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Covering the Bases: Game 123

Cleveland Indians v Oakland Athletics

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

FIRST: How about we start where this one ended?

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

Just take a look at this filth from Miller:

Here is the Gameday screengrab of the at-bat:

DavisK

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

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

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

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

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

Confidence shouldn’t be an issue at this point.

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

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

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

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

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

SECOND: This one began with Carlos Carrasco.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The one arrived in the eighth inning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cleveland Indians v Oakland Athletics

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

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

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

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

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

Asked about the play, Carrasco smirked.

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

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 102

Corey Kluber

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It has gone much better this time around.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 100

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was a touch of drama on the final play.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EXTRA: And for a good laugh…

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 98

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Trevor Bauer’s top-secret curve

BauerGimenez

The answer is never going to be simple.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that brings us to the curve.

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

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

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

BauerCurve2015

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

BauerCBOverall2015

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

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

BauerCurve

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

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

BauerCBThis is where Bauer’s fastball comes in.

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

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

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

Bauer has followed Gimenez’s lead, too.

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

BauerCurve2016

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

BauerCBOverall2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep all this under wraps, though, OK?


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

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

 

 

Covering the Bases: Game 93

Danny Salazar

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salazar then turned in a quality start against the Royals.

He might just wear Allen’s glove again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For now, Crockett is getting another look.

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

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

Here is the sequence that followed:

CrockettK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 92

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

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

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

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

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

Nice timing on that one, huh?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 86

NapoliSome notes and quotes from Friday’s 10-2 win over the Yankees.

FIRST: John Adams kept drumming.

Even as the baseball sailed to the top row of the left-field bleachers, and rattled around a section of stands rarely visited by a baseball, Adams just kept pounding away. I think the only thing that would’ve stopped his rhythm was the ball actually knocking one of the sticks out of his hands.

We have seed prodigious blasts by Mike Napoli to date, but not like this. His two-run shot in the third inning against the Yankees nearly struck the new videoboard. It fell just shy of where Mark McGwire’s famous blast caromed off the bottom of the old Budweiser sign that hung beneath the old board. Statcast measure it at 460 feet. Statcast has never recorded a longer home run by an Indians batter.

“Wow,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I don’t know how you hit a ball that far.”

After the game, Napoli was asked if he was trying to hit the drummer.

“No,” he said with a laugh.

Francisco Lindor yelled from across the clubhouse.

“Tell them the truth!”

“I’m going to tell them the truth.”

Lindor kept shouting as Napoli tried to talk.

“You got jammed a little bit!”

“It rattled in my hand a little bit. No, I got a pitch up in the zone and I swung hard. I just caught it perfect.”

“Sometimes you surprise yourself!”

“That was a good game all around. We got a good performance out of Kluber…”

“He just missed it!”

“A good first inning for the boys. It was a good win for us…”

“Don’t lie, Nap!”

Finally, Napoli caved to the distraction.

“Hey, you come do this!”

The home run was the 18th of the year for Napoli, but this one will probably be remembered more than any other one he hits. Well, that is until he actually does hit the scoreboard, or take out Adams with another tape-measure shot.

Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis was asked what Napoli has brought to this Indians team, which is now 52-34 with a 7.5-game lead in the American League Central.

“A little bit more concentration,” Kipnis said. “Not that we were lacking, but with his experience of being in the playoffs seven of the last nine, or something like that, he knows what it takes. He knows the qualities that certain teams that he’s been on have, so he makes that a point of emphasis to, ‘Hey, we need to do the little things. We need to prepare to win each day.’

“I think that’s just a veteran-type leadership, that experience that he’s been there before.”

Kipnis paused.

“And he hits balls like he did today. Those help, too.”

SECOND: Napoli hogged the spotlight, but Kipnis hit 775 feet worth of home runs on Friday night, too.

As part of back-to-back blasts with Carlos Santana in the first inning, Kipnis pulled a pitch from Yankees righty Chad Green into the right-field seats for his 13th homer of the year. No. 14 arrived in the seventh, when Kipnis again pulled one into the seats, this time off Anthony Swarzak.

“I’ve always thought he was a great hitter playing against him,” Napoli said of Kipnis. “But to see it on the daily basis, to be able to talk hitting with him, hit in his group, he’s a great hitter. He can do so many different things. Hit the ball the other way. He’s been good pulling his hands in and pulling the ball with power. It’s nice.”

