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Covering the Bases: Game 127

KluberSome notes and quotes from Friday’s 12-1 win over Texas

FIRST: Would you just look at that smile on Kluber’s face? That just about sums up Friday night in Arlington. Even the Klubot was grinning.

There have been plenty of reasons for concern lately. Josh Tomlin and Danny Salazar have looked like shells of themselves of late, putting a few chinks in the rotation’s armor. The offense has ranked near the top of the league in scoring this year, but had suddenly been eerily quiet on this trip.

All those worries disappeared for one night in Texas.

“It was a good night for us,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “It let guys breathe a little bit.”

This was also another reminder that a baseball season is long, and it includes a lot of peaks and valleys. Overreacting to small sample sizes — They stink! Wait, they’re good again! No, wait, they stink! — is ill-advised. Shoot, let’s not even go and make too much of Friday’s 12-1 win. It doesn’t erase all the bad that’s happened lately, but man, if you’re the Indians, or a Tribe fan following along, it felt good.

Through it all this year, the Indians have not lost more than three games in a row. No other team in baseball can still say that this season. So, while there have been dramatic highs and lows, Cleveland has been one of the most consistent teams in the Majors in 2016.

“Throughout the course of a long season,” Kluber said, “you’re bound to have a stretch where the offense doesn’t score, or the pitching [struggles], like that series against the Twins, where the pitching was awful. It’s bound to happen. I think it’s just a matter of keeping trust in each other and not getting down or anything like that.”

SECOND: On Thursday night, Cole Hamels showed why he’s a Cy Young candidate, blanking the Indians over eight innings in a 9-0 laugher. On Friday night, Kluber showed why he’s a Cy Young candidate, turning in six strong innings in a 12-1 laugher.

As much as the postseason races will be fun to watch down the stretch, the American League Cy Young battle will be intriguing to follow, too. There is no one pitcher separating himself from the pack (which is why there are some people starting to state Zach Britton’s potential case for the annual award).

If Kluber winds up winning, it will probably be for two main reasons: He will have continued his current run through September, and he is the face of Cleveland’s highly-touted rotation. The preseason narrative was that it would be the Tribe’s rotation that carried the team to the postseason. Well, Kluber has been the leader of that group.

Three starts into this season, it wasn’t so pretty. Kluber was 0-3 with a 6.16 ERA. In the 23 starts that have followed, he has gone 14-5 with a 2.70 ERA, .209 opponents’ average, 1.00 WHIP and 159 strikeouts in 156.2 innings. Kluber has a 2.55 ERA in his last 17 turns, a 1.75 ERA in his last nine and a 2.20 ERA in August.

“He’s our ace,” Indians catcher Roberto Perez said. “Every time he steps on the mound, we’re really confident that he’s going to give us six or seven or eight innings. He came out today and it was a battle. They put great ABs against him. They fouled off a lot of pitches. That’s why his pitch count went up, but he was awesome today.”

Texas got Kluber out of the game after six innings, pushing his pitch count up to 113. Francona noted that the Rangers did a good job of laying off some of the breaking stuff, and then fouled off a lot of fastballs. In the end, Kluber allowed one run on five hits, ending with seven strikeouts and two walks.

The Rangers had the leadoff man on in each of the first four innings, but Kluber held them to a 1-for-12 showing with men on.

“They had a lot of tough at-bats,” Kluber said. “They fought off a lot of pitches, made me work. I tried not to get too caught up in it. I tried to keep going out there and execute pitches.”

THIRD: It certainly helped that Kluber had a wealth of run support.

After Thursday’s loss, Jason Kipnis was in a great mood, and he mostly shrugged off the recent offensive woes before saying this: “Tomorrow’s going to be a good day to say we’re just going to get back to the basics of some good line drives, put it in play, get some guys on base and have a little bit more fun.”

Talk about backing up what you say.

In the third, Kipnis stayed with an outside slider and shot it down the left-field line for a double. Perez, who singled two hitters earlier, scored from first base on the play to give the Indians a 1-0 lead. It was the first run scored by Cleveland not via a homer since the sixth inning on Sunday.

Take a look at pitch No. 4, which Kipnis hit:

Kipnis

As you can see by the chart below, Martin Perez didn’t necessarily make a bad pitch. A breaking ball from a lefty to that part of the zone has been a weak area for Kipnis throughout his career. But, give Kipnis credit on this one. He made the adjustment, took the pitch the opposite way and got Cleveland’s offense rolling.

KipMap

HOME: There contributions up and down Cleveland’s lineup, but the bottom of the order was especially productive. Abraham Almonte and Perez — batting eighth and ninth, respectively — went a combined 7-for-10 with seven RBIs in the win for the Indians.

Much has been made among Indians fans about the fact that Almonte will be ineligible for the playoffs, if Cleveland gets there. Said Almonte: “I think I’ve got a huge responsibility to do my best every day that I come out there. I think when Tito puts me in the lineup, he expects me to try to do my best. This is what I’m trying to do.”

Much has also been made of the offensive struggles of Perez, who came in hitting .104. On his four hits, Perez said: “Oh man, I feel good. It feels good. I’ve been working really hard on my batting. I kind of changed stances and everything, so finally today, it paid off.”

Since rejoining the Indians in July, Perez’s average exit velocity on balls in play has been 89.9 mph, per Statcast. Over the past 10 days, the average has ticked up to 91.8 mph. On Friday, the three hits recorded by Statcast were 88.6, 102.1 and 96 mph. It’s a very small sample, but it’s definitely a good trend.

“I feel like I’m seeing the ball pretty good,” Perez said. “It’s a matter of staying with it. I think I’m pulling off with a lot of pitches, even fastballs down and away, and I’m rolling over a lot. So, I’ve been working on trying to hit the hole. I had success last year doing that. So, I’m just trying to hit the second baseman. I found the hole today.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 126

TomlinSome notes and quotes from Thursday’s 9-0 loss to Texas

FIRST: Here’s the deal with Josh Tomlin and home runs: Josh Tomlin is going to give up home runs. He always has. He always will. What has made Tomlin good in stretches is the fact that he limits them mostly to solo shots.

“Those usually don’t beat you,” Tomlin said.

So, Tomlin controls what he can. He pumps strikes, limits walks and typically eliminates the running game when men do reach. Lately, though, the homers have not just come in bunches, but they’ve come in multi-run bunches. That’s a problem. Solos don’t usually beat a pitcher, but two three-run shots will get the job done for the opposition.

That’s what the Rangers delivered on Thursday night. Texas enjoyed a six-pack of runs off two big swings — one each from Carlos Gomes and Adrian Beltre. Cleveland was down 3-0 by the second and 8-0 by the fifth. And, making matters worse, the Tribe’s limping lineup was tasked with facing Cole Hamels and his 1.59 second-half ERA.

It was a bad combination all the way around, but it all started here:

“The past few turns I’ve been out there,” Tomlin said, “I haven’t really given our team a chance to win.”

In the second, the traffic jam came on with two outs. Jonathan Lucroy got it going with a single up the middle (Blame Lucroy!) and then Tomlin walked Mitch Moreland on five pitches. And then, bang! Gomez smacked a 1-0 cutter over the left-field wall at 107 mph.

Let’s take a look at that pitch:

GomezHR

And now let’s take a look at Gomez’s 2016 SLG on fastballs:

GomezMap

So, the guy with the .322 SLG on the year is slugging .500 against fastballs to that spot. Whoops.

In the fifth, traffic arrived with one out. Elvis Andrus, Nomar Mazara and Ian Desmond each singled. Then, Carlos Beltran chopped a pitch to first baseman Mike Napoli, who air-mailed it over Francisco Lindor and into left field. Rather than a potential double play, another run scored, and it opened the door for Beltre to whack another three-run shot.

“It was kind of a rough inning all the way around,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “Nap was trying to figure out should he throw over or around, and let it fly. And then they hit another one, which obviously hurt.”

