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The best and bizarre from the Indians’ 2014 campaign

The Indians didn’t make the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean it was a season devoid of drama or fun moments. In fact, this was one of the more bizarre and entertaining seasons I’ve covered. There were elite individual performances, records broken and plenty of oddities experienced. Let’s take a tour of the Tribe’s memorable 2014 season. There are links to videos and stories throughout the events listed below. Enjoy.

MLB: Cleveland Indians-Photo DayPitcher of the Year: Corey Kluber

Was there any doubt? The Klubot ended with 18 wins, a 2.44 ERA and 269 strikeouts. His 7.3 WAR (via Fangraphs.com) was the highest by a Tribe starter since 1972 (Gaylord Perry). Kluber’s 269 strikeouts were the most in a season by an Indians starter not named Bob Feller or Sam McDowell. Led by “Klubes” (as manager Terry Francona often calls him), the Indians set the Major League record for strikeouts by a team (1,450) in one season. The right-hander was a machine and now he’s a Cy Young candidate. CLICK HERE for a feature I wrote in early August on Kluber’s ascension to the top of Cleveland’s rotation.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Cleveland IndiansPlayer of the Year: Michael Brantley

Another no-contest in terms of Tribe picks. In fact, if it weren’t for some guy named Mike Trout, we might be sitting here arguing for Brantley as the American League’s MVP. He was named to his first All-Star team this season and then became the first Indians batter in history to turn in a 20-homer, 20-steal, 40-double, 200-hit campaign. His 59 multi-hit games were the most by a Cleveland hitter since 1999 (Omar Vizquel) and he joined Victor Martinez as the only batters in baseball this year with fewer than 60 strikeouts and more than 50 walks. Brantley reaching 200 hits in his final game of the season was one of the highlights of Cleveland’s season.

AllenReliever of the Year: Cody Allen

Allen became the primary ninth-inning man by mid-May and was the clear-cut closer by the season’s second half. The hard-throwing righty was a force in the final frame and turned in a dominant campaign for Cleveland. An Indians pitcher has had at least 20 saves 24 times. Among those instances, Allen (24 saves) turned in the second-highest strikeout total (91) and the fourth-lowest ERA (2.07). His 76 appearances were the most among any Tribe pitchers with at least 20 saves in one year.

T.J. HouseRookie of the Year: Trevor Bauer and T.J. House

I’ll go with co-winners for this category. The Bauer backers will cite the fact that he logged 153 innings, shoring up the middle of the rotation The House homers will note his consistency and improvement down the stretch (2.53 ERA in the second half), giving Cleveland a solid fifth starter. As a duo, Bauer and House gave Cleveland only its fifth pair of rookies with at least 100 innings apiece in a season during the Expansion Era (since 1961). With apologies to Jose Ramirez and Kyle Crockett, this honor goes to two members of the stellar five-man staff that the Tribe utilized down the stretch.

ChizOffensive Game of the Year: Lonnie Chisenhall

On June 9, Lonnie Chisenhall became Lonnie Baseball. In not only one of the greatest games in Indians history, but one of the greatest individual shows in baseball history, Chisenhall delivered three home runs, five hits and nine RBIs in a romp over the Rangers. He became the fourth hitter in MLB history to have at least that many homers, hits and RBIs in one game, joining Boston’s Fred Lynn (June 18, 1975), Brooklyn’s Gil Hodges (Aug. 31, 1950) and Cincinnati’s Walker Cooper (July 6, 1949). Chisenhall was the only player in that group to do so in only five plate appearances.

TomlinPitching Performance of the Year: Josh Tomlin

As overpowering as Kluber was all season long (he was fifth in the Majors with an average game score of 62.6), it was Tomlin who turned in the greatest single pitching performance of the year for Cleveland. On June 28 in Seattle, the righty struck out 11, walked none and spun a one-hit shutout. For perspective, Tomlin’s 96 game score was the same as the rating for Jordan Zimmermann’s no-hitter. Tomlin joined Len Barker as the only Tribe pitchers int he past 100 seasons to have a shutout with at least 11 strikeouts, no walks and no more than one hit allowed. Barker did so in his perfect game in 1981.

425CarrascoComeback Player of the Year: Carlos Carrasco

If we were going with an in-season comeback player, I’d probably go with a different Carlos. Santana hit .159 (.628 OPS) through the first two months and then hit .266 (.872) over the final four, finishing with a team-high 27 homers and Major League-leading 113 walks. As for Carrasco, he was winless by the end of April, making him 0-12 with an 8.09 ERA in 17 starts across the 2011-14 seasons. He was banished to the bullpen and it seemed unlikely he’d return as a starter. That changed in August, when Cleveland gave him another chance. Carrasco seized his moment, spinning a 1.30 ERA with 78 strikeouts against 11 walks in 69 innings over his final 10 starts of the season.

avilesDefensive Play of the Year: Mike Aviles

Aviles has served mainly as a utility infielder throughout his career, but the Indians used him plenty in the outfield this season. On July 13, Aviles did his best Yoenis Cespedes impression, making an incredible throw from the side wall in foul ground down the left-field line to first base, doubling up a baserunner for a jaw-dropping double play. CLICK HERE to watch the gun show.

KluberFrownDefensive Blooper of the Year: Ryan Raburn

I hate to do this to you, Ray, but a season recap just wouldn’t be complete without the Royal Spike. With one out in the eighth inning of a scoreless game in Kansas City, Mike Moustakas sent a ball tailing down the left-field line. Raburn made a sliding catch attempt, missed and hustled after the baseball. When he retrived it, he accidentally spiked it to the ground, giving Moustakes a four-base double. Kluber’s expression as he watched from behind home plate said it all.

(To be fair, I present to you the runner-up for the defensive play of the year. Check out this spectacular diving catch that Raburn made in late August: CLECK HERE)

3playReplay Play of the Year: Triple Play

Yes, I’m making up categories now. With apologies to Roberto Perez’s first career home run (a double overturned by replay), Cleveland’s best replay moment took place in Chavez Ravine on July 1. L.A.’s Adrian Gonzalez flared a pitch from Crockett to left, where Brantley made the catch and threw out Dee Gordon at the plate. Yasiel Puig tried to move from first to second on the play, but Gomes fired a throw to Jason Kipnis for the third out. The plays at the plate and at second were each reviewed, both results in outs and Cleveland had the first triple-double replay-play in Major League history… or something like that. CLICK TO WATCH.

twoballsplayBizarre Play of the Year: Two balls on the Field

This is one I’ll be telling my grandkids about, if I haven’t lost my mind by that point. On Aug. 5 against the Reds, the Indians were on the wrong end of a truly bizarre turn of events. On a double to right field by Yan Gomes, David Murphy hustled from first to third base. At the exact moment that the cut-off man caught the throw from right field, Reds reliever Jumbo Diaz uncorked a wild pitch from the bullpen, sending the baseball to shallow right-center field. Murphy, confused upon seeing the second ball in the grass, drifted too far off third base and was thrown out. It was a crazy play, one that could not be examined by instant replay and one we are unlikely to see again.

SwishSlamWalk-off of the Year: Nick Swisher

Swisher’s season was a trainwreck due to knee issues that led to surgery on both joints in August. Still, the Tribe’s living, breathing energy drink delivered one of the best moments of the season. On June 19, in the bottom of the 10th inning, Swisher launched a pitch from Ernesto Frieri for a walk-off grand slam. Cleveland will be hoping for similar heroics from Swish come 2015. Swisher’s shot was one of seven walk-off home runs on the season for the Indians.

kottarascowCult Hero of the Year: George Kottaras

Never forget what King George did for Cleveland. On May 4, the catcher crushed two home runs, becoming the first player in Indians history to have two homers in his first two plate appearances with the franchise. By the time he left town, Kottaras had a .714 slugging percentage and 1.099 OPS in an Indians uniform (in 10 games). Oh, and Kottaras (Cowtaras?) successfully defended his cow-milking crown during Cleveland’s series in Texas in June. Multi-homer games and multi-milking championships. That’s the stuff of legends.

BalkoffNon-existent At-bat of the Year: Raburn

With the score caught in a 10-10 deadlock in the 13th inning on May 21, all Raburn had to do was stand in the batter’s box to help the Indians earn a win against the Tigers. With the bases loaded, Detroit’s Al Alburquerque balked, sending Cleveland to one of its wildest wins of the season. And, to go along with the quirkiness of baseball’s rules, Raburn does not get credited for a plate appearance for that clutch (cough) moment in extra innings.

RallySquirrelCritter of the Year: Rally Squirrel

The Indians had their Rally Chicken in 2013. One year later, the club had a Rally Squirrel pay a visit to Progressive Field. On May 21 against Kansas City, the critter caused a delay as it scurried around the infield and then headed to the outfield. It ran near the mound, avoided Swisher’s glove at first and was eventually led out through the center-field bullpen. Alas, the squirrel did not carry with it the same kind of magic as “Cody” the chicken.

Kluber1In-game Interview of the Year: Kluber

During a game against the Tigers in May, Kluber was asked to do a TV interview. The pitcher obliged and his teammates plotted. He was hit with water, sunflower seeds and powder. And Kluber did not flinch. He sat there, answered questions and remained unflappable as the players tested his poise. It was just another reason why he has earned the moniker “Klubot” over the past few years.

Bauer2Postgame Interview of the Year: Trevor Bauer

Get Bauer in a non-game setting and the young pitcher will hold court with insightful and intelligent thoughts on pitching, analytics and approach. A small group of us chatted with the right-hander for more than a half hour before the end of the season (Q&A coming soon to the blog). But, catch him in a postgame scrum following a loss, and Bauer can be a little rough around the edges. Chalk that up to the competitive side a kid. That side of Bauer was on full display in Kansas City, where his responses to a local reporter were classic in their abrasiveness. Bauer: “We lost.” Reporter: ” Can you elaborate?” Bauer: “We lost, 4-1.” I wasn’t there, so CLICK HERE to read a great account of it by Cleveland.com’s Zack Meisel.