Hitting the ball the other way was Kipnis’ M.O. over the past few years. This year, however, the second baseman has been having far greater success to the pull side.

Here is where his extra-base hits fell in 2015:

2015KipXBH

Here is what they look like in ’16 (not including the two pulled homers):

2016KipXBH

Kipnis said his normal opposite-field approach wasn’t working early in the season, so he made an adjustment.

“I was kind of chasing that down the rabbit hole,” Kipnis said, “trying to force my way there and making sure that I’m going to left field. It just wasn’t working for me yet. That’s not to say that it might not in the second half, or anything like that, but right now, the way guys are pitching me, and the way my swing’s going and the way I feel, we’re just getting the bat through the zone kind of with a little more whip and a little more, I don’t know what to say, power. It’s just kind of the pull side is working for me right now.”

Kipnis said pitchers have been attacking him in more — perhaps the result of his past success with taking outside pitches the other way.

“You know this is a game of adjustments,” Kipnis said. “The pitchers and the hitters make adjustments back and forth to each other. I think I made the adjustment on the fastball away last year and started to get them. Now, they might be trying to make the adjustment back, but I’m trying to stay ahead of the curve on them. So far, it’s working. We’ll see how it plays out. There’s always new little wrinkles every day. You just try to stay ahead of them.”

Kipnis already has 14 homers, which is three shy of his career high of 17 in 2013. The second baseman is currently averaging one homer every 23.8 at-bats, following a rate of a homer every 71 at-bats over the 2014-15 seasons. Kipnis’ .474 slugging percentage is also a career best, if you exclude his 36-game stay in the big leagues in 2011.

“Early on, everybody seemed like they wanted to talk about his strikeouts,” Francona said. “But, I think through the whole entire year, he’s been very consistent and he’s also been very productive. So, it’s good. That was one of his goals, and I think he’s done a very good job of that.”

THIRD: The first time that Francona used Santana as a leadoff hitter, the designated hitter belted a home run. Of course. Now, following his shot that set the tone on Friday night, Santana has four leadoff home runs this season.

Kipnis said facing Santana first is a tough task for a pitcher.

“He’s not worrying about someone slapping the other way to start the game,” Kipnis said. “What was that, his 20th? A leadoff hitter who has 20 home runs at the break? Not many teams can say that. They know they better locate from the first batter on. That’s the luxury that we have with him in the leadoff spot.

“He’s done a great job to date. You know he can work pitches, work at-bats with the best of them and draw out some long at-bats. He’s done a great job for us.”

Santana came into this year averaging 4.3 pitches per plate appearance across the 2011-15 seasons. Last year, though, the power dipped dramatically. This year? Santana has maintained his patient approach, but he is currently sporting a career-best .494 slugging percentage.

Santana and Josh Donaldson — the reigning American League MVP — are the only players in baseball with at least 20 homers and 50 walks in the first half. No Indians batter had done that before this year since 2008 (Grady Sizemore).

“He’s setting the table,” Napoli said. “To get off to a start like that, hit a homer or get on base, give us a chance to score in the first inning, it’s huge. We have power. He has power at the top of the lineup. It’s nice. We want to get off to a nice start for our starter.”

HOME: Speaking of that, Cleveland’s offensive outpouring (hey, Lonnie Chisenhall homered, too) spotted Corey Kluber a 4-0 lead after one, a 6-0 lead after three and a 9-0 lead by the sixth.

“They go out there and get four runs in the first inning,” Kluber said. “That’s a nice cushion, but they just kept pouring it on. They didn’t really stop. Those are fun games to be a part of in the dugout. That definitely gives you some low-stress innings when they’re putting 10 runs up on the board.”

Kluber went into attack made and showed exactly why he was named to the All-Star team. Over eight innings, the righty scattered five hits, allowed one run and ended with eight strikeouts against no walks.

“Man, he’s good,” Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said. “He’s a Cy Young [winner] for a reason. He’s an All-Star for a reason. Just carving us up. He was really good, especially pitching with a lead. He was comfortable going after guys, and he pitched very well.”

For the why-is-Kluber-an-All-Star crowd: He now ranks first among AL starters in fWAR (3.4), second in innings (122) and WHIP (1.02), third in strikeout-minus-walk percentage (19.6%), fourth in strikeouts (122) and fifth in FIP (2.95).

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Catching up with Mark Shapiro

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays-Press Conference

During the Indians’ series in Toronto, Cleveland reporters sat down with Blue Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro, who spent 24 years in the Tribe’s front office before taking the job north of the border. During a 20-minute discussion, Shapiro discussed the move to Toronto, the Indians’ success, and seeing the celebration in Cleveland for the Cavs’ NBA championship, among other topics. Here is the full transcript.


What have the last few months been like for you here?

Shapiro: I think in a lot of ways, what I had hoped from the perspective of the job has definitely energized me, has been invigorating. The new challenge of kind of looking at things through a totally different lens. Reframing all the things I’ve experienced and learned, but reframing all those things in a different place, with a different set of challenges. The technical aspects of doing the job is still the same. So, I’m familiar with the cycle, but the surroundings are all different, the people are all different, the circumstances are very different. So, those things kind of shock you and wake you up a little bit. There wasn’t any lack of happiness. Obviously, I love the people in Cleveland. I love the organization and will always feel an intense amount of both pride and attachment to the organization and the people and the city. But, at a certain point in life, I kind of felt like I needed a jolt. Some of that was to be a little less comfortable, too. I think being less comfortable sometimes creates a little more growth.

How much are you following the Indians?

Shapiro: I would be lying if I said I wasn’t following closely. The first place I look after walking through all of our system and our games is the Indians. I feel deeply invested in the people there, more than anything. [Chris Antonetti] is a guy that I worked with for decades. Up and down the system, from Johnny Goryl to Carter Hawkins was an intern. The organization is full of people that I’ve watched grow and become leaders. So, I have great respect and appreciate for them. And I’m going to always pull for them, always. Except for the seven or eight times we play them. That’s it.

What’d you think when you saw the celebration in Cleveland for the Cavs’ title?

Shapiro: That was surreal. I think it’s a direct reflection of the passion of the fans there. It was strange to see. It’s a downtown that has a couple hundred thousand people in it, usually. So, to see 1.3 million people in it was bizarre.

What’s it like working with a much larger payroll?

Shapiro: I think the payroll piece has not really factored in yet, but the support piece has been [eye-opening]. The point of differentiation for me that was most obvious was Game 2 [of the regular season]. Everybody here was telling me, ‘You need to see Opening Day here.’ I’m like, ‘Hey, I’ve been through that. Opening Day is a celebration in Cleveland.’ And then Game 2, because it’s 37 degrees out and there’s 10,000 people in the stands. Well, we were close to sold out Game 2 here, and Game 3. And then, the other one was the Raptors had a big playoff game and they were 200 yards away and there was not only 20,000 people in the arena there, there was 3,000 people outside the arena and we had 35,000 here. The depth of the market, I think, has been what has been more of a difference to me. As far as the money goes, we have our own set of differences here. We have the exchange rate that diminishes a lot of it. There’s other challenges. Obviously, in our division, it’s not that different from the Indians. We play against teams that have, not double our resources, but close to double our resources. So, there’s still a significant challenge. Not to ever complain, because I think the upside of this market is just remarkable. If you could build a sustainable winner here, it’s just the number of population, the fact that we’re the team for the entire country, the density near the ballpark of the population, it’s just remarkable.

Are you looking to do renovations at Rogers Centre like you did Cleveland?

Shapiro: Yeah, this is a 30-year-old building, much like we had in Cleveland. It’s got to be adapted for the modern generation of fans. Unlike in Cleveland, I’m deeply involved in doing the same thing on the baseball side, so we’re balancing a lot. We have [Andrew Miller]  here who went through that [with Progressive Field]. We also have a Spring Training challenge here we’re trying to work through. So, we’ve got to major projects: Spring Training and a ballpark renovation here. The Dunedin lease has one year left. We’re trying to get something done there. … There’s a real sense of appreciation for how Dunedin feels about the team. The one thing I cannot accept would be the split facility. We’re not going to do that. We’re going to move everybody to one place. Seeing that has made clear to me that that’s a bad arrangement. You want to have an organization that’s aligned, where the big leagues is attached to the Minor Leagues. Well right now it’s like two separate worlds.

How’s it been working with Ross Atkins here now?

Shapiro: It’s natural for me with Ross. It’s just a different relationship and he’s in a different place in his career than Chris is in his. Chris is a mature executive — one of the best in the game. I think it got to a point for me with Chris where the best thing I could do was get out of his way and just kind of be there for him, both to make sure he had the advocate he needed to get decisions made and, if he ever wanted kind of a grayhair to bounce ideas off of, or a different perspective, that I was there for him. Ross is still developing as a general manager. First year doing the job. He hasn’t even been through a cycle yet, so I can play a very different role with him. The task is a big one, because I think a player development system and scouting system, all those things, need to be shaped. So, I can roll up my sleeves and get my hands in on the baseball side, which is something that I had missed. I’m excited to be back involved in it. That’s my foundation. I do enjoy the president’s job. I enjoy the Major League side. In this job, I’m representing ownership. [Indians owner Paul Dolan] will tell you, I sit with him in the meeting of 30. That’s pretty cool. I like the committees I’m on. I’ve been added to some other committees. I’m enjoying that opportunity. I’m still one of the younger guys in the room, which is a good thing. I still enjoy that, but I also enjoy being hands on on the baseball side. That’s the biggest lever of the business. It always will be.

What was it like to have the Jose Bautista contract situation come up like it did?

Shapiro: I was telling guys,’ Listen, I’ve been through players in walk years before.’ We had that with a lot of different players in Cleveland. Every player is his own person. Every player is an individual. You’ve got to deal with every situation. But, Spring Training is a time where the focal point goes on contracts, because the games don’t count and you have to write every single day, and there’s not many things to write about. You can’t write about guys losing weight every day, so inevitably it turns to contracts. You had to expect that coming in, that we were going to have a lot of focus there. We have eight free agents at the end of the year. It’s a remarkable situation. It’s a situation that I didn’t walk into blindly. We knew. There’s challenges here. Solving those challenges, if it’s not fun to you, if you don’t enjoy that, you’re probably in the wrong business.

Has the fan reception been better since you first took over?

Shapiro: I think there was no games being played. Everything ended. People were kind of like shocked at how it ended and I was the only one standing. So, I got a lot of that directed at me. Other than the fact that that wasn’t what you expect when you make a decision to leave a place and come someplace, again, I’ve been through plenty of criticism over a career. You’ve been there, man. I mean, Robbie Alomar. I’ve been through trading Colon. I’ve been through that stuff before. It’s just, I didn’t expect it this time. So, it was a little weird. And, the second we started playing in Spring Training, the focus went back on the team and playing baseball. The front office guy shouldn’t be a focal point. That was kind of my point coming in here. It shouldn’t be about a front office guy. If you’re running an organization well, it’s not about one guy — ever. One guy doesn’t make decisions. One guy shouldn’t be the lightning rod. It should be about an organization.

Is there a sense of pride in watching how the Indians roster has developed this year?

Shapiro: Yeah, it’s an affirmation in doing business the right way and kind of picking players not just for their talent, but also for their character. Again, it’s an affirmation of having a good process and a good system. I’m excited for all those things, because those are things I believe deeply in. They’re the things that aligned me with Chris and Mike Chernoff and with Ross and with Carter Hawkins and with the whole organization. They were things we aligned behind. So, while it’ll be a very different situation here, and we’ll do things somewhat differently, the values will stay the same here, clearly.

Are you completely moved in to Toronto?

Shapiro: No, we can’t get into our house here yet. I haven’t been in Cleveland in over a month, since that day [we came to see the renovations]. And I’m not going to be there until the All-Star break, and that’s going to be to pack. So, I’m only going to be there twice more. Even then, I’ll visit frequently. My kids are going to want to visit frequently. … [My family is] still kind of living two different lives. You know I’m a family guy, so until my family’s here, it’s not really going to feel like home.

How has the media treated you? Have you been accepted or still viewed as an outsider?

Shapiro: I don’t really focus any energy on that. I can’t really tell you. You’d have to ask them. It feels comfortable to me, but nothing’s going to feel as comfortable as when you spend 24 years in a place. I don’t know how it possibly could. It feels as comfortable as eight months can feel. That’s because I think just the business is one I’m comfortable in. There are places and times. Spring Training felt completely natural. Going to owners meetings feelings completely natural. The mechanics of watching a game, except for the fact that I wasn’t freezing in April and May and we didn’t have any delays, it feels natural. I may be the only person that in April and May was like, ‘Yes. Close it. Astroturf? No problem.’ I was applauding.

What’s been the feedback on the dirt infield?

Shapiro: All good. I think it’s taken our grounds crew a little bit of time to get used to keeping it moist and how to break it up a little bit. But, yeah, it’s been all positive. We’re still studying [natural grass]. The turf here actually plays fairly natural. Except for seeing the specks of dirt, or rubber, you won’t be watching and go, ‘That doesn’t look right.’

What do you think about the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement talks?

Shapiro: Listen, anytime you care deeply about the game, and it comes to a moment to talk about kind of how the pie is split, you just hope that all the major stakeholders recognize how great the game is and how good things are going. The role I can play in that, I will do my best to kind of ensure that we work to satisfy both teams, but negotiations are tough. There’s always lots of posturing that goes on along the way, but I think it’s a moment in time where everybody recognizes that there’s good things happening and good progress being made.

–JB

Almonte discusses his return

Almonte

Indians outfielder Abraham Almonte was reinstated from the MLB’s restricted list prior to Sunday’s game against the Blue Jays, following an 81-game suspension for testing positive for Boldenone, a banned anabolic steroid. Almonte addressed his suspension and return with reporters in Toronto.


Q: How happy are you to have this day finally here?

Almonte: I’m excited. You guys know what happened. I’ve been waiting for this, this day, this time. Finally, I’m here to support my team and try to help my team to keep doing what they’ve been doing. I feel excited.

Q: Did you ever feel like Indians might cut you loose over this?

Almonte: No, because when that happened, we had a conversation and they know that whatever happened, it was not something I was looking for to be a better player. Like you guys know, it was a mistake. And they always told me that they’re going to be there for me, and they expected me to be ready after those 80 games. I believed that and I kept working, and tried to get myself in a better position to help my team whenever they needed me.

Q: Did you surprise yourself with your performance at Triple-A given the layoff?

Almonte: Yeah, I saw good results, but all that time that I was in Arizona, I’ve been working hard and in a smart way. I was doing a lot of conditioning again, trying to make sure that everything I do I feel like it’s a game, swinging, not like BP practice. So, I kept my mind like a game, and I think that helped me a lot. When I started seeing pitchers, I felt like I’ve been doing this for months.

Q: Did you play extended spring training?

Almonte: In extended, I played a couple games. And then I played a few games in Columbus.

Q: How hard was it to be away from the team during their success in the first half?

Almonte: It’s hard, but at the same time I feel excited, because I’m seeing my team doing good. I wanted to be there and I know the time was going to go and sooner or later I was going to be with the team. For this first time, I feel really excited to see the players having fun and winning the game and doing what we’re prepared to do and what we have to do every day.

Q: Were you disappointed in yourself when you tested positive?

Almonte: It was hard, but something that helped me was that I knew that I was not looking for anything like that. I know, whatever happened, whatever was there, that was not something that I did or said, ‘I wanted to do this and now look what happened.’ It’s something that happened, and it is hard, because you’re going to lose a lot of time. But, after it happened, I just said the time is going to go quick. I’ve just got to invest my time in something good, because in three months, they’re going to need me or they’re going to want me to play wherever, in the big leagues or in Triple-A, and I had to be ready.

Q: Did you or your agent try to go back and find how the PEDs got into your system?

Almonte: We tried to figure it out in Spring Training, the way that we think it might’ve happened. In the D.R., it’s going to be too hard to find out. It’s something that is going on over there with all that stuff and it’s hard to find out. I might say, ‘It was this,’ but then I look at it and maybe not. And I might say, ‘This is not it,’ and maybe it was. We kind of have an idea of maybe how it happened, because we found out what that’s used for and what kind of people use that and where they put it. We may have an idea where it came from, but we’re not sure.

Q: Do you get supplements from a trainer or from someone else in the D.R.?

Almonte: I’m not really that guy that uses supplements, because of my body. It’s a body that is one of those people that if I don’t take care of it, I get fat really easily, I get big. I have to stay running and stay lean. Not too much protein. At this point, I would like to know for sure what it was. I kind of have an idea, but I want to kind of stay away from what I think might’ve caused that. I hope to God it doesn’t happen again.

Q: Did you inject yourself?

Almonte: No, that’s what really got me when they told me it was something that has to be injected. The first time I heard about that thing was when they told me that I tested positive and I started searching to see what it is. If I ever put something in my body, something you inject, it’s not even close to something that is something like that.

–JB

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