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Covering the Bases: Game 55

CKGomesSome notes and quotes about Sunday’s 7-0 win over the Royals.

FIRST: Place. How’s that sound?

The American League Central is beginning to play out the way we all expected. The top four teams — each of which has spent time in first place at some point this season — are clustered closely together.

Right now, though, your Indians are atop the division.

The Tribe headed into this series after a rough 2-4 showing to open this homestand. The second of those wins, however, was a walk-off victory. And, it was a walk-off that arrived on the day Marlon Byrd was sent packing with a 162-game suspension. It was a much-needed win on an emotional day, and it came at a great time, given that the then-first-place Royals were coming to town.

“It’s a good end to a really long day,” Indians manager Terry Francona said that night. “You can’t help but have emotions when you’re dealing with some of the stuff we did. It’s a nice way to end the day. I think we’re all going to sleep good.”

The Tribe should sleep well Sunday night, too, especially considering a three-hour rain delay in the sixth inning interrupted play. Now, it’s off to Seattle for the start of a 10-game swing against the Mariners, Angels and Royals.

In this set against Kansas City, Cleveland had a chance to gain some ground. The Indians went ahead and swept the Royals, turning a 2.5-game deficit in the division into a 1.5-game lead.

Before the rain arrived, Corey Kluber led the way to the win column with six stellar innings. After a pair of first-inning singles, Kansas City went 0-for-16 against the right-hander with six strikeouts and five outs via grounders.

 

During the four-game sweep, the Indians’ pitching staff posted a 1.50 ERA with a 3.1 K/BB ratio and 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings. Over 36 innings against the Royals, Cleveland’s pitchers allowed a .198/.257/.294 opponents’ slash line. Kansas City managed only six runs on 25 hits, including six extra-base hits.

On the other side of the coin, the Tribe offense posted a .308/.354/.608 slash line to go along with 25 runs and 40 hits, including 19 extra-base hits. That includes a season-high seven extra-base hits in Sunday’s win.

SECOND: With a sweep of the Royals on the line, the Indians had a favorable matchup with Kluber squaring off against right-hander Chris Young in Sunday’s finale.

This marked Young’s first start for Kansas City since May 9. He had a stint on the disabled list, but the righty had also been extremely homer prone in his time in the Royals’ rotation. That aspect came into play in a big way in Cleveland’s win.

Mike Napoli started the party with a leadoff shot in the fourth and the Indians belted three more long balls in the fifth. Those came off the bats of Tyler Naquin, Carlos Santana and Francisco Lindor — each pulled shots to the right-field seats.

With that showing, Young has now allowed 3.73 home runs per nine innings this season. Among the 162 pitchers with at least 30 innings logged in the Majors this year (as of this writing), Young has the highest HR/9. The right-hander’s negative 0.8 fWAR is also the lowest in baseball.

THIRD: Naquin didn’t win the longest drive competition — Santana’s shot traveled 441 feet, per Statcast — but the rookie did have the hardest-hit homer of the night.

Naquin’s leadoff blast against Young rocketed off his bat at 109 mph and carried to the first row of the second deck.

The home run was the third in as many days for Naquin, who was called back up from Triple-A on Wednesday after Byrd exited stage left. Dealing with being sent back and forth between The Show and the farm can be tough on a young player, but Naquin has looked more relaxed this time around in Francona’s view.

“I do think he’s in a better place,” Francona said before Sunday’s game. “Early in the year, he was finding ways to get hits. You can tell, like he was trying not to swing at those breaking balls in the dirt. Now, he’s taking [pitches] a little bit better. You can tell he’s a little bit more relaxed. It looks like things are starting to slow down a little bit.”

Naquin became the first Cleveland rookie to homer in three straight games since Jason Kipnis accomplished the feat in four consecutive games from July 31-Aug. 3, 2011.

HOME: There is no place like it for Napoli.

With his 1-for-4 showing on Sunday, Napoli ended this 10-game homestand with six home runs and a dozen RBIs for the Tribe. In that span, he also posted an .805 slugging percentage. His opposite-field shot in the fourth (Napoli’s first oppo taco of the season) came with a 103-mph exit velo and flew 355 feet, per Statcast.

According to Cleveland.com’s Zack Meisel, it was not only Napoli’s first opposite-field homer of the year, but his first since April 25 last season.

The recent homestand was also just a continuation of Napoli’s play at Progressive Field to this point this year. Through 29 games at home, the first baseman has hit .284 with 10 of his 14 home runs and 32 of his 42 RBIs. Napoli has a .637 slugging percentage in front of the local audience, too.

And, yes, after his homer, Napoli made a call to the bullpen. No, we still don’t know who he’s calling out there.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 52

SalazarSome notes and quotes from Friday’s 6-1 win over the Royals.

FIRST: Remember the scene in Bull Durham? Crash Davis jogs out to the mound and instructs the flame-throwing Nuke Laloosh to throw the next pitch at the mascot. Laloosh plays along and hits the ball.

“I wouldn’t dig in if I was you,” Davis tells the hitter through laughter. “I don’t know where it’s going to go. Swear to God.”

Danny Salazar wore the Wild Thing glasses during Spring Training, but the Tribe’s hard-throwing righty has a touch of Nuke in him this season. He has been the epitome of “effectively wild” and Salazar has been one of the American League’s best pitchers in the process.

With his eight-inning performance on Friday night, Salazar’s statistics to this point paint a picture of a top-five starter in the AL. Here are his ranks among starters in the league as of this writing:

10.7 K/9 (first)
29.2 K% (first)
2.24 ERA (second)
5.8 H/9 (second)
.181 AVG (second)
1.8 fWAR (fourth)
3.01 FIP (fourth)

Look at this one, though…

4.4 BB/9 (45th out of 49 qualified starters)

On Friday night, that overall pattern continued. Salazar issued five walks, but he limited Kansas City to just one run via a solo homer by Drew Butera in the third inning. The righty only allowed three hits overall, and he balanced out the occasional lapses in command with nine strikeouts.

“Even though he did have some walks, his stuff was so good,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “His fastball, I think even on his last pitch was 97 or 98 [mph]. Really effective offspeed to go with it. When you are throwing that hard, and he starts throwing that breaking ball and changeup — a lot of good weapons. He did a good job, because they came into the series swinging the bat pretty good.”

It was impressive that Salazar even made it eight innings.

Typically, between a hefty pile of walks and a high volume of strikeouts, a pitcher will leave early due to a high pitch count. Salazar threw 67 of his 113 pitches between the walks and punchouts on Friday night, but he managed to stay on the hill thanks in part to Kansas City’s aggressive lineup.

Consider this: The last pitcher to go at least eight innings with at least nine strikeouts and five walks was A.J. Burnett on May 12, 2001. If you recall, that was his wild no-hitter for the Marlins. Before Salazar on Friday, it hadn’t happened since Sept. 7, 2000, when Kansas City’s Dan Reichert had that rare combination. Prior to that? Not since 1993.

“I think trying to stay focused there and a little bit mad,” Salazar said, “helped me a lot to be aggressive and forget about the walks.”

Salazar said the Butera home run got underneath his skin.

“That made me mad,” he said. “I tried to throw a slider there and I threw it for a strike. I just put it there, instead of throwing it down in the zone. After that, I got a little bit mad and started being aggressive.”

SECOND: Tyler Naquin experienced the joy of making an Opening Day roster this season. He has also felt the sting of being sent back to Triple-A more than once. It can be tough to be a young player with options when a team is in a roster crunch.

