Author Archive

Covering the Bases: Game 155

whitesoxSome notes and quotes from Sunday’s 3-0 loss to the White Sox

FIRST: Nothing has come easy for this Indians team, so why should we have expected anything to be different on Sunday?

Throughout the game against the White Sox, Cleveland kept posting updates from Kansas City’s game in Detroit. First, the Royals were up, 2-0, and the Progressive Field crowd roared. Then it was 4-0. The cheers got even louder. A Kansas City win, combined with a Tribe victory, would net an American League Central crown for Cleveland.

The players knew exactly where the chips stood.

“They were putting it on the scoreboard and you could hear the fans getting loud,” Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin said. “I’ll be honest with you. [The scoreboard is right] there. You can see it. You can say you don’t see it, but it’s up there. You see Detroit’s losing early in the game, 4-0, and we have a chance to do this at home.

“So it’s there. It’s very easy to look up there and kind of gaze and see if they’re winning or losing, and see what we have to do.”

All the Indians had to do was win. Carlos Rodon saw to it that Cleveland didn’t.

The lefty shut down the Tribe’s bats, costing the club the opportunity to wrap up its first division title since 2007 on its own field. When the final pitch was thrown, there was a smattering of boos from the disappointed audience. The Indians provided 53 home wins (the most in ballpark history with the exception of the 54-win showing in 1995) and a Major League-leading 11 walk-off victories. The fans wanted one more.

“Of course, you want to do it in front of the home crowd,” Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis said. “It would’ve been fun to give high-fives down the line, all that stuff. But, we’ll push it back until tomorrow in Detroit, hopefully.”

The Royals held on to win, dropping Detroit’s record to 83-72. At 90-65, the Indians are at the very least assured a tie for the AL Central crown right now. Detroit would need to win out, and Cleveland would need to lose out, for that to occur. Due to wins for the Orioles and Blue Jays on Sunday, the Indians did not clinch a postseason berth.

As for home-field, the Red Sox have won 11 in a row and now have a 92-64 record, putting them 1.5 games ahead of the Indians. Right now, Cleveland would be heading to Boston to start the AL Division Series. The Rangers (92-64) are knotted with the Red Sox record wise, and went 3-3 against Boston this year, but still have the tiebreaker.

Here are the tiebreaker rules for home-field advantage:

Determining Home-Field Advantage in Two-Team Tiebreakers

1. Head-to-head winning percentage during the regular season.
2. Higher winning percentage in intradivision games.
3. Higher winning percentage in intraleague games.
4. Higher winning percentage in the last half of intraleague games.
5. Higher winning percentage in the last half plus one intraleague game, provided that such additional game was not between the two tied clubs. Continue to go back one intraleague game at a time until the tie has been broken.

So, nothing is settled. That said, one win over the next four days in Detroit will give the Indians a Central championship. Cleveland ends the season with a three-game road series against the Royals.

“We have a resilient group in that clubhouse,” Tomlin said. “We’re ready for the next challenge, if it has to be in Detroit or Kansas City. [Wherever] it may be, we need to get it done. ”

SECOND: Indians manager Terry Francona had been looking for a day to give shortstop Francisco Lindor a day off. Lindor has looked a little tired of late and headed into the afternoon with no hits in his past 25 plate appearances.

Francona pulled the trigger on an off-day for his All-Star shortstop on Sunday, putting utility man Michael Martinez in the lineup’s No. 9 spot and at short. Naturally, Martinez slipped up twice (one in the field and one at the plate), costing Cleveland.

The first misstep arrived in the fifth inning, when the Indians had a promising rally going after Brandon Guyer led off with a single and Coco Crisp followed with a walk. At that juncture, while struggling to get anything going against Rodon, catcher Chris Gimenez used a sacrifice bunt to move the runners up 90 feet apiece.

That wasn’t the worst idea, but it seemed ill-timed with Martinez (career 39 OPS+) standing in the on-deck circle. I would’ve rather seen Gimenez swing away, and that feeling was backed up when Martinez popped out to shallow right, not deep enough for a sacrifice fly. Rajai Davis then struck out to end the inning.

The next setback came in the seventh, when Justin Morneau sent a chopper to Martinez at short. He made a throwing error on the play, allowing the leadoff man to reach base. Later in the inning with one out, Avisail Garcia reached on a seeing-eye single up the middle and Omar Narvaez loaded the bases with an infield dribbler.

Carlos Sanchez followed with a fly ball that would’ve been the third out of the inning. Instead, the White Sox got a sac fly and a 2-0 lead.

After Crisp’s walk, the Indians had a 54.5 percent win probability, according to Fangraphs.com. That dropped to 42.3 percent after Martinez’s flyout and then to 33.2 percent after the Davis strikeout. Had Gimenez been bunting to bring up the top of the order, I wouldn’t have minded it so much. In this particular situation, it cost the Tribe.

THIRD: Lost in the shuffled on Sunday, due to Cleveland’s bats going quiet and the anticipated celebration being postponed, was another strong outing by Tomlin.

Tomlin went 6.2 innings for the second start in a row and gave up two runs (only one earned) on five hits. Since his 0-5 August, in which Tomlin posted an 11.48 ERA, he has turned in a tidy 1.40 ERA in 19.2 innings. Over that span, the righty has seven strikeouts, no walks and has held batters to a .214 average.

Francona said Tomlin’s latest was encouraging.

“Very much so,” said the manager. “He’s building each start and he’s holding his stuff, so that’s really good.”

Tomlin’s lone strikeout on Sunday came in the seventh against slugger Todd Frazier, who tipped his cap to the pitcher as he left the box.

“I wasn’t sure why he was doing that,” Tomlin said. “I know I appreciate it.”

Of course, Frazier did get the best of Tomlin in the fifth. One of the Indians starter’s skills is practically eliminating the running game. In the fifth inning, though, Frazier singled and then stole second base off Tomlin and catcher Chris Gimenez. Three batters later, Frazier scored from second on a two-out single by Carlos Sanchez.

“He likes to take a walking lead and then go,” Tomlin said. “And I knew that. That’s why I picked over a couple times. I knew at some point in that at-bat, if I don’t pay attention to him, that he probably could have went, or was going to go or try to attempt to steal a base. In that situation I was just trying to attack the hitter.

“Throwing over there a couple times, I was just trying to hold the ball as long as I could and then go. Apparently, he got that walking lead and then went. He’s done that to us a couple times. I was very aware of what he wants to do and how he does steal bases, but the times I picked over there, he wasn’t really doing it. Bad guessing on my part.”

HOME: Small mistakes like that were magnified on Sunday in light of how Rodon was dealing for the White Sox.

The lefty worked eight innings and matched a career high with 11 strikeouts. It marked the first time in his career that he logged at least eight shutout frames, too. Rodon allowed only two hits, and worked around the potential harm of three walks issued. Goodnight,Tribe.

“”He’s a young pitcher and he’s getting better with starts,” Francona said. “We’ve seen a lot of him, because he’s in our division. His offspeed is better, even his delivery is smoothing out and, like a lot of young pitchers that have talent, you’re starting to see him gain experience. He’s pretty good.”

In his brief career against the Indians, Rodon now has a 2.45 ERA with 55 strikeouts in 55 innings.

“He’s one of those guys you’ve got to get to early,” Kipnis said, “kind of like a little Verlander, when he gets tougher as he goes further in the game and picks up some velo. I mean, we just ran into a hot pitcher today. He was on his stuff. He pitched a great game.”

And in case you missed it, here is Cleveland’s reaction to the passing of Jose Fernandez:

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 153

yeswayjoseSome notes and quotes from Friday’s 10-4 win over the White Sox

FIRST: When reporters gathered around Jose Ramirez’s locker on Friday night, following another big night for the Indians third baseman, he donned a bright red shirt.

Across the chest was his likeness, a frozen image of Ramirez — sans helmet — pointing with both hands after delivering a hit. The shirt is black and red, but there is a splash of yellow atop Ramirez’s head. No rendering of Ramirez would be complete with out that mess of red-orange hair. Below his image were three bold white words: “YES WAY JOSE.”

The expression is fitting, because while Ramirez’s offensive contributions were once surprising, they have become more expected. Friday night was a perfect example. Ramirez went 2-for-5 with a home run, double and four RBIs, and he didn’t even feel like the story. It was just another solid night for Cleveland’s team MVP.

“It’s really exciting, especially because we’re having such good results,” Ramirez said of the team’s play of late. “We’re always trying to win and we’re always trying to keep on moving forward and thanks to God it’s going well.”

With his latest showing, Ramirez leapfrogged Texas’ Adrian Beltre on the Win Probability Added leaderboard.

WPA leaders (American League)

1. Mike Trout, 6.60
2. Josh Donaldson, 4.62
3. David Ortiz, 4.35
4. Jose Ramirez, 4.07

Ramirez’s 124 wRC+ is second on the Indians to only Carlos Santana (130), who is also red hot of late for Cleveland (on base four times Friday and batting .600 in his past five games). Through 145 games, Ramirez is now batting .315/.367/.469 with 11 homers, 44 doubles, three doubles, 75 RBIs, 82 runs and 22 stolen bases.

Now, in my opinion, Trout should win the AL MVP. It’s not even a question in my mind. But, it will be interesting to see which Cleveland batters garner votes. You could make a case for Francisco Lindor as the team’s most valuable player, and there are stats to back it up. Mike Napoli, Jason Kipnis and Santana have also been outstanding.

In the wake of the loss of Michael Brantley, though, Ramirez’s performance has been nothing short of remarkable.

SECOND: You’ve probably heard Trevor Bauer say it after starts more than once this year, or in seasons past. Teams will pile up runs, and the pitcher will say he hit his spot. It was a good pitch. Sometimes, he even acts baffled that the batter delivered.

Well, Bauer was well within bounds to say that on Friday.

Let’s start with the most unbelievable one. In the fifth inning, Bauer started Avisail Garcia off with an inside fastball, drawing an excuse-me swing. The White Sox outfielder sliced the pitch down the right-field line, where it decided not stay just inside the line and keep going. It then barely cleared the wall for a two-run homer.