HouseQuote of the Year: House

I used to keep a log of favorite on ad off-the-record quotes, just for my own entertainment purposes. Like the time Reed Johnson told me: “The last couple weeks, I’ve been struggling for pretty much a month.” My favorite from this season came from House during the final road series in Minnesota. With the Indians on the brink of elimination, the pitcher was asked what mentality Cleveland had to take in the final games of the season. House replied: “You’ve got to hit it right in the face. Just punch it right back in the face and hopefully get a knockout.” Hey, I’m not going to argue with a man with a Fu Manchu.

aviles-slideRain Delay Antics of the Year: Aviles, Kipnis and Chisenhall

Rain delays and Cleveland baseball go hand in hand. It’s not a question of if it will rain, but how often, and how many doubleheaders we reporters will have to cover. On Aug. 13, Aviles made the most of it. When the game was postponed, he picked up the phone in the dugout, called the manager’s office and asked if he could do some tarp slides. Terry Francona did not necessarily say yes, but Aviles heard all he needed to hear, hung up and put on a show with Kipnis and Chisenhall.

KipStacheTeam Bonding Exercise of the Year: Rally ‘Staches

It got ugly in late August, when a plethora of Indians players and staff decided to grow mustaches in an effort to start a hot streak. It was unfortunate that John Axford wasn’t around to see it in person. House went the Fu Manchu route, Kipnis had whatever it was that he had, while Chisenhall, Bryan Shaw, Marc Rzepczynski and Scott Atchison went with classic ‘staches. Aviles went thin, Tyler Holt tried his best, and Bauer and Crockett are still waiting for the first hairs to emerge. Even PR men Bart Swain and Curtis Danburg got in on the action, and it was not a pretty sight. All of that said, it was good entertainment and a fun part of a strange season.

BigGBig G Memory of the Year: Golden Boy

Could 2014 have been the golden thong’s swan song? Before the start of the regular season, Jason Giambi’s famous undergarment hung in his locker in the University of San Diego clubhouse. Big G told of its magic powers and Swisher confirmed that he once donned the thong. As of this writing, I can’t confirm whether any Indians players wore it under their uniform this season. I’ll be sure to investigate in the spring. For now, we’ll just wait to hear whether Giambi is going to hang the thong up for good.

What a year, and I’m sure I missed plenty. Feel free to share your favorite moments from 2014 in the comments.

–JB

Brantley nominated for Hank Aaron Award

Brantley3Michael Brantley just finished putting the final touches on one of the greatest all-around offensive seasons in the long, storied history of the Indians franchise. For his work, the Cleveland outfielder has been nominated for some hardware.

Brantley is the Tribe’s representative among Major League Baseball’s 30 nominees for this year’s Hank Aaron Award, which recognizes the most outstanding offensive performance in each league. The winners will be announced during the World Series after fan balloting and voting by a Hall-of-Fame panel that is led by Aaron.

“He’s a complete player,” Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said. “And we think he’s deserving of MVP consideration with the year he had. He was a huge part of our success and we think one of the best players in the American League.”

Among the other AL candidates for the Hank Aaron Award are Mike Trout of the Angels, Victor Martinez of the Tigers, Jose Abreu of the White Sox and Nelson Cruz of the Orioles, among others. In each of the past two seasons, Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera has taken home the award, which was first established for the 1999 campaign.

Fans can vote for a winner in each league through Oct. 5 on MLB.com.

In 156 games this season, Brantley turned in a .327/.385/.506 slash line to go along with 20 home runs, 45 doubles and 97 RBIs for the Indians. The left-handed-hitting outfielder also finished with two triples, 23 stolen bases, 52 walks, 56 strikeouts, 94 runs scored and 200 hits for the Tribe.

Among his AL peers, Brantley ranked second in hits, third in average and doubles, fourth in on-base percentage, sixth in runs, seventh in OPS (.890), 11th in stolen bases and 12th in RBIs. His 6.6 WAR (Fangraphs.com) ranked second to only Trout in the league.

“I actually don’t need the stat line,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I know that backs up everything, but he has had a remarkable year in every way, shape and form. To play the amount of games he played. He hit third all year. He made an All-Star team. He was one of the best teammates you’ll ever see. He cares so much. He knows his responsibilities to our team.

“You’re seeing a kid grow up, and he’s always been a mature kid. You’re seeing a kid grow up as a baseball player right in front of our eyes and go from being a good player to one of the better players in the game. That’s really exciting.”

Brantley became the first batter in Indians history to have at least 20 home runs, 20 steals, 40 doubles and 200 hits in one season. That has only been done 11 times overall in the past 100 years in the Majors. Brantley joined Jacoby Ellsbury (2011), Larry Walker (1997), Ellis Burks (1996), Chuck Klein (1932) and Babe Herman (1929) as the only players in baseball history to also have at least a .320 average and 90 RBIs on that unique stat line.

This season, Brantley and Martinez were the only AL hitters with no more than 60 strikeouts and at least 50 walks. Brantley and Martinez also joined Cabrera (2010-13), Trout (2012-13), Adrian Gonzalez (2011) and Josh Hamilton (2010) as the only AL batters in the past five years to have a slash line of .320/.380/.500 or better.

Prior to Brantley, the last Cleveland hitter to hit at least .320 with at least a .380 on-base percentage and .500 slugging percentage was Roberto Alomar in 2001.

Asked what he learned from his breakout season, Brantley said recently that staying mentally strong was the biggest challenge.”[You have to] stay in each and every at-bat,” Brantley said. “In a season, it’s not just the physical tired, but the mental as well — maybe giving up on a pitch or taking a play off. I was just making sure I was in each and every play. I don’t want to give up any at-bats, still scratching and clawing. I have to make sure I come in next year and do the same thing.”

–JB

Antonetti: “It was an incredible year in terms of progress.”

TitoCARoughly 24 hours after Cleveland’s 2014 campaign was officially in the books, general manager Chris Antonetti and manager Terry Francona met with reporters to dissect the season, discuss the future and address a wide array of topics.

The bottom line: 85 wins was good, promising even, but it was also a disappointing finish. The Indians headed into the year with playoffs as the goal and the club fell short. In that way, this was a lost year for the Tribe.

That said, for all that went wrong, a lot went right. Corey Kluber emerged as a Cy Young contender, Michael Brantley developed into an MVP-type player and the rotation finished strong enough to breed optimism for the foundation that exists for 2015. MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince did an excellent job of summing up Cleveland’s situation over on his blog, writing that the optimists and pessimists both seem to be right at the moment.

Rather than post the entirety of the hour-long session, I’ll pull out the highlights on some of the more pressing topics and issues. Over the coming days and weeks, I’ll also be rolling out some analysis of the season that was and going in-depth on some individual players and elements from this past year. For now, here is what you need to know from the meeting with the Tribe brass:

General reaction to the Indians’ season:

Antonetti: “Obviously, we’re not playing today, so we’re all a little bit disappointed. Our goal is to win the World Series. To do that, you need to get to the postseason. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. But, I think if you reflect back, I’m incredibly proud of watching the way Tito, our coaches and our players came to the ballpark every day and competed and, regardless of what happened the night before — whether or not we won, whether or not we had a heart-breaking loss — we showed up the next day and went out there and gave our best to win.

“We had some pretty trying times this year. There were times where it would’ve been relatively easy to just let it snowball and say, ‘You know what? This wasn’t our year.’ But our guys, every day, showed up at the ballpark and found a way to try to compete and win that night’s game. When you’re able to step back and look at the view, and take a broader view, it was an incredible year in terms of progress. If you would’ve told me at the start of the year some of the things that transpired would’ve happened, I’m not sure I would’ve been optimistic that we would’ve won 75 games, let alone 85 games.”

What hurt the team’s chances at a playoff run the most?

Antonetti: “It’s hard to say any one thing, but obviously we had some injuries to veteran guys that had an impact. Obviously, with the year and things [Nick Swisher] went through this year, that had an impact on us, because he wasn’t able to perform up to the level he has in the past as he was battling through injuries. [Michael Bourn] missed a significant amount of time. And we just had a tough time with [Justin Masterson], getting him on track with us. So, guys that we were counting on pretty prominently to start the year, we just weren’t able to get the contributions that we may have hoped for at the start of the year.”

What about the poor defensive play?

Antonetti: “We’ve spent a lot of time talking about it over the course of the season and we’ll spend a lot more time talking about it over the next four weeks, five weeks, actually longer than that. The encouraging thing is it was much better in the second half than it was in the first half. As you look around the diamond, there’s reason to feel that we’ll be better moving forward, but we do need to look at it critically, because it needs to improve for next year. We’ll examine a lot of different ways where we can do that.”

Should Swisher have undergone surgery earlier than he did?

Antonetti: “We all tried to do the best we could. Swish tried to play through it. We were working through all the information we had at the time and everything pointed to trying to continue on the path we were on. Obviously, it didn’t play out exceptionally well, but hindsight is always 20/20. We had to deal with the information we had there, including how Swish was feeling. It clearly had an impact on him. How much and when, it’s really hard to pinpoint.”

How will Indians evaluate Jason Kipnis’ season in light of oblique issues?

Antonetti: “I think with a guy like Kip, our focus is on how do we help him be in a better spot coming into next year. He’s a big part of our team, our organization, and we expect him to be a cornerstone guy for us next year. So, rather than spending a lot of time dissecting what happened, our focus is how do we help him take advantage of the offseason, come into Spring Training ready to go and look at 2015 rather than dwell on ’14.”

Francona: “I think there was a little bit of everything. I don’t think it’s ever just black and white. I think he came back real quick, because players come back. They want to help. I thought he was pushing the bat through a little bit at the beginning to try to maybe compensate so he wouldn’t feel it. I think guys are so good at what they do that they can get away with it, and then that creates some habits where, even when he hit the ball to left field, it wasn’t that backspin ball that were used to where he’s hitting it off that wall. It was maybe a lineout to left or a single to left. I think that created some habits where, all of a sudden, he cheated to get to the fastball. He felt like when he hit the ball away to left, it didn’t have that same thump. So now all of a sudden, maybe the ball looks like it’s further away, so he’s working down in the count, he’s taking strike one, and then [comes] the changeup, because he’s trying to cheat to get tot he fastball. It’s a little bit of a cycle where one thing leads to another. It’s never just one thing. But I don’t think that [injury] helped and I think he played through a lot, and I think he’ll come back next year with a vengeance to be the player that we need.”

What did Indians think about Jose Ramirez’s play at short in second half?

Antonetti: “Jose did an incredible job. When he came back to the Major League level, I think he was more comfortable the second time offensively. He really did everything we could’ve asked. Offensively, he did his job trying to get on base as much as he could. I think he led the American League in sacrifice bunts and tried to get runners over, and then helped stabilize our infield defense and made some well above-average plays there. It was a really good year developmentally for Jose and it’s important to remember he’s only 21 years old.”