“I agree with that. I think it is [tough],” Francona said. “The last time was harder than maybe we realized. I think that’s when you have conversations with guys. The big
thing is maybe not the emotions at the time, but where do you go from here. How do you make it better?

“I think we are in a really good place, which is really good. This kid’s got a chance to be a good player for awhile.”

On Friday night — in his second game back with the Tribe from Triple-A Columbus — Naquin cleared a Major League wall for the first time. He hit .315 in the 22 games before his first trip back to the Minors. He hit .333 in five games in his second brief stint with Cleveland. Since coming back this time, Naquin has gone 2-for-6.

Lonnie Chisenhall, who remembers all too well what it was like to deal with the trips back to Triple-A, has been impressed with how Naquin has handled things.

“When he comes up, he’s positive. When he gets sent down, he’s positive,” Chisenhall said. “It’s part of the game. I know he’s put a lot of miles on his truck from here to Columbus, but when he comes up, he’s got energy when he’s here. He doesn’t feel sorry for himself. He doesn’t sulk.

“He goes down and gets to work and, when he gets back, he’s working here, too. That’s good to see, especially out of a young guy who has options, and he’s not really sure of his fate.”

Chisenhall was also impressed with Naquin’s home run in the seventh inning, when the rookie outfielder shot a pitch from Edinson Volquez over the 19-foot wall in left for a solo shot. It rocketed off the bat at 104.5 mph and soared 401 feet.

“I haven’t seen too many lefty oppo home runs here,” Chisenhall said. “There’s probably been six or seven that I’ve seen and that was one of the more impressive ones. It’s up there. He’s got pop and quick hands.”

Naquin obtained the baseball and said he’s “just gonna put it in a case and let it sit there.”

“[It’s] awesome,” Naquin said. “A Major League home run. No words that could describe that.”

Did he know it was gone?

“I knew when I hit it that I hit it well enough to get it out,” Naquin said. “I always run hard. I’m always going to run hard. You never know. The wall is a little tall out there.”

Said Francona: “That ball went out in a hurry. That’s hard to do. Good for him. He’s come back this time and seems more relaxed, which I think is good.”

THIRD: Also in the seventh, Chisenhall flashed some of his defensive prowess.

Cheslor Cuthbert ripped a pitch from Salazar to deep right field for a sure single, but he was tempted to try for a two-base hit. Chisenhall gathered the baseball near the warning track and had other plans.

Chisenhall uncorked a 90-mph throw that covered 225 feet, per Statcast. Shortstop Francisco Lindor snagged the throw from the dirt with a nice pick, and applied a swift tag for a highlight-reel out.

“I loved it. I was jumping there,” Salazar said. “He has a great arm. He’s becoming a great outfielder going from third base to right field. The way he’s playing, the way he works every day, he’s out there taking fly balls and things like that. I love having him back there when I’m pitching.”

After the tag, Lindor stood up quickly and pointed out to Chisenhall in celebration.

“He told me to hit him in the chest next time, too,” Chisenhall quipped. “He made a great pick. That was probably one of the better parts of the play. The throw was on line, but he did a good job staying with it. I’ll try to hit him in the chest next time.”

HOME: We’ve mentioned Cleveland’s above-average baserunning in this space this year, because that aspect of the Tribe’s game has been a great development this season. The Indians have been, and continue to be, arguably the top baserunning team in the AL.

This came into play again in the eighth inning, when Jose Ramirez delivered a one-out double down the left-field line. Ramirez then stole third base, forcing an errant throw by Royals catcher Drew Butera. That allowed Ramirez — sans helmet — to sprint home for an insurance run for the Tribe.

“I think, in general,” Francona said, “our entire team has done a really good job of going hard but being smart. Not running into outs, but trying to be aggressive while still being intelligent. That’s a good combination, our guys have done a good job of that.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 52

LindorSome notes and quotes from Thursday’s 5-4 win over the Royals.

FIRST: We will get to Francisco Lindor’s heroics, and what was running through his mind in the ninth inning on Thursday night, but let’s start with what ignited Cleveland’s latest walk-off win.

With Kansas City clinging to a 4-3 lead in the final frame, Carlos Santana led off by ripping a pitch from Joakim Soria into right field. The Indians’ designated hitter, who has been an above-average baserunner all season long, hustled up the line and around first base, forcing right fielder Paulo Orlando to quickly get the ball.

Orlando bobbled it and Santana made it to second base thanks to the error.

“That’s what won the game for us. Right there. That play,” Lindor said. “That’s what won the game for us. Besides the stuff that happened in the earlier innings, that play right there, I think it won the game for us. First, it gave us the momentum. Second of all, we started to believe. It was like, ‘Yes, we’re going to score. That run has to score.’

“The hustle by him — he’s not the fastest guy — but that hustle by him says a lot. He not only wanted a base hit, but he wanted to get to second. That’s important.”

Indians manager Terry Francona credited Santana for playing a part in the fielding error, too.

“Carlos put himself in a position where maybe he kind of helped the miscue,” Francona said. “Because, if you don’t push it, that doesn’t happen. And to get himself in a position to maybe not only maybe cause it, but to be in a position to where he can move up, which kind of set up the inning.”

Jason Kipnis followed with a sac bunt, moving pinch-runner Michael Martinez to third. Lindor then delivered the key hit — a triple to the wall in right-center. That set the table for Mike Napoli to deliver a game-winning sacrifice fly. Lindor scored from third, diving head-first across the plate to set off another on-field party.

Three times in this one, Cleveland took advantage of a Kansas City error.

First baseman Eric Hosmer made a throwing gaffe in the third, allowing Lindor to advance to second on a single. Lindor later scored on a hit from Jose Ramirez. In the eighth, Napoli singled into the hole, but shortstop Alcides Escobar made an ill-advised throw, which led to an error that moved Napoli up 9 0feet. He later scored on a single by Tyler Naquin.

“It’s rare. Whenever they make errors, it’s rare,” Lindor said. “They’ve got a great defensive team. Whenever you see them making mistakes and us taking advantage and making them pay for it, it’s huge.”

The Indians have now won back-to-back walk-offs for the first time since May 17-18, 2013.

SECOND: Now, about Lindor…

After the game, the shortstop said that he usually has a song running through his mind when he is walking to the plate. Lately, and again on Thursday, it was “Space Jam” by the Quad City DJ’s, a tune that’s been his walk-up music for a couple weeks now.

“Usually I’m singing my song in my mind,” Lindor said. “It gets me off the game.”

When Lindor walked to the plate in the ninth, though, something else was on his mind.

“Brantley’s voice,” Lindor said with a laugh.

Let’s let Frankie explain:

“He was telling me, he was like, ‘You can’t go to the plate thinking, “I’ve got to get a hit.” To get out of the slump, you can’t go to the plate thinking, “I’ve got to get a hit.” That’s when you’re going to go up and go straight back down. Think about making hard contact. If you make hard contact, that’s a plus. Think what you did right and, after that, take it to the next at-bat.’ That’s what we were talking about.”

Heading into the game, Lindor was in an 0-for-12 funk, or a 1-for-15 dry spell if you go back a little further. Leading up to the ninth inning, Lindor was in a 2-for-19 drought. The shortstop didn’t really view this as a typical slump, though.

“I never felt like I was going through a slump,” Lindor said. “I felt like I was having good at-bats. I felt like I was on time. I was just either getting on top of it or getting under it. So, I felt good the whole entire time.”

