s no doubt that nerves played a role.

“I know he wanted to finish the game,” Francona said. “But, I thought he showed really good poise. … I wish we had a couple more runs so we could have left him in there, but it’s nice to get him in a game. I think every time he pitches it will be good for him.

“Now, we have an off-day [on Thursday] and he’s not sitting around waiting to pitch, which I think was important for him. But he’s got good stuff and he’s probably still smiling. He’s always smiling.”

Garner, who is from Dover, Ohio, said he had more than 50 family and friends in the stands.

“Where I’m from is a small community, so I’m close to everybody,” Garner said. “We know everybody in Dover. It was nice that they were here and got to see me pitch. It’s a great feeling.”

EXTRAS: Shaw came in and struck out Dozier to end the game. The setup man was also liked what he saw from Garner in his debut, given all the jitters that come along with that initial MLB experience.

“He threw well,” Shaw said. “I don’t think he really gave up a hard-hit ball. I think he had little bloops here or there. Obviously, the last guy, I think the nerves got to him a little bit. He kind of kept the ball down, but he pitched well, obviously. I think getting the first one out of the way, that’s always the key.”

Shaw also discussed the impact that lefty Andrew Miller has had on the entirety of the bullpen:

“Adding any arm, even if it wasn’t Miller, would have helped us,” Shaw said. “But the fact that he’s a lefty and does what he can do it help us tremendously. We can match up a lot more. … All three of us [Shaw, Miller and Cody Allen] can throw a little less instead of having to cover the rest of the game.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

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