Some notes and quotes from Tuesday’s 2-1 win over the Royals
FIRST: For a moment, while the Indians were partying on the field, it looked like the Royals might challenge the call.
Brandon Guyer emerged from the mob sans helmet, jersey untucked and soaked from the spray of water cups that flew from the full tray wielded by Lonnie Chisenhall. The fireworks had gone off. The crowd was raucous. Players were all over the infield. Was Kansas City really going to challenge that it was a hit?
“It would have been a little weird if it was foul and I had to go back,” Guyer said, “all the Gatorade on me and stuff, and clean up the field and the cups. That would have been really awkward and weird.”
Here’s how close Guyer’s single down the right-field line came to being foul:
OK, yes, that looks a little like a grainy Bigfoot sighting photo, but that little white blurry thing just beyond the reach of right fielder Paulo Orlando is the baseball. It bounced just inside the line, avoided a sliding Orlando and rattled around in the corner for what was deemed a double (and later changed to a single).
Guyer’s game-winner off Joakim Soria came with two outs and runners on second and third, scored Coco Crisp and gave Cleveland its 11th walkoff win of the season. The Tribe has been spreading the walk-off wealth, too. The decisive blows have come from…
Nine different players have delivered. Only Tyler Naquin and Jose Ramirez have been in the center of the mob twice. The Indians have the most walk-off wins in the Majors now, playing a big role in the Tribe reaching 50 wins at home.
“I think it’s just the group of people we have in that clubhouse,” Indians starter Josh Tomlin said. “Everybody roots for each other. The definition of ‘team’ is in that clubhouse. Everybody loves hanging out with each other, loves playing cards with each other. It’s just a good group of guys to be around every day. We try to get to the ballpark pretty early and everybody is always in a good mood, joking around, having a good time. It’s just loose and everybody enjoys everybody.
“It’s not surprising to me hearing that, that there’s nine different guys out of 11 that have done it. It’s not surprising. We have a good team. That’s all there is to it. We have a great team.”
One interesting aspect this time around was the fact that Indians manager Terry Francona went with Guyer as a pinch-hitter against Soria, a right-hander. Guyer, as has been noted plenty of times, was acquired mainly due to his ability to hit lefties. Well, as it happens, Soria has struggled against righties (to the tune of a .918 OPS) this year.
“Soria’s probably tougher on lefties than he is on righties,” Francona said. “So, that was part of why we let him hit there.”
It worked, and Guyer was happy to get that chance.
“I relish any opportunity to play,” he said. “If it’s going in of defense, pinch run, hit, righty, lefty, it really doesn’t matter to me. But, with this team, we have so many good players that my opportunities might not be a lot right now, and I’m fine with that. I came over to a great team and, fortunately, got a good opportunity tonight and with runners on base, in scoring position. Glad I came through.”
SECOND: Josh Tomlin is not Carlos Carrasco. He’s not Danny Salazar, either. The veteran pitcher relies on pinpoint command rather than an explosive arsenal. It has worked for Tomlin plenty of times in the past, and it worked again on Tuesday night.
With Carrasco and Salazar injured and out of the rotation, it goes without saying that Tomlin and Mike Clevinger need to step things up behind Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer. Cleveland can only hope that Tomlin’s outing against Kansas City was a sign of things to come.
Tomlin certainly grasps the landscape.
“Carrasco and Danny are a key part of that rotation. We all know that,” Tomlin said. “Everybody knows that. But, our job is to step up. Our job is to go out there and give this team a chance to win. It’s not to try to do what Carlos Carrasco or Danny Salazar can do. It’s to try to be ourselves and give our team a chance to win every fifth day.”
Against the Royals, Tomlin went 6.2 innings, allowing one run on five hits. The righty struck out three, walked none and bowed out after 84 pitches. It was an effective, efficient outing for Tomlin, and one that featured a more even mix of pitches to keep Kansas City guessing.
Tomlin threw 25-percent four-seamers, 25-percent curves, 21.4-percent sinkers, 21.4-percent cutters and 7.1-percent changeups. The only percentage aligned with his overall season rate was the change. As for the rest, Tomlin decreased his cutter usage by a lot, upped the amount of breaking balls, and trusted his fastballs more than he has this year.
“I think for me, it’s just understanding what I’m capable of doing,” Tomlin said. “And that’s trying to get weak contact early on. It’s not trying to blow guys away or shy away from contact, or try to get strikeouts. It’s try to limit the damage as much as you can, and pitch to contact, but try to get weak contact early in the count and try to let the defense play.
“The execution of pitches is mainly the thing I have to work on and stay sharp with, because I’m not an overpowering pitcher. I have to keep the ball out of the middle of the plate. When I miss, I need to miss to the side I’m trying to go to.”
Tomlin’s past two starts have been strong, and he’s given up two runs on 10 hits with six strikeouts and no walks in his last three outings (12.2 innings). That’s a drastic improvement — albeit in a small sample size — from August, when he went 0-5 with an 11.48 ERA.
“Both of us, we know we have to step up,” said Tomlin, referring also to Clevinger. “We know we have to try to go out there and log innings and keep us in the game. We’re up for the challenge. We’re ready for it, and we’re trying to do the best we can to try to help win the Central and get into the playoffs and play deep into the playoffs.”
THIRD: After allowing a two-out triple in the seventh — one that bounced by a diving Tyler Naquin in center — Tomlin exited to a standing ovation. Setup man Bryan Shaw then entered and induced an inning-ending flyout from Orlando.
“You just have to focus on the hitter,” Shaw said of the situation. “You can’t focus on, ‘If I throw a ball in the dirt,’ or, ‘If I do this or that.’ You have to focus on the hitter in the box and get him out, whether it’s a ground ball, strikeout, pop out. As long as he puts it in play, it doesn’t matter if the guy’s on first, second or third.”