I’ll be honest, off the bat, I watched the ball for a moment and then looked down. I just assumed it was going to hook foul. Nope. And it didn’t just feel like a lucky hit. The numbers back it up. Garcia’s two-run shot had an exit velocity of 95.2 mph with a launch angle of 38 degrees. The expected batting average on that particular type of ball in play was .106. Garcia defied the odds.

“That was ridiculous,” Bauer said. “He hit it. I jammed the crap out of him. He looked to left field, because he thought he pulled it. I have no idea how that was a homer. That’s the way things are going for me personally right now. I can’t seem to keep from giving up runs.”

The balls in play with the 15 lowest expected batting average on Friday night resulted in 14 outs, and that crazy home run. On top of that, the previous play was similarly fluky. Todd Frazier sent a pitch into the left-field corner for a double. That one had an 81.9 mph exit velo and 26-degree launch angle. That one had an expected average of .137.

The other home run allowed by Bauer was a two-run shot by Melky Cabrera in the first inning. That one was was more legitimate. It came with an E.V. of 100 and had a 21.3 launch angle and a projected distance of 395 feet. Cabrera just took a good swing on an inside fastball off the plate. Take a look:

melkyhr

That’s a tip-your-cap homer right there.

“The other one wasn’t even a strike,” Bauer said. “So, I don’t know. I try to get people to chase balls and they leave the yard. It’s frustrating. I’m trying to do the things that make me successful. I’m trying to work ahead. I’m trying to be aggressive, throw pitches for strikes.”

THIRD: None of the above is to say that Bauer had a bad outing. In fact, the right-hander’s performance was solid, especially when the flukiness of the fifth inning is taken into account.

Bauer logged 7.2 innings, and held Chicago at bay enough to buy time for the offense to mount a comeback. The starter’s effort also allowed Indians manager Terry Francona to only use Zach McAllister out of the bullpen for 1.1 innings. With a bullpen day looming on Saturday, that was big for the Tribe.

“I was able to keep my pitch count down, which is big for tomorrow,” Bauer said. “We have a lot of capable guys in our ‘pen right now, but we used one reliever tonight to keep everybody fresh right now, and hopefully we can get another win tomorrow.”

The homers aside, Francona liked what he saw from Bauer.

“He made a couple mistakes that he paid for,” Francona said. “But, other than that, he was really pretty good. Fortunately, it not only allowed our offense to kind of come back and tie it, and then spread it out, but he really did pitch pretty good.

“The line’s a little bit skewed because of those, but I think he only had two walks and didn’t have a real high pitch count. He’s durable as all get out. He has a way of kind of hanging in there.”

 

HOME: The win had contributions up and down the lineup. Besides Ramirez and Santana, Lindor chipped in a sacrifice fly and Coco Crisp delivered three RBIs and three hits, including a go-ahead, two-run double in the fifth inning.

And then, there was Napoli.

Following an 0-for-21 slump, Napoli came through with a single in each of his at-bats in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings. The last two in that sequence knocked in a run for the Indians. They weren’t the big flies that Indians fans have grown accustomed to seeing, but Cleveland can hope the hits start getting the slugger back on a roll.

“He did such a good job tonight of kind of shortening up,” Francona said, “and not trying to get it all back in one swing. He hit the ball the other way a couple times. He stayed up the middle. You watch. The longer ones will come. They’ll fall, though. I thought he had a really good approach tonight.”

With that approach, Napoli now has achieved 100 RBIs on the season. He became the first Indians batter to reach the century mark since Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez did so in 2007. At 34 years old, Napoli is the oldest Cleveland hitter to drive in 100 since Luke Easter way back in 1951.

 

“It’s something nice,” Napoli said of the milestone. “To be able to do it and be on a winning team, it’s even better. I can’t do it without the people around me. We’ve been complementing each other really well as a lineup. They give me the opportunities to get
them.”

EXTRAS: The Indians are now 90-63 and have a seven-game lead in the division with nine games to play. Cleveland’s magic number is down to three, meaning the team can clinch as early as Sunday. Beyond the division crown, though, the Tribe is in the hunt for home-field. And, given the Indians’ 53-26 record at home, that’s a big deal. Texas is a half-game ahead at 91-63 and Boston is a half-game behind at 90-64.

“I check it every night. I look at it during the game,” Napoli said of the scoreboard. “It’s just what it is. You definitely want them to lose. We want the No. 1 seed. We can’t control what they do, but it’s nice to see if they’re down in the game or if they’re losing or
something. We’ve still got to take care of ourselves and win our game.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 152

shawSome notes and quotes from Thursday’s 5-2 win over the Royals

FIRST: Let’s pause for a moment to appreciate what Bryan Shaw has been able to do for the Indians.

For four consecutive seasons, Shaw has logged 70 or more games for Cleveland. Fans always seem to latch on to one player to illogically criticize and Shaw, for whatever reason, has become a social-media punching bag for some fans. It’s a cruel existence for a reliever. One bad outing gets remembered more than a quiet, prolonged scoreless streak.

Here’s a hot take for you: Bryan Shaw has been pretty darned reliable.

Shaw was out there again on Thursday night, breezing through the eighth inning to set up a save for Cody Allen. More often than not, that’s been the combination under the watch of Indians manager Terry Francona. And no one in baseball has been relied upon more than Shaw since Tito came to town.

“Over a four-year period,” Francona said, “I’d bet you Bryan’s pitched more than probably any pitcher in baseball.”

That’s a fact.

Over the 2013-16 seasons, Shaw has logged 297 appearances, which rank first among all pitchers in baseball. The right-hander’s innings workload (280.1) ranks third among Major League relievers in that span. From 2012-2016, Shaw also leads baseball with 361 appearances, and is fifth in that five-year span with 339.2 innings pitched. Shaw has a 2.95 ERA over the past four years and a 3.05 ERA over the past five.

Shaw’s four seasons with 70-plus appearances are a franchise record, and he is one of only 14 active pitchers to have at least four years with that many outings.

“One, you’ve got to be good,” Francona said of Shaw’s high volume of games. “Two, you’ve got to be resilient. To me, it’s something that, that’s why I probably do get protective of him, because he takes the ball when a lot of other pitchers may not take the ball. There’s something to be said for that.

“And, he’s throwing harder now than he was at the beginning of the year. It’s amazing to me.”

That is also a fact. Shaw averaged 94.3 mph with his cutter on Thursday night and topped out at 95.9 mph. The righty’s pitch velocity has ticked up over the past few months, and is indeed higher than it was back at the start of the season. Shaw’s velo is also noticeably higher than it was last season.

Take a look at the monthly breakdown of Shaw’s cutter velo over the past two years:

shawvelo

Shaw is not only throwing harder. He’s also been more effective as the season has progressed.

Remember Shaw’s four-run meltdown on July 18 in Kansas City? When fans called for his head, and reporters asked Francona if he was thinking of making a change? Well, since that game, Shaw has a 0.70 ERA with 24 strikeouts and nine walks in 29 appearances (25.2 IP). Shoot, even if you include that mess of an outing, Shaw has a 1.36 ERA in his last 43 games (39.2 IP), dating back to a rough three-game stretch in June.

The Andrew Miller Effect has also helped Shaw.

Prior to Miller’s arrival, Shaw faced left-handed batters 43-percent of the time (71 of 165 opponent at-bats) and allowed an .826 OPS to those hitters. Since the start of August, when Miller came on board, Shaw has faced lefties 35-percent (23 of 66 at-bats) of the time, limiting them to a .553 OPS.

Likewise, Shaw’s showing against righties in the A.M. (After Miller) has improved over in the P.M. (Pre-Miller). Since the big lefty joined the ‘pen, Shaw has held righties to a .521 OPS (43 at-bats). That mark was .671 (94 at-bats) before August.

“It’s uncanny,” Indians reliever Dan Otero said of Shaw’s ability to balance performance with a high workload. “I can’t even say how amazing that is as a reliever, to keep his arm, his mind in that shape to be able to do that. I think some of it maybe is he doesn’t think about it too much. I think that helps him.

“It’s impressive to watch. You don’t see many relievers do that, go 70-75 games, three-four years in a row. He’s been able to do it and effectively.”

SECOND: Let’s get back to The Andrew Miller Effect for a moment.

Adding Miller to Cleveland’s bullpen was not only a tremendous move due to his skills as an elite relief ace. It was also a great addition due to the ripple effect it has had throughout the rest of the relief corps. In Miller, Francona has a pitcher willing to work in any inning, and able to handle multi-inning situations, if needed.

Due to that mentality and ability on Miller’s part, Francona can better mix and match with the rest of his arms. He can determine whether a particular part of an opposing lineup is better suited for Otero or Shaw or Allen or Zach McAllister. Shaw doesn’t need to be locked in to the eighth inning, nor Allen for the ninth.

“Bringing in a guy like Miller into the bullpen has to help any bullpen,” Otero said, “especially here, where you already had two stalwarts down there in Cody and Bryan, what they’ve done the last few years. I think Tito has the confidence in pretty much everybody down there. I don’t think he shies away from anybody.”

Cleveland’s bullpen is easily a Top Five group in the American League on the season as a whole, depending on what stats you favor. The relief corps ranks first in ERA, and third in FIP and opponents’ average overall. Since Miller’s arrival, it’s fair to argue that the Tribe ‘pen has turned into the best in the AL, and right near the top of baseball.

The five arms shouldering the load since Aug. 1 have been Otero (25 IP), Miller (25 IP), McAllister (21 IP), Shaw (20 IP) and Allen (18.2 IP). That quintet has combined for a 1.81 ERA, 4.8 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 9.8 K/9 in 109.2 IP. They have 119 strikeouts against 25 walks in that time period.

Let’s play, “Guess The ERA” now. I’m going to give you the five ERAs of the relievers I just mentioned, and you have to guess which average belongs to each pitcher. Ready?

A) 2.89
B) 1.80 (two pitchers)
C) 1.71
D) 0.90

(Answer at the bottom of this post)

THIRD: All this bullpen talk begs the question: Did we just see a postseason teaser on Thursday night?

Everyone knows the issues facing Cleveland’s rotation by now. With Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar injured, it’s Kluber and Bauer and pray for showers, right? But, maybe the saying should be, “Give ’em five, and ‘Pen keeps you alive.” Or, something. It needs some work.