Does Ramirez’s emergence help keep Francisco Lindor on a steady development path?

Antonetti: “They’re not necessarily intertwined. I think with each guy, we’re trying to look at what’s best for his development. When are they ready? Anybody can come up to the Major Leagues. We can bring anyone in our Minor League system up. It’s a question of, ‘Are they prepared to succeed when they come up here? Francisco had an incredible year developmentally. He’s still, at every level he’s been he’s been the youngest player at that level. The same thing happened in Triple-A and he had some challenges that he was working through there. He had a very good year developmentally for him and we’re excited to see where that goes over the winter and into next year.”

Thoughts on Corey Kluber’s season?

Antonetti: “It was an incredible year. He was, in our view, the best pitcher in the American League this year. His consistency, and his consistent dominance, was a big part of the reason we were able to win as many games as we did. It’s not an accident why that happened. It’s because of the work he’s put in. He put together an incredible season and the thing that excites us most is this is not a guy who’s going to be complacent with what transpired this year. He’s going to go out and try to do it even better next year, which is going to be really hard for him to do. But that’s what he’s focused on.”

Will you approach him about an extension this offseason?

Antonetti: “That’s probably a conversation for a little bit later in the winter. We’re right now just wrapping up this year. He’s a guy, I can tell you, we value incredibly high and are thankful that he’s going to be here for a while. That’s a good starting point for us.”

Is adding a “big bat” a priority this winter?

Francona: “I think that’s the easy [answer]. It’s, ‘Hey, go get a power bat.’ OK. What we’re really trying to do is see how many runs our pitching staff we think is going to give up and how many runs we’re going to score offensively, and then where does that fit moving forward. Do we think that makes us a team that can contend? I can tell you from personal experience, I’d rather win 3-1 than 8-7, because it’s a hard way to win consistently. I agree, there are times in a season when you have to win like that, but when your pitching gives you a chance… even the last couple months, as hard as runs seemed to be for us to score, we seemed to have a chance pretty much every night.”

With runs down across the board in MLB, how does that change the way you evaluate and construct an offense?

Antonetti: “If you look at performance, you always want to consider the context. I think that actually goes back to even the point of Kluber early. What he’s done in the context of our team versus what some other guys in the context of their team — probably if you look at it that way — he stands out far above any other candidate. Offensively, we try to do the same thing. We look at what is the run environment now. Who are the best players in that run environment and how can we acquire them? While the aggregate numbers may look a little bit different, what we try to focus on is relative to what’s available, relative to the context of the league, who are the players who can help our team. The absolute numbers have come down. Not nearly as many payers are hitting with the power and the home runs that they had 10 years ago. But the whole league was elevated, so now we’re looking at a little bit of a different context.”

Thoughts on Michael Brantley’s emergence this season:

Antonetti: “We’ve always felt Michael was a really good player. We were hopeful that he would stay healthy and just continue to do what he’s always done. … He’s that guy that’s also gotten better each and every year. He came into Spring Training this year more physical than any year in the past and was really committed to keeping his body strong. In the past, he had a little bit of a tendency, just because of the rigors of a season, to lose a little bit of weight and strength throughout the course of a year. He was pretty determined not to let that happen. He put in the work, going back to last offseason, preparing for the season and he stayed with it throughout the year. It was fun to see his continued development. He’s a complete player. And we think he’s deserving of MVP consideration with the year he had. He was a huge part of our success and we think one of the best players in the American League.”

On the unique nature of Lonnie Chisenhall’s season:

Antonetti: “I think if you were to rewind 12 months and they say, at the end of last year, ‘What would your hopes be foo Lonnie at the end of this year?’ I think Lonnie did more than we probably could’ve asked. Now, there was some inconsistency along the way to get there, but if you’d say, ‘Would you sign up for what Lonnie did this past year?’ Absolutely. So I think what we were able to see, it was actually pretty cool. … Even beyond maybe what you guys see on the surface, Lonnie’s development as a teammate, the way he improved as a baserunner, how important the little things were to him and how hard he worked at those things, was one of the developmental highlights of our year. You guys were able to see the results on the field, but there were a lot of other things underneath the surface that Lonnie worked incredibly hard at and made great progress with. So, we’re really excited to see how that continues, because he’s such a young player. If he continues the same path he’s on, next year could be a really good year for him.”

On potentially having the entire five-man rotation from second half back for 2015 and beyond:

Antonetti: “[The rotation] was one of the highlights of our year. To have the youngest pitching staff in the American League, maybe in baseball, and for them to be the best pitching staff in the second half, and know that they’re all going to be here for the foreseeable future, that’s really exciting and encouraging. But, we’re not going to be complacent with it. We still need more pitching. We’ll always be looking to add to both the rotation and the bullpen. So, as we go throughout the course of the offseason, we feel like we’re entering it with a position of strength that may be unlike any position we’ve had in recent offseasons, with the quantity and quality of pitching that we have. But, we’re still going to look to improve on it.”

Thoughts on Trevor Bauer’s strides in 2014:

Antonetti: “[He's] another guy who had a great developmental year. He made incredible progress over the last 12 months. The thing that excites us most is, if he can make the same progress over the next 12 months that he’s made in the last 12, we’ll be in a much better spot next year. He’s committed to working as hard as possible. There may not be a guy who’s  more committed to improving himself as a pitcher as Trevor is. He’s got a plan for the offseason already and the information he’s going to seek and put together and then come back and huddle with Tito and [pitching coach Mickey Callaway and bullpen coach Kevin Cash] to make sure that we have a plan that we’re all on the same page with going into the offseason. Hopefully he can make as much progress this offseason as he did last offseason.”

Will Indians pick up Mike Aviles’ team option for 2015?

Antonetti: “We have a little bit of time. We don’t want to short-change the process. We all appreciate Mike’s contribution to our team: what he means on the field, his versatility, the way he’s filled in really almost anywhere on the diamond when we’ve had injuries, the presence he has in our clubhouse, and the way he helps kind of unify our group and create the energy and atmosphere in the clubhouse every day. We don’t take those things for granted.”

On Yan Gomes’ season:

Francona: “The first week or two, he had a bunch of errors. He came out of the chute rushing some throws and that’s going to hurt his fielding percentage. Other than that, I thought he had a spectacular year. I think Salvador Perez is a really good player, because I don’t want this to come out [sounding wrong] in any fashion, because he’s really good. But if you look at Gomer’s year, Gomer outperformed him by 100 points in OPS. He threw out the same number of runners the last two years, playing 45 less games. So, I guess that kind of answers that. This guy is really a good player.”

Will Bourn need to change winter program in light of hamstring issues?

Francona: “He’s had a really solid offseason program. To your point about the hamstring, it crept up three different times, which doesn’t help us. We talked to Bourny [Sunday] about trying to come into camp, one, with health. That’s huge. And then the second one is being confident in that health so he can be a disruptor. I don’t think he’s lacking any [motivation]. He wants to go work. He wants to be that guy that can go do that. So that’s the goal, is to get him not only feeling really healthy, but have some confidence in those legs so he can go do what he does. I think disrupting the game is a really good way to put it, because guys like that can make it hard on the opponent. That’s a goal and he understands that.”

Do you have the kind of depth in the farm system that can help with trade talks this winter?

Antonetti: “We do. We have depth in our farm system to make a trade if there’s a trade there. It’s an area where we’ve made steady progress over the last three years and we want to continue on that path and continue to be in a better spot a year from now than we are today. But, we have the players in our farm system to make a meaningful trade if that’s a direction we decide to go.”

It sounds like you actually feel like you’re in a better position to start this offseason than you did at the end of last year:

Antonetti: “We were actually talking about that exact thing the other day. At the moment, we’re more disappointed, because at this time last year we still had games in front of us. But, as we start to transition to the offseason, we have virtually the entirety of our roster in place for next year. Again, there’s no complacency, we want to improve on that, but that’s a great position of strength going into the offseason. Last year, we had more questions going into the offseason than we do right now.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Bourn: “Our back was against the wall from pretty much jump street.”

Bourn

Following Tuesday’s 7-1 loss to the Royals, a defeat that pushed Cleveland to the brink of elimination, center fielder Michael Bourn spent 10 minutes with reporters to discuss the game, the Tribe’s current situation and the season as a whole. Here is a portion of the interview:

You guys understood the landscape going into this series. You had to essentially win out, but have lost two key games to Kansas City. What’s the feeling in the clubhouse?

“Of course, it hurts. That goes without saying, especially when it’s somebody that’s inside your division. You never want to see them take over your spot, or be able to beat you out for a playoff spot. Right now, they’re doing that. We’re in a situation now where we have to win every game and they have to lose every game for us to make it, and we’ll just be in a tie. The probability of that happening is very tough. It’s still a probability, but it’s very, very tough.

“For me, I just feel like it’s not just in September. I look at how Oakland played the last month and a half. Because they were taking care of business early on in the season, they had that padded lead where, if they did have a struggle like that, they still have a chance to make the playoffs, which they do. They’ve been playing way under .500 baseball for the last month and a half, but since they were going so well at the beginning, I feel like they still have a chance to make the playoffs, and they still probably will make the playoffs with that first Wild Card.

“For us, I don’t feel like we ever hit a stretch like that. I feel like we didn’t have a month where we played great baseball. We played OK at times, but I feel like last year we had stretches where we were playing unbelievable and we were winning 10 games in a row, 11 games in a row. I just think that Tito always puts the best team that he has on the field. I think he does a great job at it. I think it comes within us, within here, for us to take care of business. He does his job to the maximum. I just think it takes us to come together and do what we have to do. That doesn’t start just in September, for me.

“I’m a firm believer in that. I hear people say that all the time, that, ‘Well, you have to play well in September.’ Yeah, you do, but the whole season counts. You don’t want to put your back against the wall, especially with the kind of team we have. We have a young team, so you don’t want to put your back against the wall late, [where you have] to make that run, when you haven’t been in that situation. We were in that situation last year, but we had played good throughout stretches throughout the year.”

How can you change that in the future?

“I just think that we have to win early. You don’t want to put yourself in that situation. I don’t feel like we’ve played consistently enough — good baseball — to be in that situation at this point. Yeah, we had little stretches where we were OK, but I’m talking about where you roll off 10 in a row. Where you roll off where you sweep three series in a row. Then, you have that comfortable lead, just like Oakland did, where you might mess up, but hey, you’ve still got a chance to bounce back. We never had that chance to bounce back. Our back was against the wall from pretty much jump street. We played good here and then we’d go on a losing streak. We were playing .500 ball pretty much the whole way through, if you want to look at it how I look at it. Most teams that make the playoffs, they have a stretch in there where they’re playing 10 games over .500, 15 games over .500. They’ll have a 20-game stretch where they might go 17-3, or 16-4. That gives you that little comfort. In a season, you’re going to go through a bad stretch — I can promise you that. I promise you that. But usually you go through a hot stretch if you’re a good team. We didn’t have a hot stretch, I don’t think.”

So what steps can you take?

“Just play better baseball That comes within the team, I think. We have to make adjustments within ourselves — it’s simple as that. I can name you 10 different reasons. OK, hit with runners in scoring position, play good defense, don’t make errors. You can name all types of stuff, but that comes within, from us. That doesn’t come from coaches. That comes from the 25 men playing the game.”

Does it add to frustration when you imagine what this starting rotation might be capable of doing in a playoff series?

“That’s what I’m saying. Now, we’re pitching like we always wanted to pitch, but you want to click with all of it. You want to have good pitching, timely hitting, hitting with runners in scoring position, stuff like that. Yes, you’re right. I agree with you. Yes, it would be very tough, I think, to beat us in a series, the way our pitching has been going lately. With [Corey] Kluber and [Carlos] Carrasco. Danny [Salazar]. He pitched pretty good tonight. They had some good hits on him, but I still think he was OK. He had one little stretch where he might’ve went off a little bit. But, [Trevor] Bauer, he’s still learning. He’s looking good. T.J. House, I feel like he’s done good. Early on, we didnt have the pitching that we wanted to have, so our bullepn was having to work over. That hurts you later on in the season.

“You see their bullpen. What’s their record, 69-1 when they’re leading after seven innings? Something like that. That tells you. But their starters also go deep in the game. You look at [James] Shields, he goes deep in the game a lot. That dude tonight went seven innings. That’s what you want throughout the year, so then at the end of the year, when you can use your bullpen a lot, they’re not tired. You can’t blame them. [Bryan] Shaw and them, they’ve pitched a lot this year. There’s three or four of our dudes that lead the league in appearances. That’s a lot on them. Anyone who’s throwing the ball that much, that’s a lot on them. It tires them out after a while. They’re only human.”

Does it add to the frustration right now, being an offensive player?

“It does. I had a chance tonight and I felt like I missed a pitch. [Yordano Ventura] gave me a pitch to hit and I missed it. It was nothing more than that. I don’t blame anybody but myself on that. It was a pitch that I felt like I could hit and I missed it. Of course, he does throw hard, but I felt like I got there. I just didn’t execute the swing exactly how I needed to execute it. And it’s not just me. As a collective unit, we’re just not doing it. Granted, sometimes we have hit the ball hard, a lot of times, and it’s going right at people. That happens, but you have to continue to play baseball. Nobody likes this feeling when you’re at this position of the year. It’s all fine and dandy until you get to this position. Then you’re looking like everybody is looking crazy at that point.

“That’s why, to me, the whole year counts. I’m a firm believer. I don’t know how everybody else thinks about it, but that’s how I think about it, because you start from April and you go all the way ’til the end. Good teams play good throughout the whole year. They don’t just go through one little stretch. They’re usually going to play pretty good ball throughout the year. We played OK ball, but we didn’t play great baseball like I think we’re capable of doing. At the same time, I think we’re still learning and I think I like the caliber of people that we have and we’re all good to come back. It’s not over, but to be honest, they have to lose every game. We have to win every game. And that’s just to tie. You have to be realistic about the situation as well. I hope that it happens, but you know …”

Is there any satisfaction that you guys are still contending despite all the injuries and issues the team has gone through this year?

“Health is a big key. I felt like I battled injuries all year long with my hamstring. That’s part of it. I hated it. As much as I wanted to be on the field, I couldn’t get out there, because I was hurting. From the second time on, I was trying to make sure that I didn’t get hurt again. I stayed on top of it. Our training staff did a great job of staying on top of me and helping me stay on top of my hamstring. Hopefully, this season isn’t over yet, let me comment on that first, but hopefully, going into the future, I can be healthy, because I feel like if I’m healthy, I can help this team a lot.”

What’s the team’s mentality now going into the last few games?

“It’s tough. I’m not going to sit here and lie to you and say it’s easy, because it’s not easy. You have to win. There’s no other option. If we lose, we’re out. Because if they win, then they’re pretty much in, if Seattle loses one more game, too. We know what’s at stake. We knew what was at stake before we came here. We just have to hope for the best. It’s not going to be easy. It’s still a possibility, so we just have to continue to grind, play one game at a time and we have another tough pitcher in [Jason] Vargas tomorrow, but we’ll battle him, too. And we have a good pitcher going in Bauer tomorrow, so we’ll hope for the best with that and we hope that we win.”

–JB

Covering the Bases: Sept. 22

RoyalsFinal:

Indians 4, Royals 3 (10 innings)
Royals 2, Indians 0

FIRST: This was a disappointing day for the Indians. There is no getting around it. Cleveland needed to essentially win out to have a serious shot at October baseball and Kansas City got in the way of that in an oddly-arranged evening at Progressive Field.

First, the Indians staved off a 10th-inning rally to win the conclusion of the Aug. 31 suspended game in Kansas City. Then, the Royals picked up a victory over the Tribe behind a strong start from lefty Danny Duffy, though there were missed chances at the plate and in the field that cost Cleveland.

“It’s not very often you don’t score and come away with a split,” Indians manager Terry Francona quipped.

The Indians’ season isn’t done in terms of mathematics. Ask the odds makers, though, and they’d advise you to push your chips to a different corner. The reality is that Cleveland has only five games left and they are now facing a 3.5-game deficit with the A’s, Royals, Mariners and Yankees are still in play in the Wild Card picture.

So, what is Cleveland to do now?

“We really need help from other teams,” Indians infielder Mike Aviles said. “We need Seattle to lose, we need the Royals to lose, Tigers to lose. The bottom line is we have to take care of what we can, which means winning some games and figure out how to win.”

The Indians have two games left in this series against Kansas City, so the potential still exists to slice the deficit to 1.5 games before the Royals head out of town. Then, with three games left against Tampa Bay, a heartbeat would still exist for this fading season for the Tribe.

Are they any positives for Cleveland’s fatigued fan base to pull from this? Definitely. The Indians have now pieced together consecutive winning seasons for the first time since 2000-01, and the future looks brighter with players liker Corey Kluber and Michael Brantley leading the way. Given all the injuries and issues this year, the fact that the Indians are still in this thing, even remotely, is pretty remarkable.

That said, no one around the ballclub is ready to look back at this season with games still on the docket.

“We’re so locked in in trying to win,” Francona said. “We can summarize when it’s time. Right now, we have to try to find a way to win.”

SECOND: Offensively, this game had a similar feel as the American League Wild Card Game a year ago. Well, except for the wild playing environment Cleveland had that night last October. The sea of red-clad fans packing Progressive Field was amazing for that game. For Monday’s critical games vs. Kansas City? The announced crowd was 10,458.

That’s a rant for another day. For now, I’ll just stick to saying it was as disappointing of a showing in the stands as it was in the batter’s box. Cleveland went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position, stranding nine and having another runner thrown out in a pick-off, caught-stealing. The Indians loaded the bases with no outs in the first inning, and came away with nothing.

That missed chance came against lefty Danny Duffy, who is a solid starter, but one who hadn’t pitched since Sept. 6 due to a shoulder issue.

“It was upsetting more than anything,” said Aviles, who flew out to end the first. “We’ve got a guy, bases loaded, who hasn’t pitched in awhile. We’ve got him on the ropes and, if we can get some runs early, [maybe we] rattle his cage.”

The lack of offense made the fact that Chris Gimenez and rookie Tyler Holt were in the starting lineup at first base and in right field, respectively, more glaring. Francona was limited in constructing his lineup, though.

Jason Kipnis and David Murphy (both on the bench) have battled injuries in recent weeks and neither were presented with a great matchup with the left-handed Duffy on the mound. Platoon-advantage wise, the same goes for Jason Giambi. Carlos Santana, who has fought a quad issue in the second half, was in the order as the DH. Rookies Zach Walters (.157) and Jesus Aguilar (.143) were on the bench. Walters also recently dealt with an intercostal strain.

“We have to keep an eye on these guys a little bit,” Francona said, “[and] try to mix and match the best we can. … Our guys have done a really good job. Kip stretched the whole time, knowing he was probably going to hit at some point. Everybody’s a little banged up. You just do the best you can.”

In arguably the biggest game of the season for the Indians — then again, which game lately hasn’t fallen into that category — such depth issues hurt the on-field production.

THIRD: The absent offense spoiled another solid effort from right-hander Carlos Carrasco. The right-hander rejoined the rotation on Aug. 10 and has given Cleveland its surprise of the season.

Against the Royals, Carrasco allowed two runs on seven hits in 7.1 innings, striking out nine and walking one along the way. In his nine starts since returning to a starting role, he has posted a 1.32 ERA with a .80 WHIP and a .183 opponents’ batting average. Across 61.1 innings in that span, the righty has 68 strikeouts against eight walks.

“I thought he was really good,” Francona said. “This is the first game in a while where it’s been cold. He was having a tough time gripping the ball. You could tell. He left a couple pitches where they weren’t going where he wanted. Then, he dialed it in. The two runs he gave up, they were both hard-hit, but if we’re able to [make a few] plays, we’re still playing.”

HOME: Francona was referring to the fact that the two runs Carrasco surrendered came on balls that skipped off a defender’s glove. In the first inning, Gimenez had a line drive from Eric Hosmer bounce off his glove and into right field for an RBI single. In the fifth, Alcides Escobar sent a sharp grounder to the right of shortstop Jose Ramirez, who couldn’t corral the ball with a backhanded swipe.

“We should’ve made those plays right there. That cost me two runs,” Carrasco said. “I thought they had a pretty good chance of making them, but sometimes we don’t make those plays. That can cost us.”

Here was Francona’s take: “The ball Hosmer hit was scalded, but it hit the end of his glove. The ball to Jose, that would have been a really nice play. They’re makable, it just happened awful quick. They were both hit really hard, kind of do or die.”

On deck:

Royals (85-71) at Indians (82-75)
at 7:05 p.m. ET Tuesday at Progressive Field

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 155

Kluber921Final: Indians 7, Twins 2

FIRST: Remember when there was some concern that Corey Kluber, who had crossed into uncharted waters in terms of innings in a single year, was possibly fighting late-season fatigue? Yeah, he’s feeling just fine. Just ask the White Sox, Astros and Twins.

In the four starts since Kluber surrendered five runs in 2.2 innings against the Tigers on Sept. 1 — never mind the defensive miscues that cost him dearly in that swiftly-derailed outing — he has returned to form in a major way. In the 32.1 innings during that span (that’s more than eight innings on average), the right-hander is 4-0 with a 1.39 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 43 strikeouts and only three walks.

“He’s pitching with confidence,” Indians center fielder Michael Bourn said. “But he’s also calm while he’s pitching.”

No kidding.

Minnesota wound up on the wrong side of history because of Kluber’s calm confidence. The pitcher racked up 14 strikeouts for the second start in a row. That has only been accomplished 15 times in the past 100 seasons and only by nine Major League pitchers. The last to do it? Some guy named Randy Johnson in 2004. The other names on that list include Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, Jose Rijo, Dwight Gooden, Mickey Lolich, Bob Gibson and Sam McDowell. Pedro holds the record with three such outings in a row in 1999. McDowell did it twice for the Tribe in 1968.

Kluber shrugged off the historical footnotes.

“When the year’s over,” he said, “that’s stuff that you’ll take a second to look at and appreciate. But, right now, it’s not important. The important thing right now is that we got the win. That’s what we need to keep going. It’s a result of the hard work that you put in, but I think you wait until the end of the year to kind of step back and look at it.”

On the season, Kluber now has 258 strikeouts (most in the American League), which puts him 10th all-time on Cleveland’s single-season list. Before this year, only Bob Feller, Herb Score, Luis Tiant and McDowell had achieved at least 250 strikeouts in a season. Feller holds the record with 348 in 1946. Kluber also joins McDowell (four times), Feller (once) and score (once) as the only pitchers in team history to have at least 10 double-digit strikeout games in one season

Kluber has 20 starts with at least eight strikeouts and 13 with at least nine strikeouts.

“Those are a byproduct of a really good pitcher,” Indians manager Terry Francona said of all the strikeout feats. “I think you go through periods where those things happen. Coming into the game, the Twins have had a really good approach to him. You look at the matchups and they have guys that have found ways to get hits off him — they hit the ball the other way — but he established his fastball right away and then he had his breaking ball. He was just really good.”

The Twins agreed.

“He has great command of three of his pitches,” Twins second baseman Brian Dozier said. “He has electric stuff and is a high strikeout guy. If you get a pitch to hit, you can’t really miss it against that guy. He’s a big swing-and-miss guy. He threw me all sliders and cutters, and when he’s got that working, he’s pretty good.”

SECOND: Kluber also had a unique strikeout streak come to a close on Sunday afternoon. After striking out 14 in seven innings on Tuesday in Houston, the right-hander had 13 strikeouts through six innings against the Twins. What was unique about that was the fact that Kluber had at least two strikeouts in each of those 13 consecutive innings.

I don’t know yet where that streak ranks in terms of history (the Indians called the Elias Sports Bureau to hopefully get an assist with the answer), but I can tell you how it ended. In the seventh inning, Kluber induced a leadoff flyout off the bat of Chris Herrmann, who had two doubles earlier in the game. Jordan Schafer then followed with a popped-up bunt, which sent the ball arcing into foul territory.

Third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall hustled in, ran into foul ground and made a spectacular diving catch. Way to go, Chiz, you ended Kluber’s strikeout streak.

“I’ll take the diving catch,” Kluber said with a grin.

Kluber’s 14 strikeouts, combined with the one punchout registered by reliever Nick Hagadone in the ninth inning, also helped Cleveland extend its Major League-record streak of consecutive games with at least a dozen strikeouts to six games. Cleveland also has 1,391 strikeouts on the season overall, surpassing last year’s total (1,380) for a new club record. The AL and Major League record (1,428) was set by the 2013 Tigers. Cleveland should be able to chase that record down, but the Rays (1,385) are also in the running this year.

“I think it’s maybe a reflection on the kind of stuff we have on our staff,” Kluber said of the team’s high strikeout total. “I think we’ve got some guys with some good arms and some good stuff to put people away. A lot of times, when we get an opportunity to put guys away, we take advantage of it.”

THIRD: Kluber and left fielder Michael Brantley have provided the Indians with two elite talents and clear-cut candidates (at least worthy of a top-three finish) for some season-end awards. I’ll save Kluber’s Cy Young candidacy for a post at the end of the season, when we’ll have the final numbers. As for Brantley, they should create a Mike Trout Award for the MVP runner-up in the AL. Trout has that top spot basically locked up.

Don’t even worry about WAR of wRC+, just take a moment to consider and appreciate the basic numbers that Brantley is piling up right now. After Sunday, he’s hitting .325 with 20 homers, 22 stolen bases, 43 doubles, 93 runs, 97 RBIs, 193 hits and 300 total bases. That has Brantley on the cusp of finishing with one of the greatest all-around seasons not only in team history, but in AL history.

“He’s always hungry for more,” Bourn said. “He comes to work hard every day. I think that’s a plus. I think he’s focused on being one of the best players in the game. He’s having a tremendous year, but when you want to be considered in the top category, you’ve got to be able to do it year after year after year. I think he has that potential.”

In Cleveland history, there have only been 10 instances when a player ended with at least a .320 average to go along with at least 100 runs, 100 RBIs and 200 hits. Carlos Baerga last accomplished the feat in 199. Before Baerga, it hadn’t been done since 1953 (Al Rosen). If you add at least 40 doubles to that statistical line, you have to go back to 1936 (Hal Trosky) to find the last season of that kind. If you add the 20 stolen bases, well, you won’t find any player in Cleveland history with that kind of year.

In AL history, Jacoby Ellsbury (2011) is the only player in history to hit .320 or better with at least 20 homers, 20 steals, 40 doubles, 100 runs, 100 RBIs and 200 hits. Brantley could be the second to do that, if he gets three RBIs, seven hits and seven runs in the final six games. If you remove the 20-homer requirement, the others on the AL list with Ellsbury are Gee Walker (1937), Charlie Gehringer (1929), Geroge Sisler (1920, 1922), Ty Cobb (1911, 1917), Home Run Baker (1912) and Nap Lajoie (1901).

HOME: … is where the Indians are heading. If Cleveland is going to complete this miracle postseason chase, it’ll be over the next six games (seven, including the final three outs of the Aug. 31 suspended game with the Royals) at Progressive Field. Beginning Monday, the Indians have a crucial three-game, three-out series with Kansas City, which currently sits 3 1/2 games ahead of the Tribe for one of the AL’s Wild Card spots. The A’s, Mariners and Yankees are all in the hunt, too.

“We know what’s at stake,” Bourn said. “We’ve been going for it since the beginning — there’s just more at stake in September. That’s just what it is. You’ve got win at this time to extend your time to be able to play. We’re going to give it all we’ve got each day. We’re going to try and put ourselves in a good position and hopefully we win.  We know this is pretty much our season, this last week, and we’re not going to run from it. We’re going to stand up to the competition.”

Here’s the landscape for the Wild Card contenders:

1. Oakland (up 0.5): 3 vs. LAA, 4 @ TEX
2. Kansas City (–): 3* @ CLE, 4 @ CWS
3. Seattle (1.5 GB): 4 @ TOR, 3 vs. LAA
4. Cleveland (3.5 GB): 3* vs. KC, 3 vs. TB
5. New York (4.5 GB): 4 vs. BAL, 3 @ BOS

“We’re looking forward to it,” Francona said of the upcoming set with the Royals. “We’ve worked hard to get to this point. Now we get to play one of the better teams in the league and it’s very meaningful. It’ll be fun.”

*plus the conclusion of the suspended game

On deck:

Royals (84-70) at Indians (81-74)
at 6:05 p.m. ET Monday at Progressive Field

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 141

CarrascoFinal: Indians 2, White Sox 0

FIRST: Maybe it’s time to stop wondering when Cookie is going to crumble. Maybe what has been taking place on the mound is legitimate. Maybe a corner has finally been turned.

Years of inconsistency have conditioned Cleveland fans to anticipate a meltdown from pitcher Carlos Carrasco. Six starts into his latest return to the rotation, the big righty has finally looked like the kind of the front-line starter envisioned for several seasons by the Indians.

“I’ll tell you what, it’s been so nice,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “You put a guy in the rotation and you certainly hope for the best, but my goodness. He looks so strong.”

What’s interesting about Carrasco’s turnaround — one that now includes Sunday’s dominant showing against the White Sox — is that he has adopted the aggressive mentality talked so much about over the past offseason. Going from the bullpen to the rotation isn’t new for Carrasco. The righty spent time in the bullpen last year and then transitioned back to starting in time for Opening Day this season.

We heard about how aggressive he was out of the ‘pen, how he stopped overthinking and over-planning like he was prone to doing as a starter. And then, when he went back to starting, the same old problems arose. So, what’s been the difference? Why has Carrasco been able to embrace a reliever’s mind-set now, when he wasn’t able to do so out of the gates in April?

“That’s a great point,” said Carrasco, pondering that concept for a moment. “I figured it out after, why I couldn’t do it in the beginning of the season. They sent me to the bullpen and my mentality is way different right now.”

Let’s dive a little deeper into it than that by first looking at his season in three parts…

April 15-25 (four starts): 6.95 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, .286 AVG
In 22 IP: 24 H, 18 R (17 ER), 23 K, 9 BB, 61% strikes

April 30-Aug 5 (26 games): 2.30 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, .217 AVG
In 43 IP: 34 H, 11 R (11 ER), 39 K, 9 BB, 67% strikes

Aug. 10-Sept. 7 (six starts): 0.70 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, .179 AVG
In 38.2 IP: 25 H, 3 R (3 ER), 42 K, 4 BB, 71% strikes

On the surface, you immediately see an increased strike rate. What you can’t see in that basic breakdown is the change in pitch usage over the course of the season for Carrasco. What the righty’s done over his past six starts is nearly double the percentage of sliders thrown (compared to his April stint in the rotation), dramatically cut down on curves and shift his fastball usage to include more sinkers.