Shaw got the job done.
After Shaw allowed a one-out single in the eighth, it was Miller Time.
While Miller faced Christian Colon, pinch-runner Terrance Gore stole second base and moved up to third on a wild pitch. With the game caught in a 1-1 tie, a fleet-footed runner was now 90 feet away from putting the Royals ahead. Was Miller worried?
“Not with ‘Berto,” Miller said. “The way he receives the ball, the way he blocks the plate, calls a game — I think I’ve been fortunate to throw to a lot of good catchers — it’s just been a lot of fun to get to see him.”
It goes beyond blocking and game calling with catcher Roberto Perez. As the Royals experienced in the eighth, Perez is also an elite pitch framer. Both Colon and Whit Merrifield walked away after called third strikes, ending the inning and stranding Gore. As Merrifield left the field, he mouthed, “That’s not a strike,” to home-plate umpire Carlos Torres. Merrifield may have had a point, but Perez sold it.
Here is the Strike Three call to Colon (Pitch No. 6):
Here is the Strike Three call to Merrifield (Pitch No. 8):
Heading into Tuesday’s game, Perez ranked third in the American League with a 5.5 Runs Above Average for pitch framing (min. 3,000 samples), according to data compiled by StatCorner.com. Perez actually ranks first in the AL with an average of 1.00 strike call per game.
Perez’s 5.5 RAA is in 3,227 samples. For comparison, Houston’s Jason Castro, whose 12.6 RAA leads the AL, has 7,568 samples. Castro is a tick below Perez with 0.97 calls per game. If Perez had a full season of innings, he might be at or near the top in RAA in the league.
“I think he’s helping us out a lot,” Miller said. “He gives us the ability to just go out there and throw whatever we want. He’s going to knock it down, make it look like a strike, whatever it is. He’s pretty awesome.”
HOME: With a dozen games to go, the race is on between Carlos Santana and Mike Napoli for the 2016 Indians Home Run Crown. Napoli currently has the lead with 34 shots this season, while Santana is now one behind after launching No. 33 on Tuesday.
That blast gave the Indians a 1-0 lead in the third inning. The Royals may have already had a run or two by that point, if it hadn’t been for a stellar defense effort by both Naquin in center and Jason Kipnis at second base.
Kendrys Morales led off the second inning with a deep fly to left-center, where Naquin hustled to track down the ball. Meanwhile, Morales was running around first with a double in mind, and he turned in his second-fastest home-to-first (8.99 seconds) of the season, per Statcast.
Naquin, however, uncorked a 95.7-mph throw (ninth-hardest among MLB assists this year), which Kipnis caught with an acrobatic stab. The second baseman then lunged towards the bag, applying the tag on Morales just in time for an inning-opening out.
“That’s huge,” Tomlin said. “That goes from nobody out, man on second base, where a big inning can occur with one swing of the bat, to one out and nobody on base. That’s a huge part of that game. I know it’s early in the game, but you look back at it, it ends up being a 1-1 game until the end of the game. You look back at it, that could’ve went differently very quick.
“That was a great play by him getting the ball in as quick as he can, and then the tag by Kip was unebelievable. It kind of took a bad hop on him and jumped up on him, and he grabbed it and turned around and tagged him. It was a great play by both of those guys.”
EXTRAS: For anyone who had their popcorn ready, bracing for a clash between longtime beat reporter Paul Hoynes and the Indians’ players, well, Tuesday was fairly drama-free in that department. Hoynes showed up and did his job, as he’s done for 34 years covering the Indians. And, despite some Twitter tough talk from the players, cooler heads prevailed in the clubhouse before Tuesday’s game. I may not agree with Hoynes’ approach to Saturday’s column, but I have nothing but respect and admiration for the man and the job he’s done for so many years.
If you want a great take on the whole situation, here’s one from Anthony Castrovince:
And another from Zack Meisel:
Stay tuned for more…
Some notes and quotes from Sunday’s 9-5 loss to the Tigers
FIRST: Indians manager Terry Francona has said it for several years now. When facing the Tigers, a pitcher needs to establish the inside part of the plate, making it more difficult for some of the Motor City’s mashers to get their arms extended.
Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer and catcher Chris Gimenez went into Sunday’s tilt against the Tigers wanting to emphasize that approach.
“That’s something that I noticed we hadn’t done up until this point,” Gimenez said. “That’s something Trevor’s very good at. I just felt like against a certain couple of guys in that lineup that we had to pitch in. We had to let them know that they weren’t going to be able to look out over the plate.
“Trevor doesn’t have the type of stuff that Kluber does, where he can get away with some mistakes or something like that. We have to make them aware that we’re going in there, and then pitch off of it.”
The plan backfired in a big way this time.
Bauer hit Miguel Cabrera with a pitch in the first inning, and hit two more batters in a three-run, 33-pitch third. That ill-fated frame began with Ian Kinsler taking a pitch off the helmet, creating a scary scene that had Bauer crouched in concern on the mound. Three batters later, Victor Martinez was rolling in the dirt in pain after taking one off his right leg.
After the game, Bauer issued an apology before answering questions.
“First off, I want to extend my apologies to Ian, Victor and Miguel,” Bauer said. “The scouting report is to pitch in. I obviously did not intend to hit any of them. Regardless of game situation or anything that could happen in a game, I would never intentionally throw at someone’s head. That has no place in the game.
“I know saying sorry for it doesn’t change that it happened. I’m glad that he seemed to be OK and nothing else came of it.”
Bauer ended the afternoon with a robust pitching line: 5.2 IP, 10 H, 6 R, 2 BB, 5 K, 1 HR, 1 WP, 3 HBP. The three hit batsmen tied a club record for a single game. The one to Martinez drove in a run. Bauer also allowed a run on a wild pitch in the sixth. The rest of the damage came via a two-run, two-out single by Erick Aybar in the third and a two-out, two-run homer by Justin Upton in the fifth.
It was fair to say that Bauer was laboring with his command.
“That’s probably the understatement,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “There were balls down, up, in, out. We never want to see somebody get hit in the head. You can see by Trevor’s reaction how he felt. And then the [timing] of it, certainly, you could tell there’s no intent.
“I also understand why they were aggravated. Guys were getting drilled pretty good. I get
SECOND: The Tigers didn’t hide their frustration as the game unfolded.
After Martinez was hit, Kinsler crossed the plate and barked at Bauer and home-plate umpire Jordan Baker. Before the start of the sixth inning, Kinsler was ejected from the contest. Both he and Cabrera appeared to be shouting in the direction of the umpire and Cleveland dugout before Kinsler was tossed.
“He was definitely upset that we had hit three of their better guys,” Gimenez said. “That’s what he was trying to explain to Jordan: ‘That’s the third guy. Three of our best three players, and you’re not doing anything about it.’ I understand. I completely understand his point of that, without a doubt, because I know it does look really bad.
“Anytime somebody on your team gets hits, or three guys, let alone two in an inning, there’s always going to be that jawing back and forth. In the heat of the moment, you don’t really think about the situation. Obvisouly, bases loaded with Victor up, that’s not exactly the right time to hit somebody.”
At the start of the bottom of the third inning, Tigers lefty Daniel Norris fired a pitch behind the back of Rajai Davis. Gimenez took it as a sign of retaliation, and the catcher said he also understood if that was the case.
“They did a good job of coming out the next inning, letting him throw one behind the guy,” Gimenez said. “Everybody has their warnings. I would definitely expect them to not forget that when we play them in a week. Hopefully, nothing crazy happens. I didn’t want to get into a fight today, I know that. Or, break one up, for that matter.”
After Upton launched his tapemeasure shot in the fifth — the ball had an exit velo of 111 mph and went a projected 451 feeet — the Detroit outfielder took his sweet time out of the batter’s box. He flipped away his bat and took five slow steps before beginning his trot.
Gimenez isn’t a fan of that kind of display. He was behind the plate for Jose Bautista’s famous bat flip, and barked at Billy Butler earlier this year for a dramatic home run celebration. This time? Gimenez let Upton enjoy his moment.
“Normally I would have [taken exception to it],” Gimenez said. “But, given the situation, I have to have a little bit longer of a leash on that. I completely understand it. He definitely took his time around the bases, too, but the situation of the game, I completely understand it.”
THIRD: Cleveland’s offense took advantage of a pair of Detroit defensive miscues in the first five innings.
In the second, a fielding blunder by Tigers center fielder Cameron Maybin helped the Tribe to a two-run outburst. In the fifth, Kinsler misplayed a grounder from Jason Kipnis, helping open the door for another two-run showing.
The Tribe continued to chip away in the sixth, when Carlos Santana belted a leadoff homer (his 32nd shot of the season) to trim the Tigers’ lead to 6-5. Jose Ramirez followed with a single up the middle, making it look like the rally would keep going. Then, he was picked off first base by catcher James McCann.
That was a deflating moment for the Indians, who then saw their one-run decifit grow to four when rookie Joe Colon walked two and yielded a three-run homer to J.D. Martinez in the ninth. That wouldn’t normally be a situation for Colon, but Francona is trying to balance giving some young arms experience, while dealing with the recent workload for his bullpen, which logged 10 innings on Saturday.
“That’s part of the reason we were trying to leave [Bauer] out there a little bit,” Francona said. “You start to ask too much. That’s not good, either. Even with a September bullpen, we were possibly looking like 18 innings [of relief in the past three days] — that’s too much. Fortunately, he stayed out there for a while. It was going to be tough either way.”
HOME: There was another storyline present at Progressive Field on Sunday, though it took place behind the scenes.
Following the injury to Carlos Carrasco on Saturday, Cleveland.com’s Paul Hoynes wrote an opinion piece, declaring the Indians’ postseason chances dead in the water. The headline — which read, “Sept. 17: The day Cleveland Indians’ postseason dreams ended before they began” — did no favors.
I wouldn’t normally bring up another writer’s article, but players (Kipnis and Bauer, specifically) and the Indians took to social media to criticize the column. Fans also had a strong reaction to it online, and some national writers chimed in. This team didn’t need any further motivation, but they got some. Players, coaches and staffers were heated over the story.
The timing was particularly poor, considering Cleveland overcame the loss of Carrasco on Saturday with an emotional, record-setting, extra-inning, walk-off win over the Tigers in one of the biggest games of the season.
Bauer ended his postgame press conference on Sunday with this: “I know some people have said the season is over. They pronounced it yesterday, wrote articles about it. I think it’s complete [bull].”
The Indians know they have a tough road ahead, and an even more difficult one without Carrasco or Danny Salazar in the rotation. It’s not unfair to say that, in the wake of the recent rash of injuries, Cleveland is hardly a favorite to win it all now. That said, this is the same team that has overcome the loss of Michael Brantley and Yan Gomes, along with suspensions to Abraham Almonte and Marlon Byrd. And, hey, once a team makes the playoffs, we’ve all seen some pretty crazy things happen.
That is the mentality of the players right now.
“Don’t get me wrong: It absolutely sucks, losing those two guys,” Gimenez said of Carrasco and Salazar. “That’s something that’s going to be difficult to come back from. But, if there is a team that’s capable of doing it, it’s this team. We’ve played without
Brantley the entire year and have been doing OK. We’ve played spurts without Danny and Carlos and we’ve managed to do OK.
“I think everybody in here, it almost makes you have a little bit more motivation, because
you want to do it so bad for those guys who aren’t here to help us do it in their own right.”
Bauer echoed that reaction.
“Losing Carlos and losing Danny hurts, and we feel bad for them,” Bauer said. “But, no one questions that Josh can step in or Mike Clevinger can step in or [Ryan] Merritt or [Adam] Plutko or whoever else, Cody Anderson, whoever is going to start.
“I think you saw yesterday we got a lot of guys in the bullpen, a lot of guys on this
team, that can go out there and put up zeros and be very competitive.”
Stay tuned for more…
Some notes and quotes from Saturday’s 1-0, 10-inning win over Detroit
FIRST: The Indians have been forced to overcome a lot this year, and the baseball gods are testing the Tribe’s mettle once again.
Michael Brantley has been a spectator for more of this season. But, Jose Ramirez has emerged as one of baseball’s best hitters in clutch situations. Marlon Byrd got slapped with a 162-game suspension. Tyler Naquin then seized that roster spot and emerged as a Rookie of the Year contender. Yan Gomes went down. Roberto Perez and Chris Gimenez have handled the pitching staff well in his place.
Now? Carlos Carrasco (non-displaced fracture in his right hand) joins Danny Salazar (right forearm injury) on the sideline. Both right-handers are done for the regular season, and likely out for the playoffs, barring the combination of incredible recoveries and a deep postseason run.
“We lost some pretty key pieces already,” Indians starter Josh Tomlin said. “To lose a guy like [Carrasco], it hurts. Don’t get me wrong, he’s an unbelievable pitcher. For us, we’ve just got to step up and try to keep winning games and see what happens.”
Less than a week ago, Salazar was given a timetable of three to four weeks, so it’s not out of the realm of possibilities that he could pitch late in the postseason. As for Carrasco, Cleveland hasn’t announced an expected timetable to return, but his injury is similar to the one sustained this week by Gomes. The catcher is out six to eight weeks.
“It hurts,” Indians manager Terry Francona said of losing Carrasco. “It will make this more challenging, what we’re trying to do. When we do it, it will feel all that much better. It’s another challenge, but we feel like we’ll figure it out.”
So, how will the Indians go about figuring it out?
Well, Cleveland is down to starters Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger and Tomlin for the remainder of the regular season. Bauer is pitching Sunday. Pitching coach Mickey Callaway noted that the upcoming series against Kansas City will feature Tomlin (Tuesday), Kluber (Wednesday) and Clevinger (Thursday) in the wake of the Carrasco injury.
“Those will be our four starters,” Callaway said. “And then, somebody else will be in there, which will probably be more like a bullpen day.”
Those bullpen days will be required on Saturday at home against the White Sox and then again on Sept. 29 on the road against the Tigers. Working in Cleveland’s favor is the fact that it now has an eight-game lead on Detroit in the division. With the Central crown in their sights, the Indians can potentially weather this late-season storm.
It is the postseason that sudden looks more daunting, given the loss of two talented and overpowering arms in Salazar and Carrasco. The good news here, of course, is that teams do not need five starters in the postseason. And, in the American League Division Series, Cleveland could get away with a three-man rotation of Kluber, Bauer and one of Tomlin or Clevinger.
“We have to make sure that these guys are all prepared to do whatever job they’re going to do when it comes to the postseason,” Callaway said. “The good thing is Kluber and Bauer can probably pitch every fourth day, or whenever you need them to. Bauer’s arm never hurts and Kluber’s just a beast. That helps.
“But, we’re going to prepare guys for the postseason and, if we get in, we’ll go from there.”
SECOND: After Tomlin went through his August struggles, and the calendar flipped to September, allowing for a larger bullpen under the expanded-roster rules, Cleveland employed the bullpen-day approach.
The Indians did so again on Saturday night, but unexpectedly.
Two pitches into the game, Ian Kinsler sent a 101-mph liner off Carrasco’s right hand. The pitcher was in obviously pain and, as the infielders gathered around the starter near the mound, it became clear to them that he wouldn’t be able to continue.
“You had a feeling,” Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis said. “We knew right away he was coming out, even though he was on the mound for a little while. You saw a little bruising and swelling in his pinky, where I think it got him. You could tell he was in a lot of pain.”
“I thought it hit him on the hip,” added shortstop Francisco Lindor. “And then I got up to the mound. His hand is swollen. I was like, ‘Oh.’ I immediately knew he wasn’t going to pitch. I don’t care how strong you are, how tough you are, if it hits you in the hand you throw with, it’s going to be tough.”
That’s when Francona made the call to bullpen coach Jason Bere.
“I called J.B. down there and said, ‘Tell them to put their seat belts on,'” Francona said, “‘because they’re all going to pitch, and we’re going to win.'”
Francona then went through Jeff Manship, Kyle Crockett, Cody Anderson, Zach McAllister, Perci Garner, Bryan Shaw, Cody Allen and Andrew Miller the rest of the way. They combined for 10 shutout innings, and helped Cleveland set an MLB record. Until Saturday, no team in baseball history had used nine pitches in a shutout.
“Oh my gosh,” Callaway said. “It was unbelievable.”
The group had to be that good, too.
Tigers ace Justin Verlander was on top of his game, and held Cleveland without a hit until Kipnis’ leadoff single in the sixth. That was the lone hit surrendered by Verlander, who walked four in a seven-inning gem. The AL Cy Young candidate struck out seven and then watched Detroit’s bullpen blank the Tribe until the 10th.
“Carrasco aside, that was a fun game to be a part of,” Francona said. “There was so much good baseball going on, so much good pitching. Guys just continuing to put up zeros. Our bullpen, Verlander, there was a lot of good pitching going on.”
THIRD: The biggest escape of the evening for the Tribe came with the rookie Garner on the mound and the meat of the Tigers’ lineup due up.
The inning began with with Garner hitting Jose Iglesias with a pitch. Then, Iglesias stole second and moved to third on a groundout to short by Kinsler. None of the eight relievers got a save in this one, but you can go ahead and give one to Kipnis for what happened next.
With the infield in, Cameron Maybin sent a floater to shallow right. Kipnis’ instincts as a former outfielder kicked in on this play, during which he covered 77 feet with a route efficiency of 98 percent, per Statcast.
Kipnis made a running, over-the-shoulder, basket catch, avoided right fielder Abraham Almonte, and then quickly turned and fired the ball back into the infield to keep Iglesias at third base.
“That’s the downside of playing in sometimes, those bloops that can drop,” Kipnis said. “I knew it was going to be in no-man’s land and I didn’t want to alligator arm it, so I reached out. There was one out, so my guess was, as a runner, he was probably off the bag a little bit, halfway.
“So, I knew we had a good chance to hold them and, once I caught it, I just wanted to turn and get it in.”
In a 1-0 win, it was a critical play for Cleveland. From there, Garner issued an intentional walk to Miguel Cabrera, and then finished off the inning with a strikeout against Victor Martinez. It was an impressive display by the Indians rookie reliever.
“Oh, man,” Francona said. “We left him in and the best outcome that could happen [did]. This kid, one inning of work, probably grew a lot by being in that situation. So, instead of running from the young guys sometimes, give them a chance and they come through.”
HOME: A one-run game would not be complete with a classic battle of wits. During the bottom of the ninth inning, Francona and Tigers skipper Brad Ausmus flexed their managerial muscles with two outs and the game in the balance.
First, Tyler Naquin delivered a two-out single off Detroit righty Bruce Rondon. That prompted Francona to send Rajai Davis to first base as a pinch-runner. With Almonte batting, Davis stole his 39th base of the season. Now, with first base open and the No. 9 spot on-deck, Ausmus had Rondon intentionally walk Almonte.
This is where the chess match really got interesting.
Francona sent Lonnie Chisenhall (currently batting a lower abdominal issue) to the plate as a pinch-hitter for Perez. That convinced Ausmus to call lefty Justin Wilson from the bullpen. But, wait! Now Francona called Chisenhall (.640 OPS against LHP) back to the dugout and sent Brandon Guyer (1.027 OPS vs. LHP) in as a pinch-hitter for Chisenhall.
Francona got Ausmus with an old-fashioned phantom pinch-hitter.
“I guess I was hopeful [Ausmus would bring in a lefty],” Francona said. “But, Lonnie could hit. I wouldn’t have sent him up there on gambling. But, yeah, we were OK with Guyer hitting there.”
Davis and Almonte then pulled off a double steal, making the pinch-running move pay off even more for the Tribe. In the process, Davis became the first Indians player since 1999 to swipe 40 bags in a season.
Alas, the inning ended with Guyer grounding out to third base, stranding two runners. In terms of strategy, Francona won this one. He tilted the percentages further in Cleveland’s favor. Detroit still executed and won the in-game battle.
EXTRAS: Someone had to flinch eventually. On this night, after all that was working against the Indians, it was the Tigers who finally slipped up.
Carlos Santana led off with a walk, but was erased at second on a 2-6 fielder’s choice bunt from Kipnis. With Lindor batting, Kipnis then moved up to second on a wild pitch before stealing third base. That thievery of third put Cleveland on the path to its 10th walk-off win of the year.
“It changes the whole inning,” Francona said.
With one out and Kipnis on third, Ausmus had Wilson issue back-to-back intentional walks to Lindor and Mike Napoli. Now, Cleveland has the bases loaded and the guy they love having in the batter’s box in such situations. What’s the confidence level for the Indians with Ramirez batting with runners in scoring position?
“Pretty high,” Napoli said. “He’s been doing it all year. He’s a guy that gets that key hit. He gets hot with runners in scoring position. He makes contact. He’s a tough out. In that situation, you feel pretty good, even him getting down in the count. I felt like he was going to put the ball in play somewhere.”
Ramirez fell behind, 0-2, but guess what? He is leading the Majors with a .321 (34-for-106) average after being in an 0-2 count this year. On top of that, he entered the night batting .354 with RISP and .385 with the bases loaded.
Ramirez fought back to an even count and then singled to center to set off the celebration.
“I just tried to put the ball in play,” Ramirez said through a translator. “That’s the first thing you have to worry about it. He’s a good pitcher, he has good movement on it. I tried to put the ball in play and thankfully it went well.”
Oh, and it was Ramirez’s birthday, too.
“Man, I feel so happy,” he said. “I told my mom that I dedicated this game to her. And thanks to God it went really well and I was able to dedicate a good game to her.”
It was a great ending to what began as a daunting day for Cleveland.
“I was very proud of the way the team responded today,” Kipnis said. “Word made it back to us about what happened with Carrasco. You can let something like that linger. You can let something like that deflate a team. You have Verlander on the mound, their ace. It’s Detroit.
“There are a lot of excuses that could have come into play, but I thought everyone did a great job. It starts with the bullpen. They probably weren’t expecting to pitch too much and all of them did their job and stepped up. We showed a lot of resiliency today. I just love the way we competed and fought.”
Stay tuned for more…
FIRST: There are many reasons behind the Indians targeting Mike Napoli over the winter. The most obvious of reasons would be what has played out on the field. He has provided the kind of right-handed power that had been lacking around these parts for years.
The other side of Napoli is what takes place behind the scenes. Sitting a locker down from Jason Kipnis to talk hitting. Embracing the “Party at Napoli’s” movement, because it’s not only fun, but it has generated money for charity. And then there is just his daily preparation and, as a result, his leadership by example.
“He’s got a presence about him,” Indians ace Corey Kluber said. “Obviously, he’s been a part of a lot of winning teams and I think that’s probably not a coincidence.”
That was another reason Cleveland wanted Napoli in the fold. He has played in 51 postseason games. He has been to two World Series. He won a ring with Boston in 2013. Napoli knows what it takes to not only get through a long season, but deal with the pressure of a playoff chase, and the October stage.
The Indians have several core leaders in the clubhouse, and plenty of those players were a part of the 2013 Wild Card club. But, there is still value in a veteran voice. Jason Giambi provided that in the past. Now, not only do Napoli and Rajai Davis help along those lines, they have been able to produce on the field on top of it.
“It’s been a fun year,” Napoli said. “Going through free agency last year, I envisioned this, with the pitching staff and being able to come here and play for a winning team. I’ve been fortunate to be on a lot of winning teams. And, looking at places where I want to go, I want to go where I think we’ll be able to win.”
The Indians have backed that up. With their win over Detroit on Friday, the Tribe improved to 12-1 against a Tigers team that went 37-19 against the Indians over the previous three years combined. The Indians now have a seven-game lead over Detroit in the division and have sliced their magic number to nine.
“I definitely saw that with the pitching staff,” Napoli said. “And coming here, trying to get everyone to come together as a team, it has definitely worked out.”
SECOND: Everyone has grown accustomed to seeing Napoli clear the 19-foot wall in left field. I mean, just take a look at where his home runs have gone at Progressive Field this season:
In the first inning against the Tigers, though, Napoli put one over the wall without actually hitting the baseball, well, over the wall.
With one out and a pair of runners in scoring position, Napoli hit a towering fly ball to deep left. Per Statcast, the baseball flew off Napoli’s bat at a 49-degree angle and had a 95-mph exit velocity. Prior to Friday, there had been precisely zero hits in the Majors on balls in play featuring that combination of metrics.
Napoli broke that drought.
Tigers left fielder Justin Upton ran to his right, trying to track the ball, but he threw his arms out to motion that he couldn’t see it. As Upton slowed to a stop, the ball bounced behind him, striking the warning track and shooting up and over Progressive Field’s Mini Monster.
“At first, I thought he was deking the runners,” Napoli said. “But, I know at that time of night, fly balls, as infielders you’re just trying to point it out. You know it was a fortunate break for us. I’ll take it. I was just trying to get it to the outfield so we could score that run.”
Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis scored on the play, putting the Indians up by two runs. Two more runs scored on a Napoli deep fly in the fifth, though this time the slugger cleared the wall easily. His shot to left one-hopped through the gates and out of the stadium.
Napoli now has 34 home runs and 98 RBIs, which are both career highs.
“When he connects, it goes a long ways,” Kluber said.
THIRD: There has been so much focus on the offensive black hole that has existed among Cleveland’s catchers this season. And, the criticism is understandable, considering the Indians’ 44 wRC+ ranked last in the Majors, heading into Friday.
Slowly, and more steadily of late, Roberto Perez has improved that production.
“We’ve seen him hit,” Napoli said. “He had that injury coming back and struggled, but his BP has been looking better every day. We talk hitting, but you could see his confidence growing day by day. We’re not worried about him. He’s done a good job behind the plate with the pitchers and when he starts hitting it’s a bonus.”
In an 11-run, 14-hit showing by an offense, there are obviously contributions up and down the local nine. Besides Napoli, Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis and Jose Ramirez all delivered RBIs for Cleveland, too. Perez also chipped in two RBIs, including one on a sac fly and one on a base hit.
On the evening, Perez was 1-for-2 with a sac bunt, sac fly and one run scored.
Over his past 20 games, Perez has turned in a .296/.339/.500 slash line for the Indians. That solid stretch has followed his abysmal showing over his first 30 games, when he had a .096/.244/.137 slash. The catcher was rushed back from a rehab when Yan Gomes injured his shoulder, and it was clear early on that it would take a larger sample at-bats for Perez to right his offensive season. He’s taken steps in that direction over the past few weeks.
“It’s good for me, especially coming off surgery,” Perez said. “The last 20 games or so, I’ve been better and more comfortable. I take pride at what I do behind the plate. I really want to help this pitching staff. But, tonight was a great team win.”
HOME: Kluber’s latest entry to his Cy Young candidacy included seven solid innings against the Tigers. He didn’t get a quality start, as Upton belted a pair of homers, which knocked in a collective four runs.
“His line’s not going to indicate [how well he pitched],” Francona said. “He threw two pitches to Upton. … Other than that, he did a really good job through the meat of the order.”
Through 30 starts, Kluber is now 17-9 with a 3.12 ERA, 215 strikeouts and 54 walks in 204.2 innings.
Kluber struck out seven, scattered five hits and walked three in the win. While Upton burned the right-hander twice, the Nos. 1-5 hitters (Ian Kinsler, Cameron Maybin, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez) went a combined 1-for-17 off him.
“I think that it all starts with Kinsler,” Kluber said. “He’s the tablesetter for them. Obviously, he’s a very good player and when he’s going well, it makes the lineup that much more dangerous. So, obviously, with every lineup, getting the leadoff hitter out is an emphasis. Maybe a little bit more so with them.”
Stay tuned for more…
Some notes and quotes on Sunday’s 7-1 win over the Twins
FIRST: It is no coincidence that the bullpen days that have happened this month have come a day ahead of one of Corey Kluber’s scheduled starts.
Indians manager Terry Francona is always focused on the game at hand with a horse-blinder mentality, but he definitely keeps Kluber’s consistent endurance in mind when mapping out the pitching staff. Need to make 14 pitching changes in a span of 16 innings? No problem. Kluber’s got your back.
“The way he’s ready every five days,” Francona said, “it is a good feeling.”
On Friday night, Danny Salazar left after four innings due to injury. On Saturday, Mike Clevinger was only permitted to work four innings, and then Cleveland used nine relievers in a 12-inning marathon. After the game, while discussing the situation, catcher Chris Gimenez laughed.
“We’ve got the right guy on the mound,” said Gimenez, referring to having Kluber on deck for Sunday’s matinee in Minnesota. “Hopefully, he can go nine innings and we won’t have to worry about it.”
Kluber went seven and logged 114 pitches. He struck out 10, walked two and scattered four hits. The Twins’ only run came after Jose Ramirez made a throwing error with two outs in the fourth. That forced Kluber to throw five more pitches in the inning, which included an RBI single from Byron Buxton.
His effort was sufficient in not just getting the win, but avoiding much work for the relief corps. Righty Cody Anderson handled the final two innings with ease. Francona never had to even consider getting any of his main relievers up.
“Miller, Cody, Shaw didn’t pick up a ball,” Francona said. “That’s a bonus.”
In the wake of the past couple games, and the issues in the rotation, Kluber has been immensely valuable to Cleveland this season. Carlos Carrasco missed time with injury. Trevor Bauer began in the bullpen. Salazar has experienced arm issues throughout the year. Anderson lost his job, so did Tomlin. Clevinger is just getting his feet wet.
Through all of that, Kluber has won 16 games, punched out 208 batters and logged 197 .2 innings with three weeks go to.
“Man, it’s a good feeling knowing that your ace is going to pick us up,” Indians catcher Roberto Perez said. “I’ve said it before, every time he steps on the mound, he gives you 100 percent. He’s always ready to go from the first pitch. That’s what he was doing today.”
Remember when Kluber was 4-6 with a 4.15 ERA at the end of May? He’s gone 12-3 with a 2.40 ERA, .198 opponents’ average, 0.99 WHIP, 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings and a 3.9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 124 innings (18 starts) since. Remember when he laid an egg against Toronto on July 3? Kluber has gone 8-1 with a 2.04 ERA, .206 opponents’ average, 1.03 WHIP, 10.1 K/9 and a 3.9 K/BB in 83.2 innings (12 starts) since.
That showing has put Kluber in the hunt for a second career Cy Young Award.
As of this writing, here are Kluber’s ranks among AL starters:
1st in fWAR (5.1)
1st in FIP (3.01)
3rd in K (208)
3rd in AVG (.211)
t-3rd in IP (197.2)
t-3rd in W (16)
4th in ERA (3.05)
4th in HR/9 (0.87)
4th in K/9 (9.47)
4th in K% (26.5)
4th in WHIP (1.04)
t-4th in K-BB% (20.0)
SECOND: There has been a push-and-pull going on between Tyler Naquin and opposing pitchers as the season has progressed.
As the summer has worn on, and Naquin’s OPS has remained over .900, the left-handed hitter has been increasingly fed more fastballs. Teams have also focused more on attacking him with heaters up in the strike zone. It’s a weak area for Naquin, who thrives against offspeed pitches, especially to the lower third of the zone.
Using the zone profile to the left, Naquin saw 28-percent fastballs in April and 25.8 percent in May to Zones 1, 2, 3, 11 and 12. That rate jumped to 35.1 in June and held pretty steady through July (31.1) and August (32.2). In September, it has spiked again, this time to 42.6 percent for Naquin. It’s easy to see why, too. Over the past three months, specifically, he’s hit .065 (2-for-31) on those pitches.
Francona has been using Naquin mostly against right-handed pitching this season, but the outfielder got a chance to stay in agianst lefty Pat Dean in the third, when the reliever took over for Twins’ rook Jose Berrios. Dean doesn’t feature an overpowering fastball by any means, but you can see by the pitch map that he didn’t pitch to Naquin’s weakness effectively.
Pitch No. 4 was a slider. No. 10 was the only elevated fastball and Dean missed by a long shot. Throughout the 12-pitch battle, Naquin fouled off seven pitches and eventually came out on top when Dean went with a slider over the outside corner. The result was a single up the middle, scoring a run to give the Tribe a 5-0 lead.
“He had one really good at-bat,” Francona said. “That’s good for him.”
On the day, Naquin reached base four times and — thanks largely to that third-inning at-bat — he saw 29 pitches in five plate appearances (5.9 P/PA). That’s a solid day at the office for Naquin, who had a pair of walks and two singles in the victory.
THIRD: Naquin’s hit provided some important insurance for Cleveland, but it wasn’t the biggest blow of the game.
That moment arrived in the second inning, when Carlos Santana absolutely drilled a pitch from Berrios out to right field. The baseball cleared the right-field stands, bounced into the concourse, and eventually rolled to a stop at U.S. Bank Stadium on the other side of downtown.
(OK, I’m exaggerating a little.)
According to Statcast, Santana’s 31st homer of the season went 447 feet (that’s it?) and had an exit velocity of 105 mph. More important than the metrics was the timing. His blast came on the heels of one of the worst at-bats of the Indians season.
Abe Almonte led off with a single, Naquin drew a walk and then Perez moved them each up 90 feet with a sacrifice bunt. So far, so good. That gave utility man Michael Martinez — filling in for second baseman Jason Kipnis in this one — a chance to come through with runners in scoring position.
On a 1-1 pitch, Martinez caught everyone in the stadium by surprise when he quickly squared up and attempted a drag bunt. Berrios fired a fastball outside and Martinez popped the pitch up, right back to the pitcher. Martinez was on his own in that decision to bunt.
“It’s actually a nice idea,” Francona said. “Bad execution.”
Santana bailed Martinez out, gave the Tribe a 3-0 lead and Kluber cruised.
“I felt great, especially in that moment,” Santana said. “I know the team, they need me. That’s why I’m here. With two outs, runners in scoring position, I tried to get a hit and get some runs for the game. That’s what I was concentrating on there.”
HOME: Back on Aug. 28, the Indians wrapped up a 2-5 swing through Oakland and Texas. Cleveland scored one or zero runs in six of those games, and watched its lead atop the American League Central tick down to 4.5 games.
As Bauer quipped recently: “We were dead. The season was over, right?”
