Following Tuesday’s 7-1 loss to the Royals, a defeat that pushed Cleveland to the brink of elimination, center fielder Michael Bourn spent 10 minutes with reporters to discuss the game, the Tribe’s current situation and the season as a whole. Here is a portion of the interview:
You guys understood the landscape going into this series. You had to essentially win out, but have lost two key games to Kansas City. What’s the feeling in the clubhouse?
“Of course, it hurts. That goes without saying, especially when it’s somebody that’s inside your division. You never want to see them take over your spot, or be able to beat you out for a playoff spot. Right now, they’re doing that. We’re in a situation now where we have to win every game and they have to lose every game for us to make it, and we’ll just be in a tie. The probability of that happening is very tough. It’s still a probability, but it’s very, very tough.
“For me, I just feel like it’s not just in September. I look at how Oakland played the last month and a half. Because they were taking care of business early on in the season, they had that padded lead where, if they did have a struggle like that, they still have a chance to make the playoffs, which they do. They’ve been playing way under .500 baseball for the last month and a half, but since they were going so well at the beginning, I feel like they still have a chance to make the playoffs, and they still probably will make the playoffs with that first Wild Card.
“For us, I don’t feel like we ever hit a stretch like that. I feel like we didn’t have a month where we played great baseball. We played OK at times, but I feel like last year we had stretches where we were playing unbelievable and we were winning 10 games in a row, 11 games in a row. I just think that Tito always puts the best team that he has on the field. I think he does a great job at it. I think it comes within us, within here, for us to take care of business. He does his job to the maximum. I just think it takes us to come together and do what we have to do. That doesn’t start just in September, for me.
“I’m a firm believer in that. I hear people say that all the time, that, ‘Well, you have to play well in September.’ Yeah, you do, but the whole season counts. You don’t want to put your back against the wall, especially with the kind of team we have. We have a young team, so you don’t want to put your back against the wall late, [where you have] to make that run, when you haven’t been in that situation. We were in that situation last year, but we had played good throughout stretches throughout the year.”
How can you change that in the future?
“I just think that we have to win early. You don’t want to put yourself in that situation. I don’t feel like we’ve played consistently enough — good baseball — to be in that situation at this point. Yeah, we had little stretches where we were OK, but I’m talking about where you roll off 10 in a row. Where you roll off where you sweep three series in a row. Then, you have that comfortable lead, just like Oakland did, where you might mess up, but hey, you’ve still got a chance to bounce back. We never had that chance to bounce back. Our back was against the wall from pretty much jump street. We played good here and then we’d go on a losing streak. We were playing .500 ball pretty much the whole way through, if you want to look at it how I look at it. Most teams that make the playoffs, they have a stretch in there where they’re playing 10 games over .500, 15 games over .500. They’ll have a 20-game stretch where they might go 17-3, or 16-4. That gives you that little comfort. In a season, you’re going to go through a bad stretch — I can promise you that. I promise you that. But usually you go through a hot stretch if you’re a good team. We didn’t have a hot stretch, I don’t think.”
So what steps can you take?
“Just play better baseball That comes within the team, I think. We have to make adjustments within ourselves — it’s simple as that. I can name you 10 different reasons. OK, hit with runners in scoring position, play good defense, don’t make errors. You can name all types of stuff, but that comes within, from us. That doesn’t come from coaches. That comes from the 25 men playing the game.”
Does it add to frustration when you imagine what this starting rotation might be capable of doing in a playoff series?
“That’s what I’m saying. Now, we’re pitching like we always wanted to pitch, but you want to click with all of it. You want to have good pitching, timely hitting, hitting with runners in scoring position, stuff like that. Yes, you’re right. I agree with you. Yes, it would be very tough, I think, to beat us in a series, the way our pitching has been going lately. With [Corey] Kluber and [Carlos] Carrasco. Danny [Salazar]. He pitched pretty good tonight. They had some good hits on him, but I still think he was OK. He had one little stretch where he might’ve went off a little bit. But, [Trevor] Bauer, he’s still learning. He’s looking good. T.J. House, I feel like he’s done good. Early on, we didnt have the pitching that we wanted to have, so our bullepn was having to work over. That hurts you later on in the season.
“You see their bullpen. What’s their record, 69-1 when they’re leading after seven innings? Something like that. That tells you. But their starters also go deep in the game. You look at [James] Shields, he goes deep in the game a lot. That dude tonight went seven innings. That’s what you want throughout the year, so then at the end of the year, when you can use your bullpen a lot, they’re not tired. You can’t blame them. [Bryan] Shaw and them, they’ve pitched a lot this year. There’s three or four of our dudes that lead the league in appearances. That’s a lot on them. Anyone who’s throwing the ball that much, that’s a lot on them. It tires them out after a while. They’re only human.”
Does it add to the frustration right now, being an offensive player?
“It does. I had a chance tonight and I felt like I missed a pitch. [Yordano Ventura] gave me a pitch to hit and I missed it. It was nothing more than that. I don’t blame anybody but myself on that. It was a pitch that I felt like I could hit and I missed it. Of course, he does throw hard, but I felt like I got there. I just didn’t execute the swing exactly how I needed to execute it. And it’s not just me. As a collective unit, we’re just not doing it. Granted, sometimes we have hit the ball hard, a lot of times, and it’s going right at people. That happens, but you have to continue to play baseball. Nobody likes this feeling when you’re at this position of the year. It’s all fine and dandy until you get to this position. Then you’re looking like everybody is looking crazy at that point.
“That’s why, to me, the whole year counts. I’m a firm believer. I don’t know how everybody else thinks about it, but that’s how I think about it, because you start from April and you go all the way ’til the end. Good teams play good throughout the whole year. They don’t just go through one little stretch. They’re usually going to play pretty good ball throughout the year. We played OK ball, but we didn’t play great baseball like I think we’re capable of doing. At the same time, I think we’re still learning and I think I like the caliber of people that we have and we’re all good to come back. It’s not over, but to be honest, they have to lose every game. We have to win every game. And that’s just to tie. You have to be realistic about the situation as well. I hope that it happens, but you know …”
Is there any satisfaction that you guys are still contending despite all the injuries and issues the team has gone through this year?
“Health is a big key. I felt like I battled injuries all year long with my hamstring. That’s part of it. I hated it. As much as I wanted to be on the field, I couldn’t get out there, because I was hurting. From the second time on, I was trying to make sure that I didn’t get hurt again. I stayed on top of it. Our training staff did a great job of staying on top of me and helping me stay on top of my hamstring. Hopefully, this season isn’t over yet, let me comment on that first, but hopefully, going into the future, I can be healthy, because I feel like if I’m healthy, I can help this team a lot.”
What’s the team’s mentality now going into the last few games?
“It’s tough. I’m not going to sit here and lie to you and say it’s easy, because it’s not easy. You have to win. There’s no other option. If we lose, we’re out. Because if they win, then they’re pretty much in, if Seattle loses one more game, too. We know what’s at stake. We knew what was at stake before we came here. We just have to hope for the best. It’s not going to be easy. It’s still a possibility, so we just have to continue to grind, play one game at a time and we have another tough pitcher in [Jason] Vargas tomorrow, but we’ll battle him, too. And we have a good pitcher going in Bauer tomorrow, so we’ll hope for the best with that and we hope that we win.”
Indians 4, Royals 3 (10 innings)
Royals 2, Indians 0
FIRST: This was a disappointing day for the Indians. There is no getting around it. Cleveland needed to essentially win out to have a serious shot at October baseball and Kansas City got in the way of that in an oddly-arranged evening at Progressive Field.
First, the Indians staved off a 10th-inning rally to win the conclusion of the Aug. 31 suspended game in Kansas City. Then, the Royals picked up a victory over the Tribe behind a strong start from lefty Danny Duffy, though there were missed chances at the plate and in the field that cost Cleveland.
“It’s not very often you don’t score and come away with a split,” Indians manager Terry Francona quipped.
The Indians’ season isn’t done in terms of mathematics. Ask the odds makers, though, and they’d advise you to push your chips to a different corner. The reality is that Cleveland has only five games left and they are now facing a 3.5-game deficit with the A’s, Royals, Mariners and Yankees are still in play in the Wild Card picture.
So, what is Cleveland to do now?
“We really need help from other teams,” Indians infielder Mike Aviles said. “We need Seattle to lose, we need the Royals to lose, Tigers to lose. The bottom line is we have to take care of what we can, which means winning some games and figure out how to win.”
The Indians have two games left in this series against Kansas City, so the potential still exists to slice the deficit to 1.5 games before the Royals head out of town. Then, with three games left against Tampa Bay, a heartbeat would still exist for this fading season for the Tribe.
Are they any positives for Cleveland’s fatigued fan base to pull from this? Definitely. The Indians have now pieced together consecutive winning seasons for the first time since 2000-01, and the future looks brighter with players liker Corey Kluber and Michael Brantley leading the way. Given all the injuries and issues this year, the fact that the Indians are still in this thing, even remotely, is pretty remarkable.
That said, no one around the ballclub is ready to look back at this season with games still on the docket.
“We’re so locked in in trying to win,” Francona said. “We can summarize when it’s time. Right now, we have to try to find a way to win.”
SECOND: Offensively, this game had a similar feel as the American League Wild Card Game a year ago. Well, except for the wild playing environment Cleveland had that night last October. The sea of red-clad fans packing Progressive Field was amazing for that game. For Monday’s critical games vs. Kansas City? The announced crowd was 10,458.
That’s a rant for another day. For now, I’ll just stick to saying it was as disappointing of a showing in the stands as it was in the batter’s box. Cleveland went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position, stranding nine and having another runner thrown out in a pick-off, caught-stealing. The Indians loaded the bases with no outs in the first inning, and came away with nothing.
That missed chance came against lefty Danny Duffy, who is a solid starter, but one who hadn’t pitched since Sept. 6 due to a shoulder issue.
“It was upsetting more than anything,” said Aviles, who flew out to end the first. “We’ve got a guy, bases loaded, who hasn’t pitched in awhile. We’ve got him on the ropes and, if we can get some runs early, [maybe we] rattle his cage.”
The lack of offense made the fact that Chris Gimenez and rookie Tyler Holt were in the starting lineup at first base and in right field, respectively, more glaring. Francona was limited in constructing his lineup, though.
Jason Kipnis and David Murphy (both on the bench) have battled injuries in recent weeks and neither were presented with a great matchup with the left-handed Duffy on the mound. Platoon-advantage wise, the same goes for Jason Giambi. Carlos Santana, who has fought a quad issue in the second half, was in the order as the DH. Rookies Zach Walters (.157) and Jesus Aguilar (.143) were on the bench. Walters also recently dealt with an intercostal strain.
“We have to keep an eye on these guys a little bit,” Francona said, “[and] try to mix and match the best we can. … Our guys have done a really good job. Kip stretched the whole time, knowing he was probably going to hit at some point. Everybody’s a little banged up. You just do the best you can.”
In arguably the biggest game of the season for the Indians — then again, which game lately hasn’t fallen into that category — such depth issues hurt the on-field production.
THIRD: The absent offense spoiled another solid effort from right-hander Carlos Carrasco. The right-hander rejoined the rotation on Aug. 10 and has given Cleveland its surprise of the season.
Against the Royals, Carrasco allowed two runs on seven hits in 7.1 innings, striking out nine and walking one along the way. In his nine starts since returning to a starting role, he has posted a 1.32 ERA with a .80 WHIP and a .183 opponents’ batting average. Across 61.1 innings in that span, the righty has 68 strikeouts against eight walks.
“I thought he was really good,” Francona said. “This is the first game in a while where it’s been cold. He was having a tough time gripping the ball. You could tell. He left a couple pitches where they weren’t going where he wanted. Then, he dialed it in. The two runs he gave up, they were both hard-hit, but if we’re able to [make a few] plays, we’re still playing.”
HOME: Francona was referring to the fact that the two runs Carrasco surrendered came on balls that skipped off a defender’s glove. In the first inning, Gimenez had a line drive from Eric Hosmer bounce off his glove and into right field for an RBI single. In the fifth, Alcides Escobar sent a sharp grounder to the right of shortstop Jose Ramirez, who couldn’t corral the ball with a backhanded swipe.
“We should’ve made those plays right there. That cost me two runs,” Carrasco said. “I thought they had a pretty good chance of making them, but sometimes we don’t make those plays. That can cost us.”
Here was Francona’s take: “The ball Hosmer hit was scalded, but it hit the end of his glove. The ball to Jose, that would have been a really nice play. They’re makable, it just happened awful quick. They were both hit really hard, kind of do or die.”
Royals (85-71) at Indians (82-75)
at 7:05 p.m. ET Tuesday at Progressive Field
FIRST: Remember when there was some concern that Corey Kluber, who had crossed into uncharted waters in terms of innings in a single year, was possibly fighting late-season fatigue? Yeah, he’s feeling just fine. Just ask the White Sox, Astros and Twins.
In the four starts since Kluber surrendered five runs in 2.2 innings against the Tigers on Sept. 1 — never mind the defensive miscues that cost him dearly in that swiftly-derailed outing — he has returned to form in a major way. In the 32.1 innings during that span (that’s more than eight innings on average), the right-hander is 4-0 with a 1.39 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 43 strikeouts and only three walks.
“He’s pitching with confidence,” Indians center fielder Michael Bourn said. “But he’s also calm while he’s pitching.”
Minnesota wound up on the wrong side of history because of Kluber’s calm confidence. The pitcher racked up 14 strikeouts for the second start in a row. That has only been accomplished 15 times in the past 100 seasons and only by nine Major League pitchers. The last to do it? Some guy named Randy Johnson in 2004. The other names on that list include Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, Jose Rijo, Dwight Gooden, Mickey Lolich, Bob Gibson and Sam McDowell. Pedro holds the record with three such outings in a row in 1999. McDowell did it twice for the Tribe in 1968.
Kluber shrugged off the historical footnotes.
“When the year’s over,” he said, “that’s stuff that you’ll take a second to look at and appreciate. But, right now, it’s not important. The important thing right now is that we got the win. That’s what we need to keep going. It’s a result of the hard work that you put in, but I think you wait until the end of the year to kind of step back and look at it.”
On the season, Kluber now has 258 strikeouts (most in the American League), which puts him 10th all-time on Cleveland’s single-season list. Before this year, only Bob Feller, Herb Score, Luis Tiant and McDowell had achieved at least 250 strikeouts in a season. Feller holds the record with 348 in 1946. Kluber also joins McDowell (four times), Feller (once) and score (once) as the only pitchers in team history to have at least 10 double-digit strikeout games in one season
Kluber has 20 starts with at least eight strikeouts and 13 with at least nine strikeouts.
“Those are a byproduct of a really good pitcher,” Indians manager Terry Francona said of all the strikeout feats. “I think you go through periods where those things happen. Coming into the game, the Twins have had a really good approach to him. You look at the matchups and they have guys that have found ways to get hits off him — they hit the ball the other way — but he established his fastball right away and then he had his breaking ball. He was just really good.”
The Twins agreed.
“He has great command of three of his pitches,” Twins second baseman Brian Dozier said. “He has electric stuff and is a high strikeout guy. If you get a pitch to hit, you can’t really miss it against that guy. He’s a big swing-and-miss guy. He threw me all sliders and cutters, and when he’s got that working, he’s pretty good.”
SECOND: Kluber also had a unique strikeout streak come to a close on Sunday afternoon. After striking out 14 in seven innings on Tuesday in Houston, the right-hander had 13 strikeouts through six innings against the Twins. What was unique about that was the fact that Kluber had at least two strikeouts in each of those 13 consecutive innings.
I don’t know yet where that streak ranks in terms of history (the Indians called the Elias Sports Bureau to hopefully get an assist with the answer), but I can tell you how it ended. In the seventh inning, Kluber induced a leadoff flyout off the bat of Chris Herrmann, who had two doubles earlier in the game. Jordan Schafer then followed with a popped-up bunt, which sent the ball arcing into foul territory.
Third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall hustled in, ran into foul ground and made a spectacular diving catch. Way to go, Chiz, you ended Kluber’s strikeout streak.
“I’ll take the diving catch,” Kluber said with a grin.
Kluber’s 14 strikeouts, combined with the one punchout registered by reliever Nick Hagadone in the ninth inning, also helped Cleveland extend its Major League-record streak of consecutive games with at least a dozen strikeouts to six games. Cleveland also has 1,391 strikeouts on the season overall, surpassing last year’s total (1,380) for a new club record. The AL and Major League record (1,428) was set by the 2013 Tigers. Cleveland should be able to chase that record down, but the Rays (1,385) are also in the running this year.
“I think it’s maybe a reflection on the kind of stuff we have on our staff,” Kluber said of the team’s high strikeout total. “I think we’ve got some guys with some good arms and some good stuff to put people away. A lot of times, when we get an opportunity to put guys away, we take advantage of it.”
THIRD: Kluber and left fielder Michael Brantley have provided the Indians with two elite talents and clear-cut candidates (at least worthy of a top-three finish) for some season-end awards. I’ll save Kluber’s Cy Young candidacy for a post at the end of the season, when we’ll have the final numbers. As for Brantley, they should create a Mike Trout Award for the MVP runner-up in the AL. Trout has that top spot basically locked up.
Don’t even worry about WAR of wRC+, just take a moment to consider and appreciate the basic numbers that Brantley is piling up right now. After Sunday, he’s hitting .325 with 20 homers, 22 stolen bases, 43 doubles, 93 runs, 97 RBIs, 193 hits and 300 total bases. That has Brantley on the cusp of finishing with one of the greatest all-around seasons not only in team history, but in AL history.
“He’s always hungry for more,” Bourn said. “He comes to work hard every day. I think that’s a plus. I think he’s focused on being one of the best players in the game. He’s having a tremendous year, but when you want to be considered in the top category, you’ve got to be able to do it year after year after year. I think he has that potential.”
In Cleveland history, there have only been 10 instances when a player ended with at least a .320 average to go along with at least 100 runs, 100 RBIs and 200 hits. Carlos Baerga last accomplished the feat in 199. Before Baerga, it hadn’t been done since 1953 (Al Rosen). If you add at least 40 doubles to that statistical line, you have to go back to 1936 (Hal Trosky) to find the last season of that kind. If you add the 20 stolen bases, well, you won’t find any player in Cleveland history with that kind of year.
In AL history, Jacoby Ellsbury (2011) is the only player in history to hit .320 or better with at least 20 homers, 20 steals, 40 doubles, 100 runs, 100 RBIs and 200 hits. Brantley could be the second to do that, if he gets three RBIs, seven hits and seven runs in the final six games. If you remove the 20-homer requirement, the others on the AL list with Ellsbury are Gee Walker (1937), Charlie Gehringer (1929), Geroge Sisler (1920, 1922), Ty Cobb (1911, 1917), Home Run Baker (1912) and Nap Lajoie (1901).
HOME: … is where the Indians are heading. If Cleveland is going to complete this miracle postseason chase, it’ll be over the next six games (seven, including the final three outs of the Aug. 31 suspended game with the Royals) at Progressive Field. Beginning Monday, the Indians have a crucial three-game, three-out series with Kansas City, which currently sits 3 1/2 games ahead of the Tribe for one of the AL’s Wild Card spots. The A’s, Mariners and Yankees are all in the hunt, too.
“We know what’s at stake,” Bourn said. “We’ve been going for it since the beginning — there’s just more at stake in September. That’s just what it is. You’ve got win at this time to extend your time to be able to play. We’re going to give it all we’ve got each day. We’re going to try and put ourselves in a good position and hopefully we win. We know this is pretty much our season, this last week, and we’re not going to run from it. We’re going to stand up to the competition.”
Here’s the landscape for the Wild Card contenders:
1. Oakland (up 0.5): 3 vs. LAA, 4 @ TEX
2. Kansas City (–): 3* @ CLE, 4 @ CWS
3. Seattle (1.5 GB): 4 @ TOR, 3 vs. LAA
4. Cleveland (3.5 GB): 3* vs. KC, 3 vs. TB
5. New York (4.5 GB): 4 vs. BAL, 3 @ BOS
“We’re looking forward to it,” Francona said of the upcoming set with the Royals. “We’ve worked hard to get to this point. Now we get to play one of the better teams in the league and it’s very meaningful. It’ll be fun.”
*plus the conclusion of the suspended game
Royals (84-70) at Indians (81-74)
at 6:05 p.m. ET Monday at Progressive Field
FIRST: Maybe it’s time to stop wondering when Cookie is going to crumble. Maybe what has been taking place on the mound is legitimate. Maybe a corner has finally been turned.
Years of inconsistency have conditioned Cleveland fans to anticipate a meltdown from pitcher Carlos Carrasco. Six starts into his latest return to the rotation, the big righty has finally looked like the kind of the front-line starter envisioned for several seasons by the Indians.
“I’ll tell you what, it’s been so nice,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “You put a guy in the rotation and you certainly hope for the best, but my goodness. He looks so strong.”
What’s interesting about Carrasco’s turnaround — one that now includes Sunday’s dominant showing against the White Sox — is that he has adopted the aggressive mentality talked so much about over the past offseason. Going from the bullpen to the rotation isn’t new for Carrasco. The righty spent time in the bullpen last year and then transitioned back to starting in time for Opening Day this season.
We heard about how aggressive he was out of the ‘pen, how he stopped overthinking and over-planning like he was prone to doing as a starter. And then, when he went back to starting, the same old problems arose. So, what’s been the difference? Why has Carrasco been able to embrace a reliever’s mind-set now, when he wasn’t able to do so out of the gates in April?
“That’s a great point,” said Carrasco, pondering that concept for a moment. “I figured it out after, why I couldn’t do it in the beginning of the season. They sent me to the bullpen and my mentality is way different right now.”
Let’s dive a little deeper into it than that by first looking at his season in three parts…
April 15-25 (four starts): 6.95 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, .286 AVG
In 22 IP: 24 H, 18 R (17 ER), 23 K, 9 BB, 61% strikes
April 30-Aug 5 (26 games): 2.30 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, .217 AVG
In 43 IP: 34 H, 11 R (11 ER), 39 K, 9 BB, 67% strikes
Aug. 10-Sept. 7 (six starts): 0.70 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, .179 AVG
In 38.2 IP: 25 H, 3 R (3 ER), 42 K, 4 BB, 71% strikes
On the surface, you immediately see an increased strike rate. What you can’t see in that basic breakdown is the change in pitch usage over the course of the season for Carrasco. What the righty’s done over his past six starts is nearly double the percentage of sliders thrown (compared to his April stint in the rotation), dramatically cut down on curves and shift his fastball usage to include more sinkers.
During his first four starts in April, Carrasco was throwing his two-seamer only 2.4% of the time. That held steady through his stint in the bullpen, but has jumped to over 11% since returning to the rotation. In Sunday’s outing (8.2 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 8 K), Carrasco threw 18.4% sinkers. His four-seamer usage was down to 35% (compared to 54.3% as a starter in April).
Along with that change in repertoire, Carrasco has stashed his curve in his back pocket. He used that particular offspeed pitch 16.6% of the time in his first four starts, decreased the usage to 9.8% out of the bullpen and had used it only 5.9% of the time in his last five starts, entering Sunday. Against Chicago, Carrasco used the curve twice out of 103 pitches (0.2%).
The diminished use of the curve has led to a heightened reliance on what has developed into a wipeout slider. Back in 2011, when Carrasco has his best full season with Cleveland, he used the slider slightly more (12.6%) than his curve (11.6%). He was at 12.3% with the slider in his four April starts, but increased the rate to 22% out of the bullpen and then 23% in his rotation return, entering Sunday. The White Sox saw the slider 28.2% of the time in his latest effort.
It also helps that Carrasco’s average fastball velocity has climbed to 96-97 mph in August and September, compared to 94.8 mph in April. In that regard, Carrasco has maintained bullpen velocity incredibly well over his recent starts (I’m sure the lighter season-long workload has helped). Carrasco has also tightened up his pregame routine and now pitches out of the stretch, as he did in the ‘pen.
“He just looks like he’s getting stronger,” Francona said. “And today, his ball had so much good movement on his fastball, especially to the righties, down under their barrel. And then he’s able to spin that breaking ball. That was really impressive.”
SECOND: What does good pitching do for a team?
“It makes everything look better,” Francona said.
Here were are, documenting a series sweep over the White Sox after the Indians scored seven whole runs as an offense. The continued success of Cleveland’s pitching staff pushed the anemic lineup to the background for another day, and that has been a theme throughout this second half for the Indians.
In the 32 games after Aug. 1, when the Indians scored 12 runs in a romp over the Rangers, Cleveland has averaged 3.3 runs per game. Over that same span, the Tribe’s pitching staff has turned in a 2.65 ERA. That’s not a large margin for error for the pitchers, but the staff has made it work more often than not in keeping Cleveland afloat in the playoff picture.
In the three-game set against the White Sox, starting pitchers T.J. House, Corey Kluber and Carrasco combined to go 2-0 with a 0.36 ERA, striking out 23, scattering 16 hits, allowing two runs (only one earned) and issuing no walks in 24.2 innings.
Asked if good pitching can be contagious, Francona said: “Well, I hope so. I think we’re going to need it. It’s been allowing us every day to have a chance to win. I think we scored seven runs this series, but we’re coming away feeling pretty good. It’s taken a little bit of a burden off the bullpen. You can just show up and you feel like you have a chance to win. That’s what we need.”
THIRD: Cleveland’s first run came in the opening inning, when Michael Bourn sent a pitch from Chicago’s Scott Carroll over the head of center fielder Adam Eaton for a leadoff triple. Two batters later, Michael Brantley made good on that hit with one of his own, delivering a single to center to extend his hitting steak to 11 games.
The triple was Bourn’s American League-leading 10th of the season. What’s remarkable about that is the fact that Bourn has only played 87 games this season due to his hamstring issues. The last Indians hitter to have at least 10 three-base hits in a season was Grady Sizemore in 2006, but the last to do so in fewer than 100 games was Ed Morgan in 1929 (10 in 93 games).
HOME: Francona does not typically give in to broad-stroaks questions about a series, especially if the question involves looking back or looking ahead. The manager prefers to keep the horse blinders on, focusing on each game as a singular task. That said, Francona strayed from his usual approach when asked how important this sweep was for the team, considering Cleveland dropped three of four in a tough series against the Tigers earlier this week.
“We’re running out of months. Not days, but months,” Francona said. “So, we need to make up some ground. I don’t know if you can go into a series thinking about a sweep, because I don’t think that’s a very productive way to play, but now that it’s over, it certainly helps. Now, it makes tomorrow that much bigger.”
Angels (87-55) at Indians (74-67)
at 1:05 p.m. ET Monday at Progressive Field
Final: Indians 3, White Sox 1
FIRST: The Indians ran some anti-virus software through the Klubot Operating System over the past few days and cleaned out all the bugs. On Saturday night against the White Sox, Corey Kluber was back to his robotic, precision-based ways for Cleveland.
Said White Sox manager Robin Ventura: “He goes deep in the game. He works quick. He doesn’t seem to get rattled.”
Following a stretch of rough starts — well, giving up eight earned runs in 16 innings seemed “rough” in light of the 1.43 ERA he turned in in his previous dozen outings — Kluber regained his form on the mound. The righty did make a slight mechanical tweak between outings.
After his last start, in which Kluber gave up five runs (two earned) and threw 57 pitches in 2 2/3 innings against Detroit, he went to work with pitching coach Mickey Callaway. They found that Kluber had been collapsing a bit on his back leg, throwing off his release point and, in turn, affecting the location on his pitches (especially to his glove side).
How involved was the process of fixing this issue?
“We talked about it for about 15 seconds,” Callaway said. “And then he went and did it.”
Ho hum. It’s just that easy.
“It wasn’t anything major,” Kluber said. “It took maybe a handful of pitches to get that feeling back to what we were looking for. We went out there tonight and it wasn’t like I was searching or anything. It felt normal and comfortable.”
In his third complete game of the season, Kluber created 14 outs via ground balls, collected eight strikeouts, scattered five hits and issued no walks. He finished with a Game Score of 83, marking his fifth outing with at least that high of a Game Score this season. That is the best among all Major League pitchers. Some guy named Clayton Kershaw ranks second with four.
After his previous two starts, Kluber was asked if he was feeling fatigued at all, considering he was approaching 200 innings for the first time in his career. That topic didn’t sit well with the pitcher, who was short with reporters after his abbreviated loss to Detroit. Well, Kluber seems to have answered those questions just fine with his arm and nine innings against the White Sox.
“His tank looks like it’s as full as it’s ever been,” Indians manager Terry Francona said.
Kluber now has 223 strikeout, moving him past Luis Tiant (219 in 1967) and Gaylord Perry (216 in 1974) for 17th place on Cleveland’s all-time single-season strikeout list. Next up: 225 by Sam McDowell in 1966. Kluber also joined McDowell (six times), Bob Feller (five), Perry (twice), Herb Score (twice) and Tiant as the only Indians pitchers to have a season with at least 220 punchouts.
SECOND: Kluber’s start got off to an interesting start. Against the first nine hitters he faced, the right-hander stayed exclusively within the fastball family. His first 27 pitches were two-seam sinkers before he finally fired an 88-mph cutter to Tyler Flowers, the last hitter in Chicago’s lineup. It wasn’t until his 31st pitch (against the 10th batter he faced) that Kluber showed off his slider.
Callaway said early strategy was a credit to catcher Yan Gomes.
“That’s what was Gomer was calling,” Callaway said. “Kluber’s going to stick with Gomer. I asked him about that when we were walking up the ramp. I said, ‘Did you try to go first nine guys all fastballs?’ He was like, ‘Maybe that was Gomer’s plan. I just kind of threw what Gomer called.'”
It worked. Through the first three innings, Kluber had just two strikeouts, but he created 8 outs on the ground. One more would-be groundout in that span turned into an error (by rookie first baseman Jesus Aguilar) and unearned run. From the fifth through the ninth innings, Kluber began to work his cutter and slider in more often, striking out six in that span.
“Any time you can do that and establish your fastball like that,” Callaway said, “you don’t give away your good stuff. If you can get through three innings with your fastball, you should do it every time. Establish your fastball. Establish that fastball command. Make them really respect that. Then, your offspeed stuff is going to be dominant the rest of the game. That’s kind of what we saw.”
In terms of efficiency, Kluber threw 71-percent strikes (74-of-104) and generated 19 outs on three or fewer pitches. He had 24 at-bats end in three pitches or fewer, and 11 at-bats end on two or fewer pitches.
Kluber was also extremely successful against White Sox slugger Jose Abreu, who entered the game sporting a robust .462 average off the pitcher in 13 at-bats. In their previous meeting, Abreu collected three hits and saw 22 pitches (all sinkers and cutters) in four trips to the plate. This time, Kluber needed only 10 total pitches to get strike Abreu out once and create three groundouts. In that span, Kluber stuck with a similar approach, using his slider just once against the rookie phenom.
“I think it was just a matter of executing,” Kluber said. “Last time I faced him I made some good pitches, but he still got hits off me. That’s one of those things where, certain nights, a hitter that good you can make your pitches and he’s still going to get his hits.”
THIRD: During his daily pregame meeting with reporters, Francona spoke highly of rookie shortstop Jose Ramirez’s growing confidence and steady play since being given a starting role. All Ramirez did then was go 3-for-4 with a stolen base and a run-scoring triple that broke open a 1-1 deadlock in the seventh inning.
“He definitely had an affect on the game tonight,” Francona said,
Added Kluber: “He’s been a sparkpug for us. He brings a lot of energy every day. He’s played a great shortstop and he’s gotten more comfortable. He’s starting to do really well at the plate in the two hole. He’s situationally hitting and he’s getting big hits for us.”
Since Aug. 9, when Ramirez’s season average sat at just .174, he has hit at a .326 (28-for-86) clip with six stolen bases, six sac bunts, eight extra-base hits, nine RBIs and 12 runs for the Tribe. Since moving to the No. 2 spot in the lineup on a regular basis on Aug. 16, he’s hit .319 (23-for-72). Overall as the Indians’ second hitter, Ramirez has hit .337 (29-for-86) with five thefts, seven sacs, eight extra-base hits, eight RBIs and 12 runs.
HOME: Two more things should not go unnoticed from Saturday’s game. First, center fielder Michael Bourn made an impressive running, diving catch to rob Adam Eaton of a would-be RBI hit in the fifth inning. The catch ended the inning with an exclamation point, stranding runners on first and second base for Chicago with the game in a 1-1 tie.
“That was big,” Francona said. “That was really big, because that ball looked like it was in no-man’s land and he kind of came out of nowhere.”
It should also be noted that Carlos Santana hit his third homer in a span of six games (and fourth in his past nine contests). He leads the Indians with 25 long balls this season. He also drew a walk, giving him an American League-high 99 free passes this season. One more walk will put Santana in an exclusive group of Indians hitters, too.
Over the past 100 seasons, only Travis Hafner (2006), Jim Thome (six times, most recently in 2002), Andre Thornton (1982) and Al Rosen (1950) enjoyed a season with at least 25 homers and 100 walks for the Indians. Over the past five years, here are the only Major Leagues to accomplish the feat: Mike Trout (2013), Adam Dunn (2012), Miguel Cabrera (2011) and Jose Bautista (2011 and 2010).
White Sox (63-78) at Indians (73-67)
at 1:05 p.m. ET Sunday at Progressive Field
Pitching has helped Cleveland maintain its position in the postseason picture. Without their rotation renaissance or reliable relief corps, the Indians would currently be bemoaning the lack of consistency from their bats.
Following a 7-0 rout of the Tigers on Wednesday night, Tribe catcher Yan Gomes was asked where his team would be right now without the performance of the pitchers.
“You guys tell me,” Gomes said. “These guys have been stepping it up. Now, it’s time for the hitters to step it up for them.”
It’s Sept. 3 for another half hour, but I’ll use this space tonight to do my monthly look back at the most recent four-week segment on the calendar. You’ll have to forgive me for not posting this a couple days ago. The family and I were celebrating the fifth birthday of MLBastian Jr. over the holiday weekend. But I digress…
As Gomes mentioned in the wake of Danny Salazar’s first career shutout, the offense has been sporadic in terms of support. That said, the Indians enjoyed a 17-win August and pulled closer in the playoff chase thanks to some historically-strong pitching.
Corey Kluber continued to lead the charge, but the best development in August was arguably the return to starting role for Carlos Carrasco. Combined with his first outing in September, the righty has gone 3-0 with a 0.90 ERA in 30 innings within five starts since rejoining the starting staff. Combined with continued growth from youngsters Trevor Bauer, T.J. House and Salazar, Cleveland surprised plenty of critic by fielding the American League’s best rotation last month.
If you slice the schedule back to Aug. 9 — that arbitrary starting point is hand-picked due to the four-game stretch (with three starts of fewer than five innings) that preceded it — the Indians’ rotation has turned in a 1.92 ERA (28 ER/131.1 IP) with 141 strikeouts against 36 walks in 22 games. In August overall, Carrasco (1.82 ERA), Kluber (2.10), Salazar (2.77), House (2.89) and Bauer (3.34) did most of the heavy lifting.
The Indians need more of the same through the rest of September if they plan on repeating last year’s miracle run to the playoffs.
Here is a look back at the month that was for the Tribe…
Record at home: 9-4
Record on road: 8-5
Offense (AL rank)
.250 AVG (7)
.308 OBP (8)
.376 SLG (9)
.683 OPS (9)
101 R (14)
221 H (10)
47 2B (t-7)
3 3B (t-9)
21 HR (t-9)
97 RBI (t-12)
21 SB (5)
72 BB (11)
217 K (10)
347 TB (10)
Notes: Not a stellar month by Cleveland’s offense, which featured plenty of youth and operated short-handed at times due to a variety of injuries. The Indians stole 21 bases, but the last time they had at least that many to go along with no more than 101 runs scored was August 2012 (that horrendous 5-24 month). There must be something about August. In each of the past three Augusts (’12, ’13, ’14), the Tribe has posted 101 runs or fewer with an OPS of .683 or less. Thank the baseball gods for good pitching.
Pitching (AL rank)
17 wins (t-4)
2.39 ERA (1)
2.57 rot. ERA (1)
2.07 rel. ERA (1)
6 saves (t-9)
249 IP (9)
204 H (1)
79 R (1)
66 ER (1)
14 HR (1)
72 BB (7)
244 K (3)
.220 AVG (1)
1.11 WHIP (2)
Notes: Scan those stats one more time. You’re looking at one of the best months by a staff in American League history. This marked the first time in the past 100 years that an AL team had at least 240 innings, 244 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.39 or better. Only two National League teams (Dodgers in Aug. 2013 and Giants in Sept/Oct. 2010) have accomplished the feat. The 2.39 ERA was the best in any month by a Cleveland team since May 1972. Remove the strikeouts and May 1968, Aug. 1954, Sept/Oct. 1948, July 1918 and June 1917 are the only other months in which a Cleveland team had at least 240 innings and an ERA of 2.39 or better.
Player of the Month: OF Michael Brantley
Stats: .286/.327/.467/.794, 3 HR, 10 2B, 19 RBI, 10 R, 5 SB, 26 games
Notes: It was a down month overall for the Tribe, but Brantley — Cleveland’s steadiest bat all year — provided a solid showing. He became only the fifth player in the past decade to have at least five stolen bases, 10 runs, 13 extra-base hits and 19 RBIs in a month. The others: Jason Kipnis (May and June in 2013), Asdrubal Cabrera (May 2011), Shin-Soo Choo (Sept/Oct. 2010) and Grady Sizemore (May 2006).
Previous ’14 winners: OF David Murphy (April), Brantley (May), 3B Lonnie Chisenhall (June), 1B Carlos Santana (July)
Pitcher of the Month: RHP Corey Kluber
Stats: 2-2, 2.10 ERA, 34.1 IP, 43 K, 11 BB, .227 AVG, 1.19 WHIP, 5 starts
Notes: With apologies to Carrasco, who easily was the best story of the month for the Indians, Kluber logged more innings and continued on as Cleveland’s rotation leader. This marked the third month this season (also July and August) that Kluber had at least 34 innings and 40 strikeouts with an ERA of 2.10 or better. The last Cleveland pitcher to have three such months in a single year was Gaylord Perry in 1972. Since 1980, the only Indians pitchers beyond Kluber to have that type of line for a single month are Ubaldo Jimenez (2013), CC Sabathia (once each in the ’05, ’06 and ’08 seasons), Bartolo Colon (2000) and Len Barker (once in ’80 and once in ’81).
Previous ’14 winners: RHP Zach McAllister (April), Kluber (May, June, July)
Reliever of the Month: RHP Bryan Shaw
Stats: 1-0, 0.55 ERA, 16.1 IP, 12 K, 1 BB, .169 AVG, 0.67 WHIP, 1 save, 17 games
Notes: It should not surprise you that Shaw leads the Indians’ bullpen in innings (141.2) and pitches (2,308) over the 2013-14 seasons combined. In August, he joined Bobby Howry (2005), Jerry Dipoto (1993), Sid Monge (1979), Eddie Fisher (1968) and Ted Abernathy (1963) as the only pitchers in Cleveland history to appear in at least 17 games in a month. Fisher has the previous low for ERA (1.50) among that group. In fact, in terms of MLB history, Shaw joined JC Romero (2007), Salomon Torres (2005), Julian Tavarez (1997) and Rich Rodriguez (1997) as the only pitchers in the past 100 seasons to have at least 17 games and an ERA of 0.55 or better in a single month.
Previous ’14 winners: Shaw (April, May), Allen (June, July)
Game of the Month (hitter): CF Michael Bourn
Aug. 28 at White Sox: 3-for-5, 2 3B, 1 R, 7 total bases
Notes: This game stood out on its own, but it also was notable due to the fact that it marked Bourn’s second two-triple game of the season. Since 1941, Bourn and Kenny Lofton (three such games in 1995) are the only Cleveland batters with at least two two-triple games in the same season. Bourn is the first to achieve the feat in the Majors since 2011 (Jose Reyes, three; Austin Jackson, two).
Game of the Month (pitcher): RHP Cody Allen
Aug. 28 at White Sox: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R/ER, 0 BB, 4 K, save
Notes: I typically reserve this category for a starter, but Allen’s save in Chicago was extremely unique. With this performance, Allen became only the second Indians pitcher in the past 100 seasons to turn in a four-out, four-strikeout save. The only other Cleveland hurler to achieve the feat was Dave LaRoche on July 28, 1976.
Minor League standouts for August
Player of the Month: 1B Jesus Aguilar
Stats: .365/.441/.615/1.056, 5 HR, 14 XBH, 13 RBI, 14 BB, 19 R, 25 games
Previous ’14 winners: Aguilar (April), OF Matt Carson (May), C Roberto Perez (June), 3B Giovanny Urshela (July)
Pitcher of the Month: RHP Bryan Price
Stats: 1.35 ERA, 13.1 IP, 18 K, 0 BB, .109 AVG, 0.38 WHIP, 9 games
Previous ’14 winners: RHP Trevor Bauer (April), LHP Nick Hagadone (May), RHP Austin Adams (June), RHP Tyler Cloyd (July)
Player of the Month: OF Anthony Gallas
Stats: .269/.310/.481/.791, 6 HR, 10 XBH, 19 RBI, 11 R, 28 H, 27 games
Previous ’14 winners: 3B Giovanny Urshela (April), OF Tyler Naquin (May, June), Gallas (July)
Pitcher of the Month: RHP Louis Head
Stats: 0.00 ERA, 14.1 IP, 18 K, 3 BB, .180 AVG, 0.84 WHIP, 9 games
Previous ’14 winners: LHP Kyle Crockett (April), RHP Tyler Sturdevant (May), RHP Bryan Price (June), LHP Giovanni Soto (July)
Class A (high) Carolina
Player of the Month: 3B Yandy Diaz
Stats: .290/.431/.409/.840, 1 HR, 6 XBH, 10 RBI, 15 R, 21 BB, 27 games
Previous ’14 winners: SS Erik Gonzalez (April), OF Anthony Gallas (May), OF Luigi Rodriguez (June), INF Yhoxian Medina (July)
Pitcher of the Month: LHP Ryan Merritt
Stats: 3-0, 2.53 ERA, 32 IP, 24 K, 2 BB, .250 AVG, 1.03 WHIP, 5 starts
Previous ’14 winners: Merritt (April, May, June), RHP Jacob Lee (July)
Class A (low) Lake County
Player of the Month: 1B Nellie Rodriguez
Stats: .308/.403/.561/.964, 5 HR, 17 XBH, 28 RBI, 19 R, 17 BB, 28 games
Previous ’14 winners: OF Cody Farrell (April), INF Paul Hendrix (May), INF Claudio Bautista (June), OF Clint Frazier (July)
Pitcher of the Month: RHP Mitch Brown
Stats: 5-0, 0.78 ERA, 34.2 IP, 35 K, 7 BB, .195 AVG, 0.89 WHIP, 6 starts
Previous ’14 winners: RHP Jordan Milbrath (April), RHP Robbie Aviles (May), RHP Ben Heller (June), LHP Wander Beras (July)
Class A (short season) Mahoning Valley
Player of the Month: OF Bradley Zimmer
Stats: .346/.477/.538/1.015, 2 HR, 5 XBH, 12 RBI, 11 R, 6 SB, 15 games
Previous ’14 winners: OF Jorge Martinez (June), Zimmer (July)
Pitcher of the Month: RHP J.P. Feyereisen
Stats: 0.00 ERA, 7.2 IP, 11 K, 0 BB, .115 AVG, 0.39 WHIP, 2 saves, 8 games
Previous ’14 winners: RHP Justin Garcia (June), LHP Sean Brady (July)
Arizona (Rookie) League
Player of the Month: 1B Bobby Bradley
Stats: .346/.368/.692/1.061, 3 HR, 9 XBH, 19 RBI, 17 R, 14 games
Previous ’14 winners: 1B Emmanuel Tapia (June), Bradley (July)
Pitcher of the Month: RHP Jared Robinson
Stats: 0.90 ERA, 10 IP, 9 K, 1 BB, .184 AVG, 0.80 WHIP, 4 games
Previous ’14 winners: LHP Thomas Pannone (June), RHP Cortland Cox (July)
Dominican Summer League
Player of the Month: INF Jorma Rodriguez
Stats: .386/.526/.491/1.018, 5 XBH, 10 RBI, 11 R, 18 BB, 22 H, 18 games
Previous ’14 winners: OF Gabriel Mejia (June, July)
Pitcher of the Month: RHP Daniel Gomez
Stats: 3-0, 0.00 ERA, 23 IP, 24 K, 1 BB, .107 AVG, 0.39 WHIP, 4 starts
Previous ’14 winners: RHP Cesar Ventura (June), RHP Luis Jimenez
FIRST: The Indians hoped that Carlos Carrasco would carry the mentality of a late-inning reliever into his role as a starter in April. It took a rough opening act, and then a three-month stint back in the bullpen, for the big righty to figure out what that meant.
When Carrasco was sitting at 98-99 mph in the first inning on Thursday night, it was easy to see that he’s understanding and embracing what manager Terry Francona sums up nicely as “attack mode.”
“It’s something I learned in the bullpen: attack,” Carrasco said. “That’s what pitching’s about.”
It’s easy to say, and now Carrasco is making it look easy to do.
In one of the more incredible developments of this season — a story that once again has put the work of pitching coach Mickey Callaway and bullpen coach Kevin Cash on display — Carrasco has emerged as a formidable starting weapon for the Tribe. Four starts a season does not make, but it counts as a trend, and it’s the kind of trend Cleveland desperately needed in this season filled with starting pitching turmoil.
Against the White Sox, who dropped two of three to the Tribe this week, Carrasco spun 6.2 strong innings with his lone “mistake” an RBI single to slugger Jose Abreu (We’ll get to the quotation marks in the next item). Carrasco struck out seven, scattered four hits, walked one and ended with 71-percent strikes (73-of-103). It was the kind of line that has been the norm of late for the starter-turned-reliever-turned-starter-turned-reliever-turned-starter.
“He continues to do it,” Francona said. “He came out, he established his fastball, he held it. Especially when he kind of saw the end coming, he reached back for a little more. He had a good touch on his breaking ball and his changeup.”
The move to from the bullpen to the rotation was helped along by both a handful of off-days — allowing Francona to have a rested bullpen on high alert — and a steady showing by Carrasco. Over his last six games (the last four being starts), Carrasco’s pitch count has climbed in this manner: 21-59-77-79-90-103. Carrasco’s efficiency along the way has made this whole thing work.
“He’s in great shape. He’s a strong kid,” Francona said. “Fortunately, the way he’s pitched, he’s almost gone in increments, like 60, 70, 80, 90, 100. It’s worked out really well, where he hasn’t had a big increase in each game. And part of that is because he’s pitching so well. It’s been really good.”
Over his past four starts, Carrasco has gone 3-0 with a 0.73 ERA, 0.57 WHIP and a .131 (11-for-84) opponents’ average. In 24.2 innings in that span, the righty has 24 strikeouts, three walks and a 69-percent strike rate. Over his past 30 games, dating back to when he was pulled out of the rotation in April after going 0-3 with a6.95 ERA in four starts, Carrasco has a 1.73 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and .187 (45-for-241) opponents’ average in 67.2 innings (63 strikeouts against 12 walks).
“It’s miraculous, man,” Indians center fielder Michael Bourn said. “I’ve always thought he has great stuff. I’ve seen him since he’s 19. We came up in the Phillies organization almost together. So, I’ve been seeing him for a long time. People don’t understand, when you play at this level, it takes more than one years or two years to get adjusted to it.”
SECOND: I think we can forgive Cookie for the lone blemish on his pitching line.
The RBI single that Abreu delivered came on an 87-mph slider that was out of the strike zone. Chicago’s rookie slugger reached out and flicked the pitch into left-center, scoring Adam Eaton from third base. It was similar to Wednesday night, when Abreu saw seven cutters from Corey Kluber and sent the last one, on a full count, up the middle for the game’s decisive hit in the seventh.
“We’re finding out the hard way,” Francona said, “that with two strikes, you can’t expand the plate too much with Abreu. He can reach just about anything. That’s been a thorn in our side, and probably the rest of the league, too. That’s the only run he gave up.”
Carrasco was able to shrug it off, because he felt he executed the pitch.
“That was a good pitch,” Carrasco said. “I think he was looking for that, because I think I threw it before and I threw another one down and he took it.”
The Indians have found that the best way to attack Abreu is to try to mix things up vertically, or get him to offer at pitches with more up-and-down movement. That might explain why a pitcher as talented as Kluber — whose entire arsenal is more based on lateral movement — has struggled to the tune of a .462 average against Abreu.
In the three-game series, Abreu went 5-for-11 in the batter’s box with two doubles, two walks, two runs and three RBIs against Cleveland. On the season, the first baseman has hit .294 with five homers, 10 RBIs and a .627 slugging percentage in 13 games against the Indians.
Great, Paul Konerko is retiring, but the White Sox already have found their new Tribe killer.
THIRD: It appears that Bourn is feeling just fine these days, following all the left hamstring woes. He robbed Konerko of a hit on Tuesday night with a diving catch that required a perfect sprint. In the finale on Thursday, all the center fielder did was collect a pair of triples in the win over the White Sox.
“I got tested pretty well today,” Bourn said with a smile.
This actually marked Bourn’s second two-triple game of the season for the Tribe. He’s the first hitter in the Majors to have at least a pair of two-triple games in the same year since 2011 (Jose Reyes, 3; Austin Jackson, 2). Bourn and Kenny Lofton (3 such games in 1995) are the only Cleveland hitters to accomplish that feat since 1941.
The others to do so for Cleveland in the past 100 seasons: Gee Walker (2 in 1941), Earl Averill (2 in 1932), Lew Fonseca (2 in 1929), Bill Wambsganss (2 in 1920) and Larry Gardner (2 in 1920).
In the first inning, Bourn tripled and then scored on Jose Ramirez’s groundout to shortstop Alexei Ramirez. On the play, Bourn hesitated, but then sprinted for the plate as soon as the shortstop released the relay throw to first base. Bourn didn’t go on contact, because he had a bad angle and couldn’t tell right away if third baseman Conor Gillaspie had a shot at the chopper. But, as soon Ramirez gloved the ball, Bourn knew he still had time to score.
“I had a bad read,” Bourn said. “I didn’t know if the third baseman had a chance at making the play when he went at the ball. Once I saw it bounce and the shortstop got it, I knew he wasn’t going to be focused on me. As soon as I saw him release it, I was off and running. I felt like it was hard for him to make the throw all the way across and then all the way back home.”
That’s the Bourn Cleveland needs to see more often.
“He desperately wants to be that sparkplug,” Francona said. “And you can see — two triples — he’s pretty into it. He knows how important he is at the top of the lineup.”
HOME: And what about Cody Allen’s importance to the end of the game? In the eighth inning, Bryan Shaw gave up a two-out single and then third baseman Mike Aviles booted a ball for an error, putting runners on first and second base for Adam Dunn. As it happens, Allen entered Thursday holding lefties to a .125 average with 47-percent of the at-bats (104) ending with a strikeout (49).
“When you have a big lefty,” Francona said, “to be able to go to a righty is really valuable.”
Dunn won this battle, sending a duck snort into right field — just out of the reach of second baseman Jason Kipnis — to score a run to pull Chicago within one. No harm done. Allen recovered with four consecutive strikeouts — one to end the eighth and three to finish off the ninth for his 18th save.
A local reporter asked Francona is that was as dominant a four-out save as he’s seen in recent years.
“Oh boy, I don’t know,” Francona said sharply. “I think he had one the other day. He’s pretty good. You maybe need to get cable or something and watch him. He’s pretty good.”
Well, as it happens, it marked only the second four-out, four-strikeout save in the past 100 seasons for a Cleveland reliever. The only other one came on July 28, 1976, when Dave LaRoche achieved the rare feat. It’s happened three times in the American League this season. The other arms to do it are Josh Fields (Aug. 5) and Ernesto Frieri (April 14).
EXTRA: In the sixth inning, Kipnis came through with an RBI single and then went from first to third on a base his by Aviles. On that sprint to the hot corner, Kipnis slid in head-first and was accidentally kicked in the face by Gillaspie, as the third baseman fielded the relay throw. Kipnis was checked out by the trainers and stayed in the game. Said Francona: “He got like a heel to the nose, and I know it hurt and I know he’s probably going to be black and blue. But I was relieved, because I thought maybe it was a finger or something. He’s a pretty tough kid. He’ll be all right.”
NOTE: I will not be making the trip to Kansas City for the upcoming division clash between the Tribe and Royals. You’ll have to forgive me for taking a few days off. It’s MLBastian Jr.’s fifth birthday and it’ll be family time until I return to Indians.com coverage on Tuesday in Cleveland. Keep checking the site and following @Indians and @tribeinsider on Twitter for updates.
Indians (68-64) at Royals (74-59)
at 8:10 p.m. ET Friday at Kauffman Stadium
FIRST: What’s your dream pitcher vs. batter matchup right now in baseball? Clayton Kershaw against Mike Trout? King Felix against Giancarlo Stanton? How about an American League Central heavyweight bout? You could wager that Corey Kluber vs. Jose Abreu is worth the price of admission.
Through four rounds this season, Abreu has the edge.
On Wednesday night, Chicago’s rookie slugger went 3-for-4 with a double, a run and two RBIs against Kluber, who headed into the night ranked second only to King Felix (6.1) in baseball in fWAR (5.5). If you prefer a more basic statistical breakdown, well, Abreu now has a .462 (6-for-13) batting average this season against Kluber, who has held hitters to a .210 (77-for-367) over his last 14 starts.
“He does good against a lot of people, if you look at his numbers,” Kluber said. “He’s a good hitter. He covers a lot of pitches, so you’ve just got to kind of mix it up on him. Even when you make some good pitches, sometimes good hitters are able to get their hits.”
Here is a summary of their confrontations on Wednesday night:
First at-bat: Kluber sat at 96-97 mph with four two-seamers and mixed in one 92-mph cutter in the middle of the at-bat. On a 2-2 count, the right-hander went with a 97-mph sinker and Abreu came through with a double to right field.
Second at-bat: Kluber again stuck with sinkers and cutters, staying in the 90-96 mph range for the entire five-pitch at-bat. This time, the righty went sinker, sinker, sinker, cutter, cutter. The final pitch in that sequence was a 91-mph offering on a 3-1 count that was shot up the middle for an RBI single.
Third at-bat: For the third time, Kluber and Abreu engaged in a five-pitch battle. Kluber threw five fastballs, staying in the 92-95 mph range. After three sinkers, he came back with a four-seamer and then finished Abreu off with a 2-2 two-seamer for a swinging strikeout.
Fourth at-bat: For their final meeting, Kluber stuck with his cutter for all seven pitches. The velocity was around 88-89 mph as Kluber pitch count climbed from 110 to 117. On the final pitch, Kluber sent a 3-2 pitch to center for another RBI single.
“He left a pitch there and I was able to connect and get the ball through the middle,” Abreu said. “A lot of respect goes to him. He’s one of the better pitchers in the Major Leagues I’ve faced.”
SECOND: When Kluber elected to pitch to Abreu, the White Sox had runners on the corners with one out. Lefty-swinging Adam Dunn was on deck and has hit over .300 in his career against Kluber, who gave up an RBI double to him earlier in the game.
Indians manager Terry Francona was asked if they considered walking Abreu in that situation.
“There were a lot of considerations,” said the manager. “If they had elected to run [opening first base], we would have walked him. That’s a tough situation. He’s hit into a number of double plays, but he’s a really good hitter. It’s tough, really tough. [Pitching coach Mickey Callaway] made a trip to the mound. We knew how we wanted to pitch him. The last pitch just caught too much of the plate. If we walk him there, it’s not the en of the world.”
After Abreu’s hit, Kluber was pulled from the contest and hung with a hard luck loss. Overall, he allowed three runs on nine hits in 6.1 innings. The righty ended with eight strikeouts, making him the first Cleveland pitcher since 1970 (Sam McDowell) to have at least 17 games with eight or more strikeouts in one season. At 213 strikeouts on the year, Kluber is now 19th on Cleveland’s all-time single-season list.
He’s also been the victim of some poor run support of late, getting three runs or fewer in six of his last seven starts and two runs or fewer in five of those seven turns.
“If we score five or six,” Francona said, “we’re talking ab out him cruising.”
Kluber also reached a career-high 193.2 innings on the season. it’s uncharted territory for the right-hander, who logged 159.2 IP in 2013 between MLB and the Minors. His previous innings totals (MLB and Minors combined) are 188.1 (2012), 155 (2011), 160 (2010), 154 (2009), 141.1 (2008) and 33.1 (2007).
Kluber was so strong from June 15-Aug. 15, turning in a 1.43 ERA and 0.88 WHIP in 12 starts, that his last two outings have made him look off. In his past two trips up the hill, he’s posted a 4.05 ERA and 1.57 WHIP with 16 strikeouts, 15 hits and six walks in 13.1 IP.
Is Kluber feeling fatigued?
“No, not at all,” Kluber said. “I feel as good now as I did at the beginning of the year. Stuff wise, I think my stuff has carried on throughout the year. I haven’t lost anything. I just made a couple mistakes today.”
THIRD: With no outs, runners on second and third base and Alexei Ramirez at the plate in the seventh, Kluber induced a chopper to third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall. He gloved the grounder and threw a strike to catcher Roberto Perez, who received the ball with plenty of time to apply the tag on Chicago’s Carlos Sanchez.
Initially, Perez appeared to block the plate, but the rookie catcher quickly stepped forward, and then stepped back in order to put the tag on. White Sox manager Robin Ventura came out of the dugout and requested a crew-chief review. The umpires obliged, but the out call was confirmed.
Given that it was an easy out, and Sanchez still had several steps before reaching Perez, it seemed like an iffy play to review. That said, the rules dictate that if a catcher is indeed blocking the plate, the runner can be ruled safe. For a moment, it appeared that could be the case in Chicago.
Perez said his quick move away from the plate was to give the runner a path.
“I was making sure I had the ball first,” Perez said. “I got it and went forward a couple steps and tagged him.”
Perez said he asked home-plate ump Rob Drake if, in that type of situation, the catcher can run towards the baserunner to apply the tag.
“He said, ‘Yeah, you can,” Perez said. “Now that that happened to me, when I get the ball I’m going to make sure I go right at him. I’m not going to try to [wait to] tag him. I’m just going to go right at him.”
HOME: The Indians were fine with the crew-chief review, but they were not too happy about what happened after the play was confirmed as an out. Kluber requested a handful of warmup pitches, but was denied by both Drake and crew chief Joe West. In previous review situations this season, Kluber has been permitted to do his warmup throws after the review’s conclusion.
“If it’s one of those four or five minute replays,” Kluber explained, “what’s the point of throwing as soon as they go over there and put the headset on? I’ve had instances where I’ve been out there this year and they’re standing out there for three, four, five minutes. Am I just supposed to figure out how long a replay is going to take? I’m not even sure why they looked at that play, to be honest.”
Francona wasn’t pleased with how the umpires handled the situation, either.
“That was disappointing,” Francona said. “Klubes doesn’t know how long they’re going to be over there, so he doesn’t want to keep throwing, because he was at a pretty high pitch count. I didn’t think a couple of pitches would make the crowd go away. I thought some common sense would have prevailed a little bit.”
What was Drake’s explanation?
“He just said that’s the way he’s done it,” Francona said. “We said, ‘That’s a new one to us. I could’ve gone out and argued, but that would’ve made it go on longer.”
Said Kluber: “I understand that replay is part of the game now. Tonight, I don’t get the whole making up rules as we go thing. Every other time I’ve been out there for a replay, I’ve waited until they finish the replay and then have thrown a couple pitches. All of a sudden, tonight I’m told that you’re only allowed to throw pitches while they’re reviewing the play. If the umpires are making up stuff as we’re going, then the system needs to be looked at, I think.”
Indians (67-64) at White Sox (60-72)
at 8:10 p.m. ET Thursday at U.S. Cellular Field
FIRST: Zach Walters did two things that were out of character on Tuesday night. The rookie had a single in Cleveland’s win over the White Sox and he stood up for his postgame interview with reporters. He’s only been up with Cleveland for a few weeks, but this rookie is winning people over both on the field and in the clubhouse, with a potent bat and unique personality, respectively.
Walters likes to do interviews sitting down, leaning back and relaxed, if the situation allows for it. Fireside chats with Zach Walters. He likes to joke that his four gloves are just to make him look like a ballplayer, because he’s mostly been a DH with the Indians. In past winters, he’s played on the same softball team as Jose Canseco in Las Vegas. He swears he’s a good at bunting, even though he has misfired on two attempts this season … shortly before launching a game-winning home run. He enjoys the phrase “freaking awesome.” He’s dropped it multiple times since coming to the Tribe via trade from the Nationals.
What could this rook possibly do next? How about belt a two-run home run in the 10th inning to propel Cleveland to a win in Chicago, opening a stretch of 30 games in 30 days with style. Walters now has six homers in 48 at-bats with the Indians, and all six have either tied a game or given the Indians a lead.
“It’s for the kids,” Walters said of the home runs. “I eat my spinach and I drink milk. That’s the only reason why.”
Cleveland reporters already are calling this trade with Washington a win for the Indians.
Walters was stuck in a pinch-hitting role with the Nats, who sent him to Cleveland on July 31 for shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. Overall this season, the 24-year-old Walters has belted nine home runs in 87 at-bats in the Majors. Half of his 18 hits in the big leagues have been long balls this year, and he’s launching one every 9.67 at-bats on average. Combined with his Minor League showing this year, Walters has 26 homers in 355 at-bats, or one per 13.65 at-bats, and the shots account for 25.7 percent of his hits overall this season.
Walters hit .310 in the Minors this season, but only has a .208 average with the Indians and a .207 average overall in the Majors this year.
“He’s a strong kid and there’s a lot of life in that bat,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He’s that threat. His batting average might not be the highest, but there’s been a lot of home runs and they seem like they come at points in the game that really mean something.”
Walters is confident that the consistency will soon follow the power.
“It’s an unbelievable opportunity the Indians have given me,” Walters said. “I was in a tough spot [in Washington]. It’s been a night-and-day difference over here. They’re giving me kind of the keys to drive the car, I guess you’d say. They’re letting me play. All I ask for is just at-bats to get consistent and they’re giving me that and I’m happy with that.”
SECOND: About that bunt attempt…
After Lonnie Chisenhall delivered a leadoff pinch-hit double against White Sox reliever Jake Petricka in the 10th inning, Walters worked to a 2-0 count. He wanted to time Petricka’s fastball, so he offered at the next pitch, fouled it off and then decided to bunt on his own. Why? Because Francona gave him clear instructions.
“He didn’t have to bunt,” Francona said. “I just wanted him to make sure that that runner was on third when he was done. … I just wanted to make sure he pulled the ball.”
Walters was not able to get the bunt down and then slipped into a full count.
“Tito told me get him over however you want,” Walters said “I’m hitting down there in the lineup for a reason. I was like I’ll bunt first. I got to a 2-0 count and took a swing, kind of timed up his fastball, missed the bunt. I knew he was going to come at me, but I wasn’t expecting to hit a home run. I was just trying to put the ball in play. I got lucky.”
Lucky or not, the Indians will take it.
“I promise, I’m a good bunter,” Walters said. “I swear, I’m a good bunter. Maybe I had a little anxiety, being the rookie guy. I don’t know.”
Said Francona: “Fortunately, he didn’t get the bunt down.”
THIRD: Cleveland’s starting rotation has carried the club of late, posting a 1.71 ERA over the 13 games heading into Tuesday’s meeting with the White Sox. Lefty T.J. House had not given up more than three earned runs in eight straight starts, posting a 3.07 ERA in that span. Well, against Chicago, House hit a wall by allowing five runs on seven hits in 4.2 innings of work. He was chased after giving up a two-run homer to Alexei Ramirez to put the White Sox up 5-4 in the fifth inning.
“The way we’ve pitched lately,” Francona said, “it was nice to see the hitters kind of pick us up a little bit.”
HOME: Tito’s bullpen army helped out, piecing together the final 5.1 innings and giving up just one run. Hey, they’re allowed to flinch every once in a while. With closer Cody Allen unavailable (Francona wanted to give him two days off in a row), Bryan Shaw handled the final 2.1 innings to seal the win. Among the five arms used was lefty Nick Hagadone, who continues to quietly be one of the best stories of Cleveland’s season. Over his past 20 appearances, Hags has turned in a 0.52 ERA, 0.58 WHIP and .138 opponents’ average, piling up 18 strikeouts against two walks in 17.1 innings along the way. The left-hander has a 1.37 ERA in 25 outings overall this year.
Indians (67-63) at White Sox (59-72)
at 8:10 p.m. ET Wednesday at U.S. Cellular Field
Final: Indians 3, Astros 1
FIRST: Cleveland claimed its third series in a row and has now won or split seven of its past eight sets. The Indians have won nine of 13 and continue to hang within earshot of the American League playoff picture.
What has been driving it of late? The rotation.
“It’s been unbelievable,” Indians starter Trevor Bauer said. “Every day, you run a new guy out there and have this feeling that he’s going to post a really good start and we’re going to win the game. It’s nice to have that confidence as a team.”
On Sunday, it was Bauer who grabbed the torch and carried it through another outing for the Tribe.
Over the recent 13-game stretch, Cleveland’s starting staff — three starts apiece for Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Bauer; two for Danny Salazar; and one each for T.J. House and Josh Tomlin — has logged a 1.71 ERA, .176 opponents’ average and 0.90 WHIP. Across 79 combined innings, that group has surrendered 15 earned runs and piled up 87 strikeouts against 22 walks.
“We haven’t been scoring a ton of runs,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “And we’ve won a couple series in a row because of [our pitching]. The hope is the pitching stays strong, we start scoring a few more runs and we stretch a couple of games out. We have our work cut out for us, but if we pitch like that, we’ll give ourselves a chance.”
SECOND: Bauer logged one of his best outings of the season, lasting one batter into the seventh inning, blanking Houston’s bats and ending with 115 pitches, 73 strikes, nine strikeouts, four hits, three walks, one hit batsmen and a partridge in a pear tree. Those first-inning troubles that have been so well-d0cumented? Non-existent.
Well, OK, let’s be fair. Bauer escaped the first inning on only 12 pitches, but he did give up a single and stolen base to Jose Altuve, and right fielder Tyler Holt rescued the frame with a diving catch to rob Marc Krauss of a hit. That said, Bauer was more aggressive with his fastball out of the gates, which is something pitching coach Mickey Callaway hoped to see from the young righty.
Here’s what Callaway said on Wednesday in Minnesota: ” What we talked about …. was make a little bit different of an approach, as far as the way he’s attacking hitters early in the game. Get more on the plate. Don’t try to be so fine. Setting up more on the plate with the catcher and letting his stuff play a little bit better.”
Bauer throws so many pitches that it sometimes takes him a little bit of time to figure out which ones he has the best feel for on any given day. That can lead to some feeling-out in the early innings. That said, Callaway hoped to see the pitcher leave a few pitches in his back pocket early on, establishing his fastball before beginning to mix in everything and the kitchen sink.
In the first inning Sunday, Bauer threw 10 of 12 pitches for fastballs and eight of 12 for strikes.
“I had a pretty good feel for my fastball early, so I used it,” Bauer said. “That’s kind of my mindset going into every game. Find what I have a feel for and use it. Sometimes I pick the wrong pitch, or I don’t know what I have a feel for yet, so I have to throw a couple different pitch types to find out what I do have a feel for. I had a feel for my fastball and my cutter early and it worked out.”
In his previous start, Bauer threw 15 fastballs within his first 23 pitches (only 12 strikes) and allowed five runs during that five-batter stretch. Since then, though, the righty has given up no runs and held hitters to a .114 (4-for-35) showing.
THIRD: Holt made not just one, but two potential run-saving catches for Bauer on Sunday. As mentioned, he made a diving catch to steal a hit away from Krauss with two outs and a runner on second in the first. Then, in the sixth, Holt ran in hard and to his left, dove and once again stole a hit from Krauss with no outs and a runner on first.
“The first one, [center fielder Michael] Bourn pulled me a little bit towards him,” Holt said. “It was an easier catch straight on. The other one was more difficult, where it was slicing away. Bourn was backing me up. I don’t know if he thought I would catch it or not.”
Francona was impressed.
“He played a really good right field,” said the manager. “Everybody sees the dives, but the jumps to get to the point where he could dive was impressive. He works hard. That’s the one position he’s probably played the least, but his jumps are really good.”
Bauer quipped: “I kind of felt bad for Marc.”
“Not at all,” he said with a laugh.
HOME: After trading veteran shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera to the Nationals on July 31, the Indians made it clear that they wanted to take a good look at youngster Jose Ramirez as a starter. After hitting .182 (8-for-44) in his first 15 games for Cleveland this season, Ramirez has hit at a .306 (19-for-62) clip in 19 games since the trade with Washington.
“He’s starting to play with a little confidence,” Francona said. “You can see that in his body language. He got a couple of hits today and he’s pretty excited. That was the kid we saw last year when he got called up. He plays such good shortstop. He’s all over the place at shortstop. When he’s hitting second, he can get a bunt down. He’s getting some hits now. That’s a real help for us.”
Ramirez did make one blunder on Sunday, getting thrown out at the plate to end the third inning. A pitch in the dirt did not get too far away from catcher Carlos Corporan, Ramirez misread the situation and was a dead duck as he tried to score. No matter, Ramirez ended the afternoon with three hits, including a double off the wall in left in the third and an RBI single in the seventh.
Ramirez hit .538 (7-for-13) in the three-game set with Houston, has hit .405 (15-for-37) over his past 10 games and has a .432 (16-or-37) average as Cleveland’s No. 2 hitter.
“He’s coming up big,” Holt said. “Every time I go down to the video room he is watching his hits. His confidence is up there. He’s having great at bats and keeping us in the game.”
- Sunday notes: Gimenez rejoins Tribe, Brantley rests and more
- Saturday gamer: Cleveland’s kids lead way to walk-off win
- Saturday feature: Baseball alive again at League Park
Indians (66-63) at White Sox (59-71)
at 8:10 p.m. ET Tuesday at U.S. Cellular Field