The point here is that, given the strength and depth of the Tribe bullpen, an effective five-inning start might just be enough. All four starters (Kluber, Bauer, Josh Tomlin and Mike Clevinger) are capable of logging more than five frames, but Francona might be able to feel more comfortable having a quick hook with the weapons he has in the ‘pen.

“There’s a whole lot of depth down there,” Allen said. “The end of the game is tough, trying to piece together certain guys against certain hitters for a while, for four innings. It can be challenging, but we have the right pieces down there to do it.

“Obviously, with our rotation — even the guys that are in it right now like Clev and Tomlin — we feel confident that they’re going to go out there and get us into the seventh every time they toe the rubber. And our defense is a strength. And our offense, when we’re playing well, we score a lot of runs late. That takes a lot of pressure off the bullpen.”

In Thursday’s win, Clevinger logged 80 pitches in five innings, holding the Royals to two runs. When he bowed out of the ballgame, Cleveland and K.C. were knotted, 2-2. Otero then worked two innings, Shaw handled the eighth and Allen slammed the door. Along the way, the offense grabbed a lead.

It worked. And it’s worked in the postseason in the past (more on that in the story on Indians.com). Just ask the Royals.

HOME: The race is on. With 10 games to go, Carlos Santana and Mike Napoli have 34 home runs apiece.

Santana’s latest shot was the decisive blow in Thursday’s game. In the sixth inning, he drilled an 0-1 pitch from Dollon gee out to right field for a tie-breaking, three-run blast. That moved him into a tied for the team lead in long balls with Napoli.

Napoli has been in a bit of a funk again, going 0-for-4 on Thursday to increase his drought to 0-for-20. In the dozen games before that cold spell, Napoli had five homers and a .605 slugging percentage (albeit with a .209 average). The Indians have seen Nap get plenty hot after slumps, though. His homers tend to come in bunches.

Santana, meanwhile, has hit .350 (21-for-60) with five doubles, six homers, 11 runs and 15 RBIs in his last 12 games. He’s also had more walks (12) than strikeouts (11) in that stretch. Thursday was a classic Santana performance: one walk, one double and one homer.

Santana and Napoli are the first Tribe teammates to have at least 34 bombs apiece since Jim Thome and Juan Gonzalez accomplished the feat in 2001. Thome also did it in 2000 (alongside Manny Ramirez) and in 1996 (with Albert Belle). Those are the only four such occurrences in club history.

“When we went into the year,” Francona said, “everybody said, ‘How are you going to score? How are you going to score?’ Then without [Michael] Brantley you’re kind of thinking, ‘Is this going to stretch?’ And then you look up and you’ve got two guys who have hit 30.

“It’s been fun. I’m happy for Carlos, because he’s made an effort in so many areas to be better than he was. An you don’t see that that often in a veteran player. He’s done a really good job.”

Answer: Allen (A), Miller and Otero (B), McAllister (C), Shaw (D)

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 151

lindortagSome notes and quotes from Wednesday’s 4-3 win over the Royals

FIRST: Terrance Gore is a weapon for the Royals. When a game is close, and he dons a blue helmet for Kansas City and heads to a base as a pinch-runner, everyone knows what it about to happen.

“As soon as they brought Gore in,” Indians catcher Roberto Perez said on Wednesday night, “I knew he was going to come in and try to steal a base.”

Gore did it to Perez on Tuesday night. Cheslor Cuthbert reached with a single up the middle, Gore put on his helmet and headed to first base, and the fleet-footed outfielder quickly swiped second base. Perez would get a shot at redemption 24 hours later.

In the ninth inning in this one, Salvador Perez led off with a towering homer off closer Cody Allen, cutting Cleveland’s lead to 4-3. Alex Gordon followed with a walk, prompting Royals manager Ned Yost to send Gore to first as a pinch-runner. That put K.C. just 90 feet from having the tying run in scoring position, and with no outs.

Perez knew the Royals’ plan. Allen knew the Royals’ plan. The whole stadium was just waiting for Gore to take off.

“On my end, all I’m trying to do is just disrupt his timing as much as possible,” Allen said. “I don’t want him to get a good jump. Jumps come off the pitchers. So, a guy that quick, that good at what he does, you’re trying your best just to kind of let his feet sink into the ground a little bit right there, so he doesn’t get a good jump.”

Allen fired over to first baseman Mike Napoli twice, varying the time between tosses. For his first pitch to Alcides Escobar, the closer waited eight seconds after coming set, and checked the runner subtly four times, before firing a ball. On the 1-0 offering, Allen again stayed still on the mound after coming set for several seconds.

Then, when Allen went into his motion, Gore bolted for second.

allen

“The last thing you want to do right there,” Allen said, “is you’re so worried so much about the runner that you get 2-0 to a hitter like Escobar, or you throw one right down the middle as Gore is running and he gets a base hit. So, I’m just trying to do as good a job as I can to just disrupt his timing and get the ball to Roberto.”

According to Statcast, Gore had a lead of 11.1 feet and a first-step time of 0.2 seconds. The runner hit a top speed of 21.7 mph and got to second base in 3.6 seconds. Allen had a release time (start of motion to release of ball) of 1.04 seconds, which was under the 1.11 average for right-handed pitchers. And Perez had an exchange time of 0.5 seconds.

Add all that up, and the ball popped into shortstop Francisco Lindor’s glove before Gore arrived at the bag.

lindortag2

After the tag and the out call, Lindor stood up and motioned to Perez before shouting, and pumping his arms in celebration. At home plate, the catcher emphatically pumped his fist, too. Not only was this a critical out at a crucial time, this marked the first time in Gore’s Major League career (regular season) that he had been thrown out.

“I was pumped,” Perez said. “Especially when you no one had caught him stealing. For me, I was able to throw him out. It was good for me and good for the team, too.”

Now, it’s not like Gore had never been caught stealing before. He was nabbed five times in the Minors this year, in fact. And, at the MLB level, Gore was caught once during the American League Division Series last year. For his professional career, Gore boasted an impressive 92-percent (272-for-297) success rate prior to Wednesday.

In the regular season, Gore had been a perfect 17-for-17.

“I’m not frickin’ God,” Gore quipped with Kansas City reporters. “I just got a terrible jump. If you watch the video, it was pretty bad. I wouldn’t have gone, but in that situation I still felt like I had a chance.”

Allen raved about Perez’s throw.

“Honestly, between him and Yan [Gomes],” Allen said, “those are the two best-throwing catchers that I’ve seen in the big leagues. That’s a credit [to them]. Those guys really work at what they do and they take a lot of pride in it. He freaking caught it, got rid of it and put it right on the bag.

“That was probably the quickest I’ve ever been to the plate. Roberto’s put up some really low numbers, but … he put it on the bag. That was huge. He bailed me out right there.”

Allen retired the next two batters to seal the win.

“When we got the tack-on run [in the eighth],” Indians manager Terry Francona said, “I told Millsy, I said, ‘Boy, good, that’ll take Gore out of the game.’ It figures. And Perez, everybody will be talking about the throw, because it was a great throw, but Cody also gave him a chance.”

SECOND: The AL Cy Young race didn’t become any easier to call on Wednesday night.

Indians ace Corey Kluber picked up his 18th win after turning in 6.1 solid innings against the Royals. The right-hander struck out nine, including five in a row between the fifth and sixth, and seven within the final dozen batters he faced. Kluber ended with two runs allowed on six hits in a 102-pitch effort.

“He’s so consistent,” Francona said. “He’s the same guy every five days. I mean that as the biggest compliment you can give somebody. He probably had a few more pitches in him.”

Here is a glance at the primary AL Cy Young contenders:

cycontenders

Yeah, this race remains too close to call.

Among those seven — I chose that group due to being the only pitchers with a 4.0+ fWAR at the moment — Tanaka and Sale also pitched on Wednesday. Tanaka beat the Rays with a six-inning outing, in which he allowed four runs. Sale took a loss against the Phillies after giving up six runs in four innings.

Kluber appears to be getting stronger as the season wears on.

After opening the year 0-3 with a 6.19 ERA through his first three starts, Kluber has gone 18-6 with a 2.81 ERA, .235 opponents’ average, 1.11 WHIP, 9.6 K/9 and 4.0 K/BB in 28 turns (192 IP). Since the start of June, when Kluber was 4-6 with a 4.15 ERA, he is 14-3 with a 2.56 ERA, .200 opponents’ average, 1.01 WHIP, 9.9 K/9 and 3.8 K/BB in 20 starts (137.1 IP).

The more recent benchmark has been July 3, when Kluber coughed up up five runs in 3.1 innings in Toronto. Since then? The righty has gone 10-1 with a 2.32 ERA, .208 opponents’ average, 1.05 WHIP, 10.2 K/9 and 3.8 K/BB in 14 starts (97 IP).

kluberkstats

THIRD: The point has been made before, but it doesn’t cease to be any less remarkable. The Indians lost Michael Brantley and have essentially replaced him with Michael Brantley. Jose Ramirez’s incredible season continues to mirror Brantley’s production.

After his 3-for-3, three-double day against the Royals, consider where the Dr. Smooth vs. Dr. Clutch situation stands. Let’s just look at Brantley from a year ago compared to what Ramirez has done in his place this year.

2015 Brantley: .310/.379/.480 (596 plate appearances)
2016 Ramirez: .315/.367/.462 (581 plate appearances)

2015 Brantley: .15 HR, 45 2B, 15 SB, 84 RBI, 68 R, 60 BB, 51 K, 164 H
2016 Ramirez: 10 HR, 42 2B, 22 SB, 71 RBI, 79 R, 43 BB, 60 K, 167 H

“He’s been so consistent,” Francona said of Ramirez. “Right-handed, left-handed, he’s shooting the ball all over the ballpark, making plays at third.”

Ramirez currently ranks third on the Indians in fWAR (4.1), and second in OPS (.830) and wRC+ (122). Among qualified American League hitters, Ramirez ranks fifth in Win Probability Added (3.83), trailing Mike Trout, Josh Donaldson, David Ortiz and Carlos Beltran. There are a few MVP candidates in that class. Another, Mookie Betts, ranks just behind Ramirez in that area.

A year after hiting .219 with a .631 OPS, Ramirez is batting .315 with an .830 OPS.

“He’s an unbelievable player,” Allen said. “I think everybody forgets how young he was when he first came up. There was a lot thrown on his plate the last couple years. He’s an extremely talented player. He has a lot of ability. And, for him, I’m sure the game’s slowed down quite a bit this year. He’s done a remarkable job day in, day out. We’re lucky to have him.”

HOME: Could Wednesday have been a glimpse into potential postseason usage for Cleveland’s pitching staff?

With the bullpen the Indians are featuring right now, Francona isn’t afraid to go to the group early in a tight game. Kluber was at 102 pitches when he was pulled from the game in the seventh. The ace is capable of handling more, and would have gone longer, but Miller was warm, Cleveland had a two-run lead, and KC had a runner on second.

“When we get Miller up,” Francona said, “because he had thrown [1 2/3 innings] last night, I wanted to get him in so we don’t waste it.”

Kluber was fine with that, too.

“I didn’t have any problem coming out of the game right there,” Kluber said. “With the guys we’ve got in our bullpen and the way they’ve been pitching lately, there’s no second-guessing there.”

Miller got the next two out, Bryan Shaw worked a one-two-three eighth, and Allen got the save after allowing the leadoff home run. In a postseason setting — especially in games featuring Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin or Mike Clevinger — Cleveland might only need five innings from its starter.

Wednesday showed that, even with Kluber, Francona can have a slightly quicker hook given the relief weapons he’s wielding right now.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 150

guyerwalkoffSome notes and quotes from Tuesday’s 2-1 win over the Royals

FIRST: For a moment, while the Indians were partying on the field, it looked like the Royals might challenge the call.

Brandon Guyer emerged from the mob sans helmet, jersey untucked and soaked from the spray of water cups that flew from the full tray wielded by Lonnie Chisenhall. The fireworks had gone off. The crowd was raucous. Players were all over the infield. Was Kansas City really going to challenge that it was a hit?

“It would have been a little weird if it was foul and I had to go back,” Guyer said, “all the Gatorade on me and stuff, and clean up the field and the cups. That would have been really awkward and weird.”

Here’s how close Guyer’s single down the right-field line came to being foul:

guyerhit

OK, yes, that looks a little like a grainy Bigfoot sighting photo, but that little white blurry thing just beyond the reach of right fielder Paulo Orlando is the baseball. It bounced just inside the line, avoided a sliding Orlando and rattled around in the corner for what was deemed a double (and later changed to a single).

Guyer’s game-winner off Joakim Soria came with two outs and runners on second and third, scored Coco Crisp and gave Cleveland its 11th walkoff win of the season. The Tribe has been spreading the walk-off wealth, too. The decisive blows have come from…

Gomes &
Napoli &
Santana &
Ramirez &
Lindor &
Naquin &
Kipnis &
Chisenhall &
Guyer.

Nine different players have delivered. Only Tyler Naquin and Jose Ramirez have been in the center of the mob twice. The Indians have the most walk-off wins in the Majors now, playing a big role in the Tribe reaching 50 wins at home.

“I think it’s just the group of people we have in that clubhouse,” Indians starter Josh Tomlin said. “Everybody roots for each other. The definition of ‘team’ is in that clubhouse. Everybody loves hanging out with each other, loves playing cards with each other. It’s just a good group of guys to be around every day. We try to get to the ballpark pretty early and everybody is always in a good mood, joking around, having a good time. It’s just loose and everybody enjoys everybody.

“It’s not surprising to me hearing that, that there’s nine different guys out of 11 that have done it. It’s not surprising. We have a good team. That’s all there is to it. We have a great team.”

One interesting aspect this time around was the fact that Indians manager Terry Francona went with Guyer as a pinch-hitter against Soria, a right-hander. Guyer, as has been noted plenty of times, was acquired mainly due to his ability to hit lefties. Well, as it happens, Soria has struggled against righties (to the tune of a .918 OPS) this year.

“Soria’s probably tougher on lefties than he is on righties,” Francona said. “So, that was part of why we let him hit there.”

It worked, and Guyer was happy to get that chance.

“I relish any opportunity to play,” he said. “If it’s going in of defense, pinch run, hit, righty, lefty, it really doesn’t matter to me. But, with this team, we have so many good players that my opportunities might not be a lot right now, and I’m fine with that. I came over to a great team and, fortunately, got a good opportunity tonight and with runners on base, in scoring position. Glad I came through.”

SECOND: Josh Tomlin is not Carlos Carrasco. He’s not Danny Salazar, either. The veteran pitcher relies on pinpoint command rather than an explosive arsenal. It has worked for Tomlin plenty of times in the past, and it worked again on Tuesday night.

With Carrasco and Salazar injured and out of the rotation, it goes without saying that Tomlin and Mike Clevinger need to step things up behind Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer. Cleveland can only hope that Tomlin’s outing against Kansas City was a sign of things to come.

Tomlin certainly grasps the landscape.

“Carrasco and Danny are a key part of that rotation. We all know that,” Tomlin said. “Everybody knows that. But, our job is to step up. Our job is to go out there and give this team a chance to win. It’s not to try to do what Carlos Carrasco or Danny Salazar can do. It’s to try to be ourselves and give our team a chance to win every fifth day.”

Against the Royals, Tomlin went 6.2 innings, allowing one run on five hits. The righty struck out three, walked none and bowed out after 84 pitches. It was an effective, efficient outing for Tomlin, and one that featured a more even mix of pitches to keep Kansas City guessing.

Tomlin threw 25-percent four-seamers, 25-percent curves, 21.4-percent sinkers, 21.4-percent cutters and 7.1-percent changeups. The only percentage aligned with his overall season rate was the change. As for the rest, Tomlin decreased his cutter usage by a lot, upped the amount of breaking balls, and trusted his fastballs more than he has this year.

“I think for me, it’s just understanding what I’m capable of doing,” Tomlin said. “And that’s trying to get weak contact early on. It’s not trying to blow guys away or shy away from contact, or try to get strikeouts. It’s try to limit the damage as much as you can, and pitch to contact, but try to get weak contact early in the count and try to let the defense play.

“The execution of pitches is mainly the thing I have to work on and stay sharp with, because I’m not an overpowering pitcher. I have to keep the ball out of the middle of the plate. When I miss, I need to miss to the side I’m trying to go to.”

Tomlin’s past two starts have been strong, and he’s given up two runs on 10 hits with six strikeouts and no walks in his last three outings (12.2 innings). That’s a drastic improvement — albeit in a small sample size — from August, when he went 0-5 with an 11.48 ERA.

“Both of us, we know we have to step up,” said Tomlin, referring also to Clevinger. “We know we have to try to go out there and log innings and keep us in the game. We’re up for the challenge. We’re ready for it, and we’re trying to do the best we can to try to help win the Central and get into the playoffs and play deep into the playoffs.”

THIRD: After allowing a two-out triple in the seventh — one that bounced by a diving Tyler Naquin in center — Tomlin exited to a standing ovation. Setup man Bryan Shaw then entered and induced an inning-ending flyout from Orlando.

“You just have to focus on the hitter,” Shaw said of the situation. “You can’t focus on, ‘If I throw a ball in the dirt,’ or, ‘If I do this or that.’ You have to focus on the hitter in the box and get him out, whether it’s a ground ball, strikeout, pop out. As long as he puts it in play, it doesn’t matter if the guy’s on first, second or third.”

Shaw got the job done.

After Shaw allowed a one-out single in the eighth, it was Miller Time.

While Miller faced Christian Colon, pinch-runner Terrance Gore stole second base and moved up to third on a wild pitch. With the game caught in a 1-1 tie, a fleet-footed runner was now 90 feet away from putting the Royals ahead. Was Miller worried?

“Not with ‘Berto,” Miller said. “The way he receives the ball, the way he blocks the plate, calls a game — I think I’ve been fortunate to throw to a lot of good catchers — it’s just been a lot of fun to get to see him.”

It goes beyond blocking and game calling with catcher Roberto Perez. As the Royals experienced in the eighth, Perez is also an elite pitch framer. Both Colon and Whit Merrifield walked away after called third strikes, ending the inning and stranding Gore. As Merrifield left the field, he mouthed, “That’s not a strike,” to home-plate umpire Carlos Torres. Merrifield may have had a point, but Perez sold it.

Here is the Strike Three call to Colon (Pitch No. 6):

colonk

Here is the Strike Three call to Merrifield (Pitch No. 8):

merrifieldk

Heading into Tuesday’s game, Perez ranked third in the American League with a 5.5 Runs Above Average for pitch framing (min. 3,000 samples), according to data compiled by StatCorner.com. Perez actually ranks first in the AL with an average of 1.00 strike call per game.

Perez’s 5.5 RAA is in 3,227 samples. For comparison, Houston’s Jason Castro, whose 12.6 RAA leads the AL, has 7,568 samples. Castro is a tick below Perez with 0.97 calls per game. If Perez had a full season of innings, he might be at or near the top in RAA in the league.

“I think he’s helping us out a lot,” Miller said. “He gives us the ability to just go out there and throw whatever we want. He’s going to knock it down, make it look like a strike, whatever it is. He’s pretty awesome.”

HOME: With a dozen games to go, the race is on between Carlos Santana and Mike Napoli for the 2016 Indians Home Run Crown. Napoli currently has the lead with 34 shots this season, while Santana is now one behind after launching No. 33 on Tuesday.

That blast gave the Indians a 1-0 lead in the third inning. The Royals may have already had a run or two by that point, if it hadn’t been for a stellar defense effort by both Naquin in center and Jason Kipnis at second base.

Kendrys Morales led off the second inning with a deep fly to left-center, where Naquin hustled to track down the ball. Meanwhile, Morales was running around first with a double in mind, and he turned in his second-fastest home-to-first (8.99 seconds) of the season, per Statcast.

Naquin, however, uncorked a 95.7-mph throw (ninth-hardest among MLB assists this year), which Kipnis caught with an acrobatic stab. The second baseman then lunged towards the bag, applying the tag on Morales just in time for an inning-opening out.

“That’s huge,” Tomlin said. “That goes from nobody out, man on second base, where a big inning can occur with one swing of the bat, to one out and nobody on base. That’s a huge part of that game. I know it’s early in the game, but you look back at it, it ends up being a 1-1 game until the end of the game. You look back at it, that could’ve went differently very quick.

“That was a great play by him getting the ball in as quick as he can, and then the tag by Kip was unebelievable. It kind of took a bad hop on him and jumped up on him, and he grabbed it and turned around and tagged him. It was a great play by both of those guys.”

EXTRAS: For anyone who had their popcorn ready, bracing for a clash between longtime beat reporter Paul Hoynes and the Indians’ players, well, Tuesday was fairly drama-free in that department. Hoynes showed up and did his job, as he’s done for 34 years covering the Indians. And, despite some Twitter tough talk from the players, cooler heads prevailed in the clubhouse before Tuesday’s game. I may not agree with Hoynes’ approach to Saturday’s column, but I have nothing but respect and admiration for the man and the job he’s done for so many years.

If you want a great take on the whole situation, here’s one from Anthony Castrovince:

And another from Zack Meisel:

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 149

bauerSome notes and quotes from Sunday’s 9-5 loss to the Tigers

FIRST: Indians manager Terry Francona has said it for several years now. When facing the Tigers, a pitcher needs to establish the inside part of the plate, making it more difficult for some of the Motor City’s mashers to get their arms extended.

Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer and catcher Chris Gimenez went into Sunday’s tilt against the Tigers wanting to emphasize that approach.

“That’s something that I noticed we hadn’t done up until this point,” Gimenez said. “That’s something Trevor’s very good at. I just felt like against a certain couple of guys in that lineup that we had to pitch in. We had to let them know that they weren’t going to be able to look out over the plate.

“Trevor doesn’t have the type of stuff that Kluber does, where he can get away with some mistakes or something like that. We have to make them aware that we’re going in there, and then pitch off of it.”

The plan backfired in a big way this time.

Bauer hit Miguel Cabrera with a pitch in the first inning, and hit two more batters in a three-run, 33-pitch third. That ill-fated frame began with Ian Kinsler taking a pitch off the helmet, creating a scary scene that had Bauer crouched in concern on the mound. Three batters later, Victor Martinez was rolling in the dirt in pain after taking one off his right leg.

After the game, Bauer issued an apology before answering questions.

“First off, I want to extend my apologies to Ian, Victor and Miguel,” Bauer said. “The scouting report is to pitch in. I obviously did not intend to hit any of them. Regardless of game situation or anything that could happen in a game, I would never intentionally throw at someone’s head. That has no place in the game.

“I know saying sorry for it doesn’t change that it happened. I’m glad that he seemed to be OK and nothing else came of it.”

Bauer ended the afternoon with a robust pitching line: 5.2 IP, 10 H, 6 R, 2 BB, 5 K, 1 HR, 1 WP, 3 HBP. The three hit batsmen tied a club record for a single game. The one to Martinez drove in a run. Bauer also allowed a run on a wild pitch in the sixth. The rest of the damage came via a two-run, two-out single by Erick Aybar in the third and a two-out, two-run homer by Justin Upton in the fifth.

It was fair to say that Bauer was laboring with his command.

“That’s probably the understatement,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “There were balls down, up, in, out. We never want to see somebody get hit in the head. You can see by Trevor’s reaction how he felt. And then the [timing] of it, certainly, you could tell there’s no intent.

“I also understand why they were aggravated. Guys were getting drilled pretty good. I get
it.”

SECOND: The Tigers didn’t hide their frustration as the game unfolded.

After Martinez was hit, Kinsler crossed the plate and barked at Bauer and home-plate umpire Jordan Baker. Before the start of the sixth inning, Kinsler was ejected from the contest. Both he and Cabrera appeared to be shouting in the direction of the umpire and Cleveland dugout before Kinsler was tossed.

“He was definitely upset that we had hit three of their better guys,” Gimenez said. “That’s what he was trying to explain to Jordan: ‘That’s the third guy. Three of our best three players, and you’re not doing anything about it.’ I understand. I completely understand his point of that, without a doubt, because I know it does look really bad.

“Anytime somebody on your team gets hits, or three guys, let alone two in an inning, there’s always going to be that jawing back and forth. In the heat of the moment, you don’t really think about the situation. Obvisouly, bases loaded with Victor up, that’s not exactly the right time to hit somebody.”

At the start of the bottom of the third inning, Tigers lefty Daniel Norris fired a pitch behind the back of Rajai Davis. Gimenez took it as a sign of retaliation, and the catcher said he also understood if that was the case.

“They did a good job of coming out the next inning, letting him throw one behind the guy,” Gimenez said. “Everybody has their warnings. I would definitely expect them to not forget that when we play them in a week. Hopefully, nothing crazy happens. I didn’t want to get into a fight today, I know that. Or, break one up, for that matter.”

After Upton launched his tapemeasure shot in the fifth — the ball had an exit velo of 111 mph and went a projected 451 feeet — the Detroit outfielder took his sweet time out of the batter’s box. He flipped away his bat and took five slow steps before beginning his trot.

Gimenez isn’t a fan of that kind of display. He was behind the plate for Jose Bautista’s famous bat flip, and barked at Billy Butler earlier this year for a dramatic home run celebration. This time? Gimenez let Upton enjoy his moment.

“Normally I would have [taken exception to it],” Gimenez said. “But, given the situation, I have to have a little bit longer of a leash on that. I completely understand it. He definitely took his time around the bases, too, but the situation of the game, I completely understand it.”

THIRD: Cleveland’s offense took advantage of a pair of Detroit defensive miscues in the first five innings.

In the second, a fielding blunder by Tigers center fielder Cameron Maybin helped the Tribe to a two-run outburst. In the fifth, Kinsler misplayed a grounder from Jason Kipnis, helping open the door for another two-run showing.

The Tribe continued to chip away in the sixth, when Carlos Santana belted a leadoff homer (his 32nd shot of the season) to trim the Tigers’ lead to 6-5. Jose Ramirez followed with a single up the middle, making it look like the rally would keep going. Then, he was picked off first base by catcher James McCann.

That was a deflating moment for the Indians, who then saw their one-run decifit grow to four when rookie Joe Colon walked two and yielded a three-run homer to J.D. Martinez in the ninth. That wouldn’t normally be a situation for Colon, but Francona is trying to balance giving some young arms experience, while dealing with the recent workload for his bullpen, which logged 10 innings on Saturday.

“That’s part of the reason we were trying to leave [Bauer] out there a little bit,” Francona said. “You start to ask too much. That’s not good, either. Even with a September bullpen, we were possibly looking like 18 innings [of relief in the past three days] — that’s too much. Fortunately, he stayed out there for a while. It was going to be tough either way.”

HOME: There was another storyline present at Progressive Field on Sunday, though it took place behind the scenes.

Following the injury to Carlos Carrasco on Saturday, Cleveland.com’s Paul Hoynes wrote an opinion piece, declaring the Indians’ postseason chances dead in the water. The headline — which read, “Sept. 17: The day Cleveland Indians’ postseason dreams ended before they began” — did no favors.

I wouldn’t normally bring up another writer’s article, but players (Kipnis and Bauer, specifically) and the Indians took to social media to criticize the column. Fans also had a strong reaction to it online, and some national writers chimed in. This team didn’t need any further motivation, but they got some. Players, coaches and staffers were heated over the story.

The timing was particularly poor, considering Cleveland overcame the loss of Carrasco on Saturday with an emotional, record-setting, extra-inning, walk-off win over the Tigers in one of the biggest games of the season.

Bauer ended his postgame press conference on Sunday with this: “I know some people have said the season is over. They pronounced it yesterday, wrote articles about it. I think it’s complete [bull].”

The Indians know they have a tough road ahead, and an even more difficult one without Carrasco or Danny Salazar in the rotation. It’s not unfair to say that, in the wake of the recent rash of injuries, Cleveland is hardly a favorite to win it all now. That said, this is the same team that has overcome the loss of Michael Brantley and Yan Gomes, along with suspensions to Abraham Almonte and Marlon Byrd. And, hey, once a team makes the playoffs, we’ve all seen some pretty crazy things happen.

That is the mentality of the players right now.

“Don’t get me wrong: It absolutely sucks, losing those two guys,” Gimenez said of Carrasco and Salazar. “That’s something that’s going to be difficult to come back from. But, if there is a team that’s capable of doing it, it’s this team. We’ve played without
Brantley the entire year and have been doing OK. We’ve played spurts without Danny and Carlos and we’ve managed to do OK.

“I think everybody in here, it almost makes you have a little bit more motivation, because
you want to do it so bad for those guys who aren’t here to help us do it in their own right.”

Bauer echoed that reaction.

“Losing Carlos and losing Danny hurts, and we feel bad for them,” Bauer said. “But, no one questions that Josh can step in or Mike Clevinger can step in or [Ryan] Merritt or [Adam] Plutko or whoever else, Cody Anderson, whoever is going to start.

“I think you saw yesterday we got a lot of guys in the bullpen, a lot of guys on this
team, that can go out there and put up zeros and be very competitive.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 148

ramirezSome notes and quotes from Saturday’s 1-0, 10-inning win over Detroit

FIRST: The Indians have been forced to overcome a lot this year, and the baseball gods are testing the Tribe’s mettle once again.

Michael Brantley has been a spectator for more of this season. But, Jose Ramirez has emerged as one of baseball’s best hitters in clutch situations. Marlon Byrd got slapped with a 162-game suspension. Tyler Naquin then seized that roster spot and emerged as a Rookie of the Year contender. Yan Gomes went down. Roberto Perez and Chris Gimenez have handled the pitching staff well in his place.

Now? Carlos Carrasco (non-displaced fracture in his right hand) joins Danny Salazar (right forearm injury) on the sideline. Both right-handers are done for the regular season, and likely out for the playoffs, barring the combination of incredible recoveries and a deep postseason run.

“We lost some pretty key pieces already,” Indians starter Josh Tomlin said. “To lose a guy like [Carrasco], it hurts. Don’t get me wrong, he’s an unbelievable pitcher. For us, we’ve just got to step up and try to keep winning games and see what happens.”

Less than a week ago, Salazar was given a timetable of three to four weeks, so it’s not out of the realm of possibilities that he could pitch late in the postseason. As for Carrasco, Cleveland hasn’t announced an expected timetable to return, but his injury is similar to the one sustained this week by Gomes. The catcher is out six to eight weeks.

“It hurts,” Indians manager Terry Francona said of losing Carrasco. “It will make this more challenging, what we’re trying to do. When we do it, it will feel all that much better. It’s another challenge, but we feel like we’ll figure it out.”

