Author Archive

Covering the Bases: Game 140

salazarSome notes and quotes from Friday’s 5-4 win over the Twins

FIRST: And then there were three. After what happened Friday night, Cleveland’s rotation  consists of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and a whole lot of uncertainty.

The Indians did not need this. After the fourth inning against the Twins, right-hander Danny Salazar complained of tightness in his forearm. With a No. 5 spot currently up in the air, another bullpen day on deck for Saturday, and Cleveland approaching a likely postseason berth, this was a bad development.

Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway shrugged when asked how concerned he is about Salazar’s injury.

“Right now, we really don’t know,” Callaway said. “We’re just waiting for him to come in tomorrow and see how he is. There’s always concern when one of your starters is feeling something.”

And this is hardly the first time Salazar has felt something this season.

Salazar had a start skipped in June due to shoulder fatigue. He was held out of the All-Star Game and then had a DL stint due to inflammation in his right elbow. Now, his forearm? They’re all connected, and it’s worrisome for a hard-throwing pitcher of Salazar’s stature.

Indians manager Terry Francona said the good news right now seems to be that the problem is not structural. That’s all we know for now. If he needs to be skipped again, you could see Josh Tomlin moved back to the rotation. Lefty Ryan Merritt could potentially get a look from Triple-A Columbus, too.

“We’ll certainly keep an eye on him tonight,” Francona said. “And then when he shows up tomorrow, we’ll see how he feels and then we’ll go from there. That’s really all we have right now.”

Salazar’s complaint did back up what was on display on the field. For the first three innings, the righty looked well enough. He made a mistake pitch to Joe Mauer in the first that led to a home run, but was solid enough otherwise. Brian Dozier also had an RBI double in the second, but that followed a two-out error by Jason Kipnis.

In the fourth, Salazar’s pitches lacked the usual life. According to PITCHf/x, the righty averaged 94.8 mph with his fastball in the first, 94.6 mph in the second and then 95.3 mph in the third. In his last inning, Salazar averaged 92.5 mph, with his last heater clocking in at 90.3 mph. In that inning, Byron Buxton belted a two-run homer.

“He looked good. The ball was coming out good,” Callaway said. “I thought in the fourth inning, just watching, it was a little weird. It looked like he was throwing a bar of soap, the way he was releasing the ball. So, I wasn’t shocked when he came in.”

After the game, Salazar was getting treatment and was not available for comment. There will hopefully be more information prior to Saturday’s game here in Minny.

SECOND: The Indians scored four runs in the third inning — two on a bases-loaded double by Lonnie Chisenhall — to capitalize on an error by the Twins. Then, this game took a jaw-dropping turn in the Tribe’s favor in the fifth.

Twins righty Tyler Duffey threw a first-pitch breaking ball to Mike Napoli, who then sent the baseball into oblivion. Specifically, it rocketed into the third deck behind left field. As Francona likes to say, that’s big boy territory.

“I can’t even hit a golf ball that far,” Francona joked.

According to Statcast, Napoli’s solo shot went 463 feet with an exit velo of 112 mph. Both marks are the best on a home run for an Indians hitter this season. If you recall from Thursday, Napoli belted one 464 feet with a exit velo of 113 mph. That one was yanked foul at Progressive Field, though.

“I’m in that position where I can at any time change a game, and I know that,” Napoli said. “I mean, I’m not going up there just trying to hit singles.”

No kidding.

THIRD: It certainly was not Cleveland’s plan to have an unexpected bullpen day on the eve of another bullpen day.

After Salazar mentioned the forearm tightness, though, Callaway said “it was a no-brainer” to get the righty out of the game. At that juncture, Francona turned to rookie right-hander Joe Colon, who worked a clean fifth and began the sixth for the Indians. After four more shutout innings, Colon wound up with his first MLB win.

“The whole bullpen [did great],” Francona said. “That’s tough to string together zeros like that. … Everybody picked each other up.”

Zach McAllister entered after Colon issued a leadoff walk in the sixth, and escaped the inning unscathed. Dan Otero handled the seventh, which ended with a luck-assisted double play.

On the 10th pitch of battle with Mauer, Otero induced a sharp grounder up the middle. Jorge Polanco was running on the 3-2 pitch, so shortstop Francisco Lindor glided over to cover the bag. He wound up with a grounder in his glove, stepped on the base and tossed the ball to first for the inning-ending twin killing.

Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen then teamed to set down the final six Minnesota batters in order to finish off the win.

“That was a hard game to win,” Francona said.

HOME: There are so many pieces to Francona’s roster puzzle, especially when it comes to the outfielders right now.

Friday’s win provided the perfect example. Chisenhall started in right field, delivered his two-run double, scored a run and was then lifted for Rajai Davis in the seventh inning. With lefty Taylor Rogers on the mound for the Twins, Francona wanted to use Davis off the bench.

“We’re being put in the best situations possible for us,” Chisenhall said. “It’s working out great right now.”

In this game, Davis didn’t deliver at the plate, but he came through big in the field. After pinch-hitting for Chisenhall, Davis took over in left, with Abraham Almonte sliding over to right. That defensive alignment paid off in the eighth inning.

Max Kepler sliced a pitch down the left-field line, where Davis raced to a top speed of 20.7 mph, per Statcast.

“I was convinced that ball can’t fall. Not fair,” Davis said. “It was just one of those plays you’ve got to go all-out. It’s a crucial part of the game. If that ball drops in, who know what happens? I was fortunate enough to get a good jump on it.”

As he closed in on the diving fly ball, Davis used a lunging, sliding dive to snare the baseball before it dropped to the grass. Instead of a possible one-out double, the Twins now had two outs and no one one in a one-run game.

“That was probably the play of the game,” Francona said. “I mean, if that ball gets by him, it’s a double at minimum. That was a great play. He went a long way.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 139

joyceSome notes and quotes from Thursday’s 10-7 win over Houston

FIRST: The ball was rolling away behind home plate. Catcher Jason Castro was standing in front of home-plate umpire, Jim Joyce, arguing. Francisco Lindor, Mike Napoli and Jose Ramirez just kept running. Lonnie Chisenhall, the batter, stood off to the side as a spectator.

No one was quite sure what was going on.

“It was like, ‘What happened?'” Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer said. “And then it was such a weird [play]. The catcher didn’t go after it. Everyone was just kind of standing around. They didn’t appeal to third. No one really made a call and guys were just [running around the bases]. I didn’t know what was going on.”