Let’s take a look at the location of the cutter to Beltre:

BeltreHR

And, now, Beltre’s SLG on fastballs this season:

BeltreMap

OK, yeah, Tomlin probably should not have missed there.

I know not everyone likes an arbitrary end point, but I’ve been drawing a line through Tomlin’s season after his July 1 start. Why there? Well, he was 9-1 with a 3.21 ERA through 15 starts at that point, and he gave up eight runs (five earned) the next time out. When you scan his game log, it just looks like the place to draw the line.

In those first 15 starts, Tomlin gave up 19 homers (1.8 HR/9) and allowed 25 total runs on those shots. He gave up 13 solos and six two-run blasts. In the nine starts that have followed, Tomlin has given up 15 homers (2.7 HR/9) and allowed 30 total runs on those long balls. That includes six solos, eight two-run shots, four three-run blasts and one grand slam. He’s gone 2-7 with a 7.51 ERA in that span.

Tomlin reiterated what it seems like he’s said so many times throughout his career: “You’re always concerned when you’re giving up this many home runs, what’s going on. For me, it’s limiting the damage before that, trying to prevent the crooked numbers as best as I can. I don’t rely on stuff, so for me, it’s kind of limit the walks, limit the guys on base and try to do the best I can with nobody on base.”

SECOND: This is where Angry Tribe Fan On Twitter types in all caps at me: BUT YOU CAN’T WIN IF YOU DON’T SCORE ANY RUNS.

Yeah, about that. You see, here’s the thing: Hamels was pitching on Thursday. Now, I get it, Cleveland scored three total runs over 27 innings in Oakland. That was bad, and hard to explain. Thursday? They ran into an ace lefty who is on a tear and currently in the mix for a Cy Young Award.

“He’s got the whole thing,” Francona said. “He’s got a fastball, and he can cut it. A great changeup. A great feel for pitching. He had everything working tonight and you give him a lead, and he knows what to do with it, because he’s not going to walk people.”

That said, Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis tipped his cap — “He’s one of the better ones, and maybe one of the better left-handed starters in the game.” — while also putting the onus on the offense to do more.

“We probably just waited to long to make the adjustment, and we’ve got guys just kind of all collectively going through a little skid right now. That’s going to happen. You keep working. It’s tough this time of year, because you don’t want to overwork. You want to save what energy you do have for the game, so you try to find a nice little balance between those two. But, I wouldn’t be surprised if we come out of it here soon. I think tomorrow’s going to be a good [day] to say we’re just going to get back to the basics of some good line drives, put it in play, get some guys on base and have a little bit more fun.”

Added Francona: “Well, we haven’t swung the bat the last three or four days. But, I think we’re [near the top] in the league in runs. It’s not realistic that you’re going to hit the ball all over the ballpark all year. You have down periods. We had a week where the pitchers had a tough time. It happens. We’ve just got to fight through it together, and we will.”

THIRD: This marked Cleveland’s first meeting with Lucroy since the catcher blocked the trade that would have put him in an Indians uniform. And, what’d he do? He singled to ignite Texas’ first rally and then helped guide Hamels through eight shutout innings (two hits, no walks, eight strikeouts).

Kipnis quickly said, “No,” when asked if the team had discussed the Lucroy situation at all ahead of this series.

“I think collectively, as an organization and as a team, we moved on pretty fast from that,” Kipnis said. “The only reason we could be mad at him is because he’s a good player and we wanted him to play for our team. If it goes past that, there’s personal stuff, and no one has any of that, any reason to dislike the guy. As the business side of it, we completely understand what he was going through. That doesn’t mean he’s a bad guy. It doesn’t mean anything about him. A lot of us probably would’ve made the same choice if we were in his position. So, we’ve moved on real fast from him. That doesn’t concern us anymore.”

We’ll try to catch up with Lucroy at some point this weekend.

HOME: There was a moment of levity within this ugly loss for the Tribe.

In the bottom of the fifth, Rougned Odor slid hard into second base at the front end of an inning-ending double play. Kipnis was at the bag on the play and, as Odor began to get up, the Indians second baseman playfully backed away slowly. Kipnis then laughed and jogged off the field, and Odor smiled, too.

If you need a refresher on why Kipnis did that, CLICK HERE.

Some fans might be rubbed the wrong way that Kipnis was joking around for a moment during this tough defeat. I actually think it shows some of the mind-set of this Indians team. I’ve said this before, but a veteran (one with a World Series ring) told me many years ago that the best teams don’t just learn how to win. They also learn how to lose.

More than other recent years, this Cleveland club has shown the ability to shake off losses pretty well. In previous seasons, the postgame clubhouse was funereal. Take Thursday, for example, not only did Kipnis have that fun moment on the field, but he willingly met with reporters, covering a wide range of topics, and was candid while injecting humor. It’s not making light of the situation. It’s realizing there is still a long way to go and the best teams still endure nights like this one.

That said, Detroit is now 4.5 back in the standings, and the red-hot Royals are now 6.5 back.

“It’s why you’ve got to finish the whole season,” Kipnis said. “The same way you’ve got to finish all nine innings, it’s the same way you’ve got to finish all 162. We knew [the Tigers] weren’t going to roll over and die. We know Kansas City’s right behind them. They weren’t going to roll over and die. It’s a long enough season to where you can have enough peaks and valleys to make runs and get yourself back into it. It’s going to be a fun month of September. That’s what we wanted it to be. We wanted to have some important games, and we’re definitely going to get that.

“We’ve got the lead right now. We’ve gone through some stretches where we haven’t played that well, and they still haven’t caught us. So, hopefully, we get another nice stretch here where we start playing games and can put some more distance [between] us. We know the big games will be versus them. That being said, these are all big games right now.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases:Game 125

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Oakland Athletics

Some notes and quotes from Wednesday’s 5-1 loss to the A’s

FIRST: The Indians and A’s were greeted by a bright blue canvas above the Coliseum for Wednesday’s clash in the East Bay. Manager Terry Francona used an old baseball term, calling the conditions a “high sky” for the game in Oakland.

It didn’t take long for it to come into play, either.

In the second inning of the second straight loss for the Tribe, first baseman Carlos Santana charged in to try to catch what looked like a routine pop fly off the bat of Danny Valencia. With two outs and runners on second and third, the A’s were off to the races, even though Trevor Bauer looked like he was about to escape a crooked number.

“The pop up was a little high,” Santana said later. “I missed. I lost it in the sun. I tried to catch it, but sometimes that happens in baseball. I have to continue to get better.”

Santana overran the fly ball and whiffed in his attempt to reach back behind him to make the catch. Rather than minimizing the damage to three runs, Bauer was hung with a five-spot and that wound up being all she wrote for Cleveland. The pitcher took a moment to collect himself behind the mound before continuing on. And, after he finally did escape, Bauer walked extremely slow off the mound and back to the dugout. He did not hide his frustration in that moment.

“I thought I was out of it,” Bauer said. “I tried to minimize and it didn’t work out. So, I tried to keep going out there and keep throwing innings after that. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to come back today. We’ve [come back] a lot lately.”

The official scorer (incorrectly) called it a two-run single for Valencia, and that call held until moments before the game’s conclusion. In the ninth inning, it was announced that the ruling was changed to an error after the scorer consulted the teams about the play. It looked like an error right away and the scoring change was the right way to go.

So, rather than needing to instruct you to look behind Bauer’s pitching line, it should be pretty easy to see that — aside from one rocky inning — the righty turned in an admirable effort. He wound up with a quality start (three earned runs in 6.2 innings) and saved the bullpen some work in the process.

“Luckily, I was able to throw some innings up there and help save the ‘pen,” Bauer said. “I guess maybe that’s a slightly bright spot on a down day.”

Francona agreed.

“To his credit,” said the manager, “when it looks like it’s going to be an unload-the-bullpen day, he stayed out there going into the seventh inning. … So, I give him credit for that. Sometimes, you don’t see a guy pitch that deep after that kind of an inning.”