Lindor certainly felt good after what happened in the ninth.

THIRD: Before the late-inning comeback, the story of the night was the return of right-hander Carlos Carrasco. The starter was limited to around 80 pitches, and his night ended after he logged 78 in five innings. Carrasco allowed three runs on nine hits, including eight singles, and ended with two strikeouts and one walk.

It wasn’t a great outing, but having Carrasco back was a mental lift for the Indians.

“It’s a big relief. A big relief,” Lindor said. “It’s a relief. That’s at least 10-15 wins right there. I’m happy for him. I’m happy for the Indians. I’m happy for the fans, because he’s a fun guy to watch.”

Carrasco admitted to being a little nervous, but was happy with how things went overall.

“It was a lot of work that I did for the last six weeks,” Carrasco said. “It feels great to see my teammates fighting. We are close. Coming back today and pitching, I tried to go deep in the game. I only went five innings, but I feel great.”

HOME: The last play of the game came down to Lindor’s legs vs. Jarrod Dyson’s arm.

Napoli sent a pitch from Soria to left field, where Dyson made the catch. Lindor didn’t care how far or close Dyson was to the infield, the shortstop was planning on running home to try to score the winning run.

“No one is stopping me,” Lindor said. “I’m going no matter what. It could’ve been a little closer. I’m going no matter what. I wanted to score. That’s the ultimate goal. You get on base, because you want to score. You don’t want to get on base and just stay on base. As soon as I saw the ball go up, I’m going. I’m going. I’m going. And the third baseman kind of got in my way. I tried to get away from him. As soon as I saw him catching the ball, I was going no matter what.”

Lindor sprinted from third to home in 4.2 seconds, hitting a top speed of 19.8 mph. Dyson unleashed a 95-mph throw that traveled 261 feet. Lindor, and the Indians, won.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 51

DogPileSome notes and quotes from Wednesday’s 5-4, 11-inning win over Texas.

FIRST: Wednesday did not start off as a good day for the Tribe. Reports swirled, and confirmations soon followed, that veteran outfielder Marlon Byrd had been hit with a 162-game suspension for testing positive for a banned growth hormone.

Byrd met with manager Terry Francona and Chris Antonetti, the team’s president of baseball operations, before the game against the Rangers. The 38-year-old spoke to his team and expressed that this was not the way he wanted his career to end. After that blow to the roster, a handful of players declined comment on the situation.

This wasn’t shaping up as a memorable day in Cleveland’s season.

But, as Trevor Bauer put it…

“When stuff like that happens,” Bauer said, “the field is almost like a little respite, where personal issues, family issues, friend issues, whatever is going on, when you step between the white lines, all that stuff fades. When the game ends, all that stuff comes back pretty quick. It’s a lot easier to handle when you go out on a winning note than when you lose.”

So, it’s  safe to say that the Indians needed a good win to salvage the day, and this series.

The Indians took a 2-1 lead in the first inning, and then Texas tied it up in the third. The Indians grabbed a 3-2 lead in the fifth, and then Texas tied it up in the seventh. The Indians ran to a 4-3 lead in the eighth, and then Cody Allen blew a save and Texas knotted things again in the ninth.

Finally, in the 11th inning, Yan Gomes delivered.

After Lonnie Chisenhall opened with a double, Gomes chopped a pitch up the middle and into center field for a single. The player swarmed the catcher on the field and celebrated a great ending to what started off as a bad day. This was now a good day for this group of players, which will carry on without Byrd the rest of the way.

“Once you hear that kind of news, it definitely hit us in there,” Gomes said. “Once we step between our lines, you’ve got to put that stuff aside. It is big, man.”

SECOND: Gomes got the glory, and deservedly so, but don’t overlook the at-bat that Chisenhall turned in to set the stage.

With Byrd out, expect Chisenhall to get some more playing time against left-handed pitchers. Such was the case on Wednesday, when the outfielder was in the lineup against Texas lefty Cole Hamels. In the 11th, Chisenhall was charged with the task of facing sidearming lefty Alex Claudio. No easy chore.

“He disrupts your timing,” Chisenhall said. “He’s throwing multiple speeds. It feels like multiple angles. It’s not as comfortable as you want to be up there. He does a good job. I think he’s just as effective against righties. It’s not a fun at-bat.

“I think his heater was up to 88 [mph], and he had a 66-mph curveball. It’s a big change, especially if you can throw it for strikes. I think he got a couple over. That’s not an easy adjustment.”

Chisenhall received a pair of sinkers. The first tailed low and over the middle, and he fouled it off. The next one was low and inside, but Chisenahall managed to slash the pitch the opposite way. It shot down the left-field line for a double.

ChizAB

Now, the general thought over the years has been that Chisenhall does not hit lefties well. And, his career splits — .261 (.727 OPS) vs. RHP and .247 (.681 OPS) vs. LHP — do show that he is better against right-handers. That said, most of Chisenhall’s woes against lefties comes pre-2014.

“I think at times it’s good for him,” Francona said of having Chisenhall face lefties. “I also think there’s probably certain styles of left-handers that he actually has really good swings against. And I think when he’s swinging the bat well, it probably doesn’t matter as much.”

With his showing on Wednesday, Chisenhall is now batting .385 (5-for-13) against southpaws this year. Dating back to 2014, he has hit .283 (51-for-180) against left-handers. From 2011-13, Chisenhall hit .194 vs. lefties. Part of it is experience. Part of it is Francona picking his spots wisely to expose Lonnie to left-handers.

“I think my quality of at-bat has [improved],” Chisenhall said. “I’m not even sure what the splits are, so I don’t want to comment. I know I hit well against lefties one year, at least, maybe two. The splits are what the splits are, but I feel like my quality of at-bats and approach are much better against lefties.”

THIRD: Bauer walked away with a n0-decision after giving up three runs on four hits over seven innings. It wasn’t an incredible outing, but it was an effective one for Cleveland. It was also a solid showing, considering the right-hander gave up an .833 opponents’ OPS over his past three starts combined.

“I thought I threw the ball well again,” Bauer said.

The bullpen also was solid, with the exception of a brief lapse by Allen. The closer gave up a bloop single and then induced a pair of ground balls, so it’s not like he got beat around. What killed Allen was the fact that he issued a leadoff walk to Mitch Moreland. That’s the cardinal sin of closing, and it came back to bite him on Wednesday.

HOME: Mike Napoli launched a two-run home run in the first inning, marking his 12th shot of the season. What stood out about the shot, though, was the circumstances. Remember back on Monday, when season-ticker holder Kat Heintzelman came with a sign asking for “a hug and a homer” from Napoli? Heintzelman was on the eve of starting chemotherapy, and Napoli obliged with a pregame hug. He then hit a home run in that game. Well, on Wednesday night, Kat got to meet Napoli before the game and then she went to her seats (with her chemotherapy equipment) to watch Cleveland take on Texas. And, of course, Napoli homered again. What a story. Check Indians.com later for more.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

“An unsettling day.” Antonetti, Francona on Byrd

Byrd

 

Following Tuesday’s loss to the Rangers, Indians outfielder Marlon Byrd began cleaning out his locker inside the home clubhouse. Unsure of what was going on, bench coach Brad Mills alerted manager Terry Francona of the situation.