Some fans began to worry. The Indians did not.
“That wasn’t a good road trip for us. I think everybody knew that,” Kluber said. “It was just a matter of getting back to the things that we do to be successful. That’s situational stuff on offense and limiting big innings on the other side. When we can do those things, I think we’ve had a fair amount of success.”
Over the past two weeks since that trip, all the Indians have done is post a 10-3 record. In the process, the Tribe now has a seven-game lead over the second-place Tigers once again. To put that in perspective, if Cleveland were to drop off some and play .500 ball (10-10) the rest of the way, Detroit would need to go 17-3 to pull into a tie.
Can Cleveland sniff the champagne?
“I don’t think we’re to the point of worrying about that yet,” Kluber said. “We’re still trying to take it a day at a time and hopefully not get ahead of ourselves. I think that, if we do start getting ahead of ourselves, then that kind of opens the door for dangerous things to happen.
“We’re just trying to keep going a game at a time. That’s what’s gotten us to this point so far, and I think we know that’s going to be the best way to approach it from here on out.”
Stay tuned for more…
Some notes and quotes from Saturday’s 2-1, 12-inning loss to the Twins
FIRST: As the Twins and Indians pushed and pulled and played on into extra innings, it was only a matter of time before someone flinched. In the case of rookie reliever Joe Colon, that’s literally what changed the game for Cleveland.
Colon’s ill-timed balk in the 12th inning set the stage for a walk-off win for the Twins, who cost the Tribe a chance at adding to its lead atop the Central standings. Mauer roped a two-out single into right-center field for the game-winning hit, dealing the Indians their third loss in 12 games.
“You get into 11 or 12 innings on the road,” Indians manager Terry Francona said, “when you give up a hit, you go home. But, we had a chance.”
Francona came out ahead in one managerial chess match (more on that in a bit), but Cleveland’s strategy to not intentionally walk Mauer in the 12th backfired. That decision wasn’t as cut-and-dry as it looked on the surface, though.
First, about the balk. With Mauer in a 1-2 count, Colon peered in for the sign from catcher Chris Gimenez and there was a momentary mix-up. Rather than just stepping off the mound, the reliever flinched his back leg before moving off the rubber. It was a mistake, and it was easy to spot. Dozier, who singled with two outs, jogged up 90 feet.
“[Colon] said he looked in and didn’t see the first sign that I put down,” Gimenez said. “I think it kind of just flinched him a little bit. I immediately went to the second one. With a runner at first base, we were going just one sign. But, he didn’t see it and I think he just had that little flinch.
“I couldn’t call timeout quick enough. I tried, because I saw it. As soon as I started to yell time, the umpire said that was a balk. I tried to pull a fast one on him, but it didn’t work.”
Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway then headed out to the mound to discuss the new situation with Colon and Gimenez. Indians manager Terry Francona said they did not want to just put Mauer on, even with first base now open. Colon was still ahead in the count, giving him some wiggle room in how to approach the hitter.
“I didn’t want to put him in a position where, if he didn’t throw strikes, he was going to be in a tough spot,” said Francona, referring to the idea of intentionally walking Mauer. “Being ahead, 1-2, we wanted to use that to our advantage.”
This is where the ol’ unintentional, intentional walk comes into play. No, they didn’t want to just gift Mauer with a free pass — not when he was behind in the count. That said, the Indians didn’t want to give him anything good to hit, either.
“We’re not trying to pitch to him in any way, shape or form,” Gimenez said. “I would much rather take my chances with [Jorge] Polcano on-deck than to have to face Joe Mauer to potentially win the game. That was definitely the thought process.”
When the count ran full, Gimenez wanted a breaking ball in the dirt. Looking over Mauer’s career performance against right-handed curveballs, it’s easy to see why a pitcher would want to bury one low and out of the strike zone.
Do you see those maroon and red boxes, though?
Well, here’s where Colon’s pitch (No,. 8 below) wound up going:
That’s just a poorly-executed pitch.
“I wanted the ball in the dirt,” Gimenez said. “And I know he was trying to execute it there. He left it up a little bit, middle, and that’s one of the best hitters to ever play baseball.”
SECOND: The baseball gods can be pretty cruel sometimes.
On Friday night, when Cleveland knew it had a bullpen day coming Saturday, Danny Salazar exited with injury, forcing the bullpen to handle five innings. And, in this one, the game lasts a dozen innings.
“Of course,” Gimenez said.
Here was the good news: Rookie Mike Clevinger turned in a promising performance in his “start” in front of the nine relievers who appeared in the loss. After logging 43 pitches in Monday’s bullpen game, Clevinger threw 62 against the Twins. He said he felt like he could’ve kept going, too.
“I’m too much of a competitor,” Clevinger said. “I’m going to leave it in the hands
of Tito and Mickey and let them take it from there.”
In the first two innings, Clevinger issued a pair of walks, allowed a solo home run and his second frame consisted of 24 pitches. The second time through the Twins’ order, though, Clevinger cruised. Minnesota went 0-for-7 against him in that span, which included five strikeouts.
“That was the best we’ve seen,” Francona said. “He gave us four and the way he held his stuff. The first couple innings, there were some walks and some deeper counts, but I thought as he sped up his rhythm, you saw him be more aggressive and in the strike zone with good stuff. That was really good to see.”
Clevinger credited catcher Roberto Perez for the improved tempo.
“Yeah, ‘Berto came back in, and he had an idea about getting back into a quicker tempo,” Clevinger said. “I think the second I found that tempo and being more rhythmic, it helped me find my release point more consistent.”
In his first three Major League starts in May, Clevinger posted an 8.79 ERA. In his 10 games since then, the right-hander has a 3.00 ERA to go along with a .204 opponents’ average and 27 strikeouts in 27 innings. Walks have been an issue throughout, but Clevinger has certainly