At the root of all the confusion was a 2-2 pitch from Houston rookie David Paulino. With the bases loaded and two outs in the third, his offering to Chisenhall bounced in the dirt and then struck the Indians outfielder’s bat. Foul ball. Play’s dead. It seemed pretty clear when looking at the replay.

chizfoul

Here was the issue: Joyce called it a wild pitch, which is not reviewable. Under that scenario, the ball was live, meaning that Lindor, Napoli and Ramirez should all have been counted as runs for their jogs home amidst the arguing. Here’s the other thing, though: Joyce called time during his discussion with Castro.

After the game, a pool reporter asked Joyce why he called time at that moment:

“A player [was] discussing with me what had happened and he was emphatic about it. I’m not going to let bases loaded, keep rolling. To use a little bit of common sense and some fair play on that one, I wanted to call time and figure out what had happened.”

As for the wild pitch call, Joyce consulted the rest of the crew:

“We did not have the ball hitting the bat,” Joyce said. “Me, originally, and then I went to each crew member and asked them the same thing. If any of them had it hitting the bat, I would have turned around and called a foul ball. My partners couldn’t help me on it. Since I called timeout, I score two runs and put the other guy on third.”

So, in Joyce’s determination, Lindor and Napoli scored from third and second, respectively. Ramirez was sent back to third. The crew then consulted replay to confirm that the play was not reviewable, and to doublecheck where Ramirez should be placed. Ramirez was then sent back to second before play resumed.

“You have to continue to play the game and let the umpires make the call,” Lindor said. “I’m going to continue to play the game and I’m glad Napoli went hard. Napoli’s always done that. I touched home plate and I started telling him, ‘Come home. Come home. Come home.’ But, he was on his way. As soon as he touched the plate, we went back to the dugout. That was huge.”

Added Indians manager Terry Francona: “Nobody ever wants to have a call go against them. I will say, that guy behind the plate [Joyce] gives you as good an effort and is as conscientious as any umpire I’ve ever been around. And there have been calls that have gone against us with him. It’s just hard to get mad at him, because he gives you everything you ever ask for.”

Astros manager A.J. Hinch said: “I think everybody in the ballpark saw the play the way it happened except for the four guys on the field. The hitter’s reaction and the catcher’s reaction and the baserunners’ reaction told the story. … Common sense loses again, so all you can do is wear it. Game-changing plays should be reviewable.”

“I have not seen the play, yet,” Joyce said. “I will be looking at it tonight, you can bank on that.”

SECOND: Throughout his Indians career, Carlos Santana has been a target of criticism from a certain segment of the Cleveland fan base that has an infatuation for batting average. I put some of the blame on former manager Manny Acta, but only due to the high expectations he placed on the Tribe’s switch-hitting catcher.

Several years ago, when Santana was still cutting his teeth in the Majors,Acta opined that the former catcher could develop into “a monster” as a hitter. Acta said that, not only did Santana have the potential launch 30 home runs and draw 100 walks, he could be a .300 hitter.

Santana never did develop into that player for the Indians. He has become a versatile, valuable player, though.

Some fans, however, have latched onto the fact that he doesn’t hit for a high average, among other things. (That led to the creation of the Carlos Santana Narrative Buster by Fangraphs’ August Fagerstrom.) He hit .231 in each of the past two years, for example. In that same stretch, and throughout his career, he continued to post a plus on-base percentage, while offering solid power and ranking near the top of MLB in pitches per plate appearances and walks.

Well, guess what? Santana won’t hit .300 this year, but he has finally crossed that 30-homer plateau.

“It was great,” Santana said. “I’m so happy, especially today, getting the top in my career. Thirty home runs. I’m happy.”

That led to a special moment shared between Santana and Mike Napoli in the dugout after No. 30 arrived. After Santana’s two-run shot in the fifth, he received high fives from his teammates in the dugout, where he then took a seat on the bench. That’s when Napoli called him over and gave him a big congratulatory bear hug.

naphug1

“Nap and him had a good moment in the dugout,” Bauer said, “where they were proud of each other, and congratulating each other. Hopefully, they get to 40. That’d be great.”

Santana and Napoli are the first Indians teammates to have at least 30 homers apiece in the same season since 2002, when Jim Thome and Ellis Burks achieved the feat.

“I’m happy for him,” Napoli said. “I remember saying in Spring Training that we were both going to hit 30. I think it’s a pretty cool and a special moment for me and him. He’s done a lot to help us this year.”

One of the issues in previous years with Santana was that he griped some about serving as a designated hitter. This year, he has embraced every challenge or request thrown his way by Francona. He has started 51 games at first base and 81 at DH. He has started 73 games as the leadoff man and 58 between the Nos. 4-5 spots.

Along the way, he’s posted a career high in homers and could end the year with a personal best for slugging percentage and OPS. As of this writing, he and Josh Donaldson are the only hitters in baseball with at least 30 homers, 70 RBI, 75 runs and 85 walks.

“Carlos has done a number of things this year that are improved over the past,” Francona said. “It’s been so much fun watching it happen. He’s joining in more as a teammate and handling moving back and forth, and hitting first, hitting fifth. Nothing has taken the smile off his face, and that’s a really good thing.”

Side note: Napoli almost launched No. 32 in this win, too. In the third, he absolutely crushed a pitch down the left-line, where it yanked foul with an exit velocity of 113 mph. Thanks to Statcast, we also know that it soared 464 glorious feet. That is… far. Alas, it was just a pretty foul ball.

THIRD: After I posted the lineup before today’s game, this predictable tweet popped up in my mentions…

Well, guess what, Jason? Good news: It’s still September.

Abraham Almonte may not be eligible for postseason baseball in October, but he is still very eligible to help Cleveland achieve its playoff aspirations down the stretch here in September. Today, on Sept. 8, which is a day in which Almonte is still very much eligible to play for Cleveland, he had two hits, two runs, two RBI and one outfield assist.

In the second inning, Almonte played a carom off the left-field wall perfectly and fired a strike to second baseman Jason Kipnis, who tagged A.J. Reed for an out. Reed was trying to turn a surefire single into a double. Almonte then doubled to open the fourth and later scored. In the fifth, he delivered a two-run triple.

Yes, Almonte got popped for 81 games for testing positive for PEDs. It happened. It stunk for the Indians and has forever tainted what he did or will do on the field. There’s nothing Almonte or Cleveland can do about it now, though. The outfielder is on the roster, eligible to play and he can still impact the team.

And, Almonte has certainly done his part in trying to help Cleveland get to October, even if he can’t be a part of it.

“When he first got here for the first 10 days or two weeks [after the suspension],” Francona said, “you could kind of tell he didn’t quite know where he fit. At the time, our roster wasn’t perfect. But then, he started getting some at-bats and his game got sharper, too. Better outfielder. The things we saw last year.