Francona called Byrd after they left the stadium, but the veteran outfielder said he would explain what was going on before Wednesday’s game. As it turned out, Byrd was hit with a 162-game suspension from Major League Baseball for testing positive for the  growth hormone secretagogue Ipamorelin, a banned substance under the Joint Drug and Prevention Program.

With Byrd off the roster, and possibly done in baseball, the Indians made a few roster moves prior to Wednesday’s game. Outfielder Tyler Naquin is back from Triple-A Columbus, along with lefty reliever Tom Gorzelanny. Right-hander Shawn Armstrong was optioned to Triple-A to clear a spot on the active roster.

Here is the full transcript of the press conferences about the Byrd situation:

——————-

Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti

Q: How disappointing was it to get this news?

CA: “It’s disappointing. Any time you lose a player who is contributing to your team, or is expected to contribute to your team in a meaningful way, it’s disappointing. But, our responsibility now is to deal with that reality and give other guys opportunities to contribute and step forward and contribute and pick up the slack with it.”

Q: When did you find out?

CA: “So, last night, Marlon packed up his locker and started putting some of his things together. So, after the game, Tito called Marlon just to check in on what was going on. Marlon said he had some things going on and he wanted to talk to Tito today, so he and Tito met this morning and then Marlon shared the news with Tito at that point.”

Q: Do you believe Byrd’s explanation?

CA: “It’s impossible for us to know, honestly. There’s really only one person who knows what transpired and, in this case, that’s Marlon. I think our job is to deal with the reality and, for us, that’s the impact it has on our team and our organization, which is: Marlon is not going to be playing for us for the balance of this year. So, how do we move forward without him?

Q: So, how do you move forward without him?

CA: “Right now we recalled Tyler Naquin for today. So Tyler, who was up earlier in the year and he was contributing to the team when he was up here and, when Lonnie came back, he went down to the Triple-A and continued to make progress down there. He’ll get another opportunity up here, along with the other guys who are already on the roster.”

Q: Will you look for outfield help outside the organization?

CA: “That’s something that we’ll take some time to determine. The first thing we’ll do is give the guys that are here the opportunity. And then, part of our responsibly, not only in this instance but just generally, is to continue to look for options that would make our team better. This creates another potential opportunity in our outfield to do that, but I
don’t think it changes our approach considerably for how we would normally operate. I think we spend the balance of the year looking for ways to improve as a team and as an organization, and we’ll continue to do that.”

Q: Did his past suspension create any hesitancy in signing him?

CA: “We spent a lot of time working through that. It had been three years at that point since he had the positive test. And he had been tested a lot of times — 2013, 2014 and ’15. We did considerable work and due diligence on him as a teammate and a professional, and ultimately felt that it was worth the risk. To Marlon’s credit, he actually came in and fit in very well with our team, got a long with the players, made a positive impact on the field and in the clubhouse. Obviously, this is an unfortunate [situation]. So, that’s why this was especially unfortunate to learn of the suspension.”

Q: What’s the latest on Michael Brantley?

CA: “Just that he’s continuing to progress with his hitting progression. He took more swings off the tee yesterday and felt it went well. Hopefully, he continues to progress. But I think, as Tito said, we want him to not only come back healthy, but strong and ready to contribute for the balance of the season. So, this won’t have any impact on Michael’s timetable. We’ll look at Michael being ready whenever he’s ready to come back and contribute.”

Q: Do you think the Byrd news will have a negative impact on the clubhouse?

CA: “I hope not. I think we have a really professional group of guys that have learned how to handle adversity over the course of the last few years. Adversity comes in a variety of different forms. This is just one other opportunity to come together as a team and overcome it.”

Q: Was this news especially tough given the number of issues in the outfield already?

CA: “Yeah, I think with what’s transpired with our outfield, even going back to Spring Training and losing Abe, and Lonnie was out for a while, and Michael’s been out for a while. So, that’s been probably the area of our team where we’ve had the most turnover. So, hopefully, we can get a little bit more continuity now moving forward and in a few weeks hopefully get Michael back.”

Q: How important is it to make sure Brantley doesn’t push himself harder now?

CA: “We will talk about that explicitly with Michael. I think we are all of the same mindset in making sure that we go through his rehab in a very thoughtful and judicious way to make sure that, when he comes back again, he’s not only healthy, but strong and ready to contribute for the balance of the season.”

Q: Do you have to pay Byrd’s salary?

CA: “No. He receives Major League service, but not salary. … We paid him up through yesterday.”

Q: Did you or Francona address the team?

CA: “Marlon addressed the team a little while ago. And Tito was in there when Marlon addressed the team. I talked with Marlon before he visited with the team.”

Q: What did Byrd say to you?

CA: “I’ll keep that conversation confidential. I think it’s best probably left between the two of us. But, he talked a little bit about his experience, what led him to this point, talked about some things about the organization and the team. But, I’m not sure it’s productive to get into those details.”

Q: Do you still feel good about giving him the opportunity to come here?

CA: “I do. I think when you look back, he made a positive contribution to the team. Obviously, we didn’t have the information that we’re now sitting with here today. As I said earlier, he was a positive and contributing member to our team both on the field and in the clubhouse.”

Q: Do you know anything about the substance found in the positive test?

CA: “I don’t, no. Other than it’s a metabolite of a performance-enhancing drug. That’s about the extent of what I know.”

——————-

Indians manager Terry Francona

Q: How did your conversation go with Byrd?

TF: “I knew something last night was going on, because Millsy had called me and said, ‘Hey, Marlon’s packing up some of his stuff.’ Marlon lives in my building, so I just called and checked on him. He said, ‘I need to talk to you.’ I said, ‘What floor are you on?’ He said, ‘No, I need to talk to you. I’ll talk to you in the morning.’ So, we met this morning and he told me. He just basically told me and walked me through it and everything. So, I immediately called Chris and we got the ball rolling on, one, trying to digest all of that, also knowing that we need to get a player here. So, it’s been kind of an unsettling day.”

Q: What’s the level of disappointment, having also gone through this with Almonte?

TF: “It doesn’t have to be a couple. One’s enough. You’re balancing people make mistakes, and Marlon came in and talked to his teammates and the coaches and stood up in front of everybody and took responsibility and apologized. And also, basically, he told the guys that his career is over and this is not how he wanted it to end. I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of criticism of the situation, but it doesn’t take away that we care about him. We care about our team, but we also care about the individuals. So, that hurts. It feels like we got kicked in the stomach a little bit.”

Q: Is there any regret over signing Byrd?

TF: “I mean, I wish today wouldn’t have happened. But, I’m not sure [how you can say that]. Every time something goes wrong, I don’t know that you can [say that]. Marlon’s been a good teammate and he’s a good kid. Provided, he was playing pretty well. I’m not
sure how you can always go back and say [that]. That’s impossible, first of all.”

Q: How did the team take the news?

TF: “After he talked to everybody, I said a couple things to our team and then I left them alone to have some time with him. I thought that was probably the right thing to do.”

Q: You didn’t know until today?

TF: “I guess the way that the system is in place is you’re not allowed to share that stuff. It’s the same thing we had to do with Abe. He wasn’t hiding stuff from us. He was just following instructions.”

Q: What does the outfield situation look like now?

TF: “We called up Naquin today. A little bit all season, whether it’s righties or lefties, at times we’ve had a position where we didn’t have the platoon advantage you might want. In the near future, that could be the case. It actually could help. It could create some spots for Lonnie to face lefties, which could help him. Michael Martinez might get to play a little bit. We’ll see. I don’t have all the answers to that because this is still pretty fresh. We’re just trying to get organized for the day. There’s a lot going on. Gorzelanny getting here. We talked to Armstrong.”