SECOND: Santana’s gaffe in the second had a lot of people asking: Why has he been playing so much first base lately?

Wednesday’s game marked Santana’s fourth start in a row at first and his eighth in the past 10 games for the Indians. After Tuesday’s game, Mike Napoli exited the clubhouse with a significant wrap around one of his legs, but Francona indicated that the first baseman was fine. Napoli said the same on Wednesday.

That said, it’s probably not out of line to say he might be a little banged up.

“Nap [has been] on his feet so much,” Francona said. “There was that period there where he was on the bases so much and diving and getting banged around. He’ll play first [on Thursday in Texas]. I just wanted to give him [some days off]. I thought it’d be good for him.”

Napoli said he has appreciated how the manager has tried to balance his workload.

“I’m on a streak where I’ll probably play the most games I’ve ever played in a season,” Napoli said. “Everything is good. Obviously, [Francona and I] talk about it. We’re trying to do what’s best for all of us. With these long stretches [of games] with only a couple of days off, we’re trying to be smart and do what’s best for us to stay healthy and finish the season strong.”

Napoli has logged 503 plate appearances in 117 games this season. His career highs are 578 and 139, both set in 2013 with the Red Sox.

There were a few fans in my Twitter feed today saying that Napoli is clearly the better fielder than Santana. Well, over their careers as first basemen, that holds up. This year, however, Santana has rated better via some advanced metrics.

Prior to Wednesday, Santana had 1 DRS with a 5.9 UZR/150 this year, compared to -6 DRS and a -8.4 UZR/150 for Napoli. Now, defensive stats are still a bit fuzzy, especially within the confines of one season. So, yes, Napoli (13 DRS, 13.4 UZR/150) has been better over the broader sample of his career than Santana (-8 DRS, -0.6 UZR/150). But, Santana has graded out as the better defender this season. Take that for what it’s worth.

THIRD: Besides Danny Salazar’s rough outing on Tuesday, the pitching held up its end of things for the most part in Oakland. Carlos Carrasco’s eight strong innings helped Cleveland steal a 1-0 win on Monday and, Santana’s error aside, Bauer gave a solid effort on Wednesday.

Where the Indians went awry this week was in the batter’s box. In 27 innings, Cleveland scored a whopping total of three runs, and all via solo homers (Santana on Monday, Chris Gimenez on Tuesday and Roberto Perez on Wednesday).

“Hopefully we just have three days of amnesia,” Francona quipped.

Now, I know you might be feeling like this:

oh-noes-everybody-panic.gif

Take your finger off the panic button and remind yourself of this:

Indians’ Offensive Ranks in AL, entering Wednesday
1st in stolen bases (102)
2nd in runs scored (618)
3rd in batting average (.265)
3rd in slugging percentage (.441)
3rd in OPS (.767)
3rd in wOBA (.329)
4th in on-base percentage (.326)
4th in wRC+ (104)

OK, do you feel a little better?

“They pitched us tough. We just couldn’t get it going,” Napoli said. “We’ve been on a good streak of getting a little rally going and scoring runs. It’s just one of those days. They flat-out beat us. We had some good pitching. We just couldn’t get anything going.”

HOME: To narrow the focus a little more, Oakland’s rotation flat-out beat the Tribe.

The trio of Andrew Triggs (four career starts), Sean Manaea (19 career starts) and Kendall Graveman (46 career starts) confounded Cleveland over the past three games. Over 19.2 innings combined, those three turned in a 0.92 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and .179 opponents’ average, piling up 16 strikeouts against five walks with 12 hits scattered.

It felt familiar to Cleveland’s series in Baltimore, where the Orioles’ starters executed an approach that knotted the Indians’ bats. Francona wouldn’t delve into the details of what the A’s were doing to the Tribe.

“I don’t think they have a secret,” said the manager. “But, they executed very well.”

ICYMI on Indians.com…

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 123

Cleveland Indians v Oakland Athletics

Some notes and quotes from Monday’s 1-0 win over the A’s

FIRST: How about we start where this one ended?

Andrew Miller fired an 86-mph slider low and inside to slugger Khris Davis, who is in the midst of a memorable season (32 homers and 79 RBIs), but struggled through a forgettable night. Davis’ donned the golden sombrero in this one, culminating in an embarrassingly feeble attempt at a check swing, which ended with him crumpling to the dirt for a game-ending strikeout.

Just take a look at this filth from Miller:

Here is the Gameday screengrab of the at-bat:

DavisK

Really, though, Digital Davis should be collapsed in the batter’s box there.

Miller’s save consisted of 13 pitches and three strikeouts. It marked his Major League-leading fifth outing consisting of three punchouts and only three batters faced. His nine such outings over the past two seasons combined also lead MLB. Miller is first in the American League this year with 11 games of three strikeouts in one inning, and his 17 such games over 2015-16 are tops in the big leagues.

During the recent series against Toronto, Miller didn’t see the mound, so he was fresh for his outing against the A’s. Cody Allen, meanwhile, logged 30 pitches on Sunday and had worked four games in a five-day span, with the final in that series of appearances being the draining, five-run blown save on Wednesday.

Needless to say, when Cleveland headed to the ninth with a one-run lead Monday, it made sense to send Miller out for the save.

“It’s the coldest weather I’ve pitched in probably since April or May, but it felt pretty good,” said Miller, referring to the sub-60-degree temps in Oakland. “When you have a layoff like that, you want to go out and be sharp and, fortunately, I was. I went out there and put the ball where I wanted to for a little while. That gave me confidence.”

Confidence shouldn’t be an issue at this point.

Heading into the outing, Miller ranked first in the Majors in K-BB% with a mark of 39.8. His left-on-base percentage was 99.4. He was second among MLB relievers in WPA (3.58), K% (43.7) and K/9 (14.7). Miller also ranked second in the Majors with a 41-percent O-swing%, meaning hitters chase pitches outside the zone at that rate. Davis can attest to that, too.

“It was a good sequence,” Miller said of the knee-buckling slider. “I executed some pitches early. [Catcher Roberto Perez] came out and asked what we wanted to do. I put a breaking ball in the dirt and, fortunately, it worked out.”

Since joining the Indians, Miller has racked up 16 strikeouts against one walk in 10 2/3 innings, holding batters to a 4-for-36 showing. He has entered into the game in the sixth (once), seventh (three times), eighth (twice) and ninth (three times) for manager Terry Francona.

So far, Miller has liked the look of the Tribe’s bullpen, and how Francona has utilized the group.

“It seems like we’re all going to be flexible, and I think that’s good for us,” Miller said. “I think we’ve got a good group of guys and, as a unit, I think we’ve pitched really well top to bottom since I’ve been here. If we can give Tito as many options as possible, I think we’re better for it.”

SECOND: This one began with Carlos Carrasco.

“The key was just the start,” Miller said. “Carrasco is just so darn good.”

Against the A’s, Cookie collected nine strikeouts with no walks, giving him 28 whiffs and zero free passes in his past three outings. He has a 37:2 strikeout-to-walk ration over his past four turns for the Tribe. That quartet of starts comes after Carrasco allowed eight runs in 3 2/3 innings on Aug. 2. Needless to say, he has bounced back.

“He was terrific,” Francona said. “Command of his fastball and then off of that, the breaking ball. And he had to be good, because their guy was every bit as good.”

Indeed, A’s rookie Andrew Triggs was handcuffing the Indians’ bats all evening, too. In only his fourth Major League start, the righty blanked Cleveland for six frames. Carrasco matched him zero for zero, though, and added two more for good measure.

The potentially great news for Cleveland is this: Carrasco looks like he’s in mid-season form. He missed all of May due to a hamstring injury, but kept his arm in shape while sidelined. At 124 innings, Carrasco doesn’t have the same season mileage as many of the game’s top workhorses.

Should Cleveland keep its reservation for the October stage, having Carrasco feeling stronger than some other starters could be an advantage.

“Everybody has probably 40 more innings than him — somewhere around there,” Francona said. “But, you can tell his tank is not anywhere close to empty. I think with the repetition, you’re seeing his secondary pitches getting sharper.”

Carrasco agreed that his slider and changeup have continued to improve as the season has worn on.

“Right now, I feel fresh,” Carrasco said. “When I was on the DL, Kluber, Tomlin, Bauer and Danny were trying to do their best. Now that I took six weeks on the DL, it’s like the middle of the season for me. The more important thing is to work really hard and get on the same level as everyone else.”

THIRD: It was a cool night at the Coliseum, so much so that reporter Andre Knott (@DreKnott) took plenty of heat on Twitter for the coat he was wearing. Check his feed and mentions for a few laughs.

Fly balls were dying, giving an edge to Carrasco and Triggs, who can generate grounders. It was either going to take a pitcher losing command, a string of line-drive or ground-ball hits, or someone to get a hold of one down one of the lines to win this one. In the middle of the game, a local reporter quipped: “First one to zero wins.”

It certainly felt like one was probably going to do it.

“[Hits] were certainly hard to come by,” Francona said. “Both teams really pitched well.”

The one arrived in the eighth inning.

Oakland reliever Ryan Dull threw a 1-1 fastball and Carlos Santana pounced. He yanked the pitch down the right-field line, but stayed put at the plate. As the ball carried towards the stands, Santana leaned over the dish, cringing a little as he tried to will it to stay fair.

“It was in-between,” Santana said. “Is it foul? Will it stay fair?”

It stayed fair. The shot rocketed out with an exit velocity of 108 mph, per Statcast, and represented Santana’s 27th home run of the year. That ties his career high for one season, set in 2011 and again in ’14. He had 658 and 660 plate appearances, respectively, in those campaigns. Santana has 522 PAs right now.

“He’s been good all year,” Francona said. “He plays first. He DHs. He hits first. He hits cleanup. He’s been good for us all year.”

HOME: Oakland’s best shot at breaking through against the Indians came in the sixth, when Carrasco faced a two-out situation with runners on first and second base. He escaped by striking out Davis with hard slider.

Where the inning really went south for the A’s, however, was with one out. Coco Crisp stepped up to the plate and roped a pitch into the right-field corner. Crisp had a chance at a triple and, given the way the game was going, sprinted around second with his sights set on third.

“It was a good play,” Indians right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall said. “He made the right play, trying to get to three with one out. It was a good baseball play all around.”

Of course, Chisenhall probably felt a little better about that last statement, given that Cleveland’s defense cut down Crisp at third on the play. Chisenhall grabbed the ball in the corner and fired it to second baseman Jason Kipnis, who made a quick relay to third baseman Jose Ramirez.

Cleveland Indians v Oakland Athletics

Crisp slid head-first, Ramirez slapped on a tag, and the umpire called the runner out.

“It got to third in a hurry,” Francona said. “Lonnie fielded it cleanly and when Kip got it, that was a perfect throw. It was as bang-bang as you can get.”

The A’s challenged the call, which stood after a quick replay review.

“It was probably one of those where, if they call him safe, they probably don’t overturn either way,” Francona said.

“There might not have been enough evidence either way to call it,” Chisenhall added.

Asked about the play, Carrasco smirked.

“He was out,” said the pitcher, still smiling.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 102

Corey Kluber

Some notes and quotes from Sunday’s 8-0 win over the A’s

FIRST: It was not the easiest of transitions when Roberto Perez was pressed into duty last year. After Yan Gomes was shelved in April with a right knee injury, the backup catcher was thrust into a starting role at the Major League level for the first time.

Perez’s inexperience back then was most glaring when he was catching Corey Kluber, who has formed a great working relationship with Gomes. Kluber was coming off a Cy Young season. Perez was getting his feet wet for a team expecting to compete.

“We’ve all seen where that’s the case,” Indians manager Terry Francona said, “where you’ve got a starting pitcher that’s got a pretty good resume and he makes the guy behind there nervous. That doesn’t help anything.”

Perez said he was just nervous in general early on last year.

“Last year, I put a lot of pressure on myself,” Perez said. “I went through it last year. But, this year, I told myself I went through that already, so I’m not going to put pressure on myself and try to go out there and simply play the game, try not to do too much.”

Circumstances have heaped more duties on Perez once again. Gomes went down with a separated right shoulder earlier this month, forcing Cleveland to activate Perez off the disabled list before the team initially planned. As part of his return, Perez would be asked to catch Kluber, who had worked with Gomes for 40 consecutive starts.

It has gone much better this time around.

In their first five games together in 2015, Kluber posted a 6.10 ERA and allowed an .843 opponents’ OPS. The righty said at the time that they were having trouble getting on the same page with pitch sequencing. In their final three starts together, following that ugly stretch, Kluber issued one walk, gave up two runs and struck out 37 in 25 innings.

“We went through some struggles at the beginning,” Kluber said. “We worked at it and got to the point where we were comfortable with each other. I think that he’s told me, and would probably tell you as well, that he was a little hesitant at first. He didn’t want to put down the wrong fingers.

“I told him, ‘Hey, just go out there and call the game like you normally would. If I don’t like it, I’ll shake it off.’ I think once we got to that point, he was a lot more comfortable, I was a lot more comfortable, and it’s worked well.”

During Sunday’s win over the A’s, Kluber spun seven shutout innings with Perez behind the dish. It’s the second time in as many starts that the pitcher logged seven shutout innings with the catcher. In their three pairings since Gomes landed on the DL, Kluber has turned in a 1.29 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and .213 opponents’ average, with 23 strikeouts and six walks in 21 innings.

“That’s not the easiest thing in the world,” Francona said. “Going into a couple starts ago, Yan had caught, I want to say, almost every inning of every game [Kluber] pitched. I’m sure ‘Berto knows that, and he’s worked hard to find a comfort zone. And I also think Kluber has done a good job of allowing Roberto to relax back there, and not feel like he’s on pins and needles.”

Indians backup catcher Chris Gimenez praised Perez’s work with Kluber.

“He’s done a great job,” Gimenez said. ” The ability to come in and just kind of pick up right where Gomer and Klubes left off, I think, is a big attribute to have. Because, I know
[Kluber] is very particular about that. When you’ve worked with a guy so many times, it’s like second nature. Those two guys [Kluber and Gomes], I don’t even know if they put down signs half the time. They know what they’re going to do.

“With ‘Berto coming back there, you might not have that sense of clarity and that sense of comfort, but I don’t see Klubes shaking too much, so he’s doing something right. And that’s big.”

SECOND: The bottom third of Cleveland’s lineup (Tyler Naquin, Abraham Almonte and Perez on Sunday) came up big against the A’s.

That trio combined to go 5-for-8 with two RBI, three walks and five runs scored for the Indians. Almonte, specifically, continued his recent offensive turnaround for the Tribe. Want to have some fun with a small sample size? On July 20, Almonte was batting .143 with a .468 OPS (Oh no!). Well, he’s gone 7-for-16 since then and is not batting .270 with a .786 OPS (hmm, not too bad).

“Abe’s given us a big lift the last couple days,” Francona said. “And again, I know it’s kind of common sense, but we need to be that kind of team where we’re getting contributions and not giving a pitcher an inning off and things like that. Even when you don’t score, if you make them work, you’ve got a chance.”

THIRD: Jason Kipnis stayed hot at the plate on Sunday, ending 1-for-3 with a two-run single and a run-scoring sacrifice fly. His wRC+ for July was 179 going into Sunday, up from .135 in June and 91 in May. Likewise, Kipnis OPS had gone up to 1.036 (July) from .876 (June) and .712 (May).

Kipnis also came around to score on a towering two-run homer from Mike Napoli in the third inning.

“He’s a good baseball player,” Napoli said of Kipnis. “Before I got over here, I always liked the way he played and I always thought he was a good ballplayer. It’s huge, having guys at the top of the lineup to be able to get on base and cause havoc for the defense of the other team, and have RBI situations. It’s something you need to be a winning ballclub. He’s been able to do it all year.”

HOME: It’s easy to say after a win, but it sure looked like the Indians were a bit energized on Sunday morning.

“I think there was definitely a good vibe in the locker room,” Kluber said. “You could tell that there was a little more excitement than normal at nine o’clock in the morning.”

That was due to the news spreading in the clubhouse before the game that Cleveland had acquired lefty Andrew Miller from the Yankees. Gimenez said, “You should’ve seen the smiles on guys’ faces. Everyone had their phones out, screaming, ‘We got Miller!'”

Here are Sunday’s stories on the Miller trade and more:

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 100

AlmonteSome notes and quotes from Friday’s 5-3 win over the A’s.

FIRST: The Indians’ bullpen is working underneath a magnifying glass right now. Every pitch, every mistake is being scrutinized, as it is no secret that Cleveland is on the hunt for relief reinforcements before Monday’s non-waiver Trade Deadline.

On Friday night, the bullpen held up its end of the bargain.

“Guys did an unbelievable job,” Indians closer Cody Allen said. “Good teams, championship teams, you see a lot they score late and their bullpen holds down leads. It was definitely good to do that.”

Indians starter Trevor Bauer wasn’t having an awful night, but he ran into trouble in the sixth, while Cleveland’s offense was stuck in neutral. Josh Reddick and Khris Davis launched back-to-back homers and then Bauer issued a one-out walk, followed by a base hit to Yonder Alonso.

With the A’s up, 3-0, manager Terry Francona felt it was time to go to his ‘pen.

“Trevor was throwing the ball good,” Francona said. “I was trying to stay with him, but after [the home runs] you’ve got walk-hit and he’s up over 100 [pitches]. The way [Kendall] Graveman was throwing, it seemed like we better try to hold it right there.”

Enter Dan Otero. The reliable righty induced a flyout to right field off the bat of Marcus Semien and then generated an inning-ending grounder from Ryon Healy. Rally over. With that two-batter showing, Otero lowered his season ERA to 1.31 for the Tribe.

“He’s given us a lot,” Allen said of Otero. “He can pitch anywhere. That’s the thing. He can give you multiple innings. He can come in and get righties out. He can get lefties out. A guy like that is key to having a good bullpen. Without him this year, we’d kind of be stuck a little bit, because we haven’t gotten a lot of innings out of lefties. But, Dan can sink the ball and cut the ball. He does a lot of things. He’s been huge for us.”

Then, it was Cody Anderson’s turn. The big right-hander opened the year as Cleveland’s No. 4 starter, but struggled led to a trip back to the Minors and now the Indians are seeing if he can help in relief. The Indians got one run back in the home half of the sixth, and then Anderson sidestepped the potential harm of a leadoff walk with a clean seventh.

The Indians then struck for four in the home half to grab a 5-3 lead. Bryan Shaw, who has been scrutinized more than any of his fellow Tribe relievers this year, then gave Cleveland a one-two-three eighth inning on a dozen pitches. And that set the stage for Allen, who allowed a pair of singles, but escaped harm to seal the win.

There was a touch of drama on the final play.

Reddick gave an Allen curveball a ride 373 feet to dead center. Rookie center fielder Tyler Naquin backpedaled through the grass, across the warning track and then settled just short of the wall. He gloved the deep fly for the 27th out.

“I think Naquin was probably the only guy in Cleveland that knew that ball wasn’t going to quite get out,” Allen said. “It was a little nerve-racking.”

SECOND: Rajai Davis has been receiving a lot of his playing time of late against left-handed pitching, but Francona likes to pick spots for working him into the mix against right-handers. Friday was one of those nights.

Why? Davis, as you may have heard, is pretty fast.

“It’s why he played tonight,” Francona said. “In close games, he can change the game with his speed. We don’t play [him] against every right-hander, but again, that speed plays all the time.”

It paid off at the start of the Tribe’s rally in the seventh. Davis hit a chopper up the middle and Semien ranged over for what looked like a routine groundout. The shortstop bobbled the ball, though, and Davis reached safely.

“I think I should have one-handed it, try to catch it and give yourself a chance,” Semien told reporters. “I didn’t give myself a chance there, so it’s frustrating that it led to a big inning. Rajai’s a fast runner. Maybe I thought about that and didn’t focus on the catch.”

It’s an example of how speed plays a role other than in stolen bases or taking an extra base. Speed can force mistakes.

“His speed will make guys rush on plays,” Allen said. “If he doesn’t hit a two-hopper right at you where you can kind of take your time, a little chopper like that, guys have to rush and try to make a good play. Sometimes you can force guys into a tougher play than it actually is.”

So, instead of no runners on with two outs, the Indians had a man on first with one out. Cleveland went on to score four in the frame to put the game away.

THIRD: Bauer’s outing wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great, either. The Tribe’s lack of early offense just made his mistakes more glaring.

Bauer’s final line looked like this: 5.1 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 2 HR.

Those two home runs came on back-to-back pitches in the top of the sixth. Reddick crushed a 3-1 fastball and Davis delivered on a first-pitch changeup. Over his past two starts, Bauer has given up four homers in 9.1 innings, compared to eight homers in his first 107 innings on the season.

“I feel like I pitched really well today, actually,” Bauer said. “I know it doesn’t look like I did.”

HOME: Maybe some of you feel for what Abraham Almonte has gone through this season, or maybe you don’t. He was suspended 81 games to start the year for testing positive for a banned PED. He has said he doesn’t know how it got into his system, but, as they say, it is what it is. It was discovered and he got suspended. Believe him or don’t. No one knows the truth by Almonte.

What I can tell you is Almonte has been a model clubhouse citizen since his return to the Indians and he has never shied away from discussing about his suspension. He has always been great to deal with for reporters. The outfielder also played a key role down the stretch last year and has been given a second chance here in the second half this season.

Almonte’s past aside, it was good for the Indians to see him come up big on Friday night. And I’m sure it felt good for him, personally, given the .172 batting average he carried into the game against the A’s.

In the seventh inning, Almonte delivered a pinch-hit RBI single, scoring Davis and moving Naquin from first to third. It helped ignite the Tribe’s four-run inning, which included Almonte also scoring from third on a wild pitch. Jason Kipnis (RBI single) and Francisco Lindor (sac fly) also came through.

“It feels great,” Almonte said. “It was a big situation for the club. I was able to get a hit and keep things rolling there in a good way. I always feel excited to help the team win.”

EXTRA: And for a good laugh…

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 98

LindorSome notes and quotes from Tuesday’s 7-6 win over the Nationals

FIRST: There was some angst around the Tribe Twittersphere when the lineup was posted prior to Tuesday’s game. With lefty Gio Gonzalez on the hill for Washington, Tyler Naquin and Lonnie Chisenhall were on the bench for the Indians.

Anyone who has followed manager Terry Francona in his time in Cleveland should know how much he values being able to match up, especially in later innings. Against the Nationals, there could be chances for Naquin or Chisenhall to come off the bench in a key situation.

“Obviously, Tito likes to use the bench,” Indians backup catcher Chris Gimenez said. “And the way that our roster is kind of constructed, that’s going to happen. We’ve got some flexibility where we’ve got some guys that he can do some match-ups and stuff with. … You just never know. You can’t just sit on the bench and take the day off if you’re not in the lineup, because you never know when you might be in there.”

Chisenhall’s opportunity arrived in the seventh inning, when he pinch-hit for Roberto Perez against righty Blake Treinen. Chisenhall answered the call with a slashed grounder to the left side for a single, scoring Abraham Almonte to cut the Nationals’ lead to 5-3.

Naquin got his chance in the ninth, when Washington handed the ball to closer Jonathan Papelbon with a 6-4 lead. With Jose Ramirez on first base, Naquin sliced a pitch into the left-center gap, where it skipped to the wall for a double. Ramirez — sans helmet once he sprinted around third — scored to pull the Indians within one run.

“That obviously really changed the game,” Francona said of Naquin’s hit. “We’re trying to extend the inning any way we can, maybe get the tying run to second or something. It looked like he hit a split and he stayed on it. That really changed everything.”

Next up was Gimenez, who took over behind the plate after Perez was lifted. Gimenez pushed a pitch up the first-base line for what he intended to be a sacrifice bunt. First baseman Ryan Zimmerman charged and gloved it, but then fired wildly beyond first base. Naquin scored to pull the game into a 6-6 deadlock.

“He tried to throw me a fastball up and away, hoping I’d kind of pop it up,” Gimenez said. “I just thought it wasn’t high enough that I couldn’t go get it. Just nice and easy, bunt it to first base. It turns out that [Zimmerman’s] had some minor issues I think in the past with making a throw and stuff like that. Thankfully, for us today, it worked out.”

Later in the inning, the stage was set for Francisco Lindor, who stepped to the plate with the bases loaded. The Indians shortstop sent a pitch through the hole on the right side, scoring Gimenez on a walkoff single. After the game, Lindor didn’t hog the spotlight, either. He quickly pointed to all the contributions that led to his moment.

“We trust in ourselves. We trust in the team have,” Lindor said. “Gimenez wasn’t starting today. Huge at-bat. Naquin wasn’t starting today. Huge at-bat. Chisenhall wasn’t starting today. Huge at-bat. Guys aren’t playing, but they were in the game. They helped us.”

SECOND: Before Lindor’s heroics, Rajai Davis delivered a critical hit to set things up for the game’s decisive blow.

Gimenez was on second and Chisenhall, following an intentional walk, was on first base with one out in the final inning. On the first pitch from Oliver Perez, Davis saw Zimmerman and third baseman Anthony Rendon crashing hard as he squared around to bunt.

“I was taught to, when that happens, you slash,” Davis said. “You try to keep it in the middle of the field. So, in the ninth, that was my first opportunity to actually do that in a game.”

Davis held firm to the bat and pushed the pitch hard and into the air. As Rendon ran in aggressively, the baseball popped up and over his head, dropping into the infield grass to the left side of the mound. With shortstop Trea Turner sprinting to cover this, the baseball was in no-man’s land.

“Huge credit to Raj,” Gimenez said. “That was pretty much the play of the game right there. A lot of people don’t think he did that on purpose, but he absolutely did that on purpose.”

Even Francona wasn’t sure that was an intentional technique by Davis.

“I’d like to say yeah. I’m going to doubt it,” Francona said. “They were so aggressive on that play that, again, I don’t know if he tried that or not. They had no play, because they were so aggressive. That’s one where, being that aggressive, you’d almost like him to pull back and hit because there’s no way we can get ‘G’ to third on that.

“They were so aggressive. But, when you’re that aggressive, put the ball in play, sometimes some good things can happen.”

Davis said he didn’t have that type of play in mind when he walked to the plate. He knew he was going to bunt, but the slash bunt — or “slug bunt” as he jokingly called it — was not on his mind.

“That’s just something you instinctively know from through the years. You either do it or you don’t. You have that knowledge or you don’t have it. You’re either brave enough to do it or you’re not. I was fortunately enough to have it work out for us.”

 

THIRD: This was a good win for the Indians in the sense that it was really close to being an ugly loss.

To begin with, Danny Salazar lasted only four innings and one batter for Cleveland. The right-hander just didn’t look like himself in the outing. That was especially true in the fourth, when Rendon tattooed an elevated split-change on an 0-2 count. With Salazar at 85 pitches, and the bullpen rested, Francona pulled the plug.

“Everything was hard for him tonight,” Francona said. “It just didn’t look like he was in sync with anything. … I just thought, you know what? We’re going to obviously lean on him the last two months. Sometimes, rather than make him slug his way through another inning, let’s go ahead and get him out and see if we can make it work.”

Defensively, Cleveland didn’t do itself many favors, either. OK, so there was this Lindor gem…

There were also three errors. Third baseman Juan Uribe made a pair of miscues that helped Washington to runs. Uribe botched a grounder from Daniel Murphy in the first, and the Nationals went on to score two runs. In the ninth, Uribe and Mike Napoli each made an error, helping Washington tack on an insurance run.

With the win, Cleveland avoided the storyline revolving around all the mistakes.

“That was, I thought, uncharacteristic of us a little bit,” Francona said. “They were all tough [plays].”

HOME: For the past week, the Indians have talked a lot about how much they were looking forward to getting home. Cleveland spent the bulk of June and July on the road, and just came off a grueling 10-day swing through Minneapolis, Kansas City and Baltimore. By the end of that trip, the team looked drained.

“There’s nothing better than being home,” Gimenez said. “We kind of had a rough month of being on some 10-day road trips. A West coast swing. Stuff like that. It grinds on you. It absolutely grinds on you. There’s nothing better than being home, where everything is comfortable.”

And, of course, home is where the last at-bat is. Tuesday’s game was the perfect example.

“I know this going to be a shocking announcement: That’s not how we drew it up,” Francona said. “There were so many things that happened in that game that were kind of peculiar that, again, hitting last sure helps.”

Including Tuesday’s game, Cleveland is in the midst of a stretch of 20 home games in a 25-game span. It’s 30 out of 42 at home, stretching into early September. As of right now, Cleveland is 27-16 at home (15-4 in its last 19) with five walkoff wins.

“Huge. It’s huge,” Lindor said of being back in Cleveland. “We’ve been on the road for a while. It’s nice to be home with our families, get that little off-day and be in this clubhouse. It changes everything a little bit. The fans today, they were a little quiet at first, but it got loud as the game went on. That’s what we play for. For them.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Trevor Bauer’s top-secret curve

BauerGimenez

The answer is never going to be simple.

When you ask Trevor Bauer why something has been working for him, there will always be multiple layers to his response. From biomechanics to spin-rate studies to velocity training, there is always a lot that has gone into whatever topic is at hand. Months or years of training is hard to sum up with one simplified quote.

So, when Bauer was recently asked why his curveball has been so much more effective this year, his answer was predictable.

“There’s a lot of different factors that have gone into it,” Bauer said. “I’ve done a lot of work on it under wraps, and I’d like to keep it that way.”

Or, maybe Bauer just knows the real details would require about an hour of discussion.

On the other side of Cleveland’s clubhouse, Chris Gimenez, who has become Bauer’s personal catcher this season, was willing to shed some light on the improved pitch. The way Gimenez explained things, the success behind the curve this year stems from the sequencing with his other pitches, combined with how Bauer has used the breaking ball within the strike zone.

“Honestly,” Gimenez said, “I think his curveball has gotten better because he has thrown more changeups.”

Let’s start there. Since Gimenez began catching Bauer on May 5, the right-hander has thrown 14.1-percent changeups. That’s up from 8.1-percent prior to Gimenez’s arrival (though it’s fair to point out that Bauer was in the bullpen for much of that time). Bauer threw 8.9-percent changeups in 2015.

Gimenez said the key to the changeup has been trying to get the arm speed in line with Bauer’s other pitches.

“I told him, ‘Listen, I don’t want you to try to baby it,” Gimenez said. “You literally need to throw it as hard as possible. And I know that’s something that doesn’t sound right, because a changeup is essentially a change of pace off his fastball. But, you want the arm speed to be the same. That’s what I think he gets in trouble with, is trying to manipulate the ball.”

And that brings us to the curve.

“It’s the same thing with his curveball,” Gimenez said. “He tries to manipulate it to throw it up or down. Throw it as hard as you can. If it’s a certain situation — 0-2, 1-2 — and we want to throw it in the dirt, OK.”

Throwing the curveball in the dirt was Bauer’s go-to approach prior to this year. That pitch was consistently out of the strike zone in 2015, making it easy to eliminate for hitters. When batters reached 0-2 or 1-2 against Bauer, they could spit on the curve, knowing it was almost always a safe bet to drop below the zone.

Here’s a look at Bauer’s heatmap for his curveball in 2015 on 0-2 and 1-2 counts:

BauerCurve2015

And here is Bauer’s heatmap for his total curve usage in 2015:

BauerCBOverall2015

“In the past, guys would wait him out, because he would throw a ton of pitches,” Gimenez said. “So, the goal is to attack the strike zone with everything you have. Throw it as hard as you can. Try to throw his fastball as hard as he can. He grunts. He grunts on his changeup. Those are things he needs to continue to do the exact same, or guys will pick up on it instantly.

“I think, especially in the past, they’d wait him out. If he gets to 3-0, he’s either going to walk you or throw you right down the middle and guys shellacked it. He’s shown signs in the past of being able to attack the strike zone, and that’s what I’ve tried to [talk to him about].”

BauerCurve

In 2015, Bauer threw 26.9-percent of his curveballs inside the strike zone. This year, that percentage has risen to 34.6. What’s been incredible about Bauer’s curve, though, is that it is generating fewer swings. The swinging strike rate has dropped to 13.2-percent this year from 20.5-percent in 2015.

In fact, this is the second straight year that Bauer’s strikeout percentage has climbed with the curve, while the swing rate of batters has dropped against the pitch.

BauerCBThis is where Bauer’s fastball comes in.

“He uses his fastball up very well. That’s where he lives,” Gimenez said. “He’s not a very good at pounding the bottom of the zone. Let’s be honest and call a spade a spade. I tell him all the time, ‘Let’s make what we are good at even better.’ So I told him, for him to be more successful, he’s going to have to throw more curveballs for strikes.

“Every time he’d get 1-2 or 0-2, he’d throw a curveball in the dirt. And he’d be like, ‘Why aren’t they swinging at it?’ Because guys know you’re going to do it. And, out of your hand, everything you throw is up, and that one starts down lower. These are big league hitters. They can see stuff like that.

“He’s got to raise the sight on it. He’ll get a lot of strike threes on curveballs that pop up. Guys are like, ‘No, that’s a ball,’ but he’s got such depth on his. His is the epitome of a 12-6 curveball. He’ll get some strikeouts looking on that. But, what makes his curveball really good is when it starts at the top of that strike zone and it’s either out of the zone or it’s at the very bottom of the zone by the time it gets to me.”

Bauer has followed Gimenez’s lead, too.

Here is a look at Bauer’s curve heatmap on 0-2 and 1-2 counts this year:

BauerCurve2016

And here is Bauer’s curve heatmap for his overall curve usage this year:

BauerCBOverall2016

Compare those to the two heatmaps from last season. It is easy to see what Gimenez is talking about. Bauer’s curveball is finding the lower half of the strike zone more often this year and, when it drops below the zone, it’s often in that in-between zone for hitters. Should they swing or should they wait it out? With two strikes, waiting it out is now a much larger risk than it was in the past.

As the season has worn on, Bauer has turned to his curveball more often:

April: 13.3 percent
May: 14.1 percent
June: 19.9 percent
July: 23.7 percent

It’s hard to blame him, either. Among all MLB pitchers with at least 50 results, Bauer ranks first in opponents’ batting average against a curveball:

1. Trevor Bauer: .075 (5-for-67)
2. Mike Montgomery: .077 (4-for-52)
3. Clayton Kershaw: .079 (6-for-76)
4. Corey Kluber: .082 (8-for-98)

Given that batters have been fooled so much by the pitch to this point this season, it seems probable that they will try to make some adjustments down the stretch. In Bauer’s previous start, for example, while all six of his strikeouts came via the curve, five were swinging strikeouts by Twins batters. There could be more swings against the pitch from here on out.

“Absolutely. Without a doubt,” Gimenez said. “That’s the whole cat-and-mouse game of making the adjustments based on what other people do. I try to tell him every day, ‘Listen, you have four pitches that we can use on a daily basis, that you can get guys out with.’ I don’t want him to be so reliant on one pitch that every single time he gets to two strikes, we’re throwing curveballs. Or, every time, two strikes, we’re throwing fastball in. He needs to be able to recognize that and continue to attack.”

Keep all this under wraps, though, OK?


From Thursday: A look at the relationship between Gimenez and Bauer this year:

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

 

 

Covering the Bases: Game 93

Danny Salazar

Some notes and quotes from Tuesday’s 7-3 win over the Royals.

FIRST: One night after an eighth-inning meltdown, the bullpen came up big for the Indians on Tuesday night.

Lefty Kyle Crockett struck out Eric Hosmer in a critical situation in the seventh. Bryan Shaw breezed through an eight-pitch, eight-strike eighth. And Cody Allen worked a drama-free ninth. It was exactly the way you’d draw it up if you were Cleveland.

“Amazing,” Indians starter Danny Salazar said of the bullpen. “I trust these guys. I trust the bullpen.”

The bullpen not only spun 2 1/3 shutout innings, but came up big for Salazar behind the scenes, too.

If you’ll notice in the photo above, that’s Allen’s name stitched into the glove that Salazar is wearing. While he was in San Diego for the All-Star Game, the pitcher accidentally put his glove in the box he was shipping home to Cleveland. Allen, who had a backup glove with him, came through and let Salazar borrow it.

Salazar then turned in a quality start against the Royals.

He might just wear Allen’s glove again.

“If I have to pitch against Kansas City again, I will,” Salazar said with a laugh. “For sure.”

Manager Terry Francona said the Indians “needed a bounceback win” like this one. Twenty-four hours earlier, Cleveland’s bullpen coughed up seven runs in the eighth inning, spoiling a strong effort by Corey Kluber. Shaw and Jeff Manship were behind the mess.

Francona was thrilled to see Shaw, who has been hit with plenty of criticism for the handful of collapses he’s been associated with this season, come back with a strong outing one night later. Shaw struck out Kendrys Morales and Salvador Perez, and then induced a groundout back to the mound from Alex Gordon.

“He threw strikes and worked ahead,” Francona said. “I think he wasn’t real pleased with last night, but he was kind of all business out there and that was good to see. I know sometimes you have to answer questions, but we can’t run. We need our guys to get where we want to go. I agree. It was good to see.”

SECOND: The one-out appearance by Crockett was encouraging, because Cleveland has been looking for more effective left-on-left production all year.

The Indians have cycled through Crockett, Ross Detwiler, Tom Gorzelanny, TJ House, Ryan Merritt and Shawn Morimando as lefty help this year. The last two were really just insurance during thin periods for the staff. The other four have handled the bulk of the lefty specialist chances this year. And, to date, it hasn’t been pretty.

“We’ve been kind of searching all year to find a lefty,” Francona said.

Heading into Tuesday’s action, Cleveland ranked last in the Majors in left-on-left opponents’ average (.310), on-base percentage (.380) and WHIP (1.59). The Tribe’s .761 opponents’ OPS in left-on-left situations ranked 25th in baseball.

This is why Cleveland is in the market for lefty help — specialist, setup or otherwise — as the Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches. An arm like Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman or Will Smith would be welcomed additions.

For now, Crockett is getting another look.

“Just to come out and be a part of this team is exciting right now,” Crockett said. “I’m really glad to be here.”

Fresh up from Triple-A, Crockett’s first assignment was to face Hosmer in the seventh inning. Kansas City had just scored its third run and had a runner on third base with two outs. Salazar hit the showers and it was up to Crockett to stop the bleeding.

Here is the sequence that followed:

CrockettK

Crockett worked ahead, 0-2, and eventually got Hosmer to chase a slider in the dirt for a strikeout. Shaw and Allen then went six up, six down to seal the win.

“He made really quality pitches tonight,” Francona said of Crockett. “Now, I know you’ve got to back it up, but even when he missed on the 0-2, he dotted his fastball. That can be really helpful, because this past week we’ve kind of been searching for that one guy.”

Crockett was happy to be thrown right back into the fire.

“I like it a lot. I don’t like to be babied,” Crockett said. “You want to be in a situation that matters. So, I was glad to get out there. I’ve faced him a few times now and I like the way Gimenez threw that pitch sequence at him. Yeah, I was glad to get out there again.”

THIRD: As for Salazar, the righty struck out seven, walked one and scattered eight singles en route to his 11th win. His ERA held steady at 2.75, which currently ranks first among qualified American League pitchers.

This was Salazar’s first outing after the break, during which he skipped pitching in the All-Star Game due to mild elbow soreness. The issue was never considered serious, but Salazar, who averaged 96 mph on his fastball, was happy to ease any concerns that might’ve lingered among fans.

“Yeah, that was nice,” Salazar said. “A lot of people, they were making speculation and things like that. But, it was nothing serious. It was something really small and we’re on top of that. It’s nothing really bad and I think we’re doing a good job with all the training and stuff to keep myself healthy.”

HOME: Helping Salazar’s cause was Mike Napoli, who launched his team-leading 21st home run in the first inning. The two-run shot rocketed off his bat with an exit velocity of 108 mph, giving him nine homers of at least 108 mph this year.

Napoli and Carlos Santana (two-run single in the fifth) have been on a tear of late.

Over his past 25 games, Napoli has turned in a .301/.416/.538 slash line. During that span, he has boosted his overall showing to .249 (.823 OPS) from .229 (.769 OPS). Santana had an 0-for-5 on June 26 that had him sitting at .231 (.790). In the 19 games he’s played since then, Santana has hit .342/.415/.589, putting him at .254 (.834) on the year now.

EXTRAS: Oh, hey, Francisco Lindor also homered again. He’s now up to 12 on the season, matching his career high from last year. The shortstop scored three runs and knocked in two. Lindor also turned in an impressive defensive play in the ninth inning.

“Just real impressed with Lindor,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “He’s just a fantastically talented young man. Both sides of the ball, offensively and defensively, left, right. He’s just good.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 92

577293932.0Some notes and quotes from Monday’s 7-3 loss to the Royals.

FIRST: Jeff Manship still looked and sounded rattled as he spoke with reporters following a stunning loss to the Royals on Monday night.

“I definitely let the whole team down,” Manship said quietly. “I let Corey down. I let Bryan down. I gave up his runs. That stinks, for sure. Definitely. I feel sick to my stomach about how that went.”

That would be Corey Kluber, who turned in seven shutout innings before a cramp in his right calf forced him out of the game. And, that’d be Bryan Shaw, who had one of his ugly outings. Shaw has had some great outings of late, but when he has gone south, man, has he gone south.

While Manship faced the music after the loss — one that includes seven runs allowed in a gut-punch of an eighth inning — Shaw shook his head when approached by reporters. He didn’t have any comments after this one. And if his reasoning was because the media didn’t talk to him much during his recent 13-game shutout streak, well, Cleveland reporters wrote all about that on Sunday. As in, one day ago.

Nice timing on that one, huh?

There is no denying that Shaw’s season line is a bit misleading. That 4.58 ERA is mostly the result of a handful of really rough outings.

Consider this: Shaw has allowed two or more runs in only four of his 44 appearances this year. In those four games, he’s coughed up 15 earned runs in three innings (45.00 ERA). In the other 40 games, Shaw has allowed five earned runs in 36.1 innings (1.24 ERA). To put that another way, the righty has allowed 75-percent of his runs in 8-percent of his innings.

This means a couple things. First of all, it means Shaw has been very good for the majority of his outings, working around a walk and home run rate that’s up from previous years. But, it also means that some close games have turned into brutal losses. That’s why there’s a large chunk of Cleveland fans (just check my Twitter mentions) that are not overly thrilled with Shaw being the main setup option as the Indians try for the postseason.

The bridge to closer Cody Allen has indeed been wobbly this year. And there is a distinct lack of left-handed setup help to go with the drama-filled outings Shaw has had at times. With the non-waiver Trade Deadline coming, it’s clear that Cleveland needs to look for bullpen help. It was never more evident than on Monday night.

SECOND: Do you really want to know how the eighth inning went down?

Kluber took the mound and planned on continuing, as he was at 95 pitches. After a few warmup throws, though, the righty looked to the dugout and pointed to his calf. It looked like a cramp and the team confirmed as much later on. This was a hot and muggy night in Kansas City, so it wasn’t surprising, nor serious.

With a 2-0 lead, manager Terry Francona opted to hand the ball to Shaw. Just one day earlier, Francona raved about the setup man and his recent success. The manager had some sharp criticism for reporters, too, noting that no one had really asked much about Shaw over the past several weeks.

“I’ve wondered why people don’t ask me about him,” Francona said on Sunday morning. “Everybody wanted him off the team and released, and I didn’t understand that. He’s a good pitcher. Sometimes, good players, good pitchers, struggle. This is going on four years now where he has shouldered a load, and his stuff is better than when we got him, which is a big compliment to him and what he’s doing. He’s really been good.”

The eighth began with a chopper back up the middle off the bat of Alcides Escobar. Shortstop Francisco Lindor might’ve had a play on it, but Shaw tried to grab it and knocked it with his glove to third baseman Juan Uribe. The veteran charged in, but he could not get to it in time.

“If he just lets it go,” Francona said of Shaw, “we probably get an out.”

Then…

Eric Hosmer singled to center. Pinch-hitter Christian Colon, was going to bunt, but he worked ahead in the count and doubled home two runs with a shot to deep center. Colon was thrown out trying to stretch hit hit into a triple. After Shaw got Salvador Perez to pop out, the pitcher then issued back-to-back walks with two outs.

Manship entered and allowed an RBI single to Paulo Orlando. The righty then walked Whit Merrifield and allowed a grand slam to Jarrod Dyson. That’s the same Jarrod Dyson who had no homers in 182 plate appearances this season and only six homers in 1,384 PAs in his MLB career.

“We just couldn’t stop the bleeding,” Francona said.

THIRD: Before the eighth-inning meltdown, the story of the game looked like Kluber’s strong outing with catcher Roberto Perez behind the plate.

Kluber had worked with Yan Gomes in each of his past 40 starts, dating back to last May. Perez was activated from the disabled list prior to Monday’s game, as Gomes landed on the DL with a right shoulder injury. So, not only was Perez working in his first game after an extended layoff, it had been more than a year since he caught Kluber.

“He was really good,” Kluber said. “Obviously, we threw to each other a fair amount last year when Yan was hurt and we developed a good relationship, too. I thought he did a great job tonight, both with the running game and then with calling pitches and working behind the plate. I thought he was really good.”

Perez helped guide Kluber through seven shutout innings, in which he struck out eight, walked three and allowed five hits. The catcher also showed off his arm, throwing out Dyson on a steal attempt in the seventh inning.

HOME: Nearly lost in all of this was arguably the best home run of Lindor’s young career.

In the first inning, Edinson Volquez fired a 1-1 sinker insider on Lindor, who was not fooled by the pitch at all. The home run rocketed off the shortstop’s bat at 108 mph and soared 435 feet right down the right-field line. It stayed fair, dropping deep into the seats for his 11th homer of the season.

The 107.75 exit velocity made that the fourth-hardest ball Lindor has ever hit in the Statcast Era, which covers his entire career. The blast was not only the hardest-hit homer of Lindor’s career, but it was the farthest he has ever launched a long ball, too. It was, as they say, well struck.

Lindor is nearly to his season volume from a year ago.

Let’s take a look at how his sophomore campaign compares…

2015: .313/.353/.482 (390 at-bats)
2016: .300/.359/.456 (353 at-bats)

2015: 12 HR, 22 2B, 4 3B, 51 RBI, 122 H
2016: 11 HR, 20 2B, 1 3B, 51 RBI, 106 H

2015: 69 K, 27 BB, 12 SB, 2 CS, 50 R
2016: 53 K, 35 BB, 13 SB, 4 CS, 63 R

Stay tuned for more…

–JB