“And he understands why we don’t play him sometimes. He’s still always ready to play.”

HOME: Bauer went five innings in this one and allowed five runs on seven hits, including a pair of home runs. He walked two, struck out two and was pulled after 79 pitches. It wasn’t a great outing and the righty wasn’t about to make any excuses.

“Yeah, I sucked. I was not good today,” Bauer said. “I’ll be better next time. Obviously, not one of my best ones.”

And that, really, was all there was to say about that.

The good news for Bauer was, as he so famously put it after one of his bad outings last season, “Team won.” The win for Cleveland increased the team’s lead over Detroit in the division to six games with 23 games left in the regular season. Bauer said he’s not much into scoreboard watching, but he did add this…

“We’re up. If we win, we’re in. If we lose, we give other teams a chance. When you’ve got people down, step on them and finish the thing.”

Napoli also wanted to make it clear that Cleveland isn’t just looking at the Tigers to see what they’re doing. The Indians want home-field advantage. They’re also keeping a close eye on the Rangers.

“We’re still a game and half back of Texas,” Napoli said. “We know every game is important, and there’s no letting down. Detroit has a good team. By no means are they out of this. I’ve seen leads shrink pretty quick. Our goal is to have the best record in the American League and try to have home-field advantage.

“Every game we come out, we’re going to be playing the game the right way and trying to win.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 138

USP MLB: HOUSTON ASTROS AT CLEVELAND INDIANS S BBA USA OH

Some notes and quotes from Wednesday’s 6-5 win over Houston

FIRST: The Indians are in a playoff race and the spotlight is on the club right now. So, it was only a matter of time before the midges arrived to share the stage and steal away some of the attention at Progressive Field.

The swarm began to buzz around the infield and mound especially bad in the top of the fourth inning. As Carlos Carrasco delivered a curveball to Yulieski Gurriel, one flew into the pitcher’s eye, causing him to yank the pitch and prompting a brief delay of game as he was tended to on the field.

“That was weird,” Carrasco said. “I throw the curveball right there and threw it maybe 20 feet away or something like that. … This is the first time it has happened to me.”

Gurriel wound up with a single to right field and the next batter, Colby Rasmus, crushed a two-run homer over the right-field wall. Houston had a 3-2 lead, but Carrasco settled down from there and logged 7.1 solid innings. The righty didn’t use the annoying midges as an excuse.

“It doesn’t feel good,” Carrasco said. “But, I just have to come back and make my pitches. I got a groundball base hit. And the first pitch, [Rasmus] homered. It was a bit inside.”

It was reminiscent of Game 2 of the American League Division Series against the Yankees in 2007, when former New York reliever Joba Chamberlain (previously with the Tribe this year, too) was rattled by the midges while facing the Tribe. After Wednesday’s game, Carrasco even tweeted at Chamberlain: “I feel your pain brother!”

Indians manager Terry Francona laughed when asked if he remembered dealing with the bugs at old Cleveland Stadium on the lake.

“I remember them from everywhere,” Francona said. “When you’ve got skin like mine, it doesn’t matter what city you’re in.”

First baseman Mike Napoli did his part, surely killing a few of the bugs with the home run he belted into the left-field bleacher seats in the fifth inning.

“That was different,” Napoli said of the bugs. “It was a little like that last night. Tonight was a little worse. I remember seeing it in the playoff game — Joba throwing. He had 10,000 of them on his neck. I know it could be worse. That was just part of [the game]. We both had to deal with it.”

SECOND: One of the great things about baseball is the game that can develop within the game.

Consider the fifth inning on Wednesday night, when the Astros turned to lefty Kevin Chapman to face Tyler Naquin with one out and runners on first and second base. Now, this isn’t typically a point in a game where a team would pinch hit, but it made sense in this scenario given that: A) Brandon Guyer is on the bench, and B) It’s September, when rosters are expanded.

“Yeah, if you do it in July, when you have a three- or four-man bench, it’s hard to do that,” Francona said. “Now, you can. But, the guy has to be ready to hit and [Guyer is] always ready.”

Guyer, who entered the night with a 1.005 OPS against lefties this season, grabbed a bat and headed to the plate. Chapman has spent the bulk of this season at Triple-A. Between the Minors and Majors, the lefty has given up a .318 average (.911 OPS) against right-handed batters and a .225 average (.623 OPS) against lefties.

The percentages played in Guyer’s favor. He connected for a two-run double to left-center that pushed the Indians ahead, 6-3.

“He’s got over 1.000 OPS against left-handers,” Francona said. “That’s a really valuable guy to have.”

THIRD: It sure would be nice for the Indians’ offense if Napoli began to heat up for the final postseason push.

Prior to Monday, Napoli hadn’t launched a home run since Aug. 11, but his game-changing blast in the fifth marked his second in three games now. Francona has reminded plenty of times that the first baseman does seem to have a knack for hitting homers in bunches. Along those lines, consider that Napoli had seven homers in 11 games from July 30-Aug. 11, six homers in 13 games from July 4-20 and six homers in a 10-game stretch from May 27-June 5.

“Yeah, pretty much my whole career has been like that,” Napoli said. “I know that when I’m struggling, I’m going to find it. Just stay positive and do my routine in the cages and usually I get out of it.”

Added Indians closer Cody Allen: “He’s a huge reason why we’re in the position we’re in. It’s a long season. You’re going to go through droughts. I know he didn’t hit a homer for a couple weeks, but the guy was still putting up really good at-bats. He was still getting his hits. He was moving guys over. He was still driving in runs. He just wasn’t doing it with tapemeasure shots like he did tonight.

“Obviously, homers are big lifts. That two-run shot to get us ahead with one swing,
that’s a big lift for us. And that’s a deflator for the other team. But, we’ll take runs any way we can get them.”

HOME: This win, which was the seventh in nine games for Cleveland, ended with a cool moment between Allen and Astros All-Star Jose Altuve.

With two outs (both strikeouts) and a runner on first, Allen and Altuve engaged in a five-pitch battle. Within the confrontation, Altuve fouled off a pitch for a strike and then watched another. On Pitch No. 5, the hard-throwing righty unleashed an elevated, 95-mph fastball and Altuve, who has an 86-percent contact rate, swung through it for a game-ending strikeout.

altuvek

“It’s one of the best hitters in baseball,” Allen said. “Those are situations that you don’t like them all the time, but in hindsight, you enjoy them. It’s competition at its best. A game on the line against a very good team.”

Immediately after the strikeout, Altuve looked in Allen’s direction and nodded in respect.

Allen didn’t see it at the time.

“I think I was catching my breath,” said the closer. “That’s pretty cool. That’s a guy that, he’s one of the faces of baseball. So, to get that, that’s pretty cool. Before my career’s over, I’ll probably be sending a jersey over for him to sign one day. He’s one of those guys.”

After Allen wrapped up talking to reporters, he said, “I’m going to go watch that right now.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 137

kluberSome notes and quotes from Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to the Astros

FIRST: It really doesn’t seem fair to dissect Corey Kluber’s outing too much on Tuesday night, but that’s really all that was left to do in the wake of another stagnant night for the Indians’ offense.

Similar to how Cleveland approached Monday’s game, Houston was forced to use a bullpen day. This was supposed to be the 2015 American League Cy Young winner (Dallas Keuchel) against the 2014 winner (Kluber), but Keuchel was scratched and sent back to Houston due to shoulder inflammation.

So, it was Kluber vs. Brad Peacock and Company.

Advantage, Kluber? Not this time.

“He’s been great, especially for this playoff run,” Indians catcher Roberto Perez said. He’s been awesome. For me, being behind the plate for him, I’ve been honored. He’s a great pitcher. He’s kept us in the ballgame. He’s a warrior. He likes to compete. He’ll always give you his best.”

And, for the most part, Kluber did that against Houston.

The righty held the Astros to an 0-for-5 showing out of the gates and ended his seven-inning performance by limiting Houston to 1 hit in 17 plate apperances. That sure sounds like the guy who went 7-0 with a 1.94 ERA in his 10 rotation turns prior to facing the Astros on Tuesday night.

Kluber struck out nine and allowed four hits in his 112-pitch effort.

There is a key bit of information omitted from that above paragraphs, though. What was not included was a six-batter stretch between the second and third innings. In that brief segment of plate appearances, Houston drew two walks, pounded out three extra-base hits and scored the four runs necessary to take down Cleveland in this one.

“It wasn’t his best performance,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “But, yet, if not for a hanging 0-2 pitch, he would’ve given up one. He’s pretty good.”

SECOND: We’ll get to the 0-2 pitch to Marwin Gonzalez in a minute. It was what took place prior to that ill-fated offering that got under Kluber’s skin.

“The walks were the bigger issue,” said the pitcher.

With two outs in the second inning, Kluber got ahead of Evan Gattis with a first-pitch sinker, but then threw four straight balls. He missed up in the zone twice (both on two-seamers), once away and once low (both on curves).

gattiswalk

“Gattis, I thought Kluber threw him a couple of great breaking balls,” Perez said. “But, he laid off. He ended up walking him.”

Next up was Colby Rasmus, who fell behind, 1-2, after taking a first-pitch ball. Kluber couldn’t put him away. He missed low with a curve, misfired high with a sinker and then went out of the zone low again with another breaking ball.

rasmuswalk

“That inning, he kind of lost a little bit of command of his fastball,” Perez said. “Sometimes, those things are going to happen.

THIRD: Kluber has escaped plenty of jams in his career and he came one pitch away from dodging harm in this situation, too. The righty used a pair of cutters to put Gonzalez in an 0-2 hole with runners on first and second base.

At this point, Perez called for Kluber’s curveball, and for good reason. The pitch is one of the elite offerings in the Majors and is especially deadly in a two-strike situation. Heading into Tuesday, Kluber had limited hitters to a .054 (2-for-37) showing on at-bats ending with a curve in an 0-2 count. Twenty-four of those 37 instances were strikeouts.

Here is the heatmap for Kluber’s curve in 0-2 counts prior to Tuesday:

klubercurvemap

Good luck, Gonzalez.

“The curveball has been pretty good since I’ve caught him,” Perez said. “So, I was trying to get one in the dirt, hopefully.”

Kluber didn’t put it in the dirt. He put it smack dab over the middle of the plate:

kluberhr

Said Gonzalez: “I wasn’t expecting something like that. Obviously, he’s one of the best pitchers in the game and he doesn’t give it up like that. … I was lucky to get that pitch and got a good swing on it.”

gonzalezhr

“It was a two-strike count,” Kluber said. “I’m not trying to throw breaking ball right in the middle of the zone. It was a bad pitch and he took advantage of it.”

HOME: Kluber allowed a run-scoring triple to rookie Alex Bregman in the third inning, but then held Houston to a 1-for-16 showing the rest of the way. The former Cy Young winner, and current Cy Young candidate, kept Cleveland within striking distance.

“After that point, I was just trying to keep the game manageable,” Kluber said, “and try not to let them score, and try to give the team a chance to come back. And we almost did.”

It’s certainly more daunting when the offense ends the evening with an 0-for-12 mark with runners in scoring position. Things went south so poorly that even Mr. Clutch, Jose Ramirez, went 0-for-2 with with RISP.

The tone was set in the first inning, when Carlos Santana singled, Jason Kipnis doubled and then Francisco Lindor, Mike Napoli and Ramirez each flew out to leave the runners at second and third. Five batters later, the Astros had a 3-0 lead and were off and running to their 13th win in 17 games.

“Obviously that was a big turn of events,” Francona said. “We have second and third and nobody out, don’t score and then they come back with three. That’s a big turnaround.”

Kluber’s effort did allow time for the Tribe to chip away, and the club did with one in the second (run-scoring groundout by Tyler Naquin), one in the eighth (Santana’s 29th homer of the year) and one in the ninth (Ramirez singled, moved to second on a passed ball, to third on a wild pitch and across the plate thanks to an throwing error by the catcher).

There was no walk-off magic this time, though, turning Kluber’s momentary lapse into his first loss since July 3.

“We had a tough time to score runs today. Same as yesterday, too,” Perez said. “The bats will come around. But, man, that was a tough loss.”

AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
————————-
1. Cleveland 79-58 (–)
2. Detroit 75-63 (4.5 GB)
3. Kansas City 72-66 (7.5 GB)
4. Chicago 66-72 (13.5 GB)
5. Minnesota 51-88 (29 GB)

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 136

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the situation:

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

So, who will start on Saturday in Minnesota?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is a look at Monday’s installment:

Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…

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

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

“Perci Garner showed up tonight,” Callaway said.

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

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

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

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

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

Especially Garner.

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 132

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

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

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

DozierK

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

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

“You certainly think that,” said the manager.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CyPitchers

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

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

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

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

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

RobertoPerez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the ninth, Garner made his Major League debut.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 131

Tomlin1Some notes and quotes from Tuesday’s 5-4 win over the Twins

FIRST: The Indians stuck with Josh Tomlin for one more start. It could be a while before he is granted another.

On Tuesday night, Tomlin allowed four runs on seven hits and exited after 1.2 innings, marking the shortest start of his career. His propensity for allowing home runs persisted one pitch into the game. Tomlin fired an 89-mph fastball and Brian Dozier drilled it into the left-field bleachers.

Tomlin understands the gravity of the situation.

“It’s tough, because it’s not just me, personally, what I’m going through,” Tomlin said. “It’s just what I’m doing to the team every fifth day right now. It’s not giving them a chance to win. It’s putting them in a hole early. They’re having to fight back a lot of the times that I go out there and pitch these last couple outings. We’re in a playoff hunt. We’re trying to get to October and play deep into October.

“Doing that right now is not putting us in a good position to do that. It’s more frustrating on my end, because I’m not being able to help the team win and go deep into games, and kind of taxing the bullpen. I’m putting the guys in a hole. It’s tough for me to go out there and put up starts like that the past four or five outings, whatever it’s been.”

Over six August starts, Tomlin has gone 0-5 with an 11.48 ERA, allowing 35 runs (34 earned) on 46 hits in 26.2 innings. He has allowed 10 of his MLB-high 35 home runs in that span. Tomlin admitted that this has been a perplexing stretch for him, given everything he has examined in an effort to solve the issues.

“It’s very confusing for me,” Tomlin said. “I went back and looked back at a lot of stuff. I don’t see a trend. I don’t see a trend anywhere. The stuff is not ticking down at all. I feel like it’s actually a little better now than it was earlier in the year. My cutter is harder, which I went back and looked at it to see if it was flatter. Maybe it was just kind of chasing barrels a little bit, but it’s not really doing that. Then, after the All-Star break early on, it was about executing pitches out of the stretch. I wasn’t executing pitches, and now I am.”

Tomlin’s postgame session was an exercise in accountability, especially when he was asked if he would be disappointed if manager Terry Francona made a change to the rotation.

“I don’t know how I could be disappointed about that. I don’t,” Tomlin said. “Whatever moves he makes, I understand. It’s not like I’m going out there and throwing eight shutout every time right now. I’m struggling, and I know I’m struggling. I take full ownership of that. It’s my fault. I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m anxious and ready to get back here tomorrow to try to figure it out.

“That’s the only thing I can do. Not dwell on it by no means, but come back tomorrow, figure some stuff out, talk to [pitching coach Mickey Callaway], talk to Tito, talk to some guys in the rotation and figure out what I’m doing. If I’m getting in a pattern. If I’m not pitching in enough. If I’m throwing too many of this, too less of that. I need to figure it out and figure it out quick. But, I understand. Yeah. Whatever he has to do, I get it.”

Francona noted that there is an off-day for the Tribe coming on Thursday. That means Cleveland could conceivably skip Tomlin’s turn, while deciding what to do. Rookie righty Mike Clevinger would be the obvious choice to step up. The Triple-A Columbus rotation right now consists of Ryan Merritt, Shawn Morimando, Adam Plutko, Toru Murata and Shawn Haviland. Cody Anderson is still working out of the bullpen.

“We have the ability to maybe juggle our rotation a little bit,” Francona said. “I don’t think 5-10 minutes after the game is probably the time to do it, but we’ll sit down and go through it a little bit.”

SECOND: The play you’ll be seeing the most from Tuesday’s game arrived in the sixth inning with Zach McAllister on the hill.

Kurt Suzuki drilled a 95-mph fastball back up the middle at 101 mph and it struck McAllister in the left calf. As the pitcher’s leg rose up, so did the ball, beginning an improbable play that was both amazing and funny to witness.

McAllister spotted the baseball in the air, spun quickly, stuck out his glove and made the catch.

“Mac did his thing,” Indians reliever Dan Otero said with a grin. “Playing hacky sack with the ball.”

Added Francona: “I don’t know if that caught him, or he caught it.”

THIRD: It was the second gem by an Indians pitcher in the win.

In the third inning, Shawn Armstrong slipped into a base-loaded jam with one out. At that juncture, Francona gave the ball to Otero. Before the pitcher got to work, the manager had a favor to ask.

“I told him when I brought him in, ‘Go get you a double play,'” Francona said.

Otero got Logan Schafer to line a pitch back up the middle, where the pitcher made an impressive stabbing catch for an out. Eddie Rosario began running to third on the play, giving Otero time to flip the ball to shortstop Francisco Lindor, who stepped on second for an inning-ending double play.

Hey, that’s what Francona wanted, right?

“He needs to be more specific,” Otero said. “I was trying to get the ground ball at somebody, but it happened to be a line drive at my face.”

The  bullpen combined for 7.1 shutout innings, giving the group 21 consecutive shutout innings over the past five games. After Armstrong, Otero and McAllister, Bryan Shaw and Andrew Miller finished off the win for the Indians.

HOME: After scoring one run or fewer in seven of the past eight games, Cleveland’s offense struck for five against the Twins. Jason Kipnis homered in the first, Rajai Davis added a three-run shot in the second and Lindor used an RBI double in the fourth to put Cleveland ahead for good.

The Indians were also more aggressive on the basepaths, where they uncharacteristically ran into three outs. Davis was caught trying to steal third in the first inning (though Francona thought third baseman Miguel Sano forced Davis off the bag on the play). Chris Gimenez was thrown out at third, trying to take an extra base on a single to left by Davis. Kipnis was also thrown out at the plate, trying to score on Lindor’s double.

Francona had no issues with the team’s approach on the bases.

“I like [aggressiveness] when it’s the right time,” Francona said. “And I thought tonight every one was the right time. Gimenez going to third, I thought was good — guy made a really good throw. Raj, I thought the guy pulled Raj off the bag. I still think that. I think when [the umpire] goes and looks at it, he’ll think the same thing.

“And then the play at home, it’s a perfect throw. I thought it was all good, fundamental baseball, being aggressive. They made some good plays.”

BRANDON GUYER HBP WATCH: He was hit on the left thigh by a pitch in the eighth inning, giving him a Major League-high 29 HBP this season. Guyer continues to close in on Don Baylor’s all-time American League record of 35 in one year.

Here is the updated Guyer Graphic:

Cleveland Indians v New York Yankees

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 130

KipnisWinSome notes and quotes from Monday’s 1-0 win over the Twins

FIRST: The signs were all there. It was the 10th inning. Brandon Kintzler threw a 1-0 pitch to Jason Kipnis. Given the binary-code nature of the past week for Cleveland, the stars were aligned for a 1-0 victory.

Before we get to the celebration, let’s look at the setup.

“Probably the biggest at-bat of the night, honestly,” Indians starter Trevor Bauer said.

Bauer was referring to the 10th-inning meeting between Indians right-hander Zach McAllister and Twins rookie Max Kepler. That’s the same Max Kepler that hit .500 with four homers and 10 RBI in a four-game series against the Tribe in Cleveland earlier this month.

With the game caught in a 0-0 deadlock, Cody Allen worked the ninth and part of the 10th for the Indians. The righty allowed one hit and issued two walks with two outs in the 10th, running his pitch count to 37. With the bags full, Indians manager Terry Francona called McAllister in from the bullpen.

“I was worried that I left Cody in a little bit too long,” Francona said. “That’s a lot to ask of somebody. And then Mac came in and fell behind, but then really made some good pitches to get out of the inning and give us a chance.”

McAllister fed Kepler a steady stream of fastballs. All seven pitches clocked in between 93-95, and the big righty tried to stay middle-away and up and away. After falling behind, 2-0, McAllister got Kepler to foul off four straight fastballs before finally inducing a flyout to center to end the top of the 10th.

Here’s a look at McAllister’s approach vs. Kepler:

KeplerMap

And here’s Kepler’s 2016 zone map for fastballs from RHP:

KeplerZones

“Mac comes in, starts off 2-0 to a dangerous guy who’s hit us well,” Bauer said, “and comes back and gets him out. Just for team morale, having him come in and be able to get out of a situation like that, it’s great. It enabled us to win and I think it was good for
everybody involved.”

After escaping that jam, McAllister said he felt confident that the game’s momentum had shifted.

“[You get that feeling] in certain situations throughout the game,” McAllister said, “like a big out happened, or a situation where you kind of feel like no matter what the offense is going to score. I felt like that was one of those situations.”

SECOND: The Indians were blanked for the first nine innings by Hector Santiago, Ryan Pressly and Kintzler. This is a Twins team that came in having lost 10 straight, with the last six including at least eight runs scored by the opposition.

On the other side, though, the Indians had scored one or zero runs in six of seven games on their recent road trip. And that’s now seven of the past eight games with this 1-0 win (the second 1-0 win in that span). Cleveland has featured a great offense overall this year, but is currently searching for some kind of spark.

Maybe a win like this can help.

“Hopefully,” Kipnis said. “At this time, it’s nice to get a win in any form. Hopefully the more wins we get, the more relaxed we can be. Not to say guys are pressing, but guys are still trying to find the adjustments that are working.”

One form of “pressing” is trying to do too much. Take Francisco Lindor in the eighth inning, for example. On a two-out single to right from Mike Napoli, Lindor sprinted hard through second with his sights on third. Kepler made a pinpoint through from right field and Lindor was thrown out easily.

“I like the idea that he’s hustling, because he cares,” Francona said of Lindor’s dash. “If a guy’s not hustling, that’s not good. And I think he knew right when he did it that it wasn’t the time to go. But again, they’re aware we’re not putting a bunch of runs up. And that’ll change. You’ve got to kind of weather it, play through it.

“Winning 1-0 in extra innings is a heck of a lot better than losing 1-0.”

Abraham Almonte got things started in the 10th with a bunt single up the first-base line. Chris Gimenez — after failing to get a bunt down twice — then singled to right. Rajai Davis also struggled to get a bunt down, and then chopped a pitch to third on a fielder’s choice. Almonte was tagged out on the play. Cleveland challenged with the hope that third baseman Miguel Sano had missed with his swipe tag, but the call stood.

“I actually think Abe was safe,” Francona said. “I just think we didn’t have a good enough angle to show it.”

Kipnis rendered that moment moot with a walkoff single to left-center.

“Kip with a nice piece of hitting,” Francona said. “Everybody goes home happy.”

THIRD: Bauer set the tone with six shutout innings for Cleveland. The right-hander scattered five hits, struck out four and walked one in the no-decision. Over the course of his past five starts now, Bauer has a 2.45 ERA with a 1.12 WHIP and .228 opponents’ average in 33 innings for the Tribe.

“Trevor pitched great tonight,” McAllister said. “He went down there and battled. He made it easy for the bullpen, as far as getting deep in the game and doing his job. He pitched tremendous and had a good mix.”

Bauer said it was important for the Indians to get this win from the Twins, who seemingly had their way with Cleveland during their previous stop at Progressive Field.

“What are you going to say about last series?” Bauer said. “It was one of those things that happens during a year that a team just hits everything. Balls. Strikes. In. Out. Up. Down. Offspeeds. Fastballs. Whatever. That’s a credit to them.

“So, being able to limit the offense and get off to a good start in the series, especially
after the road trip we had, it’s definitely big.”

HOME: After Bauer’s exit, the bullpen was strong for the final four innings, sidestepping the potential harm of six baserunners in that span.

McAllister, of course, got the final out. He now has a 1.88 ERA with 17 strikeouts and four walks in his past 13 games (14.1 innings). We’ll just ignore that .311 opponents’ batting average in that same span for the time being.

Allen worked 1.2 innings before being lifted. Thanks to McAllister, Allen was able to lower his ERA to 2.06 over his pasty 38 games (39.1 innings). Five of the nine earned runs he’s allowed in that span came on Aug. 17. That’s four earned runs in the other 37 appearances.

Bryan Shaw worked the final two outs in the eighth inning and got them on just four pitches. He now has 15 shutout innings in his last 16 games, dating back to allowing four runs on July 18. In fact, Shaw has 29 scoreless appearances in his past 30 games for a 1.24 ERA in that span.

And then, there’s Miller.

“He’s been great. He’s been great all year,” McAllister said. “To be able to see him in person is kind of special.”

Brian Dozier saw him in person, and is the latest victim of Miller’s ankle-breaking slider. the lanky lefty worked 1.1 innings, racking up three strikeouts and allowing a pair of weak singles. With Cleveland, Miller now has a 1.38 ERA with 22 strikeouts and one walk in 13 innings (11 games).

As for that strikeout against Dozier…

“We’ve seen it before,” Kipnis said. “Khris Davis in Oakland. Go down the list. He goes in with that slider to righties. The ball comes in to their back legs. It’s a wipeout slider, a nasty pitch and I love watching it from second base. It’s a much better perspective than at the plate.

“Usually I watch it as it goes by my bat and then I walk with my head down back to the dugout.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 129

KipnisDiveSome notes and quotes on Sunday’s 2-1 loss to Texas

FIRST: Jason Kipnis reads the papers. The Indians second baseman is also very active on Twitter. He’s got his finger on the pulse, and he doesn’t like how fast hearts are beating back in Cleveland right now.

Even in the wake of this 2-5 trip through Oakland and Texas — a venture that saw the lineup produce one or zero runs in six games — Kipnis wants everyone to take a deep breath for a moment.

“We played like [crap] and we’re still 4 1/2 up,” Kipnis said. “I know you guys and a bunch of the people back home are writing about how worried you are. That’s your job as media people, and people who don’t understand inside the locker room. Our job is to stay confident and stay focused.

“Having played so well in the first half and up to this point, we have the luxury of having that lead that we do have. That allows us to, I guess, shoot ourselves in the foot and still be OK in the end. We’re doing the shooting part right now. Now, it’s time to, this home stretch, it’s going to be good to get home and we’ve got some games we need to win.”

After Cleveland took the first game against the A’s on Monday, the Tribe increased its lead atop the division to 7 1/2 games. That has since been whittled down by three games in the wake of the Indians’ 1-5 showing over the past six. Texas blew out the Indians on Thursday and Saturday.

Was it any easier to swallow this loss, given that it was a more competitive game?

“The only thing that makes it easier is that Detroit lost, to be honest,” Kipnis said. “We want these games. We want the wins. As it comes down to the home stretch, and to getting into the playoffs, it all comes down to winning games. And we need to start doing more of that.

“That being said, that will require us to play better baseball and to show up a little bit better. We have that small cushion, but we can’t rest on it forever. We need to start doing our part here.”

Kipnis also wanted to remind fans that a 4 1/2-game lead isn’t easily overcome against a team like Cleveland.

“Guys are still confident. They’re not losing hope,” Kipnis said. “We still have 4 1/2. You can’t take that lightly, how hard it is to catch us if we start playing our game. So, we’re really focused on what’s going on in here, and not trying to be too focused on what’s behind us.”

SECOND: The Indians could at least walk away from Sunday’s game with this silver lining: Danny Salazar looked a lot more like himself. It wasn’t just the pitching line, either. Anyone can look at that and see he performed better in terms of results.

Salazar’s demeanor on the mound was markedly better. The righty looked more aggressive out of the chute, firing fastballs with more conviction. He still left some up in the zone, but the attack mode helped create a couple quick innings right away, and made his secondary stuff more effective.

“It was a lot better,” Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said. “I thought he did a really good job of maintaining his tempo and really repeating his delivery, which was something he didn’t do the last couple with the long break and no rehab outings. It’s good to see him go out there and do that, repeat his delivery and throw the ball over the plate and give himself a chance to have success.”

After Salazar’s outing in Oakland on Tuesday, both Callaway and manager Terry Francona made a point to mention that the pitcher’s between-start routine to use some improvement. Callaway said Salazar needed to “shore up” some things, and Francona reminded that the season doesn’t end at the All-Star break.

Salazar, who had a 15.55 ERA in his previous four starts and a 9.31 ERA in his previous seven, seemed to get the message.

“I think it’s just getting back to some things I was doing earlier in the year,” Salazar said. “They help a lot, but I was getting a little bit too much stress in my arm when I was doing it. But, it was helping. I think what I’m doing now, I’m getting back to it.”

Callaway said there were aspects of Salazar’s throwing program that help emphasize keeping the ball down and over the plate. When the righty dealt with elbow soreness a few weeks ago, he stopped doing some of those drills. Salazar is feeling better health-wise now, so he got back to work on some of those things over the past few days.

“It was really good,” Callaway said. “We made sure that he went about things the right way. We started implementing some things that he had kind of gotten away from in the last three weeks, and I think it really paid dividends.”

Over 5 1/3 innings, Salazar struck out 10, scattered five hits, walked two and gave up two runs. Both walks came around to score on singles, which both came on first-pitch fastballs. The pitcher said the biggest change was that he was focusing more on his mind-set than making any in-game tweaks with his delivery after a bad pitch.

“I’m working really hard,” Salazar said, “and I’m going to try to just get that confidence back. And, I’m trying to — when I’m losing it during the game — trying not to make an adjustment with my delivery. I’m just trying to make the adjustment in my head and stay really aggressive.”

The Indians liked what they saw against Texas.

“I thought it was significantly better than we’ve seen, which is really good,” Francona said. “It’s wasn’t enough to win the game, but to see him make those strides was really good, because now we can hopefully get him on a roll.”

“That’s the Danny we remember,” Kipnis added. “That’s the Danny we want to see every time out. That’s the Danny that’s capable of going and winning a bunch of games, that got him to the All-Star Game. He can play a big factor for us down the stretch here if that’s the pitcher that we’re going to have back on the mound every fifth day. So, we’re encouraged by that.”

THIRD: Cleveland has been one of the top-scoring offenses in the AL this season, but was absolutely manhandled this week (with the exception of Friday’s blowout win).

The Indians saw these seven starting pitchers: Andrew Triggs, Sean Manaea, Kendall Graveman, Cole Hamels, Martin Perez, A.J. Griffin and Derek Holland. That group combined for a 1.79 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, .204 opponents’ average and 6.2 strikeout-to-walk ration in 45.1 innings (more than 6.1 per start) against the Indians this week.

So, was this a run of good pitching, or a lineup failing to make adjustments?

“A little bit of both,” Kipnis said. “Some of the guys, you can tip the caps to their side for certain at-bats. But, there were definitely at-bats we didn’t make the adjustments on, at least not quick enough. We’ll just have to go back up there with a better game plan. I know a bunch of guys are looking forward to going back home right now.”

HOME: … is apparently where the runs are for the Tribe. For whatever reason this year, Cleveland features one of baseball’s best offenses at Progressive Field, but has looked rather mediocre on the road.

Here’s how Cleveland has fared:

Home (39-23): .293/.357/.482, 358 R, 122 wRC+, 9.1 BB%, 19 K%
Road (34-33): .239/.296/.398, 273 R, 85 wRC+, 6.8 BB%, 22.2 K%

The good news is that the Indians play 19 of their last 33 games at home. On top of that, Cleveland has gone 34-19 this season against its remaining opponents, excluding a Miami team that the Tribe hasn’t seen yet.

“You’d be surprised,” said Kipnis, asked how much the team wanted to getting back home. “Every time we go home, it’s like we’re a different team. Not to say we can’t win on the road, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you see some high-scoring games from us as soon as we get home. It’s just the way it happens, or the way it’s been going.”

A few more things before we call it a day…

Brandon Guyer was hit by a pitch again! That’s now 28 this year for Guyer, who is closing in on Don Baylor’s American League record of 35, set in 1986. Guyer’s 28 are the most in the AL since Baylor also had 28 in 1987.