During his first four starts in April, Carrasco was throwing his two-seamer only 2.4% of the time. That held steady through his stint in the bullpen, but has jumped to over 11% since returning to the rotation. In Sunday’s outing (8.2 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 8 K), Carrasco threw 18.4% sinkers. His four-seamer usage was down to 35% (compared to 54.3% as a starter in April).

Along with that change in repertoire, Carrasco has stashed his curve in his back pocket. He used that particular offspeed pitch 16.6% of the time in his first four starts, decreased the usage to 9.8% out of the bullpen and had used it only 5.9% of the time in his last five starts, entering Sunday. Against Chicago, Carrasco used the curve twice out of 103 pitches (0.2%).

The diminished use of the curve has led to a heightened reliance on what has developed into a wipeout slider. Back in 2011, when Carrasco has his best full season with Cleveland, he used the slider slightly more (12.6%) than his curve (11.6%). He was at 12.3% with the slider in his four April starts, but increased the rate to 22% out of the bullpen and then 23% in his rotation return, entering Sunday. The White Sox saw the slider 28.2% of the time in his latest effort.

It also helps that Carrasco’s average fastball velocity has climbed to 96-97 mph in August and September, compared to 94.8 mph in April. In that regard, Carrasco has maintained bullpen velocity incredibly well over his recent starts (I’m sure the lighter season-long workload has helped). Carrasco has also tightened up his pregame routine and now pitches out of the stretch, as he did in the ‘pen.

“He just looks like he’s getting stronger,” Francona said. “And today, his ball had so much good movement on his fastball, especially to the righties, down under their barrel. And then he’s able to spin that breaking ball. That was really impressive.”

SECOND: What does good pitching do for a team?

“It makes everything look better,” Francona said.

Here were are, documenting a series sweep over the White Sox after the Indians scored seven whole runs as an offense. The continued success of Cleveland’s pitching staff pushed the anemic lineup to the background for another day, and that has been a theme throughout this second half for the Indians.

In the 32 games after Aug. 1, when the Indians scored 12 runs in a romp over the Rangers, Cleveland has averaged 3.3 runs per game. Over that same span, the Tribe’s pitching staff has turned in a 2.65 ERA. That’s not a large margin for error for the pitchers, but the staff has made it work more often than not in keeping Cleveland afloat in the playoff picture.

In the three-game set against the White Sox, starting pitchers T.J. House, Corey Kluber and Carrasco combined to go 2-0 with a 0.36 ERA, striking out 23, scattering 16 hits, allowing two runs (only one earned) and issuing no walks in 24.2 innings.

Asked if good pitching can be contagious, Francona said: “Well, I hope so. I think we’re going to need it. It’s been allowing us every day to have a chance to win. I think we scored seven runs this series, but we’re coming away feeling pretty good. It’s taken a little bit of a burden off the bullpen. You can just show up and you feel like you have a chance to win. That’s what we need.”

THIRD: Cleveland’s first run came in the opening inning, when Michael Bourn sent a pitch from Chicago’s Scott Carroll over the head of center fielder Adam Eaton for a leadoff triple. Two batters later, Michael Brantley made good on that hit with one of his own, delivering a single to center to extend his hitting steak to 11 games.

The triple was Bourn’s American League-leading 10th of the season. What’s remarkable about that is the fact that Bourn has only played 87 games this season due to his hamstring issues. The last Indians hitter to have at least 10 three-base hits in a season was Grady Sizemore in 2006, but the last to do so in fewer than 100 games was Ed Morgan in 1929 (10 in 93 games).

HOME: Francona does not typically give in to broad-stroaks questions about a series, especially if the question involves looking back or looking ahead. The manager prefers to keep the horse blinders on, focusing on each game as a singular task. That said, Francona strayed from his usual approach when asked how important this sweep was for the team, considering Cleveland dropped three of four in a tough series against the Tigers earlier this week.

“We’re running out of months. Not days, but months,” Francona said. “So, we need to make up some ground. I don’t know if you can go into a series thinking about a sweep, because I don’t think that’s a very productive way to play, but now that it’s over, it certainly helps. Now, it makes tomorrow that much bigger.”

On deck:

Angels (87-55) at Indians (74-67)
at 1:05 p.m. ET Monday at Progressive Field

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 140

MLB: Cleveland Indians-Photo DayFinal: Indians 3, White Sox 1

FIRST: The Indians ran some anti-virus software through the Klubot Operating System over the past few days and cleaned out all the bugs. On Saturday night against the White Sox, Corey Kluber was back to his robotic, precision-based ways for Cleveland.

Said White Sox manager Robin Ventura: “He goes deep in the game. He works quick. He doesn’t seem to get rattled.”

Classic Klubot.

Following a stretch of rough starts — well, giving up eight earned runs in 16 innings seemed “rough” in light of the 1.43 ERA he turned in in his previous dozen outings — Kluber regained his form on the mound. The righty did make a slight mechanical tweak between outings.

After his last start, in which Kluber gave up five runs (two earned) and threw 57 pitches in 2 2/3 innings against Detroit, he went to work with pitching coach Mickey Callaway. They found that Kluber had been collapsing a bit on his back leg, throwing off his release point and, in turn, affecting the location on his pitches (especially to his glove side).

How involved was the process of fixing this issue?

“We talked about it for about 15 seconds,” Callaway said. “And then he went and did it.”

Ho hum. It’s just that easy.

“It wasn’t anything major,” Kluber said. “It took maybe a handful of pitches to get that feeling back to what we were looking for. We went out there tonight and it wasn’t like I was searching or anything. It felt normal and comfortable.”

In his third complete game of the season, Kluber created 14 outs via ground balls, collected eight strikeouts, scattered five hits and issued no walks. He finished with a Game Score of 83, marking his fifth outing with at least that high of a Game Score this season. That is the best among all Major League pitchers. Some guy named Clayton Kershaw ranks second with four.

After his previous two starts, Kluber was asked if he was feeling fatigued at all, considering he was approaching 200 innings for the first time in his career. That topic didn’t sit well with the pitcher, who was short with reporters after his abbreviated loss to Detroit. Well, Kluber seems to have answered those questions just fine with his arm and nine innings against the White Sox.

“His tank looks like it’s as full as it’s ever been,” Indians manager Terry Francona said.

Kluber now has 223 strikeout, moving him past Luis Tiant (219 in 1967) and Gaylord Perry (216 in 1974) for 17th place on Cleveland’s all-time single-season strikeout list. Next up: 225 by Sam McDowell in 1966. Kluber also joined McDowell (six times), Bob Feller (five), Perry (twice), Herb Score (twice) and Tiant as the only Indians pitchers to have a season with at least 220 punchouts.

SECOND: Kluber’s start got off to an interesting start. Against the first nine hitters he faced, the right-hander stayed exclusively within the fastball family. His first 27 pitches were two-seam sinkers before he finally fired an 88-mph cutter to Tyler Flowers, the last hitter in Chicago’s lineup. It wasn’t until his 31st pitch (against the 10th batter he faced) that Kluber showed off his slider.

Callaway said early strategy was a credit to catcher Yan Gomes.

“That’s what was Gomer was calling,” Callaway said. “Kluber’s going to stick with Gomer. I asked him about that when we were walking up the ramp. I said, ‘Did you try to go first nine guys all fastballs?’ He was like, ‘Maybe that was Gomer’s plan. I just kind of threw what Gomer called.'”

It worked. Through the first three innings, Kluber had just two strikeouts, but he created 8 outs on the ground. One more would-be groundout in that span turned into an error (by rookie first baseman Jesus Aguilar) and unearned run. From the fifth through the ninth innings, Kluber began to work his cutter and slider in more often, striking out six in that span.

“Any time you can do that and establish your fastball like that,” Callaway said, “you don’t give away your good stuff. If you can get through three innings with your fastball, you should do it every time. Establish your fastball. Establish that fastball command. Make them really respect that. Then, your offspeed stuff is going to be dominant the rest of the game. That’s kind of what we saw.”

In terms of efficiency, Kluber threw 71-percent strikes (74-of-104) and generated 19 outs on three or fewer pitches. He had 24 at-bats end in three pitches or fewer, and 11 at-bats end on two or fewer pitches.

Kluber was also extremely successful against White Sox slugger Jose Abreu, who entered the game sporting a robust .462 average off the pitcher in 13 at-bats. In their previous meeting, Abreu collected three hits and saw 22 pitches (all sinkers and cutters) in four trips to the plate. This time, Kluber needed only 10 total pitches to get strike Abreu out once and create three groundouts. In that span, Kluber stuck with a similar approach, using his slider just once against the rookie phenom.

“I think it was just a matter of executing,” Kluber said. “Last time I faced him I made some good pitches, but he still got hits off me. That’s one of those things where, certain nights, a hitter that good you can make your pitches and he’s still going to get his hits.”

THIRD: During his daily pregame meeting with reporters, Francona spoke highly of rookie shortstop Jose Ramirez’s growing confidence and steady play since being given a starting role. All Ramirez did then was go 3-for-4 with a stolen base and a run-scoring triple that broke open a 1-1 deadlock in the seventh inning.

“He definitely had an affect on the game tonight,” Francona said,

Added Kluber: “He’s been a sparkpug for us. He brings a lot of energy every day. He’s played a great shortstop and he’s gotten more comfortable. He’s starting to do really well at the plate in the two hole. He’s situationally hitting and he’s getting big hits for us.”

Since Aug. 9, when Ramirez’s season average sat at just .174, he has hit at a .326 (28-for-86) clip with six stolen bases, six sac bunts, eight extra-base hits, nine RBIs and 12 runs for the Tribe. Since moving to the No. 2 spot in the lineup on a regular basis on Aug. 16, he’s hit .319 (23-for-72). Overall as the Indians’ second hitter, Ramirez has hit .337 (29-for-86) with five thefts, seven sacs, eight extra-base hits, eight RBIs and 12 runs.

HOME: Two more things should not go unnoticed from Saturday’s game. First, center fielder Michael Bourn made an impressive running, diving catch to rob Adam Eaton of a would-be RBI hit in the fifth inning. The catch ended the inning with an exclamation point, stranding runners on first and second base for Chicago with the game in a 1-1 tie.

“That was big,” Francona said. “That was really big, because that ball looked like it was in no-man’s land and he kind of came out of nowhere.”

It should also be noted that Carlos Santana hit his third homer in a span of six games (and fourth in his past nine contests). He leads the Indians with 25 long balls this season. He also drew a walk, giving him an American League-high 99 free passes this season. One more walk will put Santana in an exclusive group of Indians hitters, too.

Over the past 100 seasons, only Travis Hafner (2006), Jim Thome (six times, most recently in 2002), Andre Thornton (1982) and Al Rosen (1950) enjoyed a season with at least 25 homers and 100 walks for the Indians. Over the past five years, here are the only Major Leagues to accomplish the feat: Mike Trout (2013), Adam Dunn (2012), Miguel Cabrera (2011) and Jose Bautista (2011 and 2010).

On deck:

White Sox (63-78) at Indians (73-67)
at 1:05 p.m. ET Sunday at Progressive Field

–JB

Month in review: August

Cleveland Indians v Chicago White Sox

Pitching has helped Cleveland maintain its position in the postseason picture. Without their rotation renaissance or reliable relief corps, the Indians would currently be bemoaning the lack of consistency from their bats.

Following a 7-0 rout of the Tigers on Wednesday night, Tribe catcher Yan Gomes was asked where his team would be right now without the performance of the pitchers.

“You guys tell me,” Gomes said. “These guys have been stepping it up. Now, it’s time for the hitters to step it up for them.”

It’s Sept. 3 for another half hour, but I’ll use this space tonight to do my monthly look back at the most recent four-week segment on the calendar. You’ll have to forgive me for not posting this a couple days ago. The family and I were celebrating the fifth birthday of MLBastian Jr. over the holiday weekend. But I digress…

As Gomes mentioned in the wake of Danny Salazar’s first career shutout, the offense has been sporadic in terms of support. That said, the Indians enjoyed a 17-win August and pulled closer in the playoff chase thanks to some historically-strong pitching.

Corey Kluber continued to lead the charge, but the best development in August was arguably the return to  starting role for Carlos Carrasco. Combined with his first outing in September, the righty has gone 3-0 with a 0.90 ERA in 30 innings within five starts since rejoining the starting staff. Combined with continued growth from youngsters Trevor Bauer, T.J. House and Salazar, Cleveland surprised plenty of critic by fielding the American League’s best rotation last month.

If you slice the schedule back to Aug. 9 — that arbitrary starting point is hand-picked due to the four-game stretch (with three starts of fewer than five innings) that preceded it — the Indians’ rotation has turned in a 1.92 ERA (28 ER/131.1 IP) with 141 strikeouts against 36 walks in 22 games. In August overall, Carrasco (1.82 ERA), Kluber (2.10), Salazar (2.77), House (2.89) and Bauer (3.34) did most of the heavy lifting.

The Indians need more of the same through the rest of September if they plan on repeating last year’s miracle run to the playoffs.

Here is a look back at the month that was for the Tribe…

Overall: 17-9
Record at home: 9-4
Record on road: 8-5

Offense (AL rank)

.250 AVG (7)
.308 OBP (8)
.376 SLG (9)
.683 OPS (9)
101 R (14)
221 H (10)
47 2B (t-7)
3 3B (t-9)
21 HR (t-9)
97 RBI (t-12)
21 SB (5)
72 BB (11)
217 K (10)
347 TB (10)

Notes: Not a stellar month by Cleveland’s offense, which featured plenty of youth and operated short-handed at times due to a variety of injuries. The Indians stole 21 bases, but the last time they had at least that many to go along with no more than 101 runs scored was August 2012 (that horrendous 5-24 month). There must be something about August. In each of the past three Augusts (’12, ’13, ’14), the Tribe has posted 101 runs or fewer with an OPS of .683 or less. Thank the baseball gods for good pitching.

Pitching (AL rank)

17 wins (t-4)
2.39 ERA (1)
2.57 rot. ERA (1)
2.07 rel. ERA (1)
6 saves (t-9)
249 IP (9)
204 H (1)
79 R (1)
66 ER (1)
14 HR (1)
72 BB (7)
244 K (3)
.220 AVG (1)
1.11 WHIP (2)

Notes: Scan those stats one more time. You’re looking at one of the best months by a staff in American League history. This marked the first time in the past 100 years that an AL team had at least 240 innings, 244 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.39 or better. Only two National League teams (Dodgers in Aug. 2013 and Giants in Sept/Oct. 2010) have accomplished the feat. The 2.39 ERA was the best in any month by a Cleveland team since May 1972. Remove the strikeouts and May 1968, Aug. 1954, Sept/Oct. 1948, July 1918 and June 1917 are the only other months in which a Cleveland team had at least 240 innings and an ERA of 2.39 or better.

Player of the Month: OF Michael Brantley
Stats: .286/.327/.467/.794, 3 HR, 10 2B, 19 RBI, 10 R, 5 SB, 26 games

Notes: It was a down month overall for the Tribe, but Brantley — Cleveland’s steadiest bat all year — provided a solid showing. He became only the fifth player in the past decade to have at least five stolen bases, 10 runs, 13 extra-base hits and 19 RBIs in a month. The others: Jason Kipnis (May and June in 2013), Asdrubal Cabrera (May 2011), Shin-Soo Choo (Sept/Oct. 2010) and Grady Sizemore (May 2006).

Previous ’14 winners: OF David Murphy (April), Brantley (May), 3B Lonnie Chisenhall (June), 1B Carlos Santana (July)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Corey Kluber
Stats: 2-2, 2.10 ERA, 34.1 IP, 43 K, 11 BB, .227 AVG, 1.19 WHIP, 5 starts

Notes: With apologies to Carrasco, who easily was the best story of the month for the Indians, Kluber logged more innings and continued on as Cleveland’s rotation leader. This marked the third month this season (also July and August) that Kluber had at least 34 innings and 40 strikeouts with an ERA of 2.10 or better. The last Cleveland pitcher to have three such months in a single year was Gaylord Perry in 1972. Since 1980, the only Indians pitchers beyond Kluber to have that type of line for a single month are Ubaldo Jimenez (2013), CC Sabathia (once each in the ’05, ’06 and ’08 seasons), Bartolo Colon (2000) and Len Barker (once in ’80 and once in ’81).

Previous ’14 winners: RHP Zach McAllister (April), Kluber (May, June, July)

Reliever of the Month: RHP Bryan Shaw
Stats: 1-0, 0.55 ERA, 16.1 IP, 12 K, 1 BB, .169 AVG, 0.67 WHIP, 1 save, 17 games

Notes: It should not surprise you that Shaw leads the Indians’ bullpen in innings (141.2) and pitches (2,308) over the 2013-14 seasons combined. In August, he joined Bobby Howry (2005), Jerry Dipoto (1993), Sid Monge (1979), Eddie Fisher (1968) and Ted Abernathy (1963) as the only pitchers in Cleveland history to appear in at least 17 games in a month. Fisher has the previous low for ERA (1.50) among that group. In fact, in terms of MLB history, Shaw joined JC Romero (2007), Salomon Torres (2005), Julian Tavarez (1997) and Rich Rodriguez (1997) as the only pitchers in the past 100 seasons to have at least 17 games and an ERA of 0.55 or better in a single month.

Previous ’14 winners: Shaw (April, May), Allen (June, July)

Game of the Month (hitter): CF Michael Bourn
Aug. 28 at White Sox: 3-for-5, 2 3B, 1 R, 7 total bases

Notes: This game stood out on its own, but it also was notable due to the fact that it marked Bourn’s second two-triple game of the season. Since 1941, Bourn and Kenny Lofton (three such games in 1995) are the only Cleveland batters with at least two two-triple games in the same season. Bourn is the first to achieve the feat in the Majors since 2011 (Jose Reyes, three; Austin Jackson, two).

Game of the Month (pitcher): RHP Cody Allen
Aug. 28 at White Sox: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R/ER, 0 BB, 4 K, save

Notes: I typically reserve this category for a starter, but Allen’s save in Chicago was extremely unique. With this performance, Allen became only the second Indians pitcher in the past 100 seasons to turn in a four-out, four-strikeout save. The only other Cleveland hurler to achieve the feat was Dave LaRoche on July 28, 1976.

———————————————————————————–

Minor League standouts for August

Triple-A Columbus

Player of the Month: 1B Jesus Aguilar
Stats: .365/.441/.615/1.056, 5 HR, 14 XBH, 13 RBI, 14 BB, 19 R, 25 games

Previous ’14 winners: Aguilar (April), OF Matt Carson (May), C Roberto Perez (June), 3B Giovanny Urshela (July)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Bryan Price
Stats: 1.35 ERA, 13.1 IP, 18 K, 0 BB, .109 AVG, 0.38 WHIP, 9 games

Previous ’14 winners: RHP Trevor Bauer (April), LHP Nick Hagadone (May), RHP Austin Adams (June), RHP Tyler Cloyd (July)

Double-A Akron

Player of the Month: OF Anthony Gallas
Stats: .269/.310/.481/.791, 6 HR, 10 XBH, 19 RBI, 11 R, 28 H, 27 games

Previous ’14 winners: 3B Giovanny Urshela (April), OF Tyler Naquin (May, June), Gallas (July)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Louis Head
Stats: 0.00 ERA, 14.1 IP, 18 K, 3 BB, .180 AVG, 0.84 WHIP, 9 games

Previous ’14 winners: LHP Kyle Crockett (April), RHP Tyler Sturdevant (May), RHP Bryan Price (June), LHP Giovanni Soto (July)

Class A (high) Carolina

Player of the Month: 3B Yandy Diaz
Stats: .290/.431/.409/.840, 1 HR, 6 XBH, 10 RBI, 15 R, 21 BB, 27 games

Previous ’14 winners: SS Erik Gonzalez (April), OF Anthony Gallas (May), OF Luigi Rodriguez (June), INF Yhoxian Medina (July)

Pitcher of the Month: LHP Ryan Merritt
Stats: 3-0, 2.53 ERA, 32 IP, 24 K, 2 BB, .250 AVG, 1.03 WHIP, 5 starts

Previous ’14 winners: Merritt (April, May, June), RHP Jacob Lee (July)

Class A (low) Lake County

Player of the Month: 1B Nellie Rodriguez
Stats: .308/.403/.561/.964, 5 HR, 17 XBH, 28 RBI, 19 R, 17 BB, 28 games

Previous ’14 winners: OF Cody Farrell (April), INF Paul Hendrix (May), INF Claudio Bautista (June), OF Clint Frazier (July)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Mitch Brown
Stats: 5-0, 0.78 ERA, 34.2 IP, 35 K, 7 BB, .195 AVG, 0.89 WHIP, 6 starts