Q: Do you expect Antonetti to look for outfield help outside the organization?

TF: “I don’t know. On top of that, they had meetings today for the Draft. It was a busy day all around. My first thought today was Marlon, not the other things.”

Q: Can you walk through the decision to add Gorzelanny?

TF: “We wanted to protect our bullpen last night. We had intended to [call up] Gorzelanny, but he threw two innings, so there was no reason to get him here last night. He couldn’t pitch. So, we waited a day. That was the reasoning behind it. Gorzelanny had an out [clause]. I don’t feel like we saw him at his best this spring. He’s throwing the ball pretty well right now. It’s a good time to see if he can be the guy who can go ahead, and we can put in that situation.”

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 48

Clevinger

Some notes and quotes from Sunday’s 6-4 loss to Baltimore.

FIRST: Every pitcher who is fortunate enough to reach the Major Leagues learns a valuable lesson. Three starts into his big league career, Mike Clevinger has received that lesson loud and clear from the hitters he has faced.

“It’s just how easily a mistake is capitalized on,” Clevinger said.

A pitcher with the stuff that Clevinger has can get away with slight missteps in the Minors. In The Show, the batters are paid good money to exploit those same missteps. Through his first three outings in the big leagues, Clevinger has displayed the makings of a talented pitcher, but also the youthfulness of a rookie getting his first taste.

With his latest effort, which consisted of 89 pitches in four innings, Clevinger saw his season ERA climb to 8.79 through 14.1 innings.

“I don’t think these three starts are going to define who he is in his Major League career,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I think he’s going to do some really good things. Like a lot of inexperienced pitchers, players, you’re kind of learning on the run right now. I think when you make a mistake here, you pay for it more.”

At 25 years old, Clevinger isn’t exactly a young pup, but he is low on mileage thanks to Tommy John surgery a few years back. He is also still only a couple years into the mechanical overhaul that he went through after being acquired by Cleveland in 2014. it would be ill-advised to draw any sweeping conclusions from his three outings to date.

Think back to Corey Kluber. Through his Age-26 season, the righty had a 5.35 ERA and only 15 big league appearances under his belt. Or, think back to Carlos Carrasco. He went 10-15 with a 4.93 ERA before his Age-25 season, which he actually missed due to Tommy John. More often than not, it takes time for pitchers to learn, adjust and develop into big league starters.

“There’s no part of me that doesn’t think I belong,” Clevinger said. “That’s not there. It’s consistency and finding that even keel.”

Clevinger looked to have found that after the three-run double he gave up to Mark Trumbo in the first inning. Following that hit, Baltimore went 2-for-12 against the right-hander the rest of the way. In the second, Clevinger ended the inning with a nice 3-2 slider to Manny Machado, who swung through the ninth pitch of the at-bat for a strikeout.

“It finally felt like I was pitching instead of throwing,” Clevinger said. “It kind of felt like I was throwing at the beginning and I was out of my mechanics. I wasn’t there mentally, it didn’t feel like, until I got into the second and started finding my groove.”

SECOND: As alluded to above, a key moment in this one arrived in the first inning, when Clevinger squared off against Trumbo with the bases loaded and one out.

Clevinger reached this encounter after issuing a leadoff walk to Adam Jones, allowing a one-out single to Machado and then walking Chris Davis. After falling behind with a first-pitch changeup in the dirt, the rookie pitcher stuck with fastballs the rest of the way against Trumbo.

Trumbo

As you can see, the seventh pitch was over the middle and slightly up. That’s the ol’ wheelhouse, and Trumbo licked his chops and sent the pitch rocketing to the big green wall in left at a speed of 116 mph off the bat. It was damage enough to score three runs for the Orioles.

“With the way my fastball command was in the first inning,” Clevinger said, “it was hit or miss with where that was going to go. I was trying to throw a fastball away. Usually, when I have my command going, I might not have even gone to … two fastballs in a row 3-2 to him right there. But, I kind of cornered myself into throwing that pitch either way and I left it up and he capitalized.”

THIRD: After Clevinger was pulled from the contest, reliever Dan Otero took over on the hill and gave the Tribe a terrific effort. The righty faced seven batters, retiring six to spin a pair of shutout innings that halted Baltimore’s offense in its tracks.

“Oh man,” Francona said. “At the time, that completely gave us a chance to win the game. He calmed the game down for us. We didn’t win, but it was exactly what we needed. We needed to slow them down, give ourselves a chance.”

Down 4-0, the Indians fought back into a tie thanks to a trio of home runs.

Carlos Santana led off the fourth with a blast to right field. Statcast measured it at 99.5 mph off the bat and gave it a projected distance of 402 feet. Mike Napoli one-upped him with a two-run shot later in the fourth. That one had a 101.4 exit velo and flew 407 feet. Napoli’s blast came off Chris Tillman’s knuckle-curve.

Not to be out-done, Jason Kipnis came through with a shot of his own in the sixth. His was 102.6 mph off the lumber and sailed 408 feet out to right field.

HOME: This defeat, however, was defined by missed chances in the later innings.

In the ninth, Marlon Byrd and Rajai Davis came through with consecutive singles to get things started against closer Zach Britton. Britton then got Santana to ground out before fanning Kipnis and Francisco Lindor to end the game.

The biggest at-bat of the afternoon came in the eighth, though.

With one out and runners on first and second, Orioles reliever Darren O’Day elected to intentionally walk Jose Ramirez. Not only did this set up a potential double play, but it helped Baltimore avoid facing one of the Tribe’s best clutch hitters this season (which I wrote about pregame).

That move prompted Francona to turn to Lonnie Chisenhall as a pinch-hitter for Juan Uribe. SAMPLE SIZE ALERT! on all of this, but… Chisenhall headed to the plate with one career homer off O’Day, plus a .375 average with RISP/less than two outs and a .308 average with RISP this season.

Chisenhall then engaged in a nine-pitch battle with O’Day.

“Chisenhall’s had some luck against him,” Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said. “I like Darren against anyone, but it was cat and mouse.”

Chiz

Only twice in the at-bat did O’Day use his slider. The first time — on the fourth pitch — it was inside and Chisenhall fought it off during a series of six straight foul balls. For the most part, O’Day also stayed elevated and inside, with the exception of his third pitch — a low sinker that Chisenhall fouled off, too.

Some of the fouled pitches were out of the strike zone, but as Chisenhall put it: “He kept pounding me in, pounding me in, close enough [that] I couldn’t take it. I kept fouling it off.”

Finally, following a run of four straight fastballs, O’Day went back to the slider on his ninth pitch. It ventured farther outside than any of the previous eight pitches, and the offspeed offering just locked Chisenhall up. The Tribe outfielder began walking back to the dugout immediately. He knew it was strike three.

“He had a really good at-bat,” Francona said. “O’Day kept elevating, elevating, elevating fastballs. And then, he finally threw a breaking ball that froze him.”

“I know it caught enough of the plate,” Chisenhall said. “I was frustrated with myself. It was the kind of a pitch I like to hit off of guys like that. Even after throwing five or six in like that, he just got me. It’s a real tough at-bat. … Unfortunately, I couldn’t pull the trigger on that last one. It was frustrating.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 47

Baltimore Orioles v Cleveland Indians

Some notes and quotes from Saturday’s 11-4 win over Baltimore.

FIRST: What were you doing 1,061 days ago?

On July 2, 2013, the Indians were coming off a fifth straight win and they moved into sole possession of first place in the American League Central. Perhaps you, loyal Tribe fan, thought Cleveland would remain their for a while. Well…

… that brings us to today.

With their win over the Orioles — Cleveland’s ninth in the past 13 games — the Indians moved back into sole possession of first in the AL Central. It’s the first time the Tribe can claim as much since that date three years ago. This is the first time the Indians have been in first at all since they were 1-0 to start the 2014 campaign.

What is remarkable about this run to the top of the division is that Cleveland has accomplished it without Carlos Carrasco and Michael Brantley for the bulk of this season.

“There’s people filling in,” Indians first baseman Mike Napoli said. “They’re doing a good job of coming up here and competing and doing what they can. It’s going to take all of us to do this. We can’t just have individuals out there on their own playing. I think we’ve done a good job of sticking together and getting what pitchers have been giving us, and passing it on to the next guy.

“It’s something that we’re going to have to continue to do to become more of a group and move forward.”

SECOND: During Cleveland’s recent trip to Boston, I caught up with Red Sox third-base coach Brian Butterfield. Butter is one of the best third-base coaches and infield instructors in the game, and he loves him some Mike  Napoli.

When Napoli played for Boston, Butterfield would instruct younger players in camp to take their cues from the first baseman. Butter is incredibly detail-oriented and that characteristic is one reason he enjoyed having Napoli so much.

“Every little thing in the game is important to him,” Butterfield said. “People look at him and they see a big strong guy that has power and they think: ‘OK, one-dimensional.’ He’s one of the best baserunners in the league. He’s very detailed. If he had to drop down sacrifice bunts, he would do that for you. If he was asked to hit and run, he would do that for you.

“When you run your team defense, he knows where everybody is supposed to be, especially his position. If his toes need to be on the line, they’re going to be exactly on the line. He’s not going to fall an inch short.

“I love everything about him. The thing that makes him such a great baserunner is he cares about it. He takes great pride in it and he’s absolutely fearless.”

The baserunning element came into play on Saturday.

Any avid Tribe fan reading this should recall that Ubaldo Jimenez is not great at holding baserunners. It goes without saying that opposing teams — especially the pitcher’s former team — know this about the Big U. Cleveland exploited it, too, stealing four of five bases Saturday against the lanky right-hander.

In the Tribe’s four-run first, Napoli led the charge on a key double steal.

Guess what he noticed about Jimenez?

“He was not really paying too much attention,” Napoli said. “He looked home and would go. So, as soon as he turned his head, I just went.”

Napoli beat the throw from catcher Matt Wieters to third base, and Jose Ramirez followed suit behind him at second. Two batters later, Yan Gomes brought them both home with an single to right field.

“Everyone wants to talk about someone has to be fast to be a good baserunner,” Napoli said. “But, it takes instincts. It takes thinking ahead and having a plan. If a guy is going to give you a base, go and take it. That’s how I was brought up. I think we do a good job here.”

THIRD: Running the bases was not only critical in Saturday’s win, it’s been a strength of Cleveland’s all season long.

With Saturday’s performance, the Indians increased their team baserunning rating to 8.8, which ranks first in the American League. Heading into Saturday, Cleveland also ranked first with an extra-base taken rate of 52 percent. The Tribe’s 37 steals (and 80.4 percent success rate) both rank second in the AL.

“It’s one of the things I’m most proud of with our guys,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “It’s something we talked about the first day of Spring Training. … I think the way you run the bases, it obviously helps in a number of ways during the game. But, I think guys that run the bases correctly, regardless of whether they got hits or not, are the same guys that back up bases.

“It goes a long way towards how you’re going to play the game. I think our guys have done a really good job in that area.”

HOME: The Indians had the upper hand on Saturday when the lineup cards were exchanged. First of all, the struggling Jimenez was on the mound. Second, Pedro Alvarez was manning third base. Predictably, Jimenez labored (1.2 innings) and Alvarez made two of Baltimore’s four errors, paving the way for three runs.

That said, Cleveland did what good teams do: It took advantage on a day things were stacked up in its favor. Eight players scored at least one run. Five knocked in at least one. Four players had multi-hit games. There were not many huge hits, but rather a collection of well-timed ones for a strong all-around offensive showing.

“How many times do you see a guy where you let him off the hook,” Francona said, “and then they settle into the game? We did a good job of not allowing that to happen. It made for a better game for us, because you could see [the Orioles] coming.”

It was more than sufficient for Danny Salazar, who gave the Indians a solid outing, in which he allowed two runs on six hits in six innings. The righty wasn’t at his best, but the early lead played in his favor.

“That was great,” Salazar said of the early cushion. “[That] gives you a little more confidence to go out there and to work really strong so they can’t come back. I think that’s big. I think that makes the game a little bit easier for us.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Cleveland’s march to 18,000

Military WWI 1942.77 Training_PD

When the Indians take the diamond at U.S. Cellular Field tonight, and Mat Latos fires the first pitch of the day, it will mark the beginning of the 18,000th game in Cleveland’s franchise history.

For a moment, though, there was a bit of confusion over the timing of this milestone. One research outlet had the Indians at 17,998 games, while another had them at 17,999. The Indians reached out to Elias Sports Bureau to confirm that Game 1 of tonight’s twin bill in Chicago would indeed be No. 18,0000.

Elias confirmed as much. Cleveland enters the day with 9,119 wins, 8,791 losses and 89 ties. There was, however, a slight caveat. Elias also noted that, “It’s 18,001 if you include the two games which the Indians forfeited in 1918.”

It turns out that Cleveland did not show up to a scheduled doubleheader in St. Louis on what was the planned final day of the war-shortened 1918 season. For some time, those two games counted as losses for Cleveland in the American League record books, and two wins for St. Louis. Public websites have since removed those games from the win-loss records.

Jeremy Feador, the Indians’ team curator, sent along this nugget from the Plain Dealer back when this happened:

“At the next American league meeting,” said [Red Sox owner Harry Frazee], “six clubs are going to ask why Cleveland did not play two games at St. Louis. It was the greatest violation of the league constitution in the history of the league. Cleveland cannot hope to escape with a fine of $1,000 per game. Such a fine is too trivial for such an offense.”

Jim Dunn, president of the Indians, says that Frazee can go as far as he likes as he announced his intention of allowing his team to disband prior to Labor Day after a conference with his players who declined to make the trip to St. Louis. At the office of the American League it was said that Dunn would have no cause for worry as the Cleveland magnate had merely obeyed Secretary Baker’s [Newton Baker, U.S. Secretary of the War during World War I] order to the letter and no one could criticize him or his players for so doing.

Them’s fightin’ words!

Anyways, today marks Cleveland’s 18,000th game, whether Harry Frazee — the guy who sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees, by the way — likes it or not. Game 2 of tonight’s doubleheader in Chicago will also be the 18,000th game in the history of the Chicago White Sox.

As it happens, Cleveland took on Chicago in the first-ever American League game — Game No. 1 for both franchises — way back on April 24, 1901. They met for this base ball affair at the South Side Grounds.

Bill “Chick” Hoffer to the mound for the Cleveland Blues against Roy “Boy Wonder” Patterson of the Chicago White Stockings. Based on which publication you believe, there were between 9,000-14,000 fans at this game, which was won by the White Stockings by a count of 8 to 2.

Baseball History Daily has a lot of info on the game, along with this nugget from the Chicago Tribune:

“Under the fairest skies the weather clerk could select from his varied stock of April goods; with a championship pennant floating high above them from the proudest pine of all Michigan forests; with 9,000 fans to cheer them from a pent-up enthusiasm that burst forth at every possible opportunity, the White Stockings open the American League baseball season on the South Side Grounds yesterday with a clean-cut victory over the aggregation from Cleveland.”

And from the Chicago Inter Ocean:

“As a grand opening it was an unqualified success, something which Charles Comiskey can look back upon in after years with all the serene satisfaction of a baby who has just swallowed a tin Indian.  As a ball game it was a hideous nightmare, a cold and icy vision of the darksome night, a living horror, let loose to stalk adown a diamond field, hooting hoarsely…With pomp and ceremonial, with braying of bands and braying of fans, with an enormous audience gathered in the frapped stands, the American League season of 1901 was duly opened in Chicago, and the real champions, Comiskey’s White Stockings, began their campaign by giving the Clevelands all that was coming to them.  The afternoon was cold; the stands were Greenland, and the bleachers bore nets of icicles.  Yet 10,000 cranks and crankesses, keen devotees of the game.”

Also from the Chicago Inter Ocean, on Dummy Hoy‘s attempt to steal third in the sixth:

“[Catcher Bob] Wood threw wild, and [Bill] Bradley scooped up the ball way off from the cushion. As Bradley, with no thought of the runner, turned to return the ball to the pitcher, Hoy, losing his balance as he ran, slid clear over third, out into the field and right into Bradley, his knee striking the ball clasped in Bradley’s hand. It was possibly the first case on record of a man’s forcing a put-out on himself, and the crowd marveled greatly, perceiving that the science of the game had much advanced, and that there were new freckles every day.”

Man, old base ball writing was the best.

Enjoy No. 18,000. Here’s to 18,000 more.

(top photo from baseballhall.org)

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 41

Cleveland Indians v Boston Red Sox

Some notes and quotes from Sunday’s 5-2 loss to the Red Sox.

FIRST: Danny Salazar gushed about Davis Ortiz on Saturday. The pitcher spoke about growing up a Red Sox fan and pulling for Big Papi. With Ortiz retiring, Salazar wanted to face him one last time.

Salazar even went as far as saying: “I don’t care if he gets a home run or I strike him out. I just want to do it.”

Well, that statement was put to the test on Sunday.

Ortiz hit that home run — the 514th of his career — in the fifth inning. He also knocked in a run with a single in the first and drove in another with a double in the second. After Salazar exited the game, Ortiz shot a pitch to deep center, where the ball rattled around the wall in Fenway’s dirt triangle. Had it not then bounced up into the seats, Ortiz might have had a triple to complete a cycle.

So, was Salazar still happy he got to face Ortiz?

“Yes, yes,” said the pitcher.

Facing Ortiz is no easy task right now.

“He’s kind of on a different level right now,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “It looks like he’s playing softball.”

In their first battle, Salazar stayed away from the strike zone. He started with a fastball inside and way low for a ball. He came back with a 96-mph heater up and away for a swinging strike. The third pitch was a low changeup that lacked its usual break and wound up pulled through the hole on the right side for a single.

Ortiz1

Salazar mostly stayed out of the strike zone in their second meeting, too. Only twice did he go into the zone: On a 3-1 fastball (Pitch 5) and a 3-2 fastball (Pitch 7). Following a first-pitch changeup in the dirt, Salazar suck with 96-97 mph fastballs. Ortiz fouled off three of them, but yanked the last one (97 mph) to right-center for a ground-rule double.

Ortiz2

Salazar fell behind in the third confrontation and paid for it again. After a ball-one heater that sailed high and outside, the pitcher came back with a 94-mph fastball. Ortiz smacked the low-and-away offering over the right-field wall for his homer.

Ortiz3

“He doesn’t swing at balls,” Francona said. “And, the ones he swings at, man. Even the ones he fouls off, you kind of take a deep breath. We tried not to pitch to him whenever we could, but they’ve done a good job with their lineup. If you end up walking people, they’re going to score. They’ve got a good thing going right now.”

Salazar added: “He’s hot right now. When you get behind in the count, you know you have to come back to the middle to throw a strike. He’s a guy that makes quick adjustments and I have to give him credit. He’s a really talented player and he’s been here for a long time.”

The pitcher said — given how well Ortiz is playing — he is surprised that the veteran is hanging up his spikes after this season.

“I was wondering, ‘Why is he retiring?'” Salazar said. “I know he has way more to give.”

Francona wasn’t as polite.

“I wish he would’ve retired last year,” quipped the manager.

SECOND: The Indians had a slight scare in the first inning, when Salazar was struck by a sharp comebacker off the bat of Hanley Ramirez. The baseball flew off Ramirez’s bat at 114 mph (per Statcast), hit the grass and then caromed off Salazar’s left leg just under his calf muscle.

IMG_0014

Salazar walked off the mound, dropped to a knee and then rolled onto his back while in clear pain. He was checked by head trainer James Quinlan and remained in the game after doing some walking, stretching and warm-up throws.

“It hit him hard,” Francona said. “I don’t think it’s anything other than it’s going to be a nice bruise.”

Salazar issued a walk to the next batter, but then escaped a bases-loaded jam with back-to-back strikeouts of Travis Shaw and Blake Swihart. All told, Salazar threw 40 pitches — the most he’s ever thrown in an inning. That helped run his pitch count up over 100 quickly and he was chased after 4.1 innings.

“A 40-pitch first inning. That’s hard,” Francona said. “Part of it was he wasn’t commanding. Part of it is that lineup is, from top to bottom, about as dangerous as you’re going to see. Whether they sustain it or not, I don’t know, but when you’re catching them at a time like this, in that streak that they’re in, they take some pretty good swings.

“There’s some days maybe against a different lineup, or because of Danny’s stuff, you can get by with it. But, the way they command the strike zone and the way they swing the bat, man, they make you work hard. Every pitch. Every out. Every inning is like a high-leverage, high-intensity inning.”

THIRD: Mike Napoli had a nice moment on Friday night, when the Red Sox aired a video tribute and the Fenway faithful gave him a standing O. Nap tipped his cap to the crowd in appreciation.

It was all downhill from there.

“For him to come back here, I know was pretty special,” Francona said. “But you can’t
just flick the switch the way you’re going to hit and the way you’re not.”

Napoli finished the three-game set with an 0-for-13 showing, which included nine strikeouts. From the ninth inning on Friday to the fifth inning Sunday, the first baseman struck out in eight consecutive plate appearances.

On the season, Napoli has a 37.8-percent strikeout rate, which is the highest in the Majors. His 62 strikeouts are tied for second-most in MLB, as of this writing. His 25 called strikeouts also lead baseball. Cleveland is counting on power to off-set that trend.

“That’s going to happen sometimes,” Francona said. “We’ve kind of said all along: We know there’s some swing and miss in there. But, shoot, man, he’s a tough kid. He’ll be right back in there tomorrow and he’ll be letting it fly.”

HOME: Before the game, the Indians promoted Austin Adams from Triple-A Columbus and sent lefty Kyle Crockett back to the Minors. Adams logged the final two innings for Cleveland and impressed Francona with his work.

“That was probably the highlight of the day,” Francona said. “Shoot, two innings against that lineup on 20 pitches. He got a couple quick outs. And I know the game’s late and it’s getting hard to see, but he also worked ahead and he threw his breaking ball, even when he was behind the one time. That was really god to see.”

FullSizeRender

Adams went through seven batters on 21 pitches with his lone hiccup being a ground-rule double to Ortiz. The righty fired 14 fastballs, averaging 97.5 mph and topping out at 98.7. He featured a pair of 90-mph changeups and mixed in five sliders (four getting whiffs).

“It’s great just to get up here and get back into the groove of things,” Adams said, “and go out and relax and attack hitters.”

In 14 appearances with the Clippers this year, Adams posted a 1.10 ERA with 18 strikeouts and five walks in 16.1 innings.

“Really, I’ve been just focusing on first-pitch strikes,” Adams said, “and not shying away from contact at all. It’s just, if they hit it, they hit it. And, if they don’t, keep throwing.”

Programming note: I will not be making the trip to Chicago for the upcoming series. I can’t believe I won’t be there for the 18,000th game (Game 1 on Monday) in team history! So, this space will be quiet for a few days. Catch you from Cleveland on Friday.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 40

joe-kellySome notes and quotes from Saturday’s 9-1 loss.

FIRST: Joe Kelly didn’t give the Indians many chances on Saturday evening.

The Boston right-hander had been on the disabled list for the past month with a right shoulder issue, which appeared to be just fine against Cleveland. Kelly held the Tribe to an 0-for-21 showing before Juan Uribe ended the no-hit bid, and the pitcher’s day, with a no-doubt double in the seventh.

Beyond that hit, the Indians’ only real chance at breaking through came in the fifth inning. Carlos Santana and Marlon Byrd drew back-to-back one-out walks, and Lonnie Chisenhall later worked a free pass to load the bases with two away. That set things up for Chris Gimenez, batting ninth in this one.

One thing to know about Gimenez is that he has been victimized by high fastballs over the course of his career. With the exception of an up-and-in heater in the strike zone, the catcher has clearly had troubles with elevated fastballs.

GimenezChart

Kelly would eventually get to that approach, but the righty first tried to entice Gimenez to chase. He fired a first-pitch slider way outside for ball one. Kelly then came back with a 97-mph heater into the dirt. From there, Kelly worked up.

Gimenez

“He threw me a breaking ball down and away — ball one,” Gimenez said. “I thought he was trying to overthrow a little bit and I got to a 2-0 count. I was sitting dead-red fastball middle away.”

The third pitch was a 96-mph fastball over the middle, but high in the zone, and Gimenez fouled if off for strike one. Kelly came back with another fastball (this one at 97 mph) and went high and outside. The catcher fouled it off again, pulling the count even, 2-2.

“I put two really good swings on those fastballs,” Gimenez said. “It just didn’t work out.”

“Gimenez took a couple really good swings,” Indians manager Terry Francona agreed.

For the final pitch, Kelly came back with an 89-mph slider, which he sent up and in. As Gimenez watched the pitch spinning towards the strike zone, he weighed his options.

“It’s a borderline pitch,” Gimenez said. “If I take it, it gets called a strike. If I swing, I can’t do much with it. I just tried to put the best swing I could on it.”

Gimenez chopped the pitch to the left of the mound and Kelly made a great play to snag the ball. The pitcher then fired it to catcher Ryan Hanigan, who got his foot on the plate just ahead of Carlos Santana scoring.

“Today was one of those days when not much went our way,” Gimenez said. “Especially on offense. Kelly was good today. He had his curveball working early.”

SECOND: The Red Sox carried a four-run lead into the seventh inning. It was a solid advantage in light of how Kelly was pitching, but it was hardly a hole too deep to overcome for the Tribe.

On Friday, the Indians were down 2-0 early and won 4-2. On Wednesday, Cleveland was down 6-4 and came back to win 8-7 against the Reds. Cincinnati had a 4-0 lead on Monday and then watched the Tribe pull off a 15-6 win. Those comebacks have fueled confidence among Cleveland’s hitters.

But, a mistake by Uribe in the seventh turned a 4-0 hole into a 9-0 cavern.

With one out and the bases loaded, Joba Chamberlain induced a grounder off the bat of Christian Vazquez. Uribe scooped up the ball, but hesitated after initially take a step towards third base. Had he kept going, he may have been able to step on the bag to start a potential inning-ending double play.

“It’s bases loaded and we get a doubleplay ball,” Francona said. “He ends up going home and it turned into [a situation where] we just couldn’t stop it after that. It’s unfortunate.”

Uribe tossed the baseball home and Gimenez stepped on the plate for the inning’s second out. Then, Chamberlain issued a bases-loaded walk and allowed a grand slam.

1. Where Uribe was when the ball was hit:

U1

2. Where Uribe was when he fielded the ball:

U2

What’s funny is Uribe had a similar play earlier in the game and tried to turn two when turning two wasn’t necessary. With the bags full and two outs in the third, Uribe fielded a grorunder from Hanigan, stepped on third and then flipped it to Gimenez at the plate as David Ortiz jogged home.

“He threw to me and is yelling at me to tag him,” Gimenez said with a laugh. “I’m like, ‘We play three outs in this league.’ I just walked up to Papi and tagged him and said, ‘You’re out.’ He said, ‘What are you doing?'”

“Yeah, I thought there was one out,” said Uribe, shaking his head.

The veteran didn’t make any excuses after the loss, either.

“I was thinking of going to third base, and I moved a little bit over there,” Uirbe said. “I talked to a couple guys and they told me I could’ve [tried for a double play]. This is my fault. It’s my fault. I could go to third base and go to first. When I saw I was a little bit late, I wanted to make one out, so I went to home plate. This is my fault.”

<> at Fenway Park on May 21, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.

THIRD: Trevor Bauer was hung with a loss in this one, but he didn’t pitch as poorly as his line might suggest.

The righty went five innings, in which he was charged with four runs on eight hits. He walked one and struck out none. It’s the first time in Bauer’s career as a starter that he ended an outing with no punchouts (with at least one inning logged).

“I threw the ball really well,” Bauer said. “They blooped a lot of balls in. They didn’t hit them hard. It was one of those days.”

Three of the runs allowed by Bauer came in the third, when he gave up five straight hits. One of those — a two-run single by Hanley Ramirez — nicked off Jason Kipnis’ glove and dropped into shallow right field.

“What did Hanley’s go, a foot on the outfield grass?” Bauer said. “Two runs or whatever happened on that. It’s an unfair game.”

Francona added: “Early on, they were squaring some balls up. We got the bullpen up early — I think in the third inning — and he found a way to kind of wiggle out of it. To his credit, he kind of reeled it in and stayed out there until he started the sixth.”

HOME: Let’s wrap up today with another episode of Francisco Lindor Theater.

In the sixth inning, Blake Swihart lofted a pitch down the left-field line. Lindor tracked it down on a sprint between Uribe and left fielder Marlon Byrd. Per Statcast, the shortstop hit a top speed of 17.8 mph and traveled 101 feet to make the catch with a 97.1-percent route efficiency.

One game earlier, Lindor made a running, over-the-shoulder catch in center field between Rajai Davis and Kipnis. After the game, we talked to him about his preparation and communication for those types of plays.

“I usually tell my center fielder and my left fielder every time, every day, ‘I’m going until you call me off,'” Lindor said. “That’s kind of like letting you know that I’m going. I’ll be there. If I can get to it, I’ll be there. But, as soon as you call me off, that’s your territory. I’m not going to invade it.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB