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Covering the Bases: Game 48

Clevinger

Some notes and quotes from Sunday’s 6-4 loss to Baltimore.

FIRST: Every pitcher who is fortunate enough to reach the Major Leagues learns a valuable lesson. Three starts into his big league career, Mike Clevinger has received that lesson loud and clear from the hitters he has faced.

“It’s just how easily a mistake is capitalized on,” Clevinger said.

A pitcher with the stuff that Clevinger has can get away with slight missteps in the Minors. In The Show, the batters are paid good money to exploit those same missteps. Through his first three outings in the big leagues, Clevinger has displayed the makings of a talented pitcher, but also the youthfulness of a rookie getting his first taste.

With his latest effort, which consisted of 89 pitches in four innings, Clevinger saw his season ERA climb to 8.79 through 14.1 innings.

“I don’t think these three starts are going to define who he is in his Major League career,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I think he’s going to do some really good things. Like a lot of inexperienced pitchers, players, you’re kind of learning on the run right now. I think when you make a mistake here, you pay for it more.”

At 25 years old, Clevinger isn’t exactly a young pup, but he is low on mileage thanks to Tommy John surgery a few years back. He is also still only a couple years into the mechanical overhaul that he went through after being acquired by Cleveland in 2014. it would be ill-advised to draw any sweeping conclusions from his three outings to date.

Think back to Corey Kluber. Through his Age-26 season, the righty had a 5.35 ERA and only 15 big league appearances under his belt. Or, think back to Carlos Carrasco. He went 10-15 with a 4.93 ERA before his Age-25 season, which he actually missed due to Tommy John. More often than not, it takes time for pitchers to learn, adjust and develop into big league starters.

“There’s no part of me that doesn’t think I belong,” Clevinger said. “That’s not there. It’s consistency and finding that even keel.”

Clevinger looked to have found that after the three-run double he gave up to Mark Trumbo in the first inning. Following that hit, Baltimore went 2-for-12 against the right-hander the rest of the way. In the second, Clevinger ended the inning with a nice 3-2 slider to Manny Machado, who swung through the ninth pitch of the at-bat for a strikeout.

“It finally felt like I was pitching instead of throwing,” Clevinger said. “It kind of felt like I was throwing at the beginning and I was out of my mechanics. I wasn’t there mentally, it didn’t feel like, until I got into the second and started finding my groove.”

SECOND: As alluded to above, a key moment in this one arrived in the first inning, when Clevinger squared off against Trumbo with the bases loaded and one out.

Clevinger reached this encounter after issuing a leadoff walk to Adam Jones, allowing a one-out single to Machado and then walking Chris Davis. After falling behind with a first-pitch changeup in the dirt, the rookie pitcher stuck with fastballs the rest of the way against Trumbo.

Trumbo

As you can see, the seventh pitch was over the middle and slightly up. That’s the ol’ wheelhouse, and Trumbo licked his chops and sent the pitch rocketing to the big green wall in left at a speed of 116 mph off the bat. It was damage enough to score three runs for the Orioles.

“With the way my fastball command was in the first inning,” Clevinger said, “it was hit or miss with where that was going to go. I was trying to throw a fastball away. Usually, when I have my command going, I might not have even gone to … two fastballs in a row 3-2 to him right there. But, I kind of cornered myself into throwing that pitch either way and I left it up and he capitalized.”

THIRD: After Clevinger was pulled from the contest, reliever Dan Otero took over on the hill and gave the Tribe a terrific effort. The righty faced seven batters, retiring six to spin a pair of shutout innings that halted Baltimore’s offense in its tracks.

“Oh man,” Francona said. “At the time, that completely gave us a chance to win the game. He calmed the game down for us. We didn’t win, but it was exactly what we needed. We needed to slow them down, give ourselves a chance.”

Down 4-0, the Indians fought back into a tie thanks to a trio of home runs.

Carlos Santana led off the fourth with a blast to right field. Statcast measured it at 99.5 mph off the bat and gave it a projected distance of 402 feet. Mike Napoli one-upped him with a two-run shot later in the fourth. That one had a 101.4 exit velo and flew 407 feet. Napoli’s blast came off Chris Tillman’s knuckle-curve.

Not to be out-done, Jason Kipnis came through with a shot of his own in the sixth. His was 102.6 mph off the lumber and sailed 408 feet out to right field.

HOME: This defeat, however, was defined by missed chances in the later innings.

In the ninth, Marlon Byrd and Rajai Davis came through with consecutive singles to get things started against closer Zach Britton. Britton then got Santana to ground out before fanning Kipnis and Francisco Lindor to end the game.

The biggest at-bat of the afternoon came in the eighth, though.

With one out and runners on first and second, Orioles reliever Darren O’Day elected to intentionally walk Jose Ramirez. Not only did this set up a potential double play, but it helped Baltimore avoid facing one of the Tribe’s best clutch hitters this season (which I wrote about pregame).

That move prompted Francona to turn to Lonnie Chisenhall as a pinch-hitter for Juan Uribe. SAMPLE SIZE ALERT! on all of this, but… Chisenhall headed to the plate with one career homer off O’Day, plus a .375 average with RISP/less than two outs and a .308 average with RISP this season.

Chisenhall then engaged in a nine-pitch battle with O’Day.

“Chisenhall’s had some luck against him,” Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said. “I like Darren against anyone, but it was cat and mouse.”

Chiz

Only twice in the at-bat did O’Day use his slider. The first time — on the fourth pitch — it was inside and Chisenhall fought it off during a series of six straight foul balls. For the most part, O’Day also stayed elevated and inside, with the exception of his third pitch — a low sinker that Chisenhall fouled off, too.

Some of the fouled pitches were out of the strike zone, but as Chisenhall put it: “He kept pounding me in, pounding me in, close enough [that] I couldn’t take it. I kept fouling it off.”

Finally, following a run of four straight fastballs, O’Day went back to the slider on his ninth pitch. It ventured farther outside than any of the previous eight pitches, and the offspeed offering just locked Chisenhall up. The Tribe outfielder began walking back to the dugout immediately. He knew it was strike three.

“He had a really good at-bat,” Francona said. “O’Day kept elevating, elevating, elevating fastballs. And then, he finally threw a breaking ball that froze him.”

“I know it caught enough of the plate,” Chisenhall said. “I was frustrated with myself. It was the kind of a pitch I like to hit off of guys like that. Even after throwing five or six in like that, he just got me. It’s a real tough at-bat. … Unfortunately, I couldn’t pull the trigger on that last one. It was frustrating.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 47

Baltimore Orioles v Cleveland Indians

Some notes and quotes from Saturday’s 11-4 win over Baltimore.

FIRST: What were you doing 1,061 days ago?

On July 2, 2013, the Indians were coming off a fifth straight win and they moved into sole possession of first place in the American League Central. Perhaps you, loyal Tribe fan, thought Cleveland would remain their for a while. Well…

… that brings us to today.

With their win over the Orioles — Cleveland’s ninth in the past 13 games — the Indians moved back into sole possession of first in the AL Central. It’s the first time the Tribe can claim as much since that date three years ago. This is the first time the Indians have been in first at all since they were 1-0 to start the 2014 campaign.

What is remarkable about this run to the top of the division is that Cleveland has accomplished it without Carlos Carrasco and Michael Brantley for the bulk of this season.

“There’s people filling in,” Indians first baseman Mike Napoli said. “They’re doing a good job of coming up here and competing and doing what they can. It’s going to take all of us to do this. We can’t just have individuals out there on their own playing. I think we’ve done a good job of sticking together and getting what pitchers have been giving us, and passing it on to the next guy.

“It’s something that we’re going to have to continue to do to become more of a group and move forward.”

SECOND: During Cleveland’s recent trip to Boston, I caught up with Red Sox third-base coach Brian Butterfield. Butter is one of the best third-base coaches and infield instructors in the game, and he loves him some Mike  Napoli.

When Napoli played for Boston, Butterfield would instruct younger players in camp to take their cues from the first baseman. Butter is incredibly detail-oriented and that characteristic is one reason he enjoyed having Napoli so much.

“Every little thing in the game is important to him,” Butterfield said. “People look at him and they see a big strong guy that has power and they think: ‘OK, one-dimensional.’ He’s one of the best baserunners in the league. He’s very detailed. If he had to drop down sacrifice bunts, he would do that for you. If he was asked to hit and run, he would do that for you.

“When you run your team defense, he knows where everybody is supposed to be, especially his position. If his toes need to be on the line, they’re going to be exactly on the line. He’s not going to fall an inch short.

“I love everything about him. The thing that makes him such a great baserunner is he cares about it. He takes great pride in it and he’s absolutely fearless.”

The baserunning element came into play on Saturday.

Any avid Tribe fan reading this should recall that Ubaldo Jimenez is not great at holding baserunners. It goes without saying that opposing teams — especially the pitcher’s former team — know this about the Big U. Cleveland exploited it, too, stealing four of five bases Saturday against the lanky right-hander.

In the Tribe’s four-run first, Napoli led the charge on a key double steal.

Guess what he noticed about Jimenez?

“He was not really paying too much attention,” Napoli said. “He looked home and would go. So, as soon as he turned his head, I just went.”

Napoli beat the throw from catcher Matt Wieters to third base, and Jose Ramirez followed suit behind him at second. Two batters later, Yan Gomes brought them both home with an single to right field.

“Everyone wants to talk about someone has to be fast to be a good baserunner,” Napoli said. “But, it takes instincts. It takes thinking ahead and having a plan. If a guy is going to give you a base, go and take it. That’s how I was brought up. I think we do a good job here.”

THIRD: Running the bases was not only critical in Saturday’s win, it’s been a strength of Cleveland’s all season long.

With Saturday’s performance, the Indians increased their team baserunning rating to 8.8, which ranks first in the American League. Heading into Saturday, Cleveland also ranked first with an extra-base taken rate of 52 percent. The Tribe’s 37 steals (and 80.4 percent success rate) both rank second in the AL.

“It’s one of the things I’m most proud of with our guys,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “It’s something we talked about the first day of Spring Training. … I think the way you run the bases, it obviously helps in a number of ways during the game. But, I think guys that run the bases correctly, regardless of whether they got hits or not, are the same guys that back up bases.

“It goes a long way towards how you’re going to play the game. I think our guys have done a really good job in that area.”

HOME: The Indians had the upper hand on Saturday when the lineup cards were exchanged. First of all, the struggling Jimenez was on the mound. Second, Pedro Alvarez was manning third base. Predictably, Jimenez labored (1.2 innings) and Alvarez made two of Baltimore’s four errors, paving the way for three runs.

That said, Cleveland did what good teams do: It took advantage on a day things were stacked up in its favor. Eight players scored at least one run. Five knocked in at least one. Four players had multi-hit games. There were not many huge hits, but rather a collection of well-timed ones for a strong all-around offensive showing.

“How many times do you see a guy where you let him off the hook,” Francona said, “and then they settle into the game? We did a good job of not allowing that to happen. It made for a better game for us, because you could see [the Orioles] coming.”

It was more than sufficient for Danny Salazar, who gave the Indians a solid outing, in which he allowed two runs on six hits in six innings. The righty wasn’t at his best, but the early lead played in his favor.

“That was great,” Salazar said of the early cushion. “[That] gives you a little more confidence to go out there and to work really strong so they can’t come back. I think that’s big. I think that makes the game a little bit easier for us.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Cleveland’s march to 18,000

Military WWI 1942.77 Training_PD

When the Indians take the diamond at U.S. Cellular Field tonight, and Mat Latos fires the first pitch of the day, it will mark the beginning of the 18,000th game in Cleveland’s franchise history.

For a moment, though, there was a bit of confusion over the timing of this milestone. One research outlet had the Indians at 17,998 games, while another had them at 17,999. The Indians reached out to Elias Sports Bureau to confirm that Game 1 of tonight’s twin bill in Chicago would indeed be No. 18,0000.

Elias confirmed as much. Cleveland enters the day with 9,119 wins, 8,791 losses and 89 ties. There was, however, a slight caveat. Elias also noted that, “It’s 18,001 if you include the two games which the Indians forfeited in 1918.”

It turns out that Cleveland did not show up to a scheduled doubleheader in St. Louis on what was the planned final day of the war-shortened 1918 season. For some time, those two games counted as losses for Cleveland in the American League record books, and two wins for St. Louis. Public websites have since removed those games from the win-loss records.

Jeremy Feador, the Indians’ team curator, sent along this nugget from the Plain Dealer back when this happened:

“At the next American league meeting,” said [Red Sox owner Harry Frazee], “six clubs are going to ask why Cleveland did not play two games at St. Louis. It was the greatest violation of the league constitution in the history of the league. Cleveland cannot hope to escape with a fine of $1,000 per game. Such a fine is too trivial for such an offense.”

Jim Dunn, president of the Indians, says that Frazee can go as far as he likes as he announced his intention of allowing his team to disband prior to Labor Day after a conference with his players who declined to make the trip to St. Louis. At the office of the American League it was said that Dunn would have no cause for worry as the Cleveland magnate had merely obeyed Secretary Baker’s [Newton Baker, U.S. Secretary of the War during World War I] order to the letter and no one could criticize him or his players for so doing.

Them’s fightin’ words!

Anyways, today marks Cleveland’s 18,000th game, whether Harry Frazee — the guy who sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees, by the way — likes it or not. Game 2 of tonight’s doubleheader in Chicago will also be the 18,000th game in the history of the Chicago White Sox.

As it happens, Cleveland took on Chicago in the first-ever American League game — Game No. 1 for both franchises — way back on April 24, 1901. They met for this base ball affair at the South Side Grounds.

Bill “Chick” Hoffer to the mound for the Cleveland Blues against Roy “Boy Wonder” Patterson of the Chicago White Stockings. Based on which publication you believe, there were between 9,000-14,000 fans at this game, which was won by the White Stockings by a count of 8 to 2.

Baseball History Daily has a lot of info on the game, along with this nugget from the Chicago Tribune:

“Under the fairest skies the weather clerk could select from his varied stock of April goods; with a championship pennant floating high above them from the proudest pine of all Michigan forests; with 9,000 fans to cheer them from a pent-up enthusiasm that burst forth at every possible opportunity, the White Stockings open the American League baseball season on the South Side Grounds yesterday with a clean-cut victory over the aggregation from Cleveland.”

And from the Chicago Inter Ocean:

“As a grand opening it was an unqualified success, something which Charles Comiskey can look back upon in after years with all the serene satisfaction of a baby who has just swallowed a tin Indian.  As a ball game it was a hideous nightmare, a cold and icy vision of the darksome night, a living horror, let loose to stalk adown a diamond field, hooting hoarsely…With pomp and ceremonial, with braying of bands and braying of fans, with an enormous audience gathered in the frapped stands, the American League season of 1901 was duly opened in Chicago, and the real champions, Comiskey’s White Stockings, began their campaign by giving the Clevelands all that was coming to them.  The afternoon was cold; the stands were Greenland, and the bleachers bore nets of icicles.  Yet 10,000 cranks and crankesses, keen devotees of the game.”

Also from the Chicago Inter Ocean, on Dummy Hoy‘s attempt to steal third in the sixth:

“[Catcher Bob] Wood threw wild, and [Bill] Bradley scooped up the ball way off from the cushion. As Bradley, with no thought of the runner, turned to return the ball to the pitcher, Hoy, losing his balance as he ran, slid clear over third, out into the field and right into Bradley, his knee striking the ball clasped in Bradley’s hand. It was possibly the first case on record of a man’s forcing a put-out on himself, and the crowd marveled greatly, perceiving that the science of the game had much advanced, and that there were new freckles every day.”

Man, old base ball writing was the best.

Enjoy No. 18,000. Here’s to 18,000 more.

(top photo from baseballhall.org)

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 41

Cleveland Indians v Boston Red Sox

Some notes and quotes from Sunday’s 5-2 loss to the Red Sox.

FIRST: Danny Salazar gushed about Davis Ortiz on Saturday. The pitcher spoke about growing up a Red Sox fan and pulling for Big Papi. With Ortiz retiring, Salazar wanted to face him one last time.

Salazar even went as far as saying: “I don’t care if he gets a home run or I strike him out. I just want to do it.”

Well, that statement was put to the test on Sunday.

Ortiz hit that home run — the 514th of his career — in the fifth inning. He also knocked in a run with a single in the first and drove in another with a double in the second. After Salazar exited the game, Ortiz shot a pitch to deep center, where the ball rattled around the wall in Fenway’s dirt triangle. Had it not then bounced up into the seats, Ortiz might have had a triple to complete a cycle.

So, was Salazar still happy he got to face Ortiz?

“Yes, yes,” said the pitcher.

Facing Ortiz is no easy task right now.

“He’s kind of on a different level right now,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “It looks like he’s playing softball.”

In their first battle, Salazar stayed away from the strike zone. He started with a fastball inside and way low for a ball. He came back with a 96-mph heater up and away for a swinging strike. The third pitch was a low changeup that lacked its usual break and wound up pulled through the hole on the right side for a single.

Ortiz1

Salazar mostly stayed out of the strike zone in their second meeting, too. Only twice did he go into the zone: On a 3-1 fastball (Pitch 5) and a 3-2 fastball (Pitch 7). Following a first-pitch changeup in the dirt, Salazar suck with 96-97 mph fastballs. Ortiz fouled off three of them, but yanked the last one (97 mph) to right-center for a ground-rule double.

Ortiz2

Salazar fell behind in the third confrontation and paid for it again. After a ball-one heater that sailed high and outside, the pitcher came back with a 94-mph fastball. Ortiz smacked the low-and-away offering over the right-field wall for his homer.

Ortiz3

“He doesn’t swing at balls,” Francona said. “And, the ones he swings at, man. Even the ones he fouls off, you kind of take a deep breath. We tried not to pitch to him whenever we could, but they’ve done a good job with their lineup. If you end up walking people, they’re going to score. They’ve got a good thing going right now.”

Salazar added: “He’s hot right now. When you get behind in the count, you know you have to come back to the middle to throw a strike. He’s a guy that makes quick adjustments and I have to give him credit. He’s a really talented player and he’s been here for a long time.”

The pitcher said — given how well Ortiz is playing — he is surprised that the veteran is hanging up his spikes after this season.

“I was wondering, ‘Why is he retiring?'” Salazar said. “I know he has way more to give.”

Francona wasn’t as polite.

“I wish he would’ve retired last year,” quipped the manager.

SECOND: The Indians had a slight scare in the first inning, when Salazar was struck by a sharp comebacker off the bat of Hanley Ramirez. The baseball flew off Ramirez’s bat at 114 mph (per Statcast), hit the grass and then caromed off Salazar’s left leg just under his calf muscle.

IMG_0014

Salazar walked off the mound, dropped to a knee and then rolled onto his back while in clear pain. He was checked by head trainer James Quinlan and remained in the game after doing some walking, stretching and warm-up throws.

“It hit him hard,” Francona said. “I don’t think it’s anything other than it’s going to be a nice bruise.”

Salazar issued a walk to the next batter, but then escaped a bases-loaded jam with back-to-back strikeouts of Travis Shaw and Blake Swihart. All told, Salazar threw 40 pitches — the most he’s ever thrown in an inning. That helped run his pitch count up over 100 quickly and he was chased after 4.1 innings.

“A 40-pitch first inning. That’s hard,” Francona said. “Part of it was he wasn’t commanding. Part of it is that lineup is, from top to bottom, about as dangerous as you’re going to see. Whether they sustain it or not, I don’t know, but when you’re catching them at a time like this, in that streak that they’re in, they take some pretty good swings.

“There’s some days maybe against a different lineup, or because of Danny’s stuff, you can get by with it. But, the way they command the strike zone and the way they swing the bat, man, they make you work hard. Every pitch. Every out. Every inning is like a high-leverage, high-intensity inning.”

THIRD: Mike Napoli had a nice moment on Friday night, when the Red Sox aired a video tribute and the Fenway faithful gave him a standing O. Nap tipped his cap to the crowd in appreciation.

It was all downhill from there.

“For him to come back here, I know was pretty special,” Francona said. “But you can’t
just flick the switch the way you’re going to hit and the way you’re not.”

Napoli finished the three-game set with an 0-for-13 showing, which included nine strikeouts. From the ninth inning on Friday to the fifth inning Sunday, the first baseman struck out in eight consecutive plate appearances.

On the season, Napoli has a 37.8-percent strikeout rate, which is the highest in the Majors. His 62 strikeouts are tied for second-most in MLB, as of this writing. His 25 called strikeouts also lead baseball. Cleveland is counting on power to off-set that trend.

“That’s going to happen sometimes,” Francona said. “We’ve kind of said all along: We know there’s some swing and miss in there. But, shoot, man, he’s a tough kid. He’ll be right back in there tomorrow and he’ll be letting it fly.”

HOME: Before the game, the Indians promoted Austin Adams from Triple-A Columbus and sent lefty Kyle Crockett back to the Minors. Adams logged the final two innings for Cleveland and impressed Francona with his work.

“That was probably the highlight of the day,” Francona said. “Shoot, two innings against that lineup on 20 pitches. He got a couple quick outs. And I know the game’s late and it’s getting hard to see, but he also worked ahead and he threw his breaking ball, even when he was behind the one time. That was really god to see.”

FullSizeRender

Adams went through seven batters on 21 pitches with his lone hiccup being a ground-rule double to Ortiz. The righty fired 14 fastballs, averaging 97.5 mph and topping out at 98.7. He featured a pair of 90-mph changeups and mixed in five sliders (four getting whiffs).

“It’s great just to get up here and get back into the groove of things,” Adams said, “and go out and relax and attack hitters.”

In 14 appearances with the Clippers this year, Adams posted a 1.10 ERA with 18 strikeouts and five walks in 16.1 innings.

“Really, I’ve been just focusing on first-pitch strikes,” Adams said, “and not shying away from contact at all. It’s just, if they hit it, they hit it. And, if they don’t, keep throwing.”

Programming note: I will not be making the trip to Chicago for the upcoming series. I can’t believe I won’t be there for the 18,000th game (Game 1 on Monday) in team history! So, this space will be quiet for a few days. Catch you from Cleveland on Friday.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 40

joe-kellySome notes and quotes from Saturday’s 9-1 loss.

FIRST: Joe Kelly didn’t give the Indians many chances on Saturday evening.

The Boston right-hander had been on the disabled list for the past month with a right shoulder issue, which appeared to be just fine against Cleveland. Kelly held the Tribe to an 0-for-21 showing before Juan Uribe ended the no-hit bid, and the pitcher’s day, with a no-doubt double in the seventh.

Beyond that hit, the Indians’ only real chance at breaking through came in the fifth inning. Carlos Santana and Marlon Byrd drew back-to-back one-out walks, and Lonnie Chisenhall later worked a free pass to load the bases with two away. That set things up for Chris Gimenez, batting ninth in this one.

One thing to know about Gimenez is that he has been victimized by high fastballs over the course of his career. With the exception of an up-and-in heater in the strike zone, the catcher has clearly had troubles with elevated fastballs.

GimenezChart

Kelly would eventually get to that approach, but the righty first tried to entice Gimenez to chase. He fired a first-pitch slider way outside for ball one. Kelly then came back with a 97-mph heater into the dirt. From there, Kelly worked up.

Gimenez

“He threw me a breaking ball down and away — ball one,” Gimenez said. “I thought he was trying to overthrow a little bit and I got to a 2-0 count. I was sitting dead-red fastball middle away.”

The third pitch was a 96-mph fastball over the middle, but high in the zone, and Gimenez fouled if off for strike one. Kelly came back with another fastball (this one at 97 mph) and went high and outside. The catcher fouled it off again, pulling the count even, 2-2.

“I put two really good swings on those fastballs,” Gimenez said. “It just didn’t work out.”

“Gimenez took a couple really good swings,” Indians manager Terry Francona agreed.

For the final pitch, Kelly came back with an 89-mph slider, which he sent up and in. As Gimenez watched the pitch spinning towards the strike zone, he weighed his options.

“It’s a borderline pitch,” Gimenez said. “If I take it, it gets called a strike. If I swing, I can’t do much with it. I just tried to put the best swing I could on it.”

Gimenez chopped the pitch to the left of the mound and Kelly made a great play to snag the ball. The pitcher then fired it to catcher Ryan Hanigan, who got his foot on the plate just ahead of Carlos Santana scoring.

“Today was one of those days when not much went our way,” Gimenez said. “Especially on offense. Kelly was good today. He had his curveball working early.”

SECOND: The Red Sox carried a four-run lead into the seventh inning. It was a solid advantage in light of how Kelly was pitching, but it was hardly a hole too deep to overcome for the Tribe.

On Friday, the Indians were down 2-0 early and won 4-2. On Wednesday, Cleveland was down 6-4 and came back to win 8-7 against the Reds. Cincinnati had a 4-0 lead on Monday and then watched the Tribe pull off a 15-6 win. Those comebacks have fueled confidence among Cleveland’s hitters.

But, a mistake by Uribe in the seventh turned a 4-0 hole into a 9-0 cavern.

With one out and the bases loaded, Joba Chamberlain induced a grounder off the bat of Christian Vazquez. Uribe scooped up the ball, but hesitated after initially take a step towards third base. Had he kept going, he may have been able to step on the bag to start a potential inning-ending double play.

“It’s bases loaded and we get a doubleplay ball,” Francona said. “He ends up going home and it turned into [a situation where] we just couldn’t stop it after that. It’s unfortunate.”

Uribe tossed the baseball home and Gimenez stepped on the plate for the inning’s second out. Then, Chamberlain issued a bases-loaded walk and allowed a grand slam.

1. Where Uribe was when the ball was hit:

U1

2. Where Uribe was when he fielded the ball:

U2

What’s funny is Uribe had a similar play earlier in the game and tried to turn two when turning two wasn’t necessary. With the bags full and two outs in the third, Uribe fielded a grorunder from Hanigan, stepped on third and then flipped it to Gimenez at the plate as David Ortiz jogged home.

“He threw to me and is yelling at me to tag him,” Gimenez said with a laugh. “I’m like, ‘We play three outs in this league.’ I just walked up to Papi and tagged him and said, ‘You’re out.’ He said, ‘What are you doing?'”

“Yeah, I thought there was one out,” said Uribe, shaking his head.

The veteran didn’t make any excuses after the loss, either.

“I was thinking of going to third base, and I moved a little bit over there,” Uirbe said. “I talked to a couple guys and they told me I could’ve [tried for a double play]. This is my fault. It’s my fault. I could go to third base and go to first. When I saw I was a little bit late, I wanted to make one out, so I went to home plate. This is my fault.”

<> at Fenway Park on May 21, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.

THIRD: Trevor Bauer was hung with a loss in this one, but he didn’t pitch as poorly as his line might suggest.

The righty went five innings, in which he was charged with four runs on eight hits. He walked one and struck out none. It’s the first time in Bauer’s career as a starter that he ended an outing with no punchouts (with at least one inning logged).

“I threw the ball really well,” Bauer said. “They blooped a lot of balls in. They didn’t hit them hard. It was one of those days.”

Three of the runs allowed by Bauer came in the third, when he gave up five straight hits. One of those — a two-run single by Hanley Ramirez — nicked off Jason Kipnis’ glove and dropped into shallow right field.

“What did Hanley’s go, a foot on the outfield grass?” Bauer said. “Two runs or whatever happened on that. It’s an unfair game.”

Francona added: “Early on, they were squaring some balls up. We got the bullpen up early — I think in the third inning — and he found a way to kind of wiggle out of it. To his credit, he kind of reeled it in and stayed out there until he started the sixth.”

HOME: Let’s wrap up today with another episode of Francisco Lindor Theater.

In the sixth inning, Blake Swihart lofted a pitch down the left-field line. Lindor tracked it down on a sprint between Uribe and left fielder Marlon Byrd. Per Statcast, the shortstop hit a top speed of 17.8 mph and traveled 101 feet to make the catch with a 97.1-percent route efficiency.

One game earlier, Lindor made a running, over-the-shoulder catch in center field between Rajai Davis and Kipnis. After the game, we talked to him about his preparation and communication for those types of plays.

“I usually tell my center fielder and my left fielder every time, every day, ‘I’m going until you call me off,'” Lindor said. “That’s kind of like letting you know that I’m going. I’ll be there. If I can get to it, I’ll be there. But, as soon as you call me off, that’s your territory. I’m not going to invade it.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 39

LindorSliderPicSome notes and quotes from Friday’s 4-2 win over the Red Sox.

FIRST: Francisco Lindor brought his traveling magic show to Fenway Park on Friday night.

In the first inning, Red Sox fans got to see him not only make a barehanded grab-and-throw for an out, but also pluck a would-be bloop single out of thin air for a long running catch. They saw Lindor draw two walks and collect two singles. They watched as he stole second base and skipped to third on the play due to a throwing error by the catcher.

And, they saw this…

LindorSlider

Yes, Lindor pulled off the ol’ swim-move slide once again. But, rather than stick to doing that move at second base, the shortstop tried it out at the plate. He slid, rolled, maneuvered and then jumped and yelled in celebration.

We first saw this particular play from Lindor on Sept. 1 in Toronto last season:

LindorTORslide

Lindor has done it a handful of times since. He actually tried the same move in the third inning on Wednesday in Cincinnati. On a single to center, the shortstop tried for a double, did the swim-move slide at second base and looked safe on the replays. He was called out on that one, though, and Lindor said he thinks he did pop off the bag for a split second during the tag.

On Friday night, the play came about in the third inning, when Lindor was on third and Jose Ramirez was at the plate. Ramirez skied a pitch to center, where Boston’s Jackie Bradley Jr. made the catch. He came up firing and Lindor tagged and sprinted for home.

Catcher Christian Vazquez received the ball on a one-hopper from Bradley, who uncorked an incredibly strong and accurate throw. Vazquez was set up in foul ground, though, so Lindor moved to the inside of the plate and decided to go in head first. Sliding that way into home isn’t typically advised, but Lindor didn’t feel like he’d be in harm’s way.

“I didn’t think he was going to get to me,” Lindor said. “I didn’t think it was going to be that close. I knew the tag was going to be there, but I didn’t know his body was going to get there. … I saw the video and I’m glad I took my hand out of there.”

Indians manager Terry Francona was fine with Lindor’s approach, too.

“If he was diving into the catcher, that’s one thing,” said the manager. “But, he sees where the catcher is. It’s really like going into second. It’s not like there’s going to be contact.”

And, there wasn’t. Lindor rolled onto his side, pulled his right arm away from the tag and touched the plate with his left hand as he slid through.

“I was very, very pumped, as you saw,” Lindor said. “As soon as I hit the ground, all I thought was try to get that right hand up. I screamed, ‘Safe!’ And, as soon as I saw [the umpire] moving his hands and saying safe, I just went crazy.”

Lindor has been on a tear of late for the Tribe, too.

Since going 0-for-7 against Houston on May 11, Lindor has turned in a .486/.538/.657 slash line in eight games for Cleveland. In that time period, he has 17 hits, including one homer and three doubles. He has six RBIs, eight runs, four walks and three steals. Lindor has a multi-hit game in seven of those eight games, including the past five in a row.

“I’m just loading early and letting my eyes do the work,” Lindor said. “I let my eyes tell me what I want to do, and then let the hands release and whatever happens after that, it happens. Just load early, see the ball, let it travel and just release the barrel.”

Added Francona: “Since last June, he’s been pretty good. Sometimes, players kind of get through a period where maybe they’re getting a little tired and then get their second wind. I think the timing is really good. He looks like he’s got another step back where he’s got some life in his legs, which is good.”

SECOND: Corey Kluber was solid in this one for the Tribe, but the encouraging element to the outing was the fact that he locked in once he got a lead.

Kluber allowed one run in the first and then gave up a leadoff homer to Bradley in the second, spotting Boston a quick 2-0 lead. Cleveland’s offense then responded with a four-run showing in the third and the Indians starter made the lead stick. After Bradley’s blast, Boston went just 2-for-20 with 10 outs via grounders and six strikeouts.

“When we scored,” Francona said, “he went out there and really started getting after it. He used his changeup. He pitched in. That was good to see. That’s what your ace is supposed to do, but it’s easier said than done. That’s a heck of a lineup and he really did a good job.”

One at-bat in particular stood out to me in this one.

In the fifth inning, the Red Sox had two outs, a runner on second and David Ortiz at the plate. Kluber walked Big Papi in their first meeting and struck him out in the next confrontation.

For this third matchup, Kluber said: “The game plan for that at-bat was really to kind of make him go out of the zone, if we were going to get him to swing. Otherwise, be just patient and, if he took his base, we’ll take our chances with the next guy.”

Kluber’s first pitch was a 92-mph cutter low and in the dirt for a ball.

Papi1

For the 1-0 offering, Kluber went to his sinker. Papi fouled off the 94-mph away pitch.

Papi2

Now 1-1, Kluber returned to the cutter (90 mph this time) middle-in. Ortiz pulled it foul.

Papi3

Said Kluber: “Once you get to two strikes, we got him with a pitch in the pitch before that [fourth pitch], and we were just trying to expand in again.”

Catcher Yan Gomes moved into a higher crouch and positioned his glove well above the strike zone and inside. Kluber sent a 94-mph fastball high and tight with precision. Ortiz swung through the pitch for an inning-ending strikeout.

Papi4

“On the 1-1 pitch, he threw a good fastball in that David pulled foul,” Francona said. “And I just think making him aware that you will come in there gives you a better chance. I’m not saying that you’re going to get him out, but it gives you a better chance.

“And then he elevated by design. I just thought he made some really good pitches to some really good hitters.”

THIRD: It’s been well-documented that Jason Kipnis plays well in his hometown of Chicago, but the second baseman has also done exceptionally well in his career at Fenway Park.

In Friday’s win, Kipnis belted a three-run homer in the third inning to put the Indians ahead for good, and ended the day 2-for-5. His .329 average at Fenway is his second-best mark among American League stadiums. His .603 slugging percentage here is his best showing in AL parks. With Friday’s effort, his Fenway OPS is up to .983, too.

More important is the fact that Kipnis has — to this point — been more consistent than streaky for the Tribe. He hit .274 (.760 OPS) in April and is now batting .297 (.827 OPS) in May. He also has six homers after having nine in all of last season.

“I might beat nine,” Kipnis quipped. “I put in the work in the offseason and got stronger. I’ve got my swing going right now. I’m more consistent. I don’t think you’re seeing those cold spells and hot streaks that I had in the past, where April would be .180 and May would be .420. Hopefully, lets hover around .300 the whole year.

“I’ve got a good approach. Good things are happening right now. I’m going to try not to change too much.”

HOME: An odd situation came up in the fourth inning on Friday night. Boston righty Clay Buchholz sent a 1-2 changeup inside to Rajai Davis, whose right fingers were hit by the pitch as he tried to check his swing. Davis went to take his base, but was ruled out via strikeout by the umpires.

The reasoning? The umpires deemed that Davis swung, so it’s a strike, even though he was hit by the pitch.

“I committed to swing. Therefore, it was a strikeout,” Davis said. “I thought I checked it up. I think it’s a call that can go either way. It was a tough break. Fortunately for me, my finger is fine.”

Before the strikeout call, Francona met with all four umpires for a lengthy on-field discussion. The manager said he was talking to crew-chief Jim Joyce about what, if anything, could be challenged in such a scenario.

“Jimmy Joyce was explaining to me the whole thing,” Francona said, “and I didn’t have a problem with his explanation at all, actually. I was just trying to ask him, and ask them, what my options were if the ball had hit the bat. That’s where we just had a little bit of confusion.

“I don’t think the ball did anyway, but there was just some confusion in either the way I was understanding it, or the way they were explaining it. But I had no issue with Jimmy Joyce, the way he explained it.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 38

SantanaSome notes and quotes from Thursday’s 7-2 win over the Reds.

FIRST: Well, that was something.

I’d wager that five days ago you, loyal Indians fan, were worried about Cleveland’s offense. After four games against the Reds, your concerns should be lessened by at least a modest margin. Yes, Cincinnati’s pitching staff is in shambles, and its bullpen is historically bad at the moment, but the Tribe, as good teams should do, took full advantage.

“The guys are feeding off each other,” Indians outfielder Rajai Davis said. “One guy gets a hit and it’s, ‘Oh, let me do that.'”

Cleveland did that a lot over the past four days. On Monday, the Indians scored 15 runs. On Tuesday, it was 13. Wednesday saw eight more cross the plate. Thursday? Seven. That’s 43 runs for the Indians to 16 runs for the Reds. The Tribe collected 56 hits, including 20 extra-base hits, and turned in a .346/.423/.556 slash line.

So, go celebrate, Cleveland. The Indians have won the 2016 Ohio Cup!

“We’ve been playing really, really exceptional,” Davis said. “Our offense has been dynamic. A lot of guys are hitting. A lot of guys hitting extra-base hits. We’re just very, very competitive right now.”

Cincinnati’s troubles, combined with Cleveland’s hot streak, had quite the impact on the Indians’ overall offensive showing this season.

Heading into this four-game, home-and-home series, Cleveland was sporting a .247/.307/.388 slash line. Now? It looks like .259/.322/.408. That team batting average and on-base percentage each ranked fourth in the American League, as of this writing. The Indians’ 186 runs scored were tied for the second-most runs in the AL.

“We seem to get contributions all over the place,” Indians manager Terry Francona said, “which I think is kind of how we have to be. We’ve got to keep the line moving and play like that. We did OK, but now we’ll move quickly to the next team, because we’ve got a good team to play tomorrow. So, we’ll be ready to do that.”

SECOND: The Ohio Cup would not be complete with the MOP. That would be the series’ Most Outstanding Player, which is voted upon by media members from the Reds and Indians each year.

[Handed envelope]

And Most Outstanding Player for the 2016 Ohio Cup goes to…

[Opens envelope]

… Rajai Davis!

Over the past four games, all Davis did was reach base 15 times in 22 plate appearances. He reached four times on Monday, five times on Tuesday, belted a pair of homers Wednesday and then doubled twice Thursday. The outfielder had two steals, five extra-base hits, six walks, nine RBIs and 10 runs scored.

After his day off Sunday, Davis said he honed in on a certain mind-set.

“I think it’s more of a one-on-one battle,” he said. “Just me against the pitcher. May the best man win.”

In four games, Davis raised his season OPS to .763 from .578. His on-base percentage climbed to .323 from .248 in that span. Francisco Lindor (11-for-21) also had a great series, but Davis deserved to be named the MOP.

Davis joins an esteemed list of past MOPs that includes Jason Kipnis (2015), Kristopher Negron (2014), Asdrubal Cabrera (2011), Shin-Soo Choo (2010), Ramon Hernandez (2009) and Adam Dunn (2008). No, I don’t know why the voting stopped from ’12-13. I do know that the MOP used to come with a little trophy. If I remember correctly, it used to plug in and light up, too.

“That’s exactly what I wanted,” quipped Davis.

THIRD: With no designated hitter in the National League setting, Francona is forced to choose between Mike Napoli or Carlos Santana for first base. Napoli got the nod on Wednesday and Santana was picked for Thursday.

Tito certainly made the right call.

“Santana, he went ahead and hit two bombs today,” Davis said. “That’s stepping it up.”

Back in the cleanup spot, Santana launched a two-run home run in each of the fourth and fifth innings. The first one spotted Cleveland a 2-0 lead and the next one punctuated a four-run outburst to give the team a 6-2 advantage.

“I feel comfortable right now and I’m working hard,” Santana said. “I was trying to come back and help my team. Right now, I feel comfortable. I understand it’s a long season, so I have to keep it up.”

On April 19, Santana’s season line was at its low point: .154 average and .594 OPS. In the next 25 games, the switch-hitter posted a .261 average and an .818 OPS, while bouncing between leading off and hitting in the middle. That showing came before his multi-homer outburst on Thursday, when he also drew a walk.

“We just want him to hit wherever he is [in the lineup],” Francona said. “Tonight, he stayed nice and short. Hopefully, he can continue that, because if he starts doing that, man, it’s just such a connector in our lineup wherever he’s at.”

HOME: Am I burying the lede tonight, or what?

You’ve read 800 words and I haven’t even mentioned the best part of tonight’s win for the Indians. Josh Tomlin — statistically one of the best hitters in Indians history (more on that in a second) — delivered two (!) hits for Cleveland in the victory. He singled. He doubled. He scored a run.

“It’s fun to be a part of the whole game,” Tomlin said with a smirk.

Tomlin became the first Cleveland pitcher to have two hits, including a double, in a game since Steve Dunning did so against Milwaukee on Sept. 6, 1972. Do you know who the last Indians pitcher was to get two hits in a game? No? Well, don’t feel bad, Tomlin didn’t know, either.

“I would guess either Kluber or Sabathia,” Tomlin said.

Nope. It was JOSH TOMLIN, back on June 28, 2011, against Arizona.

“Oh, really?” Tomlin said with a laugh. “Cool.”

Here are the greatest hitters in Indians’ history (min. 10 at-bats):

  1. Matt Carson, .636 average (11 at-bats)
  2. Josh Tomlin, .600 average (10 at-bats)
  3. Sam Horn, .455 average (33 at-bats)

I mean, Shoeless Joe Jackson is 10th on that list. Tris Speaker is 15th. Nap Lajoie? Try 24th. They’ve got nothing on Joltin’ Josh Tomlin.

The only problem now is that Cleveland is traveling to Boston for a weekend series. That means the DH is back in play for the Tribe. Francona was asked if Tomlin will be considered for that job on Friday.

“He will probably want to, but no,” the manager said with a laugh.

Tomlin agreed that a day off was a god idea.

“My legs are shot,” he said.

Oh, and Tomlin also logged 7.2 innings, in which he struck out seven, scattered five hits, issued one walk and held the Reds to two runs. He’s 6-0 on the season for the Indians. That makes him the first Tribe starter to begin a season with a 6-0 ledger since Cliff Lee did it in 2008.

“He’s easy to pull for,” Francona said. “He’s one of the better teammates I’ve ever seen. He’ll do anything to try to help you win. That’s all he cares about is trying to win. … We’re pretty fortunate because early on, he’s giving us a big lift coming out of the gate.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 37

ClevingerSome notes and quotes from Wednesday’s 8-7, 12-inning win.

FIRST: Before Wednesday’s game began, Indians rookie Mike Clevinger began heading out to the bullpen to get warmed up for his Major League debut. The pitcher started to walk to the ‘pen behind the center-field wall.

There was only one problem: That’s Cincinnati’s bullpen.

“He was going to the wrong bullpen,” Indians manager Terry Francona said with a smile. “Nap kind of grabbed him. He was pretty good. He goes, ‘I was just checking it out.'”

During his debut, if Clevinger was feeling any rookie jitters, the right-hander didn’t display it on the mound. In fact, following a leadoff single by Zack Cozart in the first inning, Clevinger held the Reds to a 2-for-17 showing through five innings.

“He looked like it was almost business as usual,” Francona said. “I’m sure on the inside it probably wasn’t.”

Clevinger confirmed as much.

“I felt the 30 minutes of puking of nerves got me really composed for when I went back out there,” quipped the pitcher. “That calmed me down.”

Clevinger had a large (and loud) cheering section behind the visitors’ dugout at Great American Ball Park for his big league debut. His parents, and a pair of step-parents, were on hand, along with Clevinger’s girlfriend and their newborn daughter. Both of his brothers were also there, alongside even more relatives.

“It was fun,” Clevinger said. “It was definitely something that’s indescribable. I won’t forget it.”

Over 5.1 innings, Clevinger was charged with four runs on five hits, and he ended with five strikeouts and one walk. He threw mostly four-seamers (45), but mixed in a changeup, slider, curve and cutter. The righty generated a dozen swings and misses, averaged 93.7 mph with his four-seamer and topped out at 96 mph on the day.

Clevinger’s first career strikeout came in the first, when Joey Votto swung through a slider. In the fourth inning, Votto was called out on strikes on a good changeup that started inside, but tailed back over the edge. The veteran eventually got the best of the rook, though, delivering a two-run double to deep center in the sixth.

Clevinger exited with a 4-3 lead in the sixth, but a three-run homer by Eugenio Suarez (off Zach McAllister) later in the inning saddled the rookie with a no-decision. Clevinger also allowed a homer to Jay Bruce in the fourth.

“I thought he was good,” Francona said. “I thought he followed the glove pretty well. I thought he kept his composure real well. I thought his pitches were good. He made a couple mistakes late, but I don’t care if you’re coming up from Triple-A or you’re a [veteran], that’s Major League stuff. And he’s only going to get better with experience.”


SECOND:
After the Indians scored 28 runs on 36 hits in the previous two games against the Reds, Wednesday’s game was mostly the Rajai Davis and Francisco Lindor show.

Davis reached base three times, including launching a pair of home runs. The outfielder belted a solo shot in the third to give Cleveland a 2-0 lead and then came through with a two-run blast in the ninth to tie the game, 7-7. Lindor, who had three hits for the third game in a row, delivered a go-ahead, solo home run in the 12th inning.

RedsIndiansSince getting a day off “to take a deep breath” on Sunday, Davis has gone 7-for-12 with three extra-base hits, five walks, seven RBIs and nine runs scored for Cleveland. That’s the kind of work he used to do against the Indians.

“It’s nice when he’s in our uniform,” Francona said.

In a 72-hour span, Davis has increased his season slash line to .250/.311/.420 from .211/.248/.330. I’d say that deep breath worked out just fine.

“Absolutely,” Davis said. “It’s always nice to step away and just not get in your mind so much and take a break and think about what has made you successful and get back to that focus that helped you to be successful at the start.”

As for Lindor, he’s gone 9-for-17 over the past three games. Through 37 games now, the shortstop is sporting a .325/.376/.437 slash line with 11 extra-base hits, 18 RBIs and 25 runs scored for Cleveland.

Francona was stunned by Lindor’s 12th-inning shot to center.

“That ball, I’ll tell you what,” Francona said, “he hit that ball and that had a little different sound. That was just a rocket. We needed something like that, because there was a lot of frustation.”

THIRD: Davis’ game-tying shot in the ninth inning doesn’t happen without the work one plate appearance earlier by Lonnie Chisenhall.

Facing the left-hander Cingrani, Cleveland’s outfielder worked 10 pitches. He saw eight fastballs and two sliders (Pitch 1 and Pitch 6). He fouled off five pitches, including two with the count full before finally taking the final fastball for ball in and off the plate.

LonnieWalk

“That was impressive,” Davis said. “I was really impressed with him and I had to let him know: ‘Hey, that’s an at-bat right there.’ He’s a tough lefty on lefties. The good thing is he got to see him a day before. It’s not like he hadn’t seen that arm angle. A big, tall guy. Lanky. He has a good fastball.

“He put some good swings and some tough swings on it, just to fight. He just kept battling. That’s all we can ask far, to have guys go up there and battle. That’s what he did.”

HOME: Another play that could go easily overlooked from Wednesday was the highlight-reel running grab made by second baseman Jason Kipnis in the bottom of the 12th inning.

Zack Cozart sent a pitch arcing high beyond first base and down the line in shallow right field. Kipnis sprinted to his left and tracked the fly ball, lunging and falling to the grass after snaring it from the sky.

“It’s one of the best plays I think I’ve ever seen him make,” Francona said. ” Considering the time of the game and where he started and where he ended. That was a great play. That play there, that’s a double. He closed a lot of ground. It’s like he willed himself to catch that ball.”

According to Statcast, Kipnis had a first step time of 0.12 seconds and he hit a top speed of 18.9 mph while on the run. In the process, he covered 81.2 feet with a route efficiency of 97.8 percent. That’s all technical mumbo jumbo for: It was really freakin’ good.

Lindor loved it.

“As soon as it was hit, I’m like, ‘Get it! Get it!'” Lindor said. “I just was watching him have his eyes on it the whole entire time, and the next thing you know he extends his glove and just boom, catches it. It was pretty cool and a game changer, a game changer at that point.”

EXTRAS: While there were a few hiccups (Kyle Crockett, Jeff Manship and McAllister didn’t have banner nights), the Indians’ bullpen played a big role in this win. Joba Chamberlain, Bryan Shaw, Cody Allen and Dan Otero combined for five shutout innings to help pave the way for the comeback and eventual win. After Shaw worked a clean ninth, and Allen retired all six batter he faced between the 10th and 11th, Otero held Cincy in check in the 12th. That meant he notched his first save since 2014.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 36

Cincinnati Reds v Cleveland Indians

Some notes and quotes from Tuesday’s 13-1 rout over the Reds.

FIRST: After Monday’s 15-6 romp over the Reds, I’m sure a lot of you at home were thinking, “Gee, Tribe. Save some runs for tomorrow.” Well, it turns out that Cleveland saved up plenty more for Tuesday, too.

Thirteen more runs. Seventeen more hits. Another rout.

“We did it one through nine. Everyone chipped in,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “Everybody got some hits and took some walks. It allows us to be aggressive on the bases. Good things happen. It’s kind of rare. So you take it and you enjoy it. We will move on quickly, because we got to play them again tomorrow.”

Sticking with what we did here Monday, here’s a look at Tuesday’s production…

Carlos Santana: 2-for-4, 2 R, 2 RBI, 2 BB
Jason Kipnis: 1-for-4, 1 R, 2 RBI, 1 BB
Francisco Lindor: 3-for-6, 2 2B
Mike Napoli: 2-for-4, 1 R, 2 RBI, 1 BB
Jose Ramirez: 1-for-5, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB
Yan Gomes: 1-for-3, 1 R, 1 RBI
Lonnie Chisenhall: 3-for-4, 2 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 2 2B
Marlon Byrd: 1-for-4, 1 R
Rajai Davis: 3-for-3, 4 R, 3 RBI, 2 BB, 1 2B

The Indians have scored 13 or more runs in consecutive games for the first time since May 17-19, 1999, when they did so against the White Sox. This is only the second time since 1937 that Cleveland has had 13-plus runs with 17-plus hits in back-to-back games. The only other occurrence was May 4-5, 1991, against Oakland.

DISCLAIMER: This is where it’s only fair to point out that Cleveland’s production came against the worst pitching staff in baseball. Cincinnati’s 5.56 ERA ranks last in the Majors, and that is ballooned by the highest bullpen ERA (6.46) in the game, too.

That said, Cleveland’s hitters definitely needed a confidence boost and the group is going to enjoy this two-game flourish. Consider this: Cleveland had a .247/.307/.388 through Sunday’s action. Now? Try .260/.323/.403. That’s an OPS jump of .031 points in a span of two games. Not bad at all.

“It’s not just how many hits we got, it’s the way we got them,” Kipnis said. “A lot of walks, getting to the next guy. That’s what we’ve been preaching. A lot of two-strike hits, going the other way. Guys are having good at-bats. You don’t want to see what was going on before, where we got a lot of hits with two outs and no runs to show for it. It’s getting the first guy on and [going] to the next guy.”

SECOND: That brings us to the bottom of the fifth inning…

With one out and runners on the corners, and the Indians already holding a commanding eight-run advantage, Cincinnati handed the ball to reliever Steve Delabar. The righty faced six batters, and walked five of them. Four of those came consecutively with the bases loaded.

Think about that for a second. That’s a grand slam via walks. That’s…

“Unexpected,” Gomes said with a laugh.

Napoli (8.6 BB%, entering Tuesday), Ramirez (6.9 BB%), Gomes (4.4 BB%)and Chisenhall (5.6 BB%) each drew a walk to drive in a run. Kipnis earned the first free pass from Delabar, so the Tribe’s second baseman got to make the entire 360-foot trek around the bases via jog.

“That might have been the easiest run scored that I’ve had,” Kipnis said with a chuckle. “I worked on my leads. I was very professional. I got some stuff done there. Some good crow hops and secondary leads. That doesn’t happen often.”

No, it doesn’t.

Kipnis became the first Indians player to walk around the bases since Lou Klimchock way back on June 25, 1969. That was the last time Cleveland drew four straight walks with the bases loaded. And, following a 47-year wait for that rare feat to occur, Napoli did the same thing a few minutes later!

THIRD: Let’s not forget about Danny Salazar tonight. It’d be easy to do that after another night of overwhelming offense. Here was Salazar’s line vs. Cincy: 7.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R/ER, 1 BB, 8 K, 95 pitches (67 strikes).

“He was good,” Francona said. “He was real good.”

With the exception of some occasional command issues, Salazar has been great to this point this season for the Tribe. He was asked after the win if — after watching Corey Kluber win the Cy Young in ’14 and then seeing Carlos Carrasco’s breakout showing in ’15 — he has felt a drive to take a huge step forward this year.

“Yeah,” Salazar said. “I think this one. And the next one. And the next one after that. I think I’ve been working really hard to be what I am right now. I’m going to keep working.”

Salazar now has a .156 opponents’ average, which is the best mark in the American League and ranks second to only Cubs ace Jake Arrieta in baseball. Salazar’s 31-percent strikeout rate also leads the AL, trailing only Jose Fernandez, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Noah Syndergaard. Only Jose Quintana and Chris Sale have a better ERA than Salazar (1.80) in the AL at the moment. Only David Price has more strikeouts than him in the AL.

Look at that company Salazar is keeping right now.

“He’s a stud. He’s definitely taken the next step forward,” Kipnis said. “He’s pitching like a top-of-the-rotation guy, which he is. He’s not just a thrower anymore. He’s not just a guy coming out, throwing 97. You’re seeing him work really well off of his changeup and his slider and he’s really figuring out what he is as a pitcher. It’s fun to watch.”

That changeup — technically a split-change — has been a huge key to success for Salazar. And, the pitch has gotten better and better in terms of results each season for the hard-throwing right-hander:

SalazarSplit

On Tuesday night, Salazar held the Reds to a 1-for-11 showing with six strikeouts against his split-change. That one was Tucket Barnhart, who doubled off the pitch in the eighth inning. That made Barnhart the first left-handed batter to get a hit off Salazar’s changeup this season.

Francona said the split-change is a critical part of why hitters are having such a tough time against Salazar this season.

“When he’s throwing that for strikes,” said the manager. “He’s having a tough time working ahead at times. That’s probably the one thing he’s still continuing to work on. But, when he does, that changeup is filthy. It’s almost like a forkball. It’s so hard, but it’s got so much deception.”

HOME: A lot of Indians batters have enjoyed strong showings the past two games, but let’s hone in on a pair to finish things off for tonight.

First, Davis. Over the past two games, the outfielder has gone 5-for-7 with four walks, four RBI and six runs scored. In the process, he has seen his season on-base percentage rise from .248 to .302 in a span of 48 hours. On Tuesday, Davis was on base five times.

Davis joined Manny Ramirez (Aug. 7, 1999) and Charlie Jamieson (Sept. 15, 1921) as the only Indians players in team history to have at least two walks, three hits, three RBI and four runs in a single game.

“He will be a guy too that gets hot in spurts,” Francona said on Monday night. “You saw in Spring Training, he will get hits in bunches. And the way he runs the bases, he causes havoc. That will be really welcome.”

Next up: Welcome back, Lonnie Chisenhall.

Chisenhall was away from the team for four days to be with his family, following the death of a close family member. To have that happen in the middle of a season has to be emotionally draining. And, what did Chisenhall do? In his first game back, he notched three hits, including two doubles, and he drew one of the bases-loaded walks.

“We’re so heart-felt about what he’s going through,” Gomes said. “That’s something that we can’t even imagine. We’re just standing behind him any way we can. He’s such a big part of this clubhouse. We’re all here for him and it was really exciting to see him have a good game.”

Chisenhall, who dealt with forearm and wrist issues in the spring, leading to a season-opening stint on the disabled list, began the year in a 2-for-18 skid. In the 12 games since then, though, the outfielder has hit .378/.439/.486 in 41 plate appearances. His season slash jumped to .291/.339/.400 from .255/.296/.333 with Tuesday’s outburst.

“When he starts getting base hits like he did to left field in that one at bat [in the fifth],” Francona said, “hopefully that shows that maybe he’s going to get hot. He has a knack for doing that. Then, he also turned on a ball into right field. I thought that was a real good sign.”

EXTRAS: In the second inning, Gomes sent a pitch rocketing high off the 19-foot wall in left field for a long single. When he reached base, Reds first baseman Joey Votto quipped: “Stipe’s got more pop than you.” That was because UFC champ Stipe Miocic hit a batting-practice home run over the same area before Tuesday’s game. Click on the tweet below to read about his visit, his friendship with Gomes and to see video from his BP session.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 35

Yan Gomes

Some notes and quotes from Monday’s 15-6 win over the Reds.

FIRST: Five days ago, Yan Gomes was mired in one of the worst slumps of his career. The catcher was swinging at pitches he normally doesn’t chase, the power had disappeared and he could not buy a hit to save his life.

“I know I can hit,” Gomes said. “It’s just been one of those things that my confidence has definitely got ahold of me. When you get to look up there and you’re not seeing the numbers you’re really wanting to put up, it definitely gets frustrating.”

One step at a time. Or, one home run at a time, apparently.

Gomes ended an 0-for-20 skid with a home run on Friday night. The catcher then belted another homer on Saturday. Following a day off on Sunday, Gomes did it again. In the sixth inning against the Reds, he launched a three-run shot. Three homers in three games for the first time in his career.

And Gomes’ confidence is surely up a few ticks.

“We need him offensively,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “Like we’ve been saying: He will get hot. Just as cold as he was, he will get just that hot. The good news for us is, even though he’s hitting whatever, he’s got a lot of RBI. So whatever hits he’s
getting, they seem to come up with people on base.”

Gomes had four RBI on Monday night. Three on the long ball and one more on a sacrifice fly in the seventh. Over his past three games, Gomes has gone 4-for-11 at the plate with seven RBI. In his previous 11 games, he was in a 2-for-42 drought with no home runs and just two RBI.

“It’s just a matter of putting in the work before and letting it work out in the game,” Gomes said. “I’ve been a slow starter for the last few years. It comes to a point where you’re trying to be productive in any way you can, and I’ve definitely tried to do something.

“And you’ve just got to know your confidence can’t go away.”

SECOND: This night wasn’t just about Gomes, though.

After falling behind by four runs by the third inning, Cleveland finally hit the gas. The Indians scored four in the third, three in the fourth, five in the sixth and then three between the eighth and ninth. Ten players had at least one hit. Seven had multi-hit games. Five scored at least twice.

This was an overwhelming evening for the lineup.

“I think we needed that,” Gomes said.

No kidding. One game ago, Cleveland went 7-for-16 with two outs, but didn’t score a single run.

Here’s what the Tribe 9 did tonight:

Rajai Davis: 2-for-4, 2 R, 2 BB
Jason Kipnis: 2-for-4, 2 R, 2 RBI, 1 SH
Francisco Lindor: 3-for-5, 2 R, 2 RBI, 1 2B
Mike Napoli: 2-for-3, 1 R, 2 RBI, 2 BB
Carlos Santana: 1-for-3, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 SF
Yan Gomes: 2-for-4, 1 R, 4 RBI, 1 HR, 1 SF
Jose Ramirez: 2-for-4, 2 R, 1 BB, 1 2B
Marlon Byrd: 3-for-5, 3 R, 2 RBI, 1 HR
Juan Uribe: 1-for-5, 1 R

“That was good for a number of reasons,” Francona said. “A lot of guys relaxed a bit. It
was real good. We could always used those kind of games.”

THIRD: The big night for the lineup pushed Cody Anderson’s abbreviated outing to the background. That said, Cleveland has to be weighing what it can do to try to get the big right-hander going again.

Anderson lasted only 4.1 innings and was charged with six runs on nine hits, including a pair of home runs. The starter gave up nine homers in 91.1 innings as a rookie last year. So far this season, 10 homers in 32.2 innings. Anderson’s 2.76 HR/9 rate is currently the second-highest in the Majors, among pitchers with at least 30 innings. Chris Young of the Royals is first (or last, really) in that category with a 3.62 HR/9 (13 HR allowed in 32.1 IP).

Francona pointed out that the park was “playing small,” but it has seemingly played small all season for Anderson. The one thing I will say about tonight’s homers is that the pitches were not terrible. This did seem more like a time when good hitting was more of the cause, rather than extremely bad location.

For example, let’s start with the one-out solo homer that Adam Duvall hit in the second inning. It was an 0-2 fastball that zipped in at 93 mph. This was a case of elevation by design and Duvall sent the high heater out to left field.

DuvallHR

Said Anderson: “A fastball up around the neck. That’s pretty tough to hit out.”

In the third inning, Anderson started Eugenio Suarez off with a 91-mph cutter. It was low and inside, but the Reds third baseman sent it out to center field for a two-run shot.

SuarezHR

“The ballpark was playing awfully small tonight,” Francona said. “The home run to center, I did not think was a home run.”

But, it was. Just as the nine others before it were home runs.

“We have all been asking ourselves the same thing,” Francona said in reference to Anderson’s struggles. “The velocity is very good. I think at times his command is probably the biggest difference from what’s been allowing him to succeed or not.”

HOME: In a back-and-forth game like Monday’s you never know how critical an early play will be when the smoke clears. In the fourth inning, runners were on the corners (Davis on first) with two outs for Kipnis, who singled to right-center field.

Davis was off to the races and reached the plate at the same moment as the relay throw. Reds catcher Ramon Cabrera gloved the ball and spun to make the tag, while Davis ran awkwardly by him and dropped down over the plate.

With his momentum carrying him forward, Davis actually dragged his right foot across the plate as Cabrera swung and missed with tag attempt. Home-plate umpire Paul Emmel ruled Davis out, but that call was overturned after another successful challenge by Francona and replay coordinator Mike Barnett.

051616_CLE_RajaiDavisWeirdSlide_MED

“Rajai wanted to slide, but he got his feet mixed up,” Francona said. “He actually did a really good job touching the plate. Such a heads-up job. … He’s quick and his willingness to get somewhere — he allowed that to happen. That was a big play in the game.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

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