Covering the Bases: Game 136

ClevingerSome notes and quotes on Monday’s 6-2 loss to the Astros

FIRST: The Indians can’t keep doing this, can they? In a pennant race?

On Monday night, Cleveland went with a bullpen day against Houston, given the issues surrounding the fifth spot in the rotation. Collectively, the eight pitchers turned in an admirable effort. Through the first six innings, Mike Clevinger, Jeff Manship, Perci Garner, Joe Colon and Dan Otero held the Astros to three runs on six hits with four walks and eight strikeouts. That’s a quality “start,” if you’re into that sort of thing.

“You know what?” Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said. “A lot of [teams’] fifth starter probably doesn’t do as good as we did tonight, going into the seventh. I think we’ve got the bullpen to do it.”

Do they have the ‘pen to do it every five days, though?

With rosters expanded to a maximum of 40 players in September, it’s conceivable that a club could get away with an all-hands-on-deck day every fifth game. Cleveland has 32 players in its MLB roster right now, with a dozen arms in the bullpen. That figure includes Clevinger and Tomlin, because neither are technically the No. 5 starter right now.

Here is the situation:

  • Tomlin started the year off 9-1 with a 3.21 ERA, but has faded in the second half, culminating in an 0-5 (11.48 ERA) showing in August. He lost his hold on the fifth spot and was skipped for Monday’s game. He worked a scoreless ninth, throwing 13 pitches
  • Clevinger has been the top rotation alternative for most of the year, but his 43 pitches on Monday were his most in a game since Aug. 18, and he hasn’t started for the Tribe since Aug. 13. Cleveland likes him as a multi-inning reliever and he isn’t ready to handle a normal starter’s workload right now.
  • Cody Anderson opened the year as the No. 4 starter, but that didn’t go as planned and he wound up back in the Minors. He last started for Cleveland on June 7 and has been working as a reliever between Triple-A and MLB, dating back to that month. He, like Clevinger, isn’t in position to jump back into the rotation.
  • Callaway said two depth options at Triple-A are lefties Ryan Merritt and Shawn Morimando, who have had cups of coffee in the bigs this year. Columbus is in the middle of a playoff run and Cleveland doesn’t plan on potentially calling them up until that’s over. Beyond that, the Indians would want to evaluate their matchups to see if using a lefty for the fifth spot is the most opportunistic approach.

So, who will start on Saturday in Minnesota?

“I’m not sure what we are going to do,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “It’s not like its during the middle of the year, where you are putting your bullpen in jeopardy. I’ll want to talk to the guys and see what we think is best for us.”

Callaway said what the team will not do is hold Clevinger or Tomlin out of games in the next four days, if a situation comes up where it makes the most sense to use one of them. That could mean another bullpen day will happen. Or, if one of those righties doesn’t pitch and is available, maybe he will start against the Twins.

“September does allow you to do things like that,” Callaway said.

The pitching coach also pointed out that the Indians currently have the benefit of a slight cushion (4 1/2 games over Detroit) in the standings, while it determines the best course of action.

“We’ve got the bullpen arms to do it, if we want to do it,” Callaway said. “It’s nice to have a few-game lead, now that we’re trying to figure out what our fifth starter is going to look like. The good part is, if we do make it [to the playoffs], you don’t need a fifth starter.

“So, there’s not as much panic as I think there would be if it were April, because you can’t do this for a whole season.”

SECOND: In hindsight, Francisco Lindor’s highlight-reel sliding play in the third inning didn’t carry much weight in the final result. At the time, though, it was an important play that put Cleveland on the board and cut into Houston’s lead.

After the Indians stranded five runners through the first two innings, Lindor smoked a pitch from Mike Fiers to the wall in right-center field. It was a sure single, but hardly a no-doubt double, given how hard Lindor struck the ball, and how quickly right fielder Teoscar Hernandez tracked it down.

The relay throw arrived to second at the same time as Lindor, who dove into the bag head-first and then rolled away from the tag attempt by second baseman Jose Altuve. Lindor was initially called out, but he immediately yelled for Cleveland to challenge, believing his swim-move slide had avoided Altuve’s glove.

“Obviously, he’s a pretty athletic kid to be able to do that,” Francona said. “He knew [he was safe] right away.”

Lindor’s confidence was supported by the replay review, which led to an overturned call after the Indians did indeed challenge the ruling. Two batters later, Lindor scored on a single from Jose Ramirez, trimming the Tribe’s deficit to two runs at the time.

This wasn’t Lindor’s first successful swim slide, either.

He debuted the move on Sept. 1 last year in Toronto:

Then, on May 20 in Boston this season, Lindor used it again on a critical play at home plate in a 4-2 victory:

Here is a look at Monday’s installment:

Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…

THIRD: The highlight of Monday’s game — besides the flashy Lindor slide — was the performance by Garner out of the bullpen. The rookie right-hander logged 2.2 innings, striking out two and allowing one hit without giving up a run.

Garner took over with one on and one out in the third, and escaped with a fielder’s choice groundout and a flyout. Garner generated two more groundouts and sidestepped the potential harm of a single in the fourth, ending with a strikeout against George Springer. the fifth began with an error by Jason Kipnis, but Garner escaped with a GIDP (Altuve) and strikeout (Carlos Correa).

“Perci Garner showed up tonight,” Callaway said.

“I thought Perci really threw ball well,” Francona added.

Garner said he actually “felt more nervous” than his MLB debut.

“But,” Garner continues, “usually, in the past, I like to feel a little nervous, just because — it might be a superstitious thing — I think I pitch better when I’m nervous.”

Where this game took a turn was in the seventh, when setup man Bryan Shaw took over with one out and a runner on. Shaw allowed a single and issued a walk, but then nearly escaped. Houston pulled off a double steal, got a sacrifice fly, took advantage of another Kipnis error and scored once more on a dribbler. Save your Shaw hot takes. This one was just an ugly inning all the way around.

“That was too much,” Francona said. “But I thought the guys did a pretty good job.”

Especially Garner.

HOME: While it came in a loss, it sure was nice to see Mike Napoli’s power show up again.

Napoli drilled a 109-mph liner out to left field in the fifth inning for a solo home run. That blast snapped a homerless drought of 89 plate appearances. In the 21 games without a home run, dating back to Aug. 11, Napoli hit .222/.326/.236 with just one extra-base hit.

“It was a good swing,” Francona said. “And we have seen he can hit them in bunches, so that’s the way it usually goes.”

The home run was No. 30 on the year for Napoli, tying his career high (set in 2011). It made Napoli the first Indians batter with 30 or more shots in a season since Grady Sizemore achieved the feat in 2008. Napoli is the first #RightHandedPowerBat to belt 30-plus homers in one year for Cleveland since 2002, when Ellis Burks did it for the Tribe.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

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