That means I had to update this handy-dandy HBP graphic:

Cleveland Indians v New York Yankees

Also, there have been a lot of fans asking why Mike Napoli has been DHing more than usual lately. We spoke again with Francona on the matter today, so CLICK HERE for more on that topic.

Sunday also provided a classic example of how an early-inning call by an umpire can have a carryover effect for hitters later in the game. In the first inning, home-plate umpire John Tumpane called Kipnis out on strikes a pitch that popped in the glove off the plate. It’s No. 6 in this graphic.

KipK1

In the fourth inning, Holland worked Kipnis in a very similar manner and, once again, went middle away, off the plate with his sixth pitch. This time, with that first-inning at-bat in his memory bank, Kipnis swung through the pitch for his second strikeout of the afternoon. Here’s a look at that sequence:

KipK4

Kipnis tried to make the adjustment, but he wasn’t adjusting to the pitcher. He was trying to adjust for the strike zone. The Indians second baseman did break through in the sixth, pulling a low sinker two pitches into his third meeting with Holland into right for an RBI single.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 128

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Texas RangersSome notes and quotes from Saturday’s 7-0 loss to Texas

FIRST: Carlos Carrasco wanted to send a slider breaking hard and inside to Mitch Moreland. The idea, with two outs and Texas threatening with the bases loaded in the first inning, was to generate a chase swing or create a ground ball.

Instead, here’s what Carrasco threw:

“A terrible pitch,” Indians manager Terry Francona said.

Carrasco’s first offering to Moreland stayed elevated and over the heart of the plate. And Moreland, being the professional hitter that he is, swatted it down the right-field line and into the seats for a grand slam. Just like that, Texas had a five-run lead right out of the chute.

SlamBreakdown

In the stills above, you can see where catcher Roberto Perez set up (low) and then see how he had to raise up to the elevated pitch. Carrasco made no excuses about the poorly-executed breaking ball.

“For the homer, I threw a slider,” Carrasco said. “It came back a little bit to the middle. I was supposed to throw something in.”

Here is the spot where the pitch wound up:

GrandSlam

And here is how Moreland has fared vs. sliders from righties in his career:

plot_h_profile

It’s not hard to see why Francona called it a “terrible” pitch when Moreland is slugging between .575 and .875 in the area where that slider hung. There was a lot that happened leading up to the slam that was not on Carrasco, but the best pitchers in the game often find ways to escape, or at least execute the first pitch of a critical at-bat.

“You just learn for your next start,” Carrasco said. “And you try to be better than that inning.”

SECOND: Only one run in the first was earned, thanks to an assortment of issues that happened on the mound and behind Carrasco. It had a similar feel to the five-run blown save Cody Allen had against the White Sox, who dinked and blooped before they blasted.

Here’s what happened leading to the grand slam on Saturday:

  1. Ian Desmond punched a pitch up the middle, where it dropped into center between Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis. A soft single.
  2. Cleveland moved into a pull shift against Carlos Beltran, who chopped a pitch the opposite way. Third baseman Jose Ramirez got to the ball, but not in time to have a play at first or second base.
  3. Carrasco missed a sign and thought there was a pick-off play on, so he spun and went to throw to first base on an 0-1 pitch to Adrian Beltre. First baseman Carlos Santana was playing off the base, so there was no throw from Carrasco, who was charged with a balk.
  4. Beltre pulled a pitch to Ramirez, who made a nice grab. Now, had there not been a balk, maybe Ramirez could’ve tried to turn a double play. At the very least now, he could get the out at first. Ramirez did his job by looking Desmond back to third, but the runner hesitated. Ramirez decided not to throw to first, because he felt he could nab Desmond, who retreated with a dive and made it back before Ramirez’s own diving tag attempt. Bases loaded.
  5. Rougned Odor then sent a sharp two-hopper to Santana, who waited on the ball, which took a wicked bounce at the last second. The ball clanked off Santana’s glove and chest, resulting in a run-scoring error. Bases still loaded.

Carrasco struck out Carlos Gomez to move one good pitch away from an escape. Instead, one bad pitch broke things open.

“Just a get- me-over breaking ball and Moreland hit that,” Francona said. “That was a crushing [blow]. A lot of things led up to it, but that really hurt.”

THIRD: Should we expect the Indians to blow the Rangers out on Sunday afternoon? Texas won on Thursday with a 9-0 drubbing. Cleveland countered with a 12-1 laugher on Friday night. The Rangers then ran away with Saturday’s 7-0 rout.

Who held the Indians in check this time? None other than A.J. Griffin, who entered the night with a 4.68 ERA, dealt with shoulder issues earlier this year, didn’t pitch in the big leagues in the last two years (thanks, Tommy John surgery) and hadn’t thrown a quality start since May 2.

Naturally, he held the AL’s second-best scoring offense to no runs over six.

“Their guy tonight, he’s certainly not a power pitcher,” Francona said, “but he’s throwing a real slow breaking ball and then kind of lulling us in and then beating us with his fastball in. If you can stay close, you think maybe, ‘Well, we can string a couple hits together.’ But, once they spread it out, that makes it tough.”

HOME: To illustrate how bad things got on this night, catcher Chris Gimenez was on the mound for the Indians in the eighth inning. For all the conspiracy theorists tracking Cleveland’s late-inning bullpen movement, no, this doesn’t mean Gimenez is the new eighth-inning man.

What this came down to was this: Cleveland was going to be forced to make a roster move postgame had Gimenez not chewed up an inning for the bullpen.

“And, I don’t think anybody deserved to lose their job,” Francona said.

Carrasco didn’t have a one-two-three inning in his abbreviated start. Relief ace Andrew Miller needed 12 pitches to get through the seventh. Gimenez, emergency pitcher extraordinaire, needed only 10 pitches to retire Elvis Andrus, Robinson Chirinos and Nomar Mazara in order in the eighth.

“[Miller] struck three guys out, though,” Gimenez said with a laugh. “And threw about three times harder than I did.”

All kidding aside, it was an admirable effort for Gimenez. He also logged two innings to end Cleveland’s 17-1 loss to Toronto on July 3. The catcher said he has told Francona that he is always available if those types of situations come up.

“Ultimately, that’s really what it’s all about is saving those guys down there,” Gimenez said. “We still have a game tomorrow that’s just as important as the one tonight. I told Tito early on, ‘Listen, if it comes to it, I’ll gladly do it.’ I don’t care what my ERA is, you know what I mean? I couldn’t care less. It’s about saving the guys down there for the bigger innings, when we need them.”

ICYMI: As the all-time, single-season hit-by-pitch king for Rampart High School, I enjoyed putting this one together…

Stay tuned for more…

–JB