So, how will the Indians go about figuring it out?

Well, Cleveland is down to starters Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger and Tomlin for the remainder of the regular season. Bauer is pitching Sunday. Pitching coach Mickey Callaway noted that the upcoming series against Kansas City will feature Tomlin (Tuesday), Kluber (Wednesday) and Clevinger (Thursday) in the wake of the Carrasco injury.

“Those will be our four starters,” Callaway said. “And then, somebody else will be in there, which will probably be more like a bullpen day.”

Those bullpen days will be required on Saturday at home against the White Sox and then again on Sept. 29 on the road against the Tigers. Working in Cleveland’s favor is the fact that it now has an eight-game lead on Detroit in the division. With the Central crown in their sights, the Indians can potentially weather this late-season storm.

It is the postseason that sudden looks more daunting, given the loss of two talented and overpowering arms in Salazar and Carrasco. The good news here, of course, is that teams do not need five starters in the postseason. And, in the American League Division Series, Cleveland could get away with a three-man rotation of Kluber, Bauer and one of Tomlin or Clevinger.

“We have to make sure that these guys are all prepared to do whatever job they’re going to do when it comes to the postseason,” Callaway said. “The good thing is Kluber and Bauer can probably pitch every fourth day, or whenever you need them to. Bauer’s arm never hurts and Kluber’s just a beast. That helps.

“But, we’re going to prepare guys for the postseason and, if we get in, we’ll go from there.”

SECOND: After Tomlin went through his August struggles, and the calendar flipped to September, allowing for a larger bullpen under the expanded-roster rules, Cleveland employed the bullpen-day approach.

The Indians did so again on Saturday night, but unexpectedly.

Two pitches into the game, Ian Kinsler sent a 101-mph liner off Carrasco’s right hand. The pitcher was in obviously pain and, as the infielders gathered around the starter near the mound, it became clear to them that he wouldn’t be able to continue.

“You had a feeling,” Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis said. “We knew right away he was coming out, even though he was on the mound for a little while. You saw a little bruising and swelling in his pinky, where I think it got him. You could tell he was in a lot of pain.”

“I thought it hit him on the hip,” added shortstop Francisco Lindor. “And then I got up to the mound. His hand is swollen. I was like, ‘Oh.’ I immediately knew he wasn’t going to pitch. I don’t care how strong you are, how tough you are, if it hits you in the hand you throw with, it’s going to be tough.”

That’s when Francona made the call to bullpen coach Jason Bere.

“I called J.B. down there and said, ‘Tell them to put their seat belts on,'” Francona said, “‘because they’re all going to pitch, and we’re going to win.'”

Francona then went through Jeff Manship, Kyle Crockett, Cody Anderson, Zach McAllister, Perci Garner, Bryan Shaw, Cody Allen and Andrew Miller the rest of the way. They combined for 10 shutout innings, and helped Cleveland set an MLB record. Until Saturday, no team in baseball history had used nine pitches in a shutout.

“Oh my gosh,” Callaway said. “It was unbelievable.”

The group had to be that good, too.

Tigers ace Justin Verlander was on top of his game, and held Cleveland without a hit until Kipnis’ leadoff single in the sixth. That was the lone hit surrendered by Verlander, who walked four in a seven-inning gem. The AL Cy Young candidate struck out seven and then watched Detroit’s bullpen blank the Tribe until the 10th.

“Carrasco aside, that was a fun game to be a part of,” Francona said. “There was so much good baseball going on, so much good pitching. Guys just continuing to put up zeros. Our bullpen, Verlander, there was a lot of good pitching going on.”

THIRD: The biggest escape of the evening for the Tribe came with the rookie Garner on the mound and the meat of the Tigers’ lineup due up.

The inning began with with Garner hitting Jose Iglesias with a pitch. Then, Iglesias stole second and moved to third on a groundout to short by Kinsler. None of the eight relievers got a save in this one, but you can go ahead and give one to Kipnis for what happened next.

With the infield in, Cameron Maybin sent a floater to  shallow right. Kipnis’ instincts as a former outfielder kicked in on this play, during which he covered 77 feet with a route efficiency of 98 percent, per Statcast.

Kipnis made a running, over-the-shoulder, basket catch, avoided right fielder Abraham Almonte, and then quickly turned and fired the ball back into the infield to keep Iglesias at third base.

“That’s the downside of playing in sometimes, those bloops that can drop,” Kipnis said. “I knew it was going to be in no-man’s land and I didn’t want to alligator arm it, so I reached out. There was one out, so my guess was, as a runner, he was probably off the bag a little bit, halfway.

“So, I knew we had a good chance to hold them and, once I caught it, I just wanted to turn and get it in.”

In a 1-0 win, it was a critical play for Cleveland. From there, Garner issued an intentional walk to Miguel Cabrera, and then finished off the inning with a strikeout against Victor Martinez. It was an impressive display by the Indians rookie reliever.

“Oh, man,” Francona said. “We left him in and the best outcome that could happen [did]. This kid, one inning of work, probably grew a lot by being in that situation. So, instead of running from the young guys sometimes, give them a chance and they come through.”

HOME: A one-run game would not be complete with a classic battle of wits. During the bottom of the ninth inning, Francona and Tigers skipper Brad Ausmus flexed their managerial muscles with two outs and the game in the balance.

First, Tyler Naquin delivered a two-out single off Detroit righty Bruce Rondon. That prompted Francona to send Rajai Davis to first base as a pinch-runner. With Almonte batting, Davis stole his 39th base of the season. Now, with first base open and the No. 9 spot on-deck, Ausmus had Rondon intentionally walk Almonte.

This is where the chess match really got interesting.

Francona sent Lonnie Chisenhall (currently batting a lower abdominal issue) to the plate as a pinch-hitter for Perez. That convinced Ausmus to call lefty Justin Wilson from the bullpen. But, wait! Now Francona called Chisenhall (.640 OPS against LHP) back to the dugout and sent Brandon Guyer (1.027 OPS vs. LHP) in as a pinch-hitter for Chisenhall.

Francona got Ausmus with an old-fashioned phantom pinch-hitter.

“I guess I was hopeful [Ausmus would bring in a lefty],” Francona said. “But, Lonnie could hit. I wouldn’t have sent him up there on gambling. But, yeah, we were OK with Guyer hitting there.”

Davis and Almonte then pulled off a double steal, making the pinch-running move pay off even more for the Tribe. In the process, Davis became the first Indians player since 1999 to swipe 40 bags in a season.

Alas, the inning ended with Guyer grounding out to third base, stranding two runners. In terms of strategy, Francona won this one. He tilted the percentages further in Cleveland’s favor. Detroit still executed and won the in-game battle.

EXTRAS: Someone had to flinch eventually. On this night, after all that was working against the Indians, it was the Tigers who finally slipped up.

Carlos Santana led off with a walk, but was erased at second on a 2-6 fielder’s choice bunt from Kipnis. With Lindor batting, Kipnis then moved up to second on a wild pitch before stealing third base. That thievery of third put Cleveland on the path to its 10th walk-off win of the year.

“It changes the whole inning,” Francona said.

With one out and Kipnis on third, Ausmus had Wilson issue back-to-back intentional walks to Lindor and Mike Napoli. Now, Cleveland has the bases loaded and the guy they love having in the batter’s box in such situations. What’s the confidence level for the Indians with Ramirez batting with runners in scoring position?

“Pretty high,” Napoli said. “He’s been doing it all year. He’s a guy that gets that key hit. He gets hot with runners in scoring position. He makes contact. He’s a tough out. In that situation, you feel pretty good, even him getting down in the count. I felt like he was going to put the ball in play somewhere.”

Ramirez fell behind, 0-2, but guess what? He is leading the Majors with a .321 (34-for-106) average after being in an 0-2 count this year. On top of that, he entered the night batting .354 with RISP and .385 with the bases loaded.

Ramirez fought back to an even count and then singled to center to set off the celebration.

“I just tried to put the ball in play,” Ramirez said through a translator. “That’s the first thing you have to worry about it. He’s a good pitcher, he has good movement on it. I tried to put the ball in play and thankfully it went well.”

Oh, and it was Ramirez’s birthday, too.

“Man, I feel so happy,” he said. “I told my mom that I dedicated this game to her. And thanks to God it went really well and I was able to dedicate a good game to her.”

It was a great ending to what began as a daunting day for Cleveland.

“I was very proud of the way the team responded today,” Kipnis said. “Word made it back to us about what happened with Carrasco. You can let something like that linger. You can let something like that deflate a team. You have Verlander on the mound, their ace. It’s Detroit.

“There are a lot of excuses that could have come into play, but I thought everyone did a great job. It starts with the bullpen. They probably weren’t expecting to pitch too much and all of them did their job and stepped up. We showed a lot of resiliency today. I just love the way we competed and fought.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 147

napoliSome notes and quotes from Friday’s 11-4 win over the Tigers

FIRST: There are many reasons behind the Indians targeting Mike Napoli over the winter. The most obvious of reasons would be what has played out on the field. He has provided the kind of right-handed power that had been lacking around these parts for years.

The other side of Napoli is what takes place behind the scenes. Sitting a locker down from Jason Kipnis to talk hitting. Embracing the “Party at Napoli’s” movement, because it’s not only fun, but it has generated money for charity. And then there is just his daily preparation and, as a result, his leadership by example.

“He’s got a presence about him,” Indians ace Corey Kluber said. “Obviously, he’s been a part of a lot of winning teams and I think that’s probably not a coincidence.”

That was another reason Cleveland wanted Napoli in the fold. He has played in 51 postseason games. He has been to two World Series. He won a ring with Boston in 2013. Napoli knows what it takes to not only get through a long season, but deal with the pressure of a playoff chase, and the October stage.

The Indians have several core leaders in the clubhouse, and plenty of those players were a part of the 2013 Wild Card club. But, there is still value in a veteran voice. Jason Giambi provided that in the past. Now, not only do Napoli and Rajai Davis help along those lines, they have been able to produce on the field on top of it.

“It’s been a fun year,” Napoli said. “Going through free agency last year, I envisioned this, with the pitching staff and being able to come here and play for a winning team. I’ve been fortunate to be on a lot of winning teams. And, looking at places where I want to go, I want to go where I think we’ll be able to win.”