Previous ’14 winners: RHP Jordan Milbrath (April), RHP Robbie Aviles (May), RHP Ben Heller (June), LHP Wander Beras (July)

Class A (short season) Mahoning Valley

Player of the Month: OF Bradley Zimmer
Stats: .346/.477/.538/1.015, 2 HR, 5 XBH, 12 RBI, 11 R, 6 SB, 15 games

Previous ’14 winners: OF Jorge Martinez (June), Zimmer (July)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP J.P. Feyereisen
Stats: 0.00 ERA, 7.2 IP, 11 K, 0 BB, .115 AVG, 0.39 WHIP, 2 saves, 8 games

Previous ’14 winners: RHP Justin Garcia (June), LHP Sean Brady (July)

Arizona (Rookie) League

Player of the Month: 1B Bobby Bradley
Stats: .346/.368/.692/1.061, 3 HR, 9 XBH, 19 RBI, 17 R, 14 games

Previous ’14 winners: 1B Emmanuel Tapia (June), Bradley (July)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Jared Robinson
Stats: 0.90 ERA, 10 IP, 9 K, 1 BB, .184 AVG, 0.80 WHIP, 4 games

Previous ’14 winners: LHP Thomas Pannone (June), RHP Cortland Cox (July)

Dominican Summer League

Player of the Month: INF Jorma Rodriguez
Stats: .386/.526/.491/1.018, 5 XBH, 10 RBI, 11 R, 18 BB, 22 H, 18 games

Previous ’14 winners: OF Gabriel Mejia (June, July)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Daniel Gomez
Stats: 3-0, 0.00 ERA, 23 IP, 24 K, 1 BB, .107 AVG, 0.39 WHIP, 4 starts

Previous ’14 winners: RHP  Cesar Ventura (June), RHP Luis Jimenez

———————————

Month in review: April
Month in review: May
Month in review: June
Month in review: July

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 132

828CookieFinal: Indians 3, White Sox 2

FIRST: The Indians hoped that Carlos Carrasco would carry the mentality of a late-inning reliever into his role as a starter in April. It took a rough opening act, and then a three-month stint back in the bullpen, for the big righty to figure out what that meant.

When Carrasco was sitting at 98-99 mph in the first inning on Thursday night, it was easy to see that he’s understanding and embracing what manager Terry Francona sums up nicely as “attack mode.”

“It’s something I learned in the bullpen: attack,” Carrasco said. “That’s what pitching’s about.”

It’s easy to say, and now Carrasco is making it look easy to do.

In one of the more incredible developments of this season — a story that once again has put the work of pitching coach Mickey Callaway and bullpen coach Kevin Cash on display — Carrasco has emerged as a formidable starting weapon for the Tribe. Four starts a season does not make, but it counts as a trend, and it’s the kind of trend Cleveland desperately needed in this season filled with starting pitching turmoil.

Against the White Sox, who dropped two of three to the Tribe this week, Carrasco spun 6.2 strong innings with his lone “mistake” an RBI single to slugger Jose Abreu (We’ll get to the quotation marks in the next item). Carrasco struck out seven, scattered four hits, walked one and ended with 71-percent strikes (73-of-103). It was the kind of line that has been the norm of late for the starter-turned-reliever-turned-starter-turned-reliever-turned-starter.

“He continues to do it,” Francona said. “He came out, he established his fastball, he held it. Especially when he kind of saw the end coming, he reached back for a little more. He had a good touch on his breaking ball and his changeup.”

The move to from the bullpen to the rotation was helped along by both a handful of off-days — allowing Francona to have a rested bullpen on high alert — and a steady showing by Carrasco. Over his last six games (the last four being starts), Carrasco’s pitch count has climbed in this manner: 21-59-77-79-90-103. Carrasco’s efficiency along the way has made this whole thing work.

“He’s in great shape. He’s a strong kid,” Francona said. “Fortunately, the way he’s pitched, he’s almost gone in increments, like 60, 70, 80, 90, 100. It’s worked out really well, where he hasn’t had a big increase in each game. And part of that is because he’s pitching so well. It’s been really good.”

Over his past four starts, Carrasco has gone 3-0 with a 0.73 ERA, 0.57 WHIP and a .131 (11-for-84) opponents’ average. In 24.2 innings in that span, the righty has 24 strikeouts, three walks and a 69-percent strike rate. Over his past 30 games, dating back to when he was pulled out of the rotation in April after going 0-3 with a6.95 ERA in four starts, Carrasco has a 1.73 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and .187 (45-for-241) opponents’ average in 67.2 innings (63 strikeouts against 12 walks).

“It’s miraculous, man,” Indians center fielder Michael Bourn said. “I’ve always thought he has great stuff. I’ve seen him since he’s 19. We came up in the Phillies organization almost together. So, I’ve been seeing him for a long time. People don’t understand, when you play at this level, it takes more than one years or two years to get adjusted to it.”

SECOND: I think we can forgive Cookie for the lone blemish on his pitching line.

The RBI single that Abreu delivered came on an 87-mph slider that was out of the strike zone. Chicago’s rookie slugger reached out and flicked the pitch into left-center, scoring Adam Eaton from third base. It was similar to Wednesday night, when Abreu saw seven cutters from Corey Kluber and sent the last one, on a full count, up the middle for the game’s decisive hit in the seventh.

“We’re finding out the hard way,” Francona said, “that with two strikes, you can’t expand the plate too much with Abreu. He can reach just about anything. That’s been a thorn in our side, and probably the rest of the league, too. That’s the only run he gave up.”

Carrasco was able to shrug it off, because he felt he executed the pitch.

“That was a good pitch,” Carrasco said. “I think he was looking for that, because I think I threw it before and I threw another one down and he took it.”

The Indians have found that the best way to attack Abreu is to try to mix things up vertically, or get him to offer at pitches with more up-and-down movement. That might explain why a pitcher as talented as Kluber — whose entire arsenal is more based on lateral movement — has struggled to the tune of a .462 average against Abreu.

In the three-game series, Abreu went 5-for-11 in the batter’s box with two doubles, two walks, two runs and three RBIs against Cleveland. On the season, the first baseman has hit .294 with five homers, 10 RBIs and a .627 slugging percentage in 13 games against the Indians.

Great, Paul Konerko is retiring, but the White Sox already have found their new Tribe killer.

THIRD: It appears that Bourn is feeling just fine these days, following all the left hamstring woes. He robbed Konerko of a hit on Tuesday night with a diving catch that required a perfect sprint. In the finale on Thursday, all the center fielder did was collect a pair of triples in the win over the White Sox.

“I got tested pretty well today,” Bourn said with a smile.

This actually marked Bourn’s second two-triple game of the season for the Tribe. He’s the first hitter in the Majors to have at least a pair of two-triple games in the same year since 2011 (Jose Reyes, 3; Austin Jackson, 2). Bourn and Kenny Lofton (3 such games in 1995) are the only Cleveland hitters to accomplish that feat since 1941.

The others to do so for Cleveland in the past 100 seasons: Gee Walker (2 in 1941), Earl Averill (2 in 1932), Lew Fonseca (2 in 1929), Bill Wambsganss (2 in 1920) and Larry Gardner (2 in 1920).

In the first inning, Bourn tripled and then scored on Jose Ramirez’s groundout to shortstop Alexei Ramirez. On the play, Bourn hesitated, but then sprinted for the plate as soon as the shortstop released the relay throw to first base. Bourn didn’t go on contact, because he had a bad angle and couldn’t tell right away if third baseman Conor Gillaspie had a shot at the chopper. But, as soon Ramirez gloved the ball, Bourn knew he still had time to score.

“I had a bad read,” Bourn said. “I didn’t know if the third baseman had a chance at making the play when he went at the ball. Once I saw it bounce and the shortstop got it, I knew he wasn’t going to be focused on me. As soon as I saw him release it, I was off and running. I felt like it was hard for him to make the throw all the way across and then all the way back home.”

That’s the Bourn Cleveland needs to see more often.

“He desperately wants to be that sparkplug,” Francona said. “And you can see — two triples — he’s pretty into it. He knows how important he is at the top of the lineup.”

HOME: And what about Cody Allen’s importance to the end of the game? In the eighth inning, Bryan Shaw gave up a two-out single and then third baseman Mike Aviles booted a ball for an error, putting runners on first and second base for Adam Dunn. As it happens, Allen entered Thursday holding lefties to a .125 average with 47-percent of the at-bats (104) ending with a strikeout (49).

“When you have a big lefty,” Francona said, “to be able to go to a righty is really valuable.”

Dunn won this battle, sending a duck snort into right field — just out of the reach of second baseman Jason Kipnis — to score a run to pull Chicago within one. No harm done. Allen recovered with four consecutive strikeouts — one to end the eighth and three to finish off the ninth for his 18th save.

A local reporter asked Francona is that was as dominant a four-out save as he’s seen in recent years.

“Oh boy, I don’t know,” Francona said sharply. “I think he had one the other day. He’s pretty good. You maybe need to get cable or something and watch him. He’s pretty good.”

Well, as it happens, it marked only the second four-out, four-strikeout save in the past 100 seasons for a Cleveland reliever. The only other one came on July 28, 1976, when Dave LaRoche achieved the rare feat. It’s happened three times in the American League this season. The other arms to do it are Josh Fields (Aug. 5) and Ernesto Frieri (April 14).

EXTRA: In the sixth inning, Kipnis came through with an RBI single and then went from first to third on a base his by Aviles. On that sprint to the hot corner, Kipnis slid in head-first and was accidentally kicked in the face by Gillaspie, as the third baseman fielded the relay throw. Kipnis was checked out by the trainers and stayed in the game. Said Francona: “He got like a heel to the nose, and I know it hurt and I know he’s probably going to be black and blue. But I was relieved, because I thought maybe it was a finger or something. He’s a pretty tough kid. He’ll be all right.”

NOTE: I will not be making the trip to Kansas City for the upcoming division clash between the Tribe and Royals. You’ll have to forgive me for taking a few days off. It’s MLBastian Jr.’s fifth birthday and it’ll be family time until I return to Indians.com coverage on Tuesday in Cleveland. Keep checking the site and following @Indians and @tribeinsider on Twitter for updates.

On deck:

Indians (68-64) at Royals (74-59)
at 8:10 p.m. ET Friday at Kauffman Stadium

–JB

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