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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.

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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.

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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

Catching up with Mike Aviles

AvilesGirlsOn Saturday morning, Indians reporters headed to the Tigers’ clubhouse to catch up with former Tribe utility man Mike Aviles. During his time in Cleveland, Aviles became a fan favorite and a force in the clubhouse. During the 2015 season, his 5-year-old daughter, Adriana, battled leukemia and how the Indians came together to support Aviles and his family was one of the best stories of the baseball season. Adriana is now cancer-free and Aviles has found a new home with Detroit.

Q: What was it like to catch up with your old teammates?

MA: It was fun. It was definitely fun. The three years I was there, I had quite a few memories and a lot of fun times with those guys. It’s like not seeing your family for a little bit and all of a sudden you see all of your brothers again. You’re like, ‘Oh, hey guys, how’s it going?’ You remember all the fun times you had, the good times. At the end of the day, you make a lot of friends in this game. As much as I talk, I’ve made a few friends in this game. There are a lot of good ones on that team.

Q: Can you take us through the process of signing with Detroit?

MA: It was an interesting process, only because in the offseason, I was more focused on other things, with my daughter doing the bone marrow. It actually helped me as far as keeping the focus off baseball. So, in the offseason, I told my agent, ‘Give me a call only if you have something concrete, because I have other things to worry about.’ Detroit called and they offered me a job and then my agent went back to the drawing board and talked to the other teams that were interested just to make sure we had everything in place because I wanted to make a decision fairly quick, because when you have kids, you want to prepare a little bit if you can. So it came about kind of quick. I didn’t know the Tigers were interested until the day my agent called me. It worked out. I found a good team. It’s fun. I get to see the guys all the time and I get to talk crap with them back and forth because we’re on different teams now.

Q: Was it tough to get the news that Cleveland wasn’t going to re-sign you?

MA: It’s a double-edged sword. You understand the business side of everything and you understand that sometimes things don’t fit in the budget. You totally get it. There are no hard feelings. I have nothing bad at all to say about Cleveland for the way I was treated in those three years. It’s one of my favorite organizations because of the way I was treated, between Chris, Tito, the coaching staff, the training staff, the guys. The unit over there was really a family atmosphere for three years. It was one of those things that I will always cherish and appreciate, because you literally felt like a family every day. I enjoyed going to the park because I didn’t know what was going to happen. We joked around a lot over there. It was, ‘Something could happen today. It’ll be fun.’ It was a good time going on the field and knowing every single person had each other’s back.

Q: We found out Adriana was cancer-free during Spring Training. When did you guys get the news?

MA: November. Her last phase when she went home in September, she went through the last phase of her chemo treatment and during that last phase when I got home, she had gotten to be cancer-free. It was a matter of keeping her that way until she got the bone marrow. She got radiation after she was cancer-free and then the bone marrow. The bone marrow was on Dec. 4. She ended up getting the bone marrow. It took well. Everything was great. She had minimal side effects. It was crazy. The doctors joked around and said she was the test model patient for the bone marrow. Every day they waited, ‘When is the reaction going to come?’ You do get reactions out of it. Some kids get it worse than others. It’s basically the bone marrow fighting the old stuff. The fight on the inside is what we don’t see, but that’s what’s going on. She did a great job of taking it in stride and had no side effects. She’s been recovering ever since.

Q: Was it difficult when she went in for the bone-marrow procedure?

MA: Me and my wife weren’t as scared of the actual procedure, because it’s almost like a blood transfusion. It’s just a bag of blood and it goes in through her tubes. That part wasn’t that hard. It’s knowing the potential side effects, the rash you can get from it, the mouth sores. The pain that she could potentially be in was the hard thing for me. At the time, my wife was pregnant and she was miserable because she was at the end. She was really over everything. She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move. So I was at the hospital the entire time for the bone marrow and that killed my wife as well because she was there all through the summer and she wanted to be there through that, but she wasn’t able to. So I was there the whole time and was able to help out my daughter, so it was kind of scary for me, not knowing what to expect. You read the horror stories. You know about what could happen. You’re sitting there, waiting for it to happen. Luckily for her, she didn’t get hardly any mouth sores and barely any rash, so it worked out good and she had pretty much smooth sailing.

Q: Once you knew Adriana was cancer-free, how did you explain everything to her?

MA: I don’t. She doesn’t need to know until she gets older. We’ve done a good job of, in a way, sheltering her from actually knowing everything about it. She knows enough about it. She knows she had leukemia. She knows she had sicky bugs in her blood. She knows the terminology. She knows how to talk about it, but she doesn’t know the extent, the severity of what cancer can do. In all honesty, I don’t think a kid should know. At that age, their innocence is precious and I think they should keep it as long as they can, because it’s sad when kids do lose that innocence.

Q: What was the moment like when you learned she was cancer-free?

MA: She had an appointment that day and we were waiting for the doctor to call, but she had an appointment and we went to the doctor. She was doing her tests for the bone marrow. You have to do all these tests to see where her baseline is, so she was going to do her evaluation — for her intelligence, to see where she was intellectually — and on our way there, we walked right by her doctor and her doctor goes, ‘Did you get the news?’ We were like, ‘What are you talking about?’ He goes, ‘I sent you an email. I called you guys.’ Me and my wife were in the hospital, so we didn’t know. He was like, ‘She’s at zero.’ Instantly, my wife started crying. I start crying. It was just like, my daughter is laughing and smiling, wondering why the tears were coming down our eyes. We had to explain to her why. She was so excited, so pumped. It’s kind of hard to tell her, ‘You’re cancer-free, but now we have to do radiation and bone marrow.’ But she also understood that this was all part of the process. One thing about my daughter that surprised me is the way she took everything in stride. She literally confided in and trusted me and my wife more than anything. ‘I trust you, Mommy and Daddy, I know you guys are doing this to help me.’ Whatever it was that we had to do, she was OK with it. She also understood that if my wife or I could change places with her, we would. It made her happy to hear that, ‘You really would do that?’ ‘Yeah. When you get older, you’ll understand.’

Q: And you guys had a son over the offseason, too?

MA: [Madden Michael Aviles] was born on November 30. His due date was December 7. The bone marrow was scheduled for December 4. Nothing was planned, so we induced on the 30th and they had to do a C-section. She didn’t go into labor.

Q: Can Adriana travel with you guys now?

MA: They came to Florida. They were at spring training for a while. They haven’t been here yet because it’s still cold and it’s kind of warm back home. So might as well stay home and chill out at home and enjoy the warm weather. They’re supposed to come here the next homestand, so I’m excited for that.

Q: Has she started school?

MA: They start school in August this year. When they come here, she’ll be doing tutoring — both twins, actually — so they can be ready to go once school starts in August.

Q: Did you get much sleep with everything going on this winter?

MA: I actually did. Not early in the offseason. Around December, no, because every 30 minutes: ‘Daddy, I have to go potty.’ They have the liquid running on saline and stuff, so she’s always hydrated. Then once she got home, yeah. The little one sleeps. He was sleeping four hours in the beginning like nothing. Now he sleeps through the night. He’s the best baby of all of them, by far. He just chills, wants to hang out. If he hears people, he starts fussing because he wants to hang out with everybody. He wants to know what’s going on. You pick him up and he’ll be alert, watching what’s going on. He’s nosy.

Q: He’s not a motormouth like you?

MA: Nope. He’s different than all of the other ones. He’s way more calm right now. I don’t know how that’s going to play out later on. I’m going to need him to talk more. I can’t do it by myself. I’m outnumbered. The other three girls, they got it. They definitely got the gift of gab.

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 16

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Detroit Tigers

Some notes and quotes from Sunday’s 6-3 win over the Tigers.

FIRST: In our daily pregame meeting with Indians manager Terry Francona, we discussed the challenges of the pending activation of left fielder Michael Brantley from the disabled list. In this case, there really wasn’t that clear-cut, this-is-definitely-the-move-that’s-coming decision.

Tyler Naquin has Minor League options, but is a true center fielder and he’s hitting well. If he were back in Triple-A, you’re talking about Jose Ramirez and Lonnie Chisenhall being backups for center field. Cody Anderson has options, but it’s way too early to jump ship after a rough start to the year. In the bullpen, a lack of Minor League options for a couple guys complicates things, too.

“Things work out,” Francona said. “They have a way of working out.”

I don’t think Sunday’s development was what Tito had in mind.

In the third inning, Carlos Carrasco ran to cover first base on a chopper from Andrew Romine. Right before he stepped on the bag with his right foot for the out, you could see the pitcher pull up awkwardly. After hitting the base, he hit the ground hard, rolling over in clear pain. When Carrasco attempted to stand up, he grabbed the back of his left leg and then dropped to his knees.

The Indians did not need this.

Carrasco sustained a left hamstring injury and was en route to Cleveland after the game to undergo an MRI exam. All the Indians have said it what is hurt. The extent of the injury won’t be public until Monday. Francona did allow himself to say that Carrasco will be going on the disabled list.

So, a transaction will be coming Monday. As it happens, Brantley was flying to Minnesota on Sunday ahead of the upcoming series with the Twins. And, while Francona would not go as far as saying the left fielder will be activated, the manager noted that he and the medical staff will meet with Brantley to discuss the situation. It is very possible that Brantley is activated on Monday ahead of the game with the Twins.

If that is indeed the move, it can delay whatever the other roster move would have been. It buys more time for Anderson. It allows Cleveland to keep its outfield and bullpen intact. If needed, Trevor Bauer can slide out of the ‘pen and back into the rotation. Adding a position player for a pitcher would be OK, because the Tribe is carrying an extra reliever right now.

It helps, too, that the Indians do not technically need a fifth starter until their May 7 game against the Royals. Off-days on on Thursday and Monday (May 2) — on either side of the road series in Philadelphia — create a situation where Cleveland could run with a four-man staff for a while.

SECOND: Throughout his season-opening stay in the bullpen, Bauer has insisted that he can pitch whenever, wherever and for however long Cleveland needs. He’s had a pretty detailed preparation schedule in the past, but he has shown a knack lately for being able to get ready in a hurry.

That was definitely put to the test on Sunday.

After the injury to Carrasco, Bauer was summoned from the bullpen with two outs in the third inning. The rubber-armed righty then spun 3.1 innings, logging 64 pitches and giving up two runs on four hits with four strikeouts and a walk. It was an admirable pitching performance under the circumstances.

“Trevor came in and really did a good job,” Francona said. “It’s easy for us to say, ‘Hey, stay ready, because you’re going to get an opportunity.’ But, to his credit, he has really stayed ready. For him to be able to throw 64 pitches and really keep the game right in check is a tribute to him. He’s kept himself in shape and his arm, he didn’t lose anything the whole time he was in there.”

After Bauer struck out Anthony Gose to end the third inning, he said he headed inside to check on Carrasco.

“It was unexpected, with what happened,” Bauer said. “Cookie was cruising right along and it was very unfortunate with what went down. Hopefully, he’s OK. That’s what was on my mind was, ‘I hope he’s OK.’ I came up in the clubhouse to check on him after I got out of that inning. I think that’s the biggest thing. The team played really well today
and hopefully Carlos is OK.”

THIRD: Tigers’ starter Shane Greene also made an early exit, leaving due to a blister on his right middle finger after walking Francisco Lindor to open the fourth inning. Cleveland had no runs on two hits to that point, so it was a great chance to jump on the Tigers’ bullpen.

Two batters later, Jose Ramirez delivered an RBI double. Marlon Byrd then added an RBI single. Naquin brought him home with a triple. In the fifth, Ramirez and Byrd came through again, and Juan Uribe added an RBI hit of his own to push Cleveland’s lead to 6-2 at the time.

“We knew we needed to [score there],” Francona said. “You’re kidding yourself if you think [the Tigers] are not going to come back. The whole day, I kept thinking I don’t want Miggy to come up with the tying run, and you just knew it was going to happen.”

HOME: That brings us to the eighth inning. Setup man Bryan Shaw allowed one run on two hits and, following a bizarre exchange with Tigers manager Brad Ausmus (more on that in a second), the righty walked two batters to load the bases with two outs.

At that juncture, Ausmus summoned slugger Miguel Cabrera of the bench as a pinch-hitter. To counter, Francona headed to the mound and called reliever Jeff Manship from the bullpen.

Manship has not allowed a run this season and now has a Major League-leading 0.82 relief ERA, dating back to last season (min. 40 innings). Prior to last year, the righty had a 6.46 ERA in 72 games across the 2009-14 seasons.

He was asked if he could imagine being called into that same situation one year ago.

“Absolutely not,” he said with a smile. “That’s why I definitely enjoyed it today.”

What’s funny is Manship did not even realize he was going to face Miggy when he began entering the game. The right-hander had been warming up and knew that Mike Aviles was the scheduled hitter for Detroit. It wasn’t until Manship heard Biggie’s “Hypnotize” blaring through the ballpark that he knew Miggy was looming.

“I didn’t know really who was up to bat until half-way in,” Manship said. “I thought Aviles was still in the game and then I could heard Miguel’s song playing. The fans were going insane.”

Manship engaged in a six-pitch battle with Miggy.

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All six pitches were sliders and Manship stayed away with the first five. The fifth breaking ball, which tailed low and far out of the strike zone, pulled the count full. It was then that Manship finally opted to go inside with another 83-mph slider. Cabrera popped it up into foul territory, where first baseman Carlos Santana made the inning-ending catch.

“[Pitching coach Mickey Callaway] and I had talked about it the whole series,” Francona said, “that if we were in a predicament, that we would be comfortable having Manny face him, just with the breaking ball.

“You’re never comfortable facing him, but Manny’s got such good deception with that breaking ball and he’s not scared of the situation. And it showed.”

EXTRAS: During J.D. Martinez’s at-bat against Shaw in the eighth inning, Ausmus complained about something to the umpires. It led to all four umps meeting near the mound before motioning for Francona to join them on the field.

“Shoot, that’s not a good feeling,” Francona said. “When there’s four umpires calling you to the principal’s office, I’m thinking, ‘What’d I do?'”

Francona didn’t do anything. It turns out that Ausmus was complaining about a white rubber wedding band that Shaw wears on his left ring finger under his glove. Between pitches, though, the reliever often removes the glove and rubs the ball. The Tigers manager wanted to be sure he wasn’t scuffing the ball.

“He had his wedding on, which is great — I’m glad he’s happily married,” Ausmus said. “And I personally don’t think he was trying to do anything to doctor the ball. But, when he got the ball from the umpire, a new ball, he would rub it up with that hand, with the ring on it. I just wanted it off, just in case, to just kind of protect our players.”

After the umps said the ring was fine, Shaw kept it on and took the mound to continue to the game. Ausmus then returned to the field, insisting that the rubber ring be removed. At that point, Shaw stuffed the ring in his back pocket and waved his left hand at the manager.

“It’s like, ‘Look, I’ll take it off to make you happy,'” Shaw said. “I told him to go back to the dugout. I’ll take it off, we’ll finish the game and I’ll wear it the next time I pitch, just like I always have for the past couple years. I’m not going to change anything. Obviously, nobody else has said anything. It hasn’t affected anything.”

Shaw joked that he’ll wear his camouflage ring next time he faces Detroit.

“Obviously, they’ve been scuffling a little bit,” Shaw said. “They were losing the last couple games, so I think he was trying to nitpick and try to find something to maybe throw
us off a little bit or something. Whatever.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Lindor down, Miggy out

Let’s take a walk through the latest defensive gem from Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor, via the words of players and managers:

Lindor: “Usually every shortstop, second baseman or third baseman, your first two steps, you know where you’re going to go with the play. You know you’re going to dive or be standing up. Sometimes — I’m not saying 100 percent — but most of the time, you know what you’re going to do with the ball.”

Seventh inning on Saturday: Tigers Miguel Cabrera rips an 89-mph cutter from starter Corey Kluber. The baseball soars off the bat at 106.6 mph and drops hard to the dirt in front of Lindor, creating a difficult short-hop for the shortstop.

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Lindor: “I had nowhere else to go. As soon as he hit it, usually you take one step back with your left leg or right leg so you can get around the ball, but I couldn’t turn. It was quick, and after that, I was like, well, I have to either keep it in front of me or find a way to catch the ball. I just threw the glove and it got me.”

Indians catcher Yan Gomes: “That was really weird, man. It was an absolute rocket right at him. It’s one of those where … he didn’t know which way to go. It kind of just caught him. I mean, he put his glove out. If not, it’s going to hit him right in the stomach.”

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Kluber: “I think the ball caught him. Topspin must have knocked him down, I guess. It was funny, but at the same time, he kept his head about him.”

Gomes: He tumbled over and, for a second there, I thought, ‘Did he think he caught it in the air or something?’ Because he wasn’t getting up very fast. But, he’s got enough arm strength where he can get up and just let it fire.”

Lindor: “I tried to get up as fast as I could. I fell and the only thing I saw when I looked up were my toes, the white part of my cleats. I was like, ‘Uh oh!’ So, I got up and threw the ball. I was close [to doing a backwards somersault]. I was close. I tried to stay as stiff as possible so I wouldn’t roll over.”

Tigers manager Brad Ausmus:“It doesn’t surprise me that if anyone’s going to knock someone over, it’d be Miggy. He hits the ball hard. The ball comes off his bat with a little more acceleration than most.”

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Indians manager Terry Francona: “That was an interesting play. I don’t know if he stayed in front of it or he couldn’t get out of the way of it, but he gathered himself and made a play.”

Kluber: “I was looking around. I think everybody was laughing.”

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Gomes: “He’s been unbelievable. His character and what he brings to the team, you’ve got a young guy hitting in the three hole, that’s pretty impressive. Just how happy he is, I think it really rubs off on the other guys, even some other guys who have been up here for a couple years.”

Kluber:“He’s into every pitch. I don’t want to say guessing where the ball is going to go, but he’s reading where the ball is going to go based on the pitch and he’s obviously got an unbelievable amount of talent. You put all three of those things together and you get plays like the one he made.”

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 15

GomesSome notes and quotes from Saturday’s 10-1 win over Detroit.

FIRST: When the Indians scored their first run in the opening inning on Saturday, it was more support that Corey Kluber received in his last start. When the Tribe scored two, it was more than his previous two starts combined. The third run in the first equaled the support of the pitcher’s previous three starts combined.

So, what was Kluber thinking before he took the mound to face the Tigers?

“It’s awesome,” he said with a grin.

The Indians didn’t stop there, either. Eight runs through three innings and 10 by the seventh. If that cushion wasn’t enough for Kluber, well, Cleveland would’ve had bigger issues at hand. The former Cy Young winner cruised, striking out 10, walking none and yielding just one run over eight innings.

You can bet that both Kluber and his teammates are tired of talking about the run-support problem. Hey, for what it’s worth, we’re tired of writing about it! The Indians needed this kind of showing with their staff ace on the hill. Maybe it will be a mental load off for the Tribe as it moves forward.

“It’s sort of a relief, you know?” Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor said. “We’ve had trouble scoring when he pitches. It was good that we put up a lot of runs today.”

SECOND: All of that said, we hadn’t seen Kluber at his best yet this season before Saturday’s win.

One issue that pitching coach Mickey Callaway raised earlier this week was the fact that Kluber wasn’t mixing in his curve that much in the early innings. Callaway felt that, once the right-hander began working in the breaking ball, it actually helped the mechanics of his other pitches.

Well, Kluber broke out the curve on the first pitch to Justin Upton, Detroit’s No. 2 hitter, in the first inning. The starter used it two more times in the first, too. if Callaway is right, perhaps that early use helped Kluber find a comfort zone, one that was only helped by the surplus of offensive support.

“We’ve just been working on going at them from the get-go,” Indians catcher Yan Gomes said. “I think we sometimes have been a little timid and passive and tried to hold back some pitches. Early in the season, you want to just go for it and just kind of throw everything right out of the gate, go get everything feeling good and see which pitch is going to work out that day.”

The pitch that Kluber relied heavily on against Detroit was his signature sinker. He threw 42-percent sinkers, in fact, which was a noticeable increase over his season average (30.6) heading into the outing. Kluber featured fewer four-seamers and changeups, and was in relatively the same usage range with his cutter and curve.

In short, it was a pitch distribution closer to what we saw with peak Kluber.

“I think the biggest thing was fastball command,” Kluber said. “I was a little more down in the zone than I have been the last few times out. It probably was the difference.”

Here is how Detroit fared vs. Kluber’s pitches…

Sinker: 1-for-10 with five strikeouts and one home run
Cutter: 0-for-5 with two strikeouts
Curve: 0-for-5 with three strikeouts
Four-searmer: 1-for-4 with a single
Changeup: 0-for-2

The pitch that stood out to me was a 2-2 curveball to Nick Castellanos that tailed way out of the strike zone in the fifth inning. The Tigers third baseman was fooled badly and chased the breaking pitch with a feeble swing.

Here is where the pitch (No. 5) was located:

KluberK

Here is what the swing looked like:

I mean, that’s not even fair.

Now, following Kluber’s first three starts, it was pretty well-documented (here included) that he was displaying diminished velocity compared to previous years. It’s only fair to point out that the pitcher’s velo was up roughly 1 mph on his cutter, curve and change, when compared to his season averages. The fastballs (sinker/four-seam) were right around the same as they have been all season.

What’s important on the velocity topic is this: When things are going wrong, we’re going to search for potential reasons why, and Kluber’s drop in pitch speed was one thing that stood out. An outing like Saturday in Detroit shows, however, that Kluber has the arsenal to be an overpowering pitcher.

THIRD: Let it be known: Lindor is ridiculous in the field.

This is not breaking news, of course, but the Indians’ talented young shortstop made a pair of breathtaking plays in the win over Detroit. He made a diving catch up the middle in the fifth to snag an Andrew Romine chopper that was brilliant, but it almost felt like a routine play given what we’ve seen over the past year.

Now, the play he made in the seventh? Wow.

Miguel Cabrera smoked an 0-1 pitch to the left side of the infield, where it hit the dirt right in front of Lindor. The shortstop didn’t have time to think, or pick a direction to move. What he did was shuffle back a step before quickly raising his glove — perhaps for the sake of protection as much as wanting to snare the baseball.

“He put his glove out,” Gomes said. “If not, it’s going to hit him right in the stomach.”

The baseball found its way into Lindor’s glove and the shortstop tumbled over into the outfield grass.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. “If anyone’s going to knock someone over, it’d be Miggy. He hits the ball hard. The ball comes off his bat with a little more acceleration than most.”

This one had a 106.6 mph exit velocity.

“I just threw the glove and it got me,” Lindor said. “I tried to get up as fast as I could. I fell and the only thing I saw when I looked up were my toes, the white part of my cleats. I was like, ‘Uh oh!’ So, I got up and threw the ball.”

Lindor’s throw beat Cabrera to first base by a step.

HOME: Pitching and defense are critical, but it was the Tribe’s offense that set the tone for this win. And, with the victory, Cleveland is in a position to complete its first three-game sweep in Detroit for the first time since Aug. 25-27, 2008.

There were multiple offensive contributors in this one. Carlos Santana, Leadoff Man, had two hits, including an RBI double. Jason Kipnis had two hits, one walk and a run scored. Lindor singled, stole a base, drew a walk and scored twice. Mike Napoli had a pair of singles and crossed the plate two times. Jose Ramirez had an RBI base hit. Lonnie Chisenhall tripled and scored. Rajai Davis singled, doubled and knocked in a pair. Tyler Naquin doubled and scored.

The most outstanding offensive performance, through, came from Gomes. After hitting .143 in his past eight games, and going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts on Friday night, the catcher went 3-for-4 with a single, double, home run, three runs scored and five RBIs.

“As much of a good game as yesterday was, I don’t think I did much there,” Gomes said. “It was definitely good to come out and be able to help in some way.”

Gomes said it was important that he did not alter his approach in light of a handful of poor offensive games.

“Yesterday, even though the results didn’t quite go [my] way,” Gomes said, “I actually felt
really good. I was feeling really good during BP. I was feeling good during the game. I just think it was pitch selection in yesterday’s game that didn’t work out.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 14

Cleveland Indians v Detroit Tigers

Some notes and quotes from Friday’s 2-1 win over the Tigers.

FIRST: Friday started out like any other road trip to Detroit. I hopped in the car with a couple of other Tribe scribes, put on some classic rap and made the two-hour trek along the Lake Erie coast to Michigan.

We stopped at Mercury Burger Bar for lunch — a must-do, along with Slows BBQ across the street, if you’re in the Motor City — and then made our way to Comerica Park. We settled into the press box, waited for the clubhouse to open and then headed downstairs to check out the day’s lineup.

Let’s see…

Carlos Santana leading off. Jason Kipnis batting second. Francisco Lindor third.

Wait. What? Carlos Santana leading off?

Indians manager Terry Francona has toyed with the idea of Santana as a leadoff hitter for years. He has brought it up at the annual Town Hall Meeting for season-ticket holders in each of the past two winters. He’s mentioned it with reporters multiple times. This spring, Francona even went as far as using Santana as the leadoff man for a handful of Cactus League games.

Never, though, had Francona tried it out in a real game. This concept has been floating around in his head for a long time, though. It boiled to the surface this spring to the point that Francona even had the analytics department run some numbers to see if it was something worth experimenting with at some point.

“He was so thoughtful in trying to get different perspectives on it,” Indians GM Mike Chernoff said. “Ultimately, the lineup is completely his choice. I think in some ways, it’s a great idea.”

The idea stems from Santana’s on-base ability. Yes, he had a .244 career batting average heading into Friday, but the switch-hitter also had a .364 OBP. Santana has drawn 90-plus walks in each of the 2011-15 seasons, with 100-plus in each of the ’14-15 tours. His career rate of 4.3 pitches per plate appearance puts him near the top of baseball in that category each season. He wears pitchers out and has good power, too.

Now, I know Santana has his detractors. So, before we go any further, let’s refer to the Carlos Santana Narrative Buster™ (created by August Fagerstrom of Fangraphs.com):

CSNB

OK, are you done reading? Let’s get back on topic.

Said Francona: “I’ve seen Carlos now, this is the fourth year. He’s the one guy one our team [that] walks 100 times a year. Even when he’s struggling, he walks. So he should been base, which is probably the single most important thing in your leadoff hitter.”

There is a line of thinking out there that says leadoff hitters need to be fast. Now, Santana isn’t a burner, but he did steal 11 bases last year and has rated as an above-average baserunner this season and a year ago (1.3 BsR, per Fangraphs in ’15). Even with that in mind, Francona feels that on-base ability trumps speed when it comes to being a No. 1 hitter.

“By far,” Francona said. “Speed’s really good when you get on base. I’d rather have a guy get on base at a .400 clip and be slow than get on about 25 percent of the time and run like [heck]. If you’re running back to the dugout fast, that’s no good.”

So, how did Santana do in his leadoff debut?

In his first at-bat, he watched five pitches before pulling a fastball from Justin Verlander over the wall in right for a leadoff home run. He became the first Indians hitter since June 28, 1984 (Joe Carter) to hit a leadoff shot in his first career plate appearance in the No. 1 spot.

In his second at-bat, Santana watched four pitches, worked to a 3-1 count and then slashed a fastball to the left-center field gap for a double off Verlander. He saw seven pitches in his next two PAs (flyout and groundout), meaning he averaged 4.5 P/PA on the night.

After the homer, Santana said first-base coach Sandy Alomar Jr. made a joke about him becoming the next Rickey Henderson.

“It was something funny,” Santana said with a smile.

Francona isn’t sure when Santana might be the leadoff man again. The manager said Friday’s event was mostly circumstantial. The manager wanted to give Rajai Davis and Jose Ramirez a day off from starting, so there was a hole to fill at the top. Francona also liked that Santana had six career homers off Verlander. Make it seven now.

“I thought he did a good job,” Francona said. “He hit a home run his first at-bat. That was probably about as well as you could draw it up. But, if he was hitting fourth tonight, he might’ve done the same thing and there might’ve been somebody on base.”

SECOND: Had it not been for the Santana development, Josh Tomlin would have been the big storyline.

Over 6.2 innings, Tomlin allowed only one run on four hits, finishing with four strikeouts and one walk. The right-hander focused on mixing in his changeup, curve and cutter to help off-set his four-seam fastball and sinker.

“I was able to throw all my pitches for strikes,” Tomlin said, “and was able to mix it up enough to keep them off-balance and get quick outs.”

Since he returned to the Indians rotation last season, following shoulder surgery, Tomlin has been on a great run. Over 77.1 innings, the righty has fashioned a 2.79 ERA to go along with a 0.83 WHIP fro the Tribe. That includes a pair of strong starts out of the gates to start this season.

Are the last two outings carryover from last year?

“I hope so. I’m not really sure,” Tomlin said. “I’m just kind of seeing the scouting report and going from there and following [catcher Yan Gomes]. Yan does an unbelievable job preparing for a game. Listening to him back there has been helpful.”

THIRD: The lone run that Tomlin did allow came in the sixth, when Ian Kinsler and Justin Upton delivered consecutive two-out hits. That pulled the game into a 1-1 tie and no one was hitting Verlander other than Santana.

Through six innings, Cleveland hitters not named Santana were 1-for-18 against Verlander.

That changed in the top of the seventh, when Marlon Byrd smacked a first-pitch home run to right field.

“I just jumped on the first fastball he threw me,” Byrd said. “It’s big. They tied it up and then to go right back up like that, it let Tomlin settle in and didn’t put any pressure on him. We were keeping the pressure on the other team instead.”

Byrd, who was a late signing during Spring Training, said he is finally starting to feel like he’s catching up to the rest of the batters.

“I’m getting there. I’m getting there,” Byrd said. “It’s starting to feel like I’ve got the Spring-Training legs out of me and the swing is there.”

HOME: It has been far from smooth sailing for setup man Bryan Shaw and closer Cody Allen so far this month. That made Friday’s seven-up, seven-down showing from McAllister, Shaw and Allen very encouraging for Cleveland.

McAllister struck out Jarrod Saltalamacchia to end the seventh with runners on first and second. Shaw retired the side in the eighth and Allen, who went 1.2 innings and logged 30 pitches in Thursday’s loss, which included a three-run homer yielded by the closer, set down Miguel Cabrera and the Martinez Men (Victor and J.D.) in the ninth.

V-Mart hit a rocket to right field, where Kipnis was playing in the grass in a perfect defensive shift. The liner had an exit velocity of 109.5 mph (per Statcast), but the second baseman barely had to move to make the catch. Allen then induced a flyout from J.D. to collect the save and seal the win.

“Those guys have a bit of a track record now,” Tomlin said of Shaw and Allen. “They’re going to be fine. We have the utmost confidence in them when they come in the game. And you see them coming in and the way they’re throwing the ball tonight, it’s a pretty good feeling.”

Allen wouldn’t argue with that.

“It’s good to get back out there and experience some success,” he said. “It can snowball in either direction. You try to bounce back as well as you can and get something going, get some momentum and the ball rolling in the right direction.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

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