The Indians have backed that up. With their win over Detroit on Friday, the Tribe improved to 12-1 against a Tigers team that went 37-19 against the Indians over the previous three years combined. The Indians now have a seven-game lead over Detroit in the division and have sliced their magic number to nine.

“I definitely saw that with the pitching staff,” Napoli said. “And coming here, trying to get everyone to come together as a team, it has definitely worked out.”

SECOND: Everyone has grown accustomed to seeing Napoli clear the 19-foot wall in left field. I mean, just take a look at where his home runs have gone at Progressive Field this season:

napchart

In the first inning against the Tigers, though, Napoli put one over the wall without actually hitting the baseball, well, over the wall.

With one out and a pair of runners in scoring position, Napoli hit a towering fly ball to deep left. Per Statcast, the baseball flew off Napoli’s bat at a 49-degree angle and had a 95-mph exit velocity. Prior to Friday, there had been precisely zero hits in the Majors on balls in play featuring that combination of metrics.

Napoli broke that drought.

Tigers left fielder Justin Upton ran to his right, trying to track the ball, but he threw his arms out to motion that he couldn’t see it. As Upton slowed to a stop, the ball bounced behind him, striking the warning track and shooting up and over Progressive Field’s Mini Monster.

“At first, I thought he was deking the runners,” Napoli said. “But, I know at that time of night, fly balls, as infielders you’re just trying to point it out. You know it was a fortunate break for us. I’ll take it. I was just trying to get it to the outfield so we could score that run.”

Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis scored on the play, putting the Indians up by two runs. Two more runs scored on a Napoli deep fly in the fifth, though this time the slugger cleared the wall easily. His shot to left one-hopped through the gates and out of the stadium.

Napoli now has 34 home runs and 98 RBIs, which are both career highs.

“When he connects, it goes a long ways,”  Kluber said.

THIRD: There has been so much focus on the offensive black hole that has existed among Cleveland’s catchers this season. And, the criticism is understandable, considering the Indians’ 44 wRC+ ranked last in the Majors, heading into Friday.

Slowly, and more steadily of late, Roberto Perez has improved that production.

“We’ve seen him hit,” Napoli said. “He had that injury coming back and struggled, but his BP has been looking better every day. We talk hitting, but you could see his confidence growing day by day. We’re not worried about him. He’s done a good job behind the plate with the pitchers and when he starts hitting it’s a bonus.”

In an 11-run, 14-hit showing by an offense, there are obviously contributions up and down the local nine. Besides Napoli, Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis and Jose Ramirez all delivered RBIs for Cleveland, too. Perez also chipped in two RBIs, including one on a sac fly and one on a base hit.

On the evening, Perez was 1-for-2 with a sac bunt, sac fly and one run scored.

Over his past 20 games, Perez has turned in a .296/.339/.500 slash line for the Indians. That solid stretch has followed his abysmal showing over his first 30 games, when he had a .096/.244/.137 slash. The catcher was rushed back from a rehab when Yan Gomes injured his shoulder, and it was clear early on that it would take a larger sample at-bats for Perez to right his offensive season. He’s taken steps in that direction over the past few weeks.

“It’s good for me, especially coming off surgery,” Perez said. “The last 20 games or so, I’ve been better and more comfortable. I take pride at what I do behind the plate. I really want to help this pitching staff. But, tonight was a great team win.”

HOME: Kluber’s latest entry to his Cy Young candidacy included seven solid innings against the Tigers. He didn’t get a quality start, as Upton belted a pair of homers, which knocked in a collective four runs.

“His line’s not going to indicate [how well he pitched],” Francona said. “He threw two pitches to Upton. … Other than that, he did a really good job through the meat of the order.”

Through 30 starts, Kluber is now 17-9 with a 3.12 ERA, 215 strikeouts and 54 walks in 204.2 innings.

Kluber struck out seven, scattered five hits and walked three in the win. While Upton burned the right-hander twice, the Nos. 1-5 hitters (Ian Kinsler, Cameron Maybin, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez) went a combined 1-for-17 off him.

“I think that it all starts with Kinsler,” Kluber said. “He’s the tablesetter for them. Obviously, he’s a very good player and when he’s going well, it makes the lineup that much more dangerous. So, obviously, with every lineup, getting the leadoff hitter out is an emphasis. Maybe a little bit more so with them.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 141

kluberSome notes and quotes on Sunday’s 7-1 win over the Twins

FIRST: It is no coincidence that the bullpen days that have happened this month have come a day ahead of one of Corey Kluber’s scheduled starts.

Indians manager Terry Francona is always focused on the game at hand with a horse-blinder mentality, but he definitely keeps Kluber’s consistent endurance in mind when mapping out the pitching staff. Need to make 14 pitching changes in a span of 16 innings? No problem. Kluber’s got your back.

“The way he’s ready every five days,” Francona said, “it is a good feeling.”

On Friday night, Danny Salazar left after four innings due to injury. On Saturday, Mike Clevinger was only permitted to work four innings, and then Cleveland used nine relievers in a 12-inning marathon. After the game, while discussing the situation, catcher Chris Gimenez laughed.

“We’ve got the right guy on the mound,” said Gimenez, referring to having Kluber on deck for Sunday’s matinee in Minnesota. “Hopefully, he can go nine innings and we won’t have to worry about it.”

Kluber went seven and logged 114 pitches. He struck out 10, walked two and scattered four hits. The Twins’ only run came after Jose Ramirez made a throwing error with two outs in the fourth. That forced Kluber to throw five more pitches in the inning, which included an RBI single from Byron Buxton.

His effort was sufficient in not just getting the win, but avoiding much work for the relief corps. Righty Cody Anderson handled the final two innings with ease. Francona never had to even consider getting any of his main relievers up.

“Miller, Cody, Shaw didn’t pick up a ball,” Francona said. “That’s a bonus.”

In the wake of the past couple games, and the issues in the rotation, Kluber has been immensely valuable to Cleveland this season. Carlos Carrasco missed time with injury. Trevor Bauer began in the bullpen. Salazar has experienced arm issues throughout the year. Anderson lost his job, so did Tomlin. Clevinger is just getting his feet wet.

Through all of that, Kluber has won 16 games, punched out 208 batters and logged 197 .2 innings with three weeks go to.

“Man, it’s a good feeling knowing that your ace is going to pick us up,” Indians catcher Roberto Perez said. “I’ve said it before, every time he steps on the mound, he gives you 100 percent. He’s always ready to go from the first pitch. That’s what he was doing today.”

Remember when Kluber was 4-6 with a 4.15 ERA at the end of May? He’s gone 12-3 with a 2.40 ERA, .198 opponents’ average, 0.99 WHIP, 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings and a 3.9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 124 innings (18 starts) since. Remember when he laid an egg against Toronto on July 3? Kluber has gone 8-1 with a 2.04 ERA, .206 opponents’ average, 1.03 WHIP, 10.1 K/9 and a 3.9 K/BB in 83.2 innings (12 starts) since.

That showing has put Kluber in the hunt for a second career Cy Young Award.

As of this writing, here are Kluber’s ranks among AL starters:

1st in fWAR (5.1)
1st in FIP (3.01)
3rd in K (208)
3rd in AVG (.211)
t-3rd in IP (197.2)
t-3rd in W (16)
4th in ERA (3.05)
4th in HR/9 (0.87)
4th in K/9 (9.47)
4th in K% (26.5)
4th in WHIP (1.04)
t-4th in K-BB% (20.0)

SECOND: There has been a push-and-pull going on between Tyler Naquin and opposing pitchers as the season has progressed.

As the summer has worn on, and Naquin’s OPS has remained over .900, the left-handed hitter has been increasingly fed more fastballs. Teams have also focused more on attacking him with heaters up in the strike zone. It’s a weak area for Naquin, who thrives against offspeed pitches, especially to the lower third of the zone.

zoneUsing the zone profile to the left, Naquin saw 28-percent fastballs in April and 25.8 percent in May to Zones 1, 2, 3, 11 and 12. That rate jumped to 35.1 in June and held pretty steady through July (31.1) and August (32.2). In September, it has spiked again, this time to 42.6 percent for Naquin. It’s easy to see why, too. Over the past three months, specifically, he’s hit .065 (2-for-31) on those pitches.

Francona has been using Naquin mostly against right-handed pitching this season, but the outfielder got a chance to stay in agianst lefty Pat Dean in the third, when the reliever took over for Twins’ rook Jose Berrios. Dean doesn’t feature an overpowering fastball by any means, but you can see by the pitch map that he didn’t pitch to Naquin’s weakness effectively.

naquin

Pitch No. 4 was a slider. No. 10 was the only elevated fastball and Dean missed by a long shot. Throughout the 12-pitch battle, Naquin fouled off seven pitches and eventually came out on top when Dean went with a slider over the outside corner. The result was a single up the middle, scoring a run to give the Tribe a 5-0 lead.

“He had one really good at-bat,” Francona said. “That’s good for him.”

On the day, Naquin reached base four times and — thanks largely to that third-inning at-bat — he saw 29 pitches in five plate appearances (5.9 P/PA). That’s a solid day at the office for Naquin, who had a pair of walks and two singles in the victory.

THIRD: Naquin’s hit provided some important insurance for Cleveland, but it wasn’t the biggest blow of the game.

That moment arrived in the second inning, when Carlos Santana absolutely drilled a pitch from Berrios out to right field. The baseball cleared the right-field stands, bounced into the concourse, and eventually rolled to a stop at U.S. Bank Stadium on the other side of downtown.

(OK, I’m exaggerating a little.)

According to Statcast, Santana’s 31st homer of the season went 447 feet (that’s it?) and had an exit velocity of 105 mph. More important than the metrics was the timing. His blast came on the heels of one of the worst at-bats of the Indians season.

Abe Almonte led off with a single, Naquin drew a walk and then Perez moved them each up 90 feet with a sacrifice bunt. So far, so good. That gave utility man Michael Martinez — filling in for second baseman Jason Kipnis in this one — a chance to come through with runners in scoring position.

On a 1-1 pitch, Martinez caught everyone in the stadium by surprise when he quickly squared up and attempted a drag bunt. Berrios fired a fastball outside and Martinez popped the pitch up, right back to the pitcher. Martinez was on his own in that decision to bunt.

“It’s actually a nice idea,” Francona said. “Bad execution.”

Santana bailed Martinez out, gave the Tribe a 3-0 lead and Kluber cruised.

“I felt great, especially in that moment,” Santana said. “I know the team, they need me. That’s why I’m here. With two outs, runners in scoring position, I tried to get a hit and get some runs for the game. That’s what I was concentrating on there.”

HOME: Back on Aug. 28, the Indians wrapped up a 2-5 swing through Oakland and Texas. Cleveland scored one or zero runs in six of those games, and watched its lead atop the American League Central tick down to 4.5 games.

As Bauer quipped recently: “We were dead. The season was over, right?”

Some fans began to worry. The Indians did not.

“That wasn’t a good road trip for us. I think everybody knew that,” Kluber said. “It was just a matter of getting back to the things that we do to be successful. That’s situational stuff on offense and limiting big innings on the other side. When we can do those things, I think we’ve had a fair amount of success.”

Over the past two weeks since that trip, all the Indians have done is post a 10-3 record. In the process, the Tribe now has a seven-game lead over the second-place Tigers once again. To put that in perspective, if Cleveland were to drop off some and play .500 ball (10-10) the rest of the way, Detroit would need to go 17-3 to pull into a tie.

Can Cleveland sniff the champagne?

“I don’t think we’re to the point of worrying about that yet,” Kluber said. “We’re still trying to take it a day at a time and hopefully not get ahead of ourselves. I think that, if we do start getting ahead of ourselves, then that kind of opens the door for dangerous things to happen.

“We’re just trying to keep going a game at a time. That’s what’s gotten us to this point so far, and I think we know that’s going to be the best way to approach it from here on out.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 141

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Minnesota Twins

Some notes and quotes from Saturday’s 2-1, 12-inning loss to the Twins

FIRST: As the Twins and Indians pushed and pulled and played on into extra innings, it was only a matter of time before someone flinched. In the case of rookie reliever Joe Colon, that’s literally what changed the game for Cleveland.

Colon’s ill-timed balk in the 12th inning set the stage for a walk-off win for the Twins, who cost the Tribe a chance at adding to its lead atop the Central standings. Mauer roped a two-out single into right-center field for the game-winning hit, dealing the Indians their third loss in 12 games.

“You get into 11 or 12 innings on the road,” Indians manager Terry Francona said, “when you give up a hit, you go home. But, we had a chance.”

Francona came out ahead in one managerial chess match (more on that in a bit), but Cleveland’s strategy to not intentionally walk Mauer in the 12th backfired. That decision wasn’t as cut-and-dry as it looked on the surface, though.

First, about the balk. With Mauer in a 1-2 count, Colon peered in for the sign from catcher Chris Gimenez and there was a momentary mix-up. Rather than just stepping off the mound, the reliever flinched his back leg before moving off the rubber. It was a mistake, and it was easy to spot. Dozier, who singled with two outs, jogged up 90 feet.

“[Colon] said he looked in and didn’t see the first sign that I put down,” Gimenez said. “I think it kind of just flinched him a little bit. I immediately went to the second one. With a runner at first base, we were going just one sign. But, he didn’t see it and I think he just had that little flinch.

“I couldn’t call timeout quick enough. I tried, because I saw it. As soon as I started to yell time, the umpire said that was a balk. I tried to pull a fast one on him, but it didn’t work.”

Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway then headed out to the mound to discuss the new situation with Colon and Gimenez. Indians manager Terry Francona said they did not want to just put Mauer on, even with first base now open. Colon was still ahead in the count, giving him some wiggle room in how to approach the hitter.

“I didn’t want to put him in a position where, if he didn’t throw strikes, he was going to be in a tough spot,” said Francona, referring to the idea of intentionally walking Mauer. “Being ahead, 1-2, we wanted to use that to our advantage.”

This is where the ol’ unintentional, intentional walk comes into play. No, they didn’t want to just gift Mauer with a free pass — not when he was behind in the count. That said, the Indians didn’t want to give him anything good to hit, either.

“We’re not trying to pitch to him in any way, shape or form,” Gimenez said. “I would much rather take my chances with [Jorge] Polcano on-deck than to have to face Joe Mauer to potentially win the game. That was definitely the thought process.”

When the count ran full, Gimenez wanted a breaking ball in the dirt. Looking over Mauer’s career performance against right-handed curveballs, it’s easy to see why a pitcher would want to bury one low and out of the strike zone.

mauermap

Do you see those maroon and red boxes, though?

Well, here’s where Colon’s pitch (No,. 8 below) wound up going:

mauer

That’s just a poorly-executed pitch.

“I wanted the ball in the dirt,” Gimenez said. “And I know he was trying to execute it there. He left it up a little bit, middle, and that’s one of the best hitters to ever play baseball.”

SECOND: The baseball gods can be pretty cruel sometimes.

On Friday night, when Cleveland knew it had a bullpen day coming Saturday, Danny Salazar exited with injury, forcing the bullpen to handle five innings. And, in this one, the game lasts a dozen innings.

“Of course,” Gimenez said.

Here was the good news: Rookie Mike Clevinger turned in a promising performance in his “start” in front of the nine relievers who appeared in the loss. After logging 43 pitches in Monday’s bullpen game, Clevinger threw 62 against the Twins. He said he felt like he could’ve kept going, too.

“I’m too much of a competitor,” Clevinger said. “I’m going to leave it in the hands
of Tito and Mickey and let them take it from there.”

In the first two innings, Clevinger issued a pair of walks, allowed a solo home run and his second frame consisted of 24 pitches. The second time through the Twins’ order, though, Clevinger cruised. Minnesota went 0-for-7 against him in that span, which included five strikeouts.

“That was the best we’ve seen,” Francona said. “He gave us four and the way he held his stuff. The first couple innings, there were some walks and some deeper counts, but I thought as he sped up his rhythm, you saw him be more aggressive and in the strike zone with good stuff. That was really good to see.”

Clevinger credited catcher Roberto Perez for the improved tempo.

“Yeah, ‘Berto came back in, and he had an idea about getting back into a quicker tempo,” Clevinger said. “I think the second I found that tempo and being more rhythmic, it helped me find my release point more consistent.”

In his first three Major League starts in May, Clevinger posted an 8.79 ERA. In his 10 games since then, the right-hander has a 3.00 ERA to go along with a .204 opponents’ average and 27 strikeouts in 27 innings. Walks have been an issue throughout, but Clevinger has certainly looked better as the season has progressed.

The Indians can only hope it continues. With Salazar’s status uncertain, Clevinger and Josh Tomlin will be in the rotation. They will start on Wednesday and Thursday in Chicago (the order to be determined).

“Obviously, losing Salazar for any period of time, that’s a big deal,” Gimenez said. “But, the fact that we do have guys that are truly capable of stepping in, it makes it a lot easier.”

THIRD: The in-game chess match that Francona won came in the seventh.

James Beresford led off with a single against Shawn Armstrong and was then moved up to second via a sac bunt from Byron Buxton. That prompted Callaway to chat with Armstrong, who issued an intentional walk to Dozier. The second baseman has about a 1.200 OPS since the end of July, so an IBB with first open made a lot of sense.

That brought up Mauer.

Now, rather than hand the ball to relief ace Andrew Miller with 1-1 deadlock in the seventh, and the game potentially on the line, Francona turned to lefty Kyle Crockett. On the year as a whole, Crockett has given up a .316 average (.770 OPS) to lefties between Triple-A and the Majors.

Looking at Crockett’s more recent outings paints a different picture, though. Since returning to the Majors on July 19, the lefty had limited left-handed batters to a .217 (.554 OPS) showing, entering the night. Mauer was sporting a .239 (.648 OPS) showing against lefty pitching.

Crockett fell behind, 2-0, but then worked back to even and eventually froze Mauer with a low-and-away fastball for strike three. Zach McAllister then entered the game and finished off Polanco to end the inning.

“That’s a big spot,” Francona said of Crockett’s battle with Mauer. “And he did well.”

Francona did eventually turn to Miller for the 10th inning, which he handed in 13 pitches. Had Cleveland taken the lead in the 11th, Francona said Miller would’ve likely remained on the mound to close things out. With the game still knotted, the manager kept the line moving.

Francona said common sense has to outweigh temptation when it comes to potentially over-using his top arms.

“It’s always tempting,” said Francona, when asked if he considered keeping Miller in for a multi-inning outing. “And, if we would’ve taken a lead, we would have. But, no. Tempting is a bad word in the 11th inning. It’ll get you into trouble.”

HOME: There was little in the way of offense in the loss for the Tribe. Things looked good out of the gates, when Rajai Davis doubled, Jason Kipnis singled and Francisco Lindor put the Tribe on the board with a sacrifice fly.

Mike Napoli followed with a walk, Carlos Santana loaded the bases with an infield single and then …

… Minnesota won in the 12th.

After Santana’s single in the first, Cleveland went 2-for-21 the rest of the way against lefty Hector Santiago and then 2-for-16 against the Twins bullpen. Santiago allowed five hits, walked four and only struck out two, but Cleveland did little damage with the balls put in play.

The Tribe finally looked like it had a breakthrough in the top of the ninth inning. Lonnie Chisenhall singled and moved up to second on a sac bunt from Coco Crisp. The Twins then opted to intentionally walk pinch-hitter Tyler Naquin, pitting Davis against reliever Brandon Kintzler.

Davis sliced a pitch hard down the right-field line, where Minnesota’s Max Kepler sprinted in pursuit of the ball. If it dropped in, Davis would have likely had at least a double and one, maybe two runs, would’ve scored for the Tribe. The ball never hit the ground.

According to Statcast, Kepler covered 70 feet and hit a top speed of 18.7 mph. The right fielder, who has killed Cleveland with his bat all year, used an all-out dive to snare the ball with his glove. It was a game-saving catch.

It was also a bit of payback for Kepler. On Friday night, he hit a sinking liner down the left-field line in the eighth, when the Twins were trying to cut into the Tribe’s 5-4 lead. On that play, it was Davis who made a highlight-reel diving catch to rob Kepler of an extra-base hit and a potential Minnesota rally.

“Those are plays that save you a games,” Francona said of Kepler’s catch. “That was a really nice play.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB