Author Archive

A Mother’s Day tribute

CubsRentsIn lieu of Covering the Bases, I’ve decided to post something for Mother’s Day. Without my mom, Patti, I wouldn’t be doing what I do today. Her passion for baseball is what fueled my own love for the game, and put me on a path to my job as a reporter.

Each year, Major League Baseball celebrates Mother’s Day by splashing the games in pink. It’s not only to honor all the good moms out there, but to raise awareness for breast cancer. Cancer affects almost everyone in some way. For me, it took away my mom on Christmas Day when I was only 14 years old. Cancer sucks.

Every day that I get to walk into a baseball stadium for work, I know it’s partly due to the foundation she built for me when I was a kid. Here’s something I wrote a while back about my mom making sure that, during her final summer, she was there to see me play one last game.

………………………………………………….

Mom was my biggest fan. Most kids with good moms would probably say the same, but it always felt like she took it to another level. For my baseball games, mom would sit in the bleachers, spinning a noisemaker and cheering me on loudly.

“Woo! Woo! Woo!”

Ugh, mom. Cut it out.

“Go Jordan! Woo! Woo! Woo!”

Mommm! You’re embarrassing me!

After a while, I just accepted that she wasn’t going to stop. That little, annoying, surprisingly-loud noisemaker wasn’t going to be left at home. She was going to be there in the front row, and she was going to make sure every parent at the field knew precisely which son was hers.

Mom made sure she was there to the end.

In the summer of ’96, I was playing for Gibson Chevy. We didn’t have traditional team names. The teams in South Holland’s 13-year-old Babe Ruth League were referred to by their sponsors. I played second base like my hero, Ryne Sandberg, and hit second in the lineup.

I was having the best season of my life, but mom was missing it.

As the cancer worsened, she just couldn’t make it to my games. I relied on rides from my friends and was keenly aware of the lack of noise when it was time for me to step into the batter’s box. There was the usual round of parental clapping, but nothing out of the ordinary.

I missed her.

Woo! Woo! Woo!

Gibson Chevy made it to the village championship game that summer, and mom did not want her condition to keep her at home.

The dad of one of my teammates owned a limousine business, and drove around town to pick each of us up one by one for the final game. I heard the honk coming from outside my house, gave mom a hug as she remained in bed and headed off to the game. I didn’t expect her to make it to the field.

Shortly before the championship began, I spotted our blue van turning onto the gravel road next to the field. After my dad parked, he walked to the back, pulled out mom’s wheelchair and rolled it around to the passenger door. She came. She came to see the game, and she had her noisemaker.

The game went back-and-forth and, based on the rules of the league, I had to sit on the bench for two innings near the end. The rules stated that every player had to make an appearance, and I was benched for the time being so Tony could play second. I was going stir crazy in the dugout, watching helplessly as the game moved into a tie in the seventh inning.

“Bastian,” said coach Gibson. “You’ll bat fourth this inning.”

Thank the good Lord up in heaven. I was going to re-enter the game.

Andre led off and ripped a single to right field. B.J. flew out and I moved into the on-deck circle. Jeff then struck out on three pitches, walking back to the dugout with his eyes fixed on the ground. I headed to the plate.

On the mound was a kid named Matt, who had one of the best fastballs in our league. I watched the first one go by for strike one.

“Woo! Woo! Woo!”

The next pitch was perfect and I didn’t miss. I took a cut and sent it to center field, where the outfielder got turned around and stumbled. Andre was off and running and I sprinted up the line, around first base and toward second. By the time the relay throw came in, Andre was across the plate and our teammates were swarming him in celebration.

I kept running beyond third, where my friend Josh was waiting with a bottle of red Gatorade. He splashed the contents on me, while someone else threw an arm around my shoulders, pulled me down and began giving me some joyous jabs to the side as the pile grew in size. My white pants were now stained bright pink, and I loved it.

After the on-field party calmed down, and I worked my way out of the dogpile, I looked beyond the backstop to where my mom was sitting. She was crying, and a group of my friends’ mothers were standing all around her wheelchair, giving her hugs as the tears flowed.

That was the last game she saw me play.

Mom wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 27

AndersonSome notes and quotes from Saturday’s 7-0 loss to the Royals.

FIRST: Three pitches into the fourth batter of the first inning, Cody Anderson encountered more of the same.

Anderson fired a cut fastball inside to Royals designated hitter Kendrys Morales, but the righty didn’t get it inside enough. With an 0-2 count, Anderson wanted to run it off the plate to help set up the next pitch. Instead, it stayed over the inside corner and Morales made a meal out of the errant offering.

The ball rocketed off Morales’ bat at 107.6 mph and soared a projected 442 feet, according to Statcast. It marked the longest home run of the year for a Kansas City hitter. This one soared over the right-field stands entirely and took a tour of the new Right Field District.

“I was just trying to go in, in off the plate, with a cutter,” Anderson said. “And he got to it before it cut.”

Home runs have been a consistent issue for Anderson this season. After his five-inning showing on Saturday, the righty has allowed long balls at a rate of 2.5 per nine innings, representing the third-highest mark in the Majors among pitchers with at least 20 innings. Last year, Anderson had a 0.9 HR/9 with Cleveland. In his Minor League career, he allowed 0.8 HR/9.

So, what’s been going on this year?

“Height. It’s all thigh-high,” Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said. “We’re really working on getting that depth back and angling the ball down and keeping the ball down for the most part. Really, the height of his pitches is what’s gotten him so far. The main thing is, you leave the ball out over the plate, thigh-high, people will do damage.”

Let’s take a quick run through the seven blasts Anderson has given up.

April 9: Jose Abreu

CAHR1

This was a first-pitch shot on a 91-mph four-seamer. You can see in the graphic that, as Callaway mentioned, this one was elevated and about belt-high.

April 15: Michael Conforto

CAHR2

This is the first of five allowed this year to a left-handed hitter. This time, it was also a 91-mph pitch, but it was Anderson’s cutter. The righty hit the outer edge, but left it up a hair on an 0-1 count. This looks like a good piece of hitting more than an outright bad pitch.

April 15: Alejandro De Aza

CAHR3

De Aza smacked a 2-1 fastball (also 91 mph) for this homer. Once again, Anderson left it up and did so in a hitter-advantage count.

April 15: Yoenis Cespedes

CAHR4

This is the only curveball that Anderson has surrendered a home run on. It’s his fourth-best pitch, so he doesn’t use it a ton. This one was a 1-1 offering (80 mph) that was hung. After the game, Anderson said his regret was going with the curve, rather than one of his better pitches in this particular situation.

April 21: Steve Clevenger

CAHR5

Anderson fell behind, 2-1, against Clevenger and then left an 86-mph changeup up and over the middle. This was another mistake pitch and Clevenger made him pay.

April 26: Eddie Rosario

CAHR6

Anderson’s best pitch is his changeup, but it hurt him in this matchup. He left it up on the first pitch and Rosario beat him. During this outing, the Indians noticed that Anderson’s stride was off mechanically, leading to his stint at Triple-A to work out some kinks.

May 7: Kendrys Morales

CAHR7

Here is the mistake pitch from Saturday’s game. Now, that’s not a terrible location — down and in — but it’s not an ideal spot against this particular batter, and especially not on an 0-2 count. Rather than getting a waste pitch, Morales received a 91-mph fastball right into his hot zone.

MoralesChart

That strike zone map shows Morales’ career slugging percentage against right-handed pitchers. As you can see, low or middle in is where Morales licks his chops. After going away, away with offspeed. Morales was probably looking inside, but he got one right where he can do the most damage.

SECOND: When the day was done, Anderson was charged with four runs on six hits in five innings. He exited after 69 pitches due to cramping in his legs. Both Anderson and manager Terry Francona noted how much the pitcher sweats during games (he goes through at least two jerseys), so better hydration is needed as spring turns to summer.

Really, when you look a little closer at this outing, there are reasons to be encouraged.

Prior to Morales’ homer, Kansas City’s two hits were of the weak-contact variety. And, following that shot, the Royals didn’t do much harm against Anderson (aside from that RBI double by Jarrod Dyson in the fifth). OK, so was it a good outing? No. It wasn’t. But, this was a case of one really bad pitch overshadowing some good strides.

For example, Anderson recorded nine outs via grounders, including two double plays. That’s a rate of 16.2 outs via grounders per nine innings. In his first 20 innings (four starts), Anderson that rate was 10.2 per nine innings. He also averaged 95 mph with his fastball, topping at 97 mph.

It wasn’t great, but it was a step in the right direction.

“I was starting to get some of that weaker contact,” Anderson said, “and some of those different swings, which is huge. I was getting some ground balls. Predominantly, they were hitting the ball on the ground, so that’s something to build off and keep moving forward.”

“Yeah, I thought it was better,” Callaway agreed. “Obviously, 0-2 cutter, trying to go in deep on the lefty early in the game and we didn’t execute. So, [we’re] down 3-0 really quick. I thought he battled the rest of the game and did a pretty good job. Overall, we’re encouraged by what we saw. And [it’s a] good learning lesson for him.

“Trying to throw a cutter in — his third-best pitch — to a pretty good hitter that hits it everywhere. Utilize your 96-97 and you’re going to go off the plate-in and go from there. But, he did a pretty good job with the adjustments in-between and looks pretty decent.”

THIRD: Anderson’s mistakes were also magnified due to the big fat zero that the offense posted against Royals righty Ian Kennedy, who now has a 2.13 ERA on the year. Kennedy went seven shutout innings and had one stretch between the first and fifth innings in which he held the Tribe to an 0-for-14 showing.

“He really pitched. I mean, he threw a lot of strikes,” Francona said. “He didn’t throw the ball in the middle of the plate very much and he changed speeds. … We didn’t have a ton of chances. He just really pitched well.”

Cleveland’s best chance came in the sixth inning, when Jason Kipnis drew a two-out walk with the Tribe trailing, 4-0. Francisco Lindor followed with a single and then Mike Napoli worked a free pass to load the bases. That set the stage for Carlos Santana, who is known for his patience, keen eye and ability to grind out long at-bats to wear out an opposing pitcher.

So, naturally, Santana chopped the first pitch from Kennedy into the ground and to first baseman Eric Hosmer. That made for a routine groundout to end the inning.

Was Francona fine with Santana attacking the first pitch?

“I’m OK with that,” Francona said. “I mean, shoot, that’s the tying run. That was a good pitch to hit. He just kind of rolled over a little bit. Extending innings is always good, but we’re looking for him to maybe hit one in the seats there.”

HOME: It was just one of those days for the Indians. You know, the kind of game where even The Greatest Reliever Who Ever Was or Ever Will Be has a bad day. So, pour one out for Jeff Manship’s ERA, because he finally flinched.

Manship faced four batters in the eighth inning and did not record an out. The righty was charged with three runs on four hits and saw his ERA rise from 0.000 to 3.68 in the blink of an eye.

This marked the…

  • First time Manship allowed a run since Aug. 22, 2015, snapping a shutout streak of 23.2 innings for the reliever
  • First time Manship allowed more than one run in an appearance since July 22, 2014, when he was with the Phillies
  • First time Manship did not record an out in an outing since April 10, 2014

Even the greats have an off night, folks. This, too, shall pass.

“Tough inning,” Francona said, “where the first couple guys got hits — they didn’t hit them real hard. And then, coming through the middle of the order is probably not the best matchup for him. But, you’re down, so you don’t want to start matching up your bullpen. Just a tough day.”

EXTRAS: Let’s leave on a positive note. Think happy thoughts as you watch your daily installment of Francisco Lindor Theater:

050716_cle_lindorplay_med

Feel any better?

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 26

Jose Ramirez

Some notes and quotes from Friday’s 7-1 win over the Royals.

FIRST: Earlier this season, we were jokingly trying to come up with a nickname for Indians utility man Jose Ramirez. Paul Hoynes of Cleveland.com didn’t hesitate.

“Boom Boom,” Hoynes said.

Since then, that’s what we have called Ramirez up in the press box. After every hit he gets, someone will say, “Boom Boom.” After a nice play in the field: “Boom Boom.” On Friday night, Boom Boom was out in force against the Royals. That said, Ramirez has been on a strong run since this season begam.

“He’s done a pretty good job,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “It’s worked out kind of how we mapped it out. You want to find places for him to play, so he can help you win. He’s done a really good job of staying ready.”

Against Kansas City, Boom Boom had three hits, including a pair of doubles, and a career-high five RBIs. We never saw his helmet fly off, though, and Zack Meisel of Cleveland.com says Ramirez’s helmet hasn’t flown from his head on the bases since April 23. That is very unlike the utility man.

After the game, we asked him why his helmet has been staying put lately.

Starter Danny Salazar laughed as he relayed the question to Ramirez in Spanish. Ramirez cracked a smile and gave his reply.

“He says it fell one time today,” Salazar said.

With his showing on Friday, Ramirez is now sporting a .324/.361/.456 slash line with a 133 wRC+ (which means he’s played 33-percent above league average) through 20 games. At this point last year, Ramirez also had appeared in 20 games, but was batting .194/.234/.264 slash line for the Tribe.

Francona could have easily given up on Ramirez, but the manager has been one of his biggest fans over the past few years. He calls Ramirez a weapon and has stressed since the spring that the Indians wanted to find ways to keep him involved in the lineup on a regular basis. Even with Juan Uribe at third and a surplus of outfielders, Francona has kept his word and Ramirez has thrived.

“I’m really thankful to Tito for believing in me, and giving me the opportunity,” Ramirez said through Salazar. “I’m taking advantage of that. Every time I get the opportunity to go out there, I’m just trying to do my job.”

SECOND: Going into this season, there was a growing sense that Salazar might be on the cusp of a breakout season. Granted, he won 14 games and fanned 195 last year, so it’s not really going out on a limb to say Salazar would be good again. But, we’ve been waiting to see him go from good to great.

Through six outings this year, Salazar has been great.

Now, more than ever, Cleveland needs that to continue. With Carlos Carrasco likely out until June, the Indians need Salazar to elevate his game and pitch like a No. 2. The hard-throwing right-hander is more than capable of doing so, as he’s shown to this point this season.

“We miss him in the rotation right now,” Salazar said. “But, we’re working really hard — all of us. I think we’re doing pretty good. We’re just going to wait for him to come back.”

Salazar’s line vs. Kansas City: 7.2 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 9 K

“That was his best start,” Francona said. “He had good stuff from start to finish and he had all of his pitches. He was really letting it go, reached back for more when he needed it. That was an impressive start.”

Entering Friday, Salazar was using his four-seam fastball 48.8 percent of the time. Against the Royals, that percentage spiked to 59.4 percent (63 of 106 pitches). Kansas City is an aggressive lineup, so Salazar attacked that with his four-seamer more than usual.

“You have to be smart when you go out there,” Salazar said. “You have to be real aggressive. You have to mix all your pitches when you face them. [Catcher Yan Gomes] and I were on the same page today. We talked about it during the bullpen and when we were walking to the dugout. I told him I want to follow him and I think it worked. He called a great game. That was awesome. That was huge today.”

THIRD: You never know how important an early-inning out will be as a game progressed. Now that we know Cleveland scored seven runs, and that Salazar was on top of his game into the eighth, well, that pick-off play in the first inning doesn’t seem like that big of a deal.

At the time, though, it was a big play.

“That was great,” Salazar said.

Lorenzo Cain reached with an infield single in the first inning and, as we all know from watching the Royals in recent years, he has a way of igniting things on the bases. He can toy with a pitcher from the basepaths, maybe forcing a rushed pitch that winds up elevated for the next batter. This time, the Indians saw to it that Kansas City didn’t get anything going in the opening frame.

Catcher Yan Gomes called for a pick-off play and Salazar obliged. With Kendrys Morales in the box, Salar fired the ball to first baseman Mike Napoli. Cain slipped and was caught in a rundown, which led to Napoli applying the tag for an inning-ending out.

“You never know [how a game will go],” Francona said. “Scoring first is always important. We’ve played them enough. We saw the way, even in the ninth inning, they’re not going to stop playing.”

HOME: And that brings us to tonight’s episode of Francisco Lindor Theater.

With two outs in the second inning, Salvador Perez sent a sharp grounder up the middle, just to the left of second base. I mean, this one had single to center field written all over it. I guess we should learn to remove that as the initial mental reaction from our thought process, considering that Lindor is out there playing shortstop.

Lindor swiftly ranged to his left, covering an estimated 25 feet, according to Statcast. He hit a top speed of 15.7 mph and had a route efficiency of 96.7 percent. Shoot, let’s just give him a score of 100. Lindor dove, snared the baseball, gathered himself in the outfield grass and made a pinpoint throw to first baseman Mike Napoli for the out.

050616_cle_lindor_webgem_med
“He has the ability to do that all the time,” Francona said. “He’s going to make plays like that, because he’s really athletic, he has good hands, he has a good arm and he’s into the game.”

Yeah, no kidding.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 25

Michael BrantleySome notes and quotes from Thursday’s 9-4 win over Detroit.

FIRST: Since Terry Francona has been in Cleveland as manager, he has stressed maintaining a day-to-day mentality. There is no game more important than the one in front of you, so it doesn’t make sense to get wrapped up in streaks or trends or particular opponents.

The Tigers are a rival of the Indians, but in Francona’s mind, the only rivalry that matters is the one happening on the field on that given day. And, he’s right. The Indians don’t get credit for two wins when they beat Detroit. A win is a win, and they all count the same.

That said, the Tigers have owned the Tribe since Francona took over to the tune of a 37-19 record across the 2013-15 seasons. That kind of dominance can create a mental road block for a team — the type of intimidation that can disrupt that day-to-day, pitch-to-pitch focus.

“I think if you look at the last couple years,” Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer said, “our record in the first half of the season against them especially, it feels like every time we play them we get just bludgeoned. Not just beat, but beat bad.”

So far this year, Cleveland has reversed course in a big way. Through six games against Detroit, the Indians are 6-0 with scores of 2-1, 10-1, 6-3, 7-3, 4-0 and now 9-4. The Indians have out-scored the Tigers, 38-12, in that span. They have 97 total bases to Detroit’s 50.

That kind of dominance in the other direction for once can provide a mental lift.

“Yeah, it’s huge,” Bauer said.

Against Detroit’s pitching, Cleveland hit .307/.372/.473.

Against Cleveland’s pitching, Detroit hit .181/.225/.259.

The Indians’ staff posted a 2.00 ERA with a 0.83 WHIP, 55 strikeouts and 10 walks in 54 innings.

Never one to stray from his philosophies, Francona still wasn’t ready to buy into the idea (at least publicly) that beating the Tigers gives his team any kind of mental boost.

“I don’t know. If there is, good. I don’t know if we needed it,” Francona said. “When we play them, our focus is them. Now, we need to move on, because Kansas City is probably already here. But, I also do think we need to play better in our division and Detroit’s the one team that’s really had their way.

“There’s a long way to go in this year, but we’ve done a good job so far.”

SECOND: Welcome back, Dr. Smooth.

Michael Brantley has been back for a little more than a week, but Smooth returned in Thursday’s win. After a 4-for-24 showing in his first seven games off the disabled list, Brantley went 4-for-5 with three RBIs, a double and one run scored.

“That looked a lot like him tonight,” Francona said.

If you take a close look at Brantley’s five at-bats, it did indeed look more like the player the Tribe has grown accustomed to seeing in recent years. He saw 23 pitches, swung at nine and did not miss on any of those cuts. He fouled off four and put the other five in play. On top of that, Brantley used the whole field. He had a single to each field, a double down the right-field line and a flyout to center.

“When he’s himself, that’s why he hits .300, because he uses the entire field,” Francona said. “Even when guys make pitches, he still has the ability. You saw the one. He hit the two-strike pitch to left field and then, you try to come in, and he can pull it down the line.”

BrantleyGraph

In the seven games prior to Thursday, Brantley wasn’t having that kind of success with his swing. Take a look at the above chart. Over the ’13-15 seasons, Brantley led MLB with a 91.7-percent contact rate. He was down to an uncharacteristically-low 84.8 percent in his first seven games. His swinging-strike rate was more than double his career norm, he was fouling off more pitches than usual and he was 30-percent below his contact rate on pitches outside the strike zone.

Those are some dramatic differences and the hope would be that the diminished rates were a product of timing, rather than an indication that his right shoulder wasn’t where it needed to be health-wise. Well, on Thursday night, Brantley turned in the kind of game that looked on par with his standout seasons the past few years.

“Of course it’s going to take some time,” Brantley said. “I wasn’t expecting to come in and play guns blazing or anything like that. They’re Major League pitchers. They’re good. There are going to be some adjustment periods that you’re going to have to go through when you don’t get the normal reps that I normally do in spring.

“You can’t duplicate Major League pitching down in the Minor Leagues, but you can duplicate reps. It’s going to take a little bit of time, but we’re stepping in the right direction.”

THIRD: Beyond what he did in the batter’s box, it was also encouraging to see Brantley make a running, lunging, tumbling catch at a crucial point in the contest.

With a runner on second and two outs in the sixth, when the Indians were clinging to a 5-3 lead, Nick Castellanos sent a pitch from Jeff Manship to deep left field. According to Statcast, the ball rocketed off Castellanos’ bat at 102.8 mph. When it left the bat, it was projected to land 64 feet to Brantley’s right.

Manship thought it was going to go even farther.

“I honestly thought it was a home run right when he hit it,” Manship said. “I don’t know if you can go back and watch the tape. I pretty much put my head down right away. I hung a slider right there.”

Of course, we all know that Jeff Manship, The Greatest Reliever Who Ever Was or Ever Will Be, does not give up home runs. And, on this particular play, Brantley used a 92-percent route efficiency, and a top speed of 17.4 mph, to track down the ball.

That left him three feet shy of the projected distance, though. Brantley made up that ground by reaching out and snagging the ball on a dead sprint.

BrantCatch

“That’s a huge part of the game,” Bauer said. “If that falls, it’s 5-4, guy on second and they’ve got momentum. And, who knows how it goes from there? But, Brantley makes that play and we come out and we added some insurance runs later on.”

Manship said it’s great to have Brantley back, and looking like he’s returning to his usual form.

“It’s uplifting for us,” said the reliever, “especially when he’s swinging like he can. Everybody knows he’s going to get back to it. I think today was the day for him, it seemed, where he got his groove. Now, we’ll see what he does. He should be good from here on out.”

HOME: Bauer was effective for 5.2 innings, limiting Detroit to three runs on a Castellanos’ homer in the fourth. The four-run lead that Cleveland’s lineup spotted the starter in the first inning went a long way for him.

After Tigers rook Michael Fulmer struck out Rajai Davis to open the first inning, the Indians went single (Jason Kipnis), single (Francisco Lindor), single (Brantley), home run (Mike Napoli), double (Carlos Santana), walk (Juan Uribe). Just like that, Cleveland had a four-run lead.

Fulmer’s strikeout of Davis prompted a comment from Francona to bench coach Brad Mills in the dugout.

“I went to Millsy,” Francona recalled, “and I said, ‘Man, this kid looks like he’s going to be tough on right-handers.'”

Four batters later, Napoli deposited a pitch 413 feet away in the left-field bleachers.

“And then, bam!” Francona said. “That was kind of big-boy territory there. He got on that one pretty good.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 24

KluberSome notes and quotes from Wednesday’s 4-0 win over the Tigers.

FIRST: Rumors of the Klubot’s demise were greatly exaggerated.

Even when you took Rajai Davis’ issues with the sun on April 17, when Corey Kluber’s ERA was not helped at all by his defense, there was cause for concern early on this year when it came to Cleveland’s ace. Through his first three outings, Kluber had a 6.16 ERA and his velocity was down noticeably from last year, when it was down from the year before.

It’s safe to say those early-April concerns have been stifled.

“Yeah, early on, I didn’t feel like I was really pitching that bad,” Kluber said. “It came down to having one big inning every game, for the most part. Really, the key for me was just trying to minimize the big innings. Those are the ones that come back to hurt you. I was trying to get back to going pitch by pitch.”

Mission accomplished.

In Cleveland’s fifth straight win over Detroit, Kluber went the distance with a 111-pitch beauty. When the righty beat the Tigers on April 23, he overwhelmed them, ending with 10 strikeouts and no walks. On Wednesday, he toyed with them, generating 16 outs via ground ball.

The kicker? Kluber’s velocity was the best it’s been this year. His average pitch speed was actually closer to his 2015 averages than the five previous starts this year. The weather is warming up and Kluber is starting to look more like himself. That’s a great sign for a Cleveland club that is working without Carlos Carrasco right now.

Both of Kluber’s wins this season have been against Detroit. In those two outings, the right-hander has 17 strikeouts, two walks and only one run allowed over 17 innings. Across his past three starts, Kluber has a 1.13 ERA to go along with a 0.58 WHIP and 23 strikeouts in 24 innings of work.

Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor said he loves playing behind Kluber when the pitcher is creating so many grounders.

“It’s fun. It keeps you in the game,” Lindor said. “It was just good that he was keeping the ball low like always. He was spotting people up. He was getting the guys to rollover to me and it was fun.”

Lindor was actually involved in eight of the 16 outs that Kluber induced with grounders. During one stretch between the sixth and eighth innings, the Tigers hit five grounders in a row to Lindor, who helped create six outs in that span. That included three consecutive 6-3 plays in the seventh.

“I was talking to [pitching coach Mickey Callaway] about it yesterday,” Kluber said. “[Lindor] hasn’t even been here for a year, but it’s almost like you take it for granted when it’s hit to him. Already. For the most part, you can count on, if it’s hit to the shortstop, it’s
going to be an out. It’s a nice feeling to have.”

“That kid’s unbelievable, man,” Indians catcher Yan Gomes agreed. “I don’t even know how many balls were hit to him, and they weren’t easy plays. But, he sure makes them look easy. That’s a big thing, having a guy like that making big plays like that.”

Gomes laughed when asked if having Detroit hit the ball to Lindor every time was part of the plan.

“I hope we can get a strategy like that going,” Gomes said with a chuckle. “Yeah, that’s exactly what we’re trying to do.”

SECOND: Kluber said he wanted to get back to his pitch-by-pitch mentality. Well, that was sure put to the test on Wednesday.

In the second, Kluber gave up a one-out single and then had a stretch of nine straight balls (“I totally lost it.”) that led to a bases-loaded jam. Kluber threw 14 of 15 pitches for strikes in the first inning, so his lapse in command in the second (10 balls in 21 pitches) was alarming.

After a brief mound conference with Callaway, Kluber got Jose Iglesias to ground into a 3-2 fielder’s choice for the second out. He then struck out Ian Kinsler to end the inning (one of Kluber’s seven punchouts on the night).

“We all know how strong mentally he is,” Indians manager Terry Francona said.

In the fourth inning, Justin Upton led off by drilling a Kluber pitch high off the center-field wall for a double. Rookie Tyler Naquin came close to making a catch, but he hit the wall awkwardly and the ball eluded his glove and dropped to the warning track. Then, Nick Castellanos singled to right, putting runners on the corners with no outs.

Before we go further, let’s flashback to April 6 against the Red Sox. Carrasco was facing a jam with runners on the corners and one out in the sixth inning in that game. He then induced a chopper from Mookie Betts to third baseman Juan Uribe, who got mixed up on the play. Uribe looked in the wrong direction, wasn’t able to hold the runner and Brock Holt scored when the third baseman finally just took the out at first base.

Now, back to Wednesday night.

Kluber got James McCann to pound a pitch into the ground and to Uribe, who made no mistakes this time around. The veteran third baseman looked Upton back to the bag and then fired the ball to second baseman Jason Kipnis, who turned the double play. Upton stayed put, rather than running home as soon as Uribe released the relay throw.

“Remember early in the [season] when he looked the wrong way?” Francona said. “That [play today] was textbook. He froze him and turned. That was a huge play at the time.”

Gomes agreed.

“That was awesome,” said the catcher. “It might go [overlooked], what he did, because all it was was he just checked him and made him stop. As soon as he made him stop, he was able to turn the double play and you saw Upton kind of just hesitate. That’s exactly what you want to get out of that.”

Kluber followed that by striking out Anthony Gose looking. Scoring threat, and inning, over.

THIRD: Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez was having some command issues of his own on Wednesday night. He walked Carlos Santana to lead off the first, but then held Cleveland to an 0-for-8 showing through the third inning. In the fourth, Sanchez walked Santana to lead things off again, and then hit Lindor on the left elbow with a pitch with one out.

Throughout April, cashing in on such an opportunity was a problem for Cleveland. This time, the Indians didn’t waste their chance. Michael Brantley came through with an RBI single, Mike Napoli delivered an RBI double and Gomes rounded out the outburst with a run-scoring two-base hit of his own. Brantley also scored on a wild pitch. Four runs — plenty for Kluber.

“Those three at-bats in a row, the three hits that inning, were huge,” Kluber said. “The first two guys that got on, they set the table. To string those three hits together, to keep building on it, was huge.”

HOME: Carlos Santana, Leadoff Man, drew a pair of walks, chipped in a single and scored a run in Wednesday’s win. Just another day in the life of one of baseball’s most unique tablesetters.

Hey, are you curious how Cleveland has done with Santana leading off? Just ask Santana.

“If you check it,” Santana said, “when I’m put in leadoff, the team has played better and we won a couple games. I think it’s like 6-1.”

Hold on…

[Checks Indians’ record with Santana leading off]

Yes, it’s 6-1.

In those seven games, Santana has turned in a .346/.452/.615 slash with five extra-base hits, six runs scored and more walks (five) than strikeouts (three). Overall this season, Santana is now batting .244/.357/.463 with a 0.6 fWAR, four home runs and more walks (14) than strikeouts (12). Stop looking at his batting average (which is only a hair below the MLB average of .249, by the way). He’s been arguably the best offensive player (135 wRC+) for the Tribe to this point this year.

“I’m feeling more comfortable,” Santana said. “I worry about my team. If we win with that lineup, I don’t have a problem.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 23

LindorSantanaSome notes and quotes from Tuesday’s 7-3 win over the Tigers.

FIRST: Francisco Lindor is pretty good at this whole baseball thing.

Exhibit A: Three-run home run off Justin Verlander in fifth:

Exhibit B: Ho-hum diving stop and perfect one-hop throw in second:

Needless to say, it was the Lindor Show on Tuesday night in Cleveland. The shortstop singled and scored in the first inning. He doubled and scored in the third. And, after Detroit threatened to make a comeback with a two-run showing in the top of the fifth, Lindor belted that three-run homer in the home half to spread the game open.

“That’s part of the reason he has a chance to be so good,” Indians manager Terry Francona said, “because he can impact the game in so many different ways.”

Lindor being Lindor, he was more focused on the one time he didn’t come through against the Tigers. In the sixth inning, the switch-hitting shortstop stepped to the plate a triple shy of a cycle, and with a chance to really do some damage with the bases loaded and one out. He grounded into a double play to end the inning.

“The last at-bat I had, I was a little upset,” Lindor said. “But, we were still winning. I went out and talked to [Michael] Brantley. He told me how the approach should be, how I can improve. Those things, you guys don’t see,  but that’s huge.”

Lindor’s diving play came against Justin Upton to begin the second. The Tigers outfielder hit it 103 mph off the bat and sent it sharply towards the hole between third and short. Lindor ranged swiftly to his right, snared the ball with a diving grab and then made an accurate throw to first baseman Mike Napoli.

Those plays are beginning to feel routine at this point.

“He makes it look routine,” Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin agreed. “That’s a tough play and he makes it look easy and gets up like he’s done it 100 times. He probably has. He’s a stud, that’s for sure.”

After Lindor’s torrid second half last year, the big question was how the league would adjust to him this season. Well, Lindor hit .313/.353/.482 in 99 games last summer. Through 101 plate appearances this year, Lindor is batting .315/.380/.438.

“Pitchers make adjustments,” Lindor said. “So do I.”

SECOND: It’s a play that could easily get lost in the shuffle, but Indians catcher Yan Gomes and Napoli teamed for another impressive pick-off. Once again, it was Upton who was on the wrong end of a great defensive play by Cleveland.

On a 1-1 pitch from Tomlin, Gomes received the ball and quickly snapped off a throw to Napoli, who was positioned between Upton and the bag. Unlike the pick-off play in Chicago on April 8, when Napoli snuck behind the runner, the first baseman needed only to take a step, glove the relay and slam the tag on Upton.

“Gomer’s feet, he’s so quick,” Francona said. “Everybody talks about his arm, but his feet are so quick. And his awareness — same with Nap. Again, taking outs. It’s almost like the opposite of, if you make an error, you prolong an inning. It’s just in reverse. It’s part of what Gomer can do, and it certainly is helpful.”

There was another critical play involving Gomes in the first inning.

Tomlin (6 IP, 9 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 5 K) was off to a shaky start, allowing two hits within his first three batters faced. Then, he induced a flyout to right field from Victor Martinez. J.D. Martinez tagged up at third and tested the arm of right fielder Marlon Byrd. He slid in safely ahead of the tag from Gomes and the Tigers had a 1-0 lead on a sacrifice fly.

Except, no they didn’t.

Inside the Indians’ clubhouse, replay coordinator Mike Barnett was quick in noticing that Martinez’s foot was off the ground while Gomes applied a high tag. Francona got the message, challenged the ruling and the call was overturned after an examination of the instant replay. Detroit was robbed of its run and the Indians then grabbed a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first.

“You never want them to score first,” Tomlin said. “It doesn’t matter who you’re facing, but a lineup like that, that’s a huge play. I know it’s the first inning, but that’s still a huge play in the game. That inning could have snowballed in a hurry if he was safe. Byrd made a good throw and Yan made a great tag and, fortunately, we got him out.”

THIRD: During the recent 1-5 swing through Minnesota and Philadelphia, the offense was a major issue. The heart of the lineup, specifically, had plenty of woes. The trio of Michael Brantley, Mike Napoli and Yan Gomes — the Nos. 4-6 hitters on Tuesday — went a combined 5-for-54 during those six games.

On Tuesday night, those three delivered big for the Indians. Napoli came through with a twor-run double in the first inning, and Gomes followed with an RBI single. Brantley brought Lindor home with a base hit in the third inning. That is the kind of production Cleveland needs from the middle, especially on a night like Tuesday, when the Nos. 1-3 hitters went a combined 5-for-9 with three walks.

“Hopefully, it thickens out [the lineup] a little bit,” Francona said of getting Brantley, Napoli and Gomes going, “and you don’t give a pitcher an inning off ever.”

HOME: Remember the Bryan Shaw wedding ring controversy in Detroit?

Some background, during the eighth inning of the Tribe’s 6-3 win over the Tigers on April 24, Detroit manager Brad Ausmus complained about a rubber wedding band that Shaw was wearing under his glove. Ausmus was concerned that Shaw was scuffing the baseball. So, following a meeting with the umpires, and a second complaint by Ausmus, Shaw stuff the ring in his back pocket and everyone moved on with their lives.

On Tuesday, Shaw once again took the mound in the eighth against the Tigers. This time, the reliever waited until he reached the mound to remove the ring. He didn’t want Ausmus to throw a fit again.

“I had it on, actually. I had it on since we played Detroit,” Shaw said. “I kind of forgot it was one there. Brad [Ausmus] made a stink about it last time, so when I got out there and realized I had it on, I took it off for him, just to give him some peace of mind. He seems to be the only one with an issue with it, so whatever. I’ll take it off when I play Detroit and I’ll put it on when I play everybody else.”

Without his wedding ring on, Shaw struck out James McCann and then created a groundout off the bat of Jarrod Saltalamacchia to end the inning.

In the outing, Shaw averaged 94.9 mph with his cut fastball, continuing a recent trend for the reliever. He has averaged at least 94.9 mph with the cutter in each of his past five appearances. Last season, Shaw topped a 94-mph average in only three of his 74 appearances. Since “The Ring Game,” Shaw has spun 3.2 shutout innings with five strikeouts and no walks.

In that span, Shaw has lowered his ERA from 14.21 to 9.00!

“I know his ERA is kind of elevated because of the first couple weeks,” Francona said. “But he’s throwing the ball with more power than I’ve seen since we got him. I think that bodes well. We talk about hitters finding their level. He’ll get there, too. And it’ll be fun to watch.”

Also fun: Shaw has kind of become the unofficial spokesman for Qalo Athletics. After the game, he was wearing a T-shirt repping the company, which makes the rubber rings. During his postgame chat, Shaw was actually wearing five different versions of the band on his ring finger. Shaw said that Ollie Linton, a friend of his and a former Indians’ Minor Leaguer, works for Qalo now.

“When all this stuff was going down, [the people at Qalo] were talking about it,” Shaw said. “It was before he actually told them that he knew me. So, they were going to send the T-shirt that I’ve got on, extra rings, different stuff like that to showcase. It’s kind of cool.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Month in Review: April

Seattle Mariners v Cleveland Indians

One of the big storylines heading into this season for the Indians was the persistent April issues during manager Terry Francona’s time at the helm.

Over his first three years as manager, the Indians turned in a 28-44 record in April. Each slow start was followed by a strong finish, but only in 2013 did that late-season push produce a place in the postseason.

So, the big question going into this season was: How will the Indians get off to a hot start?

For starters, this isn’t something a team can simulate in Spring Training. Unless the Tribe rolled in some snow machines or played with the sprinklers on, I’m not sure how you’d go about creating a Cleveland environment in Arizona in February and March. Hot and cold starts are often the result of circumstances — things like schedule, weather, opposing pitchers and hot/cold streaks by individuals over a small sample.

A great April also isn’t a great indicator for future success. Sure, it helps, but a great first month doesn’t come with any guarantees. Shoot, the last time Cleveland had a winning April, in 2012, they were in first place as late as June… and then lost 94 games when it was all said and done. In 2011, the Indians went 8-18 in April! They started 30-15 and were in first into July! They ended that year 80-82.

Needless to say, a lot gets made of strong starts or bad starts, but it’s what happens over the entire slate that matters. All of this is to say that I’m not going to make a huge deal about another sub-.500 April for the Tribe, especially when it’s a 10-11 record we’re talking about for the first month. (Yes, I know it’s 10-12 now. We’re focusing on April today.)

After Cleveland swept the Tigers in Detroit two weekends ago, the Indians were 9-7 and on the cusp of its first winning April since that memorable (for all the wrong reasons) 2012 season. Then, the Tribe suffered four one-run losses (three in walk-off fashion) to close out the month. It wasn’t pretty. It stung. It continued some unfortunate first-month trends, but the Indians were seemingly a pitch or hit away from winning each of those games.

If anything, I’d say the 10-11 record for April was actually impressive. Offensively, Cleveland’s strikeout rate and on-base percentage has been a cause for concern. On the mound, Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw (the primary reason for the losses in late innings in the season’s early going) have been off to a rough start. Carlos Carrasco was lost to injury. Michael Brantley missed most of April while on the DL (and hasn’t hit well since coming back). Cody Anderson’s struggles sent him back to Triple-A for now.

Through all of that, Cleveland has stayed right around .500 and, thanks to a slew of weather issues, the Indians are only four back of the first-place White Sox in the loss column as of this writing. I think 10-11 is a step forward, considering the Indians went 7-14 last April and 10-17 the April before that.

The sky isn’t falling yet, Tribe fans. Some cracks have been spotted, though, and there’s plenty of time to try to fix them.

A glance at Cleveland’s April showing…

Offense (AL rank)

.248 AVG (6)
.306 OBP (11)
.399 SLG (5)
.705 OPS (8)
20 HR (12)
91 R (8)
19 SB (2)
7.8 BB% (10)
24.6 K% (12)
.151 ISO (8)
96 wRC+ (7)
5.1 BsR (1)
3.6 fWAR (3)

Notes: As noted above, the biggest thing that stands out here is the strikeout rate and the OBP. Once Cleveland got runners aboard, they did well in moving them over via baserunning. The Indians have been stealing bases well and have the AL’s best extra-bases-taken rate (54%). The Tribe has been middle-of-the-pack with RISP (.677 OPS, 7th in AL). In terms of strikeouts, Mike Napoli (39.3 K%), Jason Kipnis (29.6), Rajai Davis (27.5) and Yan Gomes (26.4) have struggled. Napoli, Kipnis and Davis are well above their career norms, so the hope would be that there will be some regression.

Pitching (AL rank)

10 wins (12)
4.01 ERA (12)
4.05 rotation ERA (7)
3.93 bullpen ERA (11)
4.15 FIP (11)
0.9 fWAR (13)
8.2 K/9 (6)
3.0 BB/9 (5)
1.3 HR/9 (13)
169 K (12)
61 BB (3)
21.9 K% (6)
7.9 BB% (5)
.228 AVG (5)
1.19 WHIP (4)

Notes: So much of the pitching issues can be attributed to a handful of areas. Anderson (7.65 ERA, 6 HRA, 20 IP) skews the rotation numbers and the combined woes of Allen and Shaw (8.24 ERA in 19.2 IP) paints a poor picture for the bullpen. Really, if the back end of both the rotation and ‘pen are cleaned up, the staff has a much different look. Here’s hoping Anderson is able to correct the mechanical flaw Cleveland feels it found, and that Allen and Shaw can settle into their usual mid-season form. With a league-average (or slightly below average) offense, the Indians need more from their pitching.

Player of the month: SS Francisco Lindor
Slash: .294/.365/.376
Stats: 4 SB, 5 XBH, 9 RBI, 10 BB, 12 R, 11 wRC+

Pitcher of the month: RHP Danny Salazar
Stats: 2.40 ERA, 34 K, 15 BB, 30 IP, 0.97 WHIP

Reliever of the month: RHP Zach McAllister
Stats: 0.93 ERA, 9.2 IP, 8 K, 5 BB, 1.14 WHIP, 11 games

 ——APRIL’S MINOR LEAGUE STANDOUTS——

Triple-A Columbus

Player of the month: INF Michael Martinez
Slash: .289/.357/.434
Stats: 8 XBH, 7 RBI, 9 R, 7 BB, 2 SB, 20 games

Pitcher of the month: RHP Mike Clevinger
Stats: 3-0, 2.92 ERA, 25 K, 12 BB, 24.2 IP, .227 AVG, 1.30 WHIP

Double-A Akron

Player of the month: 3B Yandy Diaz
Slash: .282/.429/.394
Stats: 3 XBH, 5 SB, 10 R, 14 RBI, 19 BB, 21 games

Pitcher of the month: LHP Shawn Morimando
Stats: 4-0, 2.00 ERA, 19 K, 13 BB, 27 IP, .174 AVG, 1.07 WHIP

Class A (high) Lynchburg

Player of the month: 1B/OF Mike Papi
Slash: .261/.422/.536
Stats: 4 HR, 11 RBI, 19 BB, 13 R, 18 H, 20 games

Pitcher of the month: RHP Julian Merryweather
Stats: 4-0, 0.76 ERA, 16 K, 3 BB, 23.2 IP, .239 AVG, 1.01 WHIP

Class A (low) Lake County

Player of the month: 2B Tyler Krieger
Slash: .360/.456/.440
Stats: 5 XBH, 10 RBI, 13 BB, 6 SB, 23 R, 20 games

Pitcher of the month: LHP Thomas Pannone
Stats: 2.25 ERA, 26 K, 6 BB, 24 IP, .202 AVG, 1.00 WHIP

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 19

KipnisSome notes and quotes from Wednesday’s 6-5 win over the Twins.

FIRST: Man, there are a lot of places we could start tonight.

We could delve into a great bounceback performance by Cleveland’s bullpen, which wound up on the wrong end of back-to-back walk-offs in Minnesota. Or, we could discuss another great night atop the lineup for Carlos Santana (3-for-4, one walk, one steal, one double, two runs). Maybe you’d like to focus on Michael Brantley inching towards looking like himself in the batter’s box.

I’m going to start with a trio of at-bats by Jason Kipnis.

When we approached Kipniss after Cleveland’s win, he quipped that *of course* we’d want to talk to him after he struck out four times. Here’s the thing, though, he also ignited a four-run rally in the fifth with a double down the right-field line. And, his two previous at-bats, while they ended in punchouts, set the stage for that moment.

“You’re talking to a guy who only put the ball in play once,” Kipnis said with a laugh.

A teammate heard him and fired over, “That’s all you needed!”

“That’s all I needed,” Kipnis repeated, while rolling his eyes.

Here’s the thing, though. Kipnis saw 20 pitches from Twins rookie Jose Berrios leading up to his double. Berrios, making his Major League debut, was firing anything and everything Kipnis’ way. Yes, he struck Kipnis out in the first and third innings, but the young pitcher was being worn out, and the Tribe’s second baseman was learning the right-hander’s tendencies, along the way.

“They were doing a good job of locating, speeding me up,” Kipnis said. “Pushing and pulling on me with the fastball away and then the changeup and curveball in. They had success the first two at-bats.”

Kipnis1

The above graphic is a a look at the first battle between Berrios and Kipnis. The righty focused on a fastball-changeup mix in this battle, but introduced the curveball seven pitches in. Not only was Berrios changing speeds, but he was altering Kipnis’ eye level. The at-bat ended with an elevated 94-mph fastball for a swinging strikeout.

Kipnis2

Here is the second at-bat. This time around, Berrios flooded Kipnis with offspeed pitches. He went changeup, changeup, curve out of the  gate. Then, he came back with a 92-mph fastball that Kipnis fouled off. Berrios then returned to the changeup and ended with back-to-back curves. No. 6 was fouled off. Kipnis swung through No. 7.

“He’s got good stuff. He’s got a good arm motion,” Kipnis said. “He keeps the same arm speed on a bunch of his pitches. He’ll get better, obviously, as he goes, once he cuts down on how many pitches he throws. I think we had him up near the 80-pitch count in the fourth inning.

“Just as I did, even though I struck out the first two at-bats, if we’re making him work, getting him deep in the counts, we’re seeing a lot more of his stuff and we’re going to, like you saw, get to him later in the game.”

Kipnis3

Here is the third battle. The first four pitches were fastballs between 91-93 mph. After the first pitch, Berrios was elevating for the remainder of this at-bat. Rather than go back to the changeup, though, the right-hander did the same thing he did to end the second meeting. He doubled up on curveballs. Kipnis fouled off the fifth pitch, but didn’t miss the next. Berrios hung an 81-mph curve and Kipnis ripped it into right.

“He threw the same pitch twice in a row. It was a mistake,” Kipnis said. “He’ll be the first one to probably tell you that. Kurt [Suszuki] behind the plate could probably tell you that. … He doubled up. And I just missed the previous curveball right before that and hung the
second one, almost in the same spot. So, I did my job to not miss it that time.

“The kid got me the at-bat before with the curveball, but at that time I had seen everything he’s had in almost in every spot inside and out. I was just making the adjustment.”

That hit pulled the game into a 3-3 tie, chased Berrios from the ballgame and ignited a four-run push that proved to be the difference.

“Kip strikes out four times,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “But the one at-bat, first and second, he drills a ball to right field that kind of changed the game.”

SECOND: Two batters after Kipnis came through, Brantley stepped in to face Twins lefty Fernando Abad. Heading into the night, Abad had 12 strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings this season with no runs allowed.

After watching three pitches and falling behind in the count, 1-2, Brantley fouled off five of the next six pitches to stay alive. He then lofted a pitch to deep left field, where Twins outfielder Eddie Rosario botched the catch for an error. It scored Kipnis from third and was deemed a sac fly for Brantley, who later scored on a hit from Mike Napoli.

“That was some kind of at-bat,” Francona said. “Abad had not given up a run yet, and I know technically he still hasn’t, but that was a pretty good at-bat. We’ve seen that from Brantley so many times. He’s not going to get beat the wrong way. That was good for him probably to see a lefty.”

In Brantley’s next at-bat, he collected his first hit of the season with a slashed single to left field. Cleveland’s star left fielder was later intentionally walked in the ninth inning. After he opened with an 0-for-7 showing, it was good for the Indians to see Brantley looking much better in his final three plate appearances.

THIRD: It was a rough night for Indians starter Josh Tomlin, but the offense and bullpen bailed him out in this one.

Over 5 1/3 innings, Tomlin allowed five runs (four earned) on six hits, ending with one strikeout and one walk. The right-hander only threw 65 pitches, but Minnesota was in ambush mode all evening. Seventeen of the 23 batters Tomlin faced had their at-bats end within three pitches. We asked Tomlin how he tries to adjust when hitters are attacking in early counts so often.

“For me, it’s throwing quality pitches down in the zone,” Tomlin said. “I think they swung first or second pitch and, if it wasn’t that one, it was probably the third or fourth pitch. They were swinging early, I knew that. But, I was trying to execute good pitches down in the zone or good quality pitches up in the zone. Maybe close to them.

“But, I wasn’t able to execute those pitches early in the count. When I got into little bit deeper counts, and got guys 0-2, I was able to make pretty good pitches when that happened. They were putting good swings on balls that were over the heart of the plate early in the count.”

Tomlin’s final pitch was the first pitch to Byung Ho Park with one out in the sixth inning. Park crushed a cutter to deep center, where it crashed off the black backdrop behind the center-field wall. The shot had an exit velo of 106.7 mph and soared 441 feet, according to Statcast.

Tomlin was asked what he was trying to do on the pitch.

“Not that,” he said with a laugh. ” I was trying to throw a cutter down and away. I tried to get an early-contact, early out. I kind of looked back when I got a pitch back early in that inning and saw the bullpen going, so I knew if there was going to be guys on base, or if I had traffic, I was probably done.

“So, for me, I kind of assumed he was going to be swinging there, so I just wanted to make a quality pitch down and away in the zone, or maybe just off the plate to try to get an early-contact rollover, weak contact to get an out. That cutter just kind of backed up on me and it stayed over the middle, the heart of the plate, and he put a good swing on it.”

HOME: On Monday night, Zach McAllister gave up a walk-off home run to Oswaldo Arcia. On Tuesday night, Cody Allen gave up a walk-off single to Miguel Sano. So, naturally, each of the relievers were tasked with critical moments in Wednesday’s win.

In the bottom of the seventh, an infield hit and back-to-back walks put McAllister in a bases-loaded, two-out jam with Park at the plate. The big righty fed the slugger a steady dose of fastballs and came away victorious. The final heater was an elevated 95-mph fastball that Park swung through, eliciting a collective groan from the crowd.

After the punchout, McAllister flexed and shouted as be bounced off the mound.

“I knew it was one of those moments throughout the game where it’s really meaningful,” McAllister said. “In that situation, when the bases are loaded and they’re down by one, he can do a lot of damage. You saw what he did the at-bat before. So, it was definitely a good feeling to get out of that.”

Before we get to Allen, let’s tip our cap to Big Mac’s puma-like reflexes.

After Eddie Rosario’s leadoff single in the seventh, Danny Santana tried to move him up 90 feet with a bunt. Instead, he popped it up in front of the mound. McAllister ran forward, reached out and made the catch as he fell hard to the grass.

“That’s athleticism,” Allen said with a smile. “That’s an athletic dude right there.”

Told of Allen’s commentary, McAllister laughed.

“Yeah, I’m sure you can go back and watch more video of it,” he said, “and probably see how athletic I looked doing that. I mean, an out’s an out in my opinion.”

As for Allen, he wound up facing Joe Mauer with two outs and a runner on second base with the game on the line in the ninth. The closer went right after the Twins first baseman and won a nine-pitch battle by inducing a flyout to center field. After Tuesday night, Allen was thrilled to get right back out there.

“It’s a good feeling,” Allen said. “You want to stop riding this roller coaster I’ve been on for the last few weeks. It’s a good feeling. It’s a step in the right direction. I wouldn’t necessarily say I won the battle with Mauer, because he put a really good swing on it right there.

“But, just to get a win [was great]. Everybody before me pitched unbelievable. They came in did their job and held them where they were. The offense and defense did some really good things too. That was a baseball team win right there. It’s kind of what we needed after the last couple of games.”

Programming note: I will not be making the trip to Philadelphia, so the blog will be quiet for a few days. Keep checking Indians.com for all the latest on the Tribe from the City of Brotherly Love.

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 18

AndersonSome notes and quotes from Tuesday’s 6-5 loss to the Twins.

FIRST: While the Indians were playing the Twins on Tuesday night, Corey Kluber left the dugout and headed to a video room. The leader of Cleveland’s rotation wanted to see if he could quickly find something to help Cody Anderson.

For the third straight start, Anderson was struggling with leaving pitches up in the strike zone. On top of that, his sinker was flat and his changeup lacked the usual depth. Pitches were spinning back over the plate and into hitter-friendly areas. It was, once again, not the Anderson that the Indians saw in Spring Training.

Before Anderson went out for the sixth inning, Kluber found something.

“Kluber was doing some hard work in-between innings, looking at some stuff,” Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said. “And [we] maybe have identified something that might help Cody out. We talked a little bit about it before the last inning he pitched and then he put together probably the best pitches he had thrown the whole game to the first two batters.”

Kluber noticed that Anderson was closing off too much with his lead foot during his stride towards the plate. Last season, Anderson’s stride continued to drift open a little more with each outing, so Callaway set an offseason goal of closing his stride off more. Basically, the goal was to have Anderson planting his lead foot in a more direct line to the plate, helping create a chain reaction that produces more velocity.

Let’s let Mickey explain…

“Last year, he had a really open stride,” Callaway said, “which was kind of killing his velo and wouldn’t allow him to block himself off to get the velocity he wanted. So, [we made] a slight adjustment in the offseason to close it off a little bit. It looks like he’s closed it off too much and he’s spinning off, getting a little more side to side, and not getting through the ball with good direction. It’s causing either a yanked fastball or a fastball that leaks back with flat run over the middle of the plate.”

Callaway said the idea over the winter was to get Anderson’s stride closer to where it was in his Major League debut on June 21 last year. In that start, he maxed out at 98.2 mph. After that start, he never got near that velo range again. This spring, Anderson looked better, sitting at 95-97 in some outings.

“We were looking for the power that we saw in his first start last year,” Callaway said. “You saw the 96-97, and he started opening up, opening up, opening up and pitching at 90-91. The peripherals last year probably didn’t say that he was going to be able to sustain success like he had last year, because of the strikeouts and things like that. So, we went and looked at it in the offseason and wanted to go get that velo that we saw the first game. We wanted him to maintain it throughout the season, so we tried to straighten his stride, maybe close it off a little bit, so he had something to throw against.”

In the sixth inning, following his brief chat with Kluber and Callaway, Anderson worked Eduardo Escobar into an 0-2 count and got the batter to ground out against a curveball. Then, Anderson worked ahead, 1-2, against Kurt Suzuki, who had burned the pitcher all night, and used a sinker to induce another groundout.

“I actually thought his last inning was probably his best inning,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “Until he threw a changeup that was just up too much to [Eddie] Rosario.”

SECOND: Yeah, about that changeup.

Anderson said he wanted to throw it out of the zone, but the pitch betrayed him and caught too much of the plate. Rosario did what any good Major League hitter is paid to do. He smacked the mistake out of the ballpark. It was the second start in a row that Anderson gave up a homer on his signature offspeed offering.

“That’s his pitch,” Indians catcher Yan Gomes said. “I don’t want to call that one one of the mistakes. Rosario, we knew he was going to swing first pitch, and we tried to go with his best pitch right out of the get-go. Rosario, tip our cap to him, he stayed back on it and put a good swing on it.”

Fair enough.

Now, while the Indians think they may have found a fix for Anderson, what has been happening of late has been ugly. Tuesday marked the third straight start in which the righty has given up five runs on nine-plus hits. In that three-start span, Anderson has given up 15 runs on 28 hits in 14 innings.

“A lot of hits,” Francona said in the understatement of the day.

Here’s the thing now. We know Trevor Bauer is going to start against the Phillies on Saturday. That creates a unique situation for the Indians and their rotation. With off-days coming Thursday and Monday, Cleveland has the ability to use a four-man rotation through May 6, if so desired.

Do the math. That’s 10 days until the Indians need a fifth starter. That means Cleveland could option Anderson to Triple-A on Wednesday, give him a start to work on the adjustments noted above and then recall him for the May 7 game against the Royals. Now, I’m not saying this is necessarily going to happen. I’m just thinking outloud and this is a plausible scenario currently in play. The Indians did something similar with TJ House in 2014.

Francona didn’t take the bait when prodded about a potential roster move.

“When we do things we always talk to players [first],” Francona said. “We have some things to talk through, but we’ll get there.”

THIRD: OK, let’s take a moment to do some hat-tipping to the Tribe offense.

In the first inning, Jason Kipnis stayed back on a curveball from Ricky Nolasco and pulled it over the right-field wall for a home run. [tips cap] In the third, Juan Uribe used his old-man strength to rip a pitch out to left with an exit velo of 102.5 mph for his first homer of the year. [tips cap] Carlos Santana added an opposite-field shot to the base of the left-center wall in the sixth for an RBI double. [tips cap]

And, man, did Mike Napoli ever need the shot he delivered in the ninth. Mired in a 2-for-21 slump that included 12 strikeouts, Napoli absolutely crushed a 94-mph heater from Kevin Jepsen. It rocketed off the bat at 109.5 mph and had a projected distance of 442 feet, per Statcast. Napoli strolled out of the box, admired his work and mic dropped his bat before trotting around the bases. [tips cap]

That blast pulled the game into a 5-5 deadlock.

HOME: Indians closer Cody Allen says he has no issues coming into a game when it’s a non-save situation. After Nap’s home run evened things up, Francona handed Allen the ball for the home half of the ninth.

“When it’s a tie ballgame, your room for error is a little less, especially on the road,” Allen said. “It’s one of those things, even with a three-run lead, you’re trying to go 1-2-3. You’re not trying to give up runs or fall behind guys.”

Allen yielded a leadoff single, but Danny Santana was then sent back to the dugout after being caught stealing by Gomes. Brian Dozier followed with a double, leading to an intentional walk to Joe Mauer. Then, Miguel Sano placed a 1-1 fastball in center field for a game-winning single. Ballgame.

It added to another tough April for Allen.

“When you give up a few runs and haven’t thrown a lot,” he said, “your stuff gets inflated. It’s been a little bit of a struggle.”

No kidding.

Allen and setup man Bryan Shaw have combined for a 9.56 ERA and a 1.69 WHIP. They have allowed 17 runs on 18 hits with 17 strikeouts and nine walks in 16 innings. Meanwhile, the rest of the bullpen has turned in a 2.27 ERA with a 1.01 WHIP in their 39.2 combined innings.

Of course, we’ve seen this movie before. The hope once again, though, is that this is simply a bad start and not a case of heavy usage catching up to Allen and Shaw. We’ve wondered the same the past two years, and then the late-inning duo has a way of getting on a roll and fashioning solid overall numbers.

Over the 2013-15 seasons, Allen had a 2.49 ERA overall and Shaw turned in a 2.93 ERA overall. Allen actually led baseball in relief fWAR last season, too. But, their collective workload is a bit staggering. Over that same three-year period, among all Major League relievers, Shaw ranked first in games, second in batters faced, third in innings and fourth in pitches thrown. Allen ranked second, seventh, fifth and fifth in those same categories.

Is this the year it finally comes back to bite them? We don’t know that, yet. All we know is it’s been another rough first month for the pair of righties.

“It’s definitely tough,” Gomes said. “I don’t want to give the excuse that it’s early in the season or anything like that, because I think that’s the easy route. But, even with the rough patches right now that are going on, those two guys are going to be in when the game’s on the line every time for us.

“They have a track record of doing really well, so we’re not hitting any kind of panic button. We’re still going to rely on those two guys to be in the back of the line, closing games out.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 17

Francisco Lindor

Some notes and quotes from Monday’s 4-3 loss to the Twins.

FIRST: Anything and everything seemingly went wrong for the Indians in the fifth inning of Monday’s meltdown in Minnesota. A web gem. A booted ball. A pick-off play that went the wrong way. A balk. A wild pitch. Missed chances on foul popups. And runs, three of them, for the Twins.

“So many things happened that inning,” Indians manager Terry Francona said.

All night, it felt like Danny Salazar was operating under a bend-don’t-break approach. But, when a pitcher is struggling to find the strike zone as badly as Salazar was on Monday, it usually catches up with him. It did against the Twins, but there were so many other factors that did the Tribe in at Target Field.

The inning actually opened with a highlight-reel play by — and this will shock you — shortstop Francisco Lindor.

Eduardo Escobar chopped a pitch up the middle, where Salazar stabbed at the ball and tipped it with his glove. That forced Lindor to alter his route behind the mound. The shortstop gloved the grounder, but the baseball did all it could to spin away from his fingers. Once he got a grip on the elusive ball, Lindor fired it to first for the out.

042516_gif_cle_lindor163_med_sn90yveo

Next, Salazar induced a flyout from Kurt Suzuki. Cleveland had a 2-0 lead and, despite all of the starter’s command woes, he was about to escape another inning unscathed. Except, that’s not what happened. Instead, a rare defensive mistake by Lindor began a brutal chain reaction.

Danny Santana sent a pitch from Salazar up the middle, where the shortstop moved to his left and got the glove on the ball. Unfortunately, the baseball skipped off the heel and fell to the dirt. Lindor retrieved it from the ground, but he had no shot at throwing Santana out at first base.

LindorPlay

That was the first domino.

With Eduardo Nunez batting, Salazar attempted a pick-off to first base, where Mike Napoli appeared to apply the tag on the Twins runner’s right arm before his hand touched the base. First-base umpire Doug Eddings saw things differently, calling Santana safe. Francona challenged the ruling, which was upheld after a replay review.

That surprised the Indians manager.

“Very much so,” Francona said.

PickOff

Undeterred, Salazar tried another pick-off play after the game resumed. This time, home-plate ump Jeff Nelson said the pitcher’s movement was illegal. He declared it a balk and Santana jogged up to second base. On the replay, Salazar was leaning over and getting the sign from catcher Yan Gomes, when the pitcher lifted his back foot, spun and threw to first base.

Francona didn’t like the call.

“I don’t agree,” said the manager. “I have a feeling when he goes and looks at it, he’ll say he probably didn’t get it right.”

Then came the first of two tormenting foul balls. Nunez flared a pitch down the right-field line, where outfielder Marlon Byrd tracked it down and reached out to make a catch. The ball dropped just beyond his reach as Byrd closed in on the side wall.

ByrdFoul

Nunez then sent another foul ball to the right, where it drifted high and into the first row of the stands on the first-base side. Napoli ran to the wall and watched the baseball drop into a group of fans, who then scattered to chase down the souvenir. Another missed chance at an out.

NapFoul

Nunez walked, bringing Brian Dozier to the plate. On a 2-1 pitch, Salazar sent a ball tumbling into the dirt. Gomes could not corral the errant offering and it rolled around at his feet as he bolted up in search of the baseball. By the time the catcher realized where the ball was, Santana and Nunez had sprinted up to third and second, respectively.

WildPItch

And this is where Salazar’s command issues finally bit him. He was now in a 3-1 count to Dozier, who ripped the next pitch down the left-field line for a two-run double. Following that game-tying hit, Miguel Sano came through with a go-ahead single off Jeff Manship later in the inning.

“Every time you get behind in the count, you have to get in the strike zone,” Salazar said. “[Dozier] was waiting for something there in the strike zone. … We could’ve won that game. But, I think that’s on me. I got in trouble and we lost.”

SECOND: If you had any doubts before about Lindor’s potential as a team leader, let’s erase them here and now.

During this game, Lindor made a handful of incredible plays. Beyond the one detailed above, he also went deep into the hold twice, gloving sharp grounders and pulling off leaping, across-body throws with precision for outs. They were the kind of plays Lindor is making seem routine for him.

042516_cle_lindor_med_s34fd6mj

And, yet, even with all the plays he made on Monday night, Lindor was caught up in the grounder he did not catch cleanly in the fifth. Considering that miscue occurred with two outs, the shortstop said the defeat was his and his alone (which we all know was not the case).

Lindor called the ball in the fifth “a routine play” that all shortstops can make.

“I made all those plays and they helped the team,” Lindor said. “But, I helped them win today. I helped them win. I didn’t help my team win and it’s tough. Whenever something like that happens, it’s tough. I think Salazar was pitching good and I messed it up for him. I messed it up for him and I own up to it.”

You have to respect the accountability and maturity from the kid.

THIRD: Salazar was bringing the heat on Monday, but he was in hit-the-bull mode for the first few innings. His two innings consisted of 40 pitches, including 21 balls. Through four innings, he had 70 pitches (32 balls). The biggest issue was his fastball command, especially with the two-seamer. Salazar eventually just leaned on his four-seamer for 61 pitches (60.4 percent), which was more than 10-percent greater than his last outing.

“I could’ve done a better job today,” said Salazar, who lasted 4.2 innings. “I was throwing too many balls and too many times behind in the count. That was the problem today.”

Francona was not about to argue.

“He barely got to where he was throwing more strikes than balls,” Francona said. “It took him until about the fourth inning. That’s just a hard way to have sustained success, where you can go deep into a game. Because, with the stuff he has, he should get deeper.”

HOME: Welcome back, Michael Brantley. The script was set up for a storybook return for Dr. Smooth, but the baseball gods didn’t feel like playing along this time. After he launched a homer and threw a guy out at the plate in his first spring game, you just assumed he’d deliver a clutch hit after entering as a pinch-hitter on Monday.

The game was knotted, 3-3, in the eighth inning, thanks to a towering solo home run from Gomes. A couple hits later, the Indians had runners on the corners with two outs. Francona turned to Brantley as a pinch hitter. The left fielder put his slick swing on display with an opposite-field line drive, but Oswaldo Arcia squeezed his glove around the ball for the final out of the inning. Then, Arcia went and hit a walk-off home run in the ninth.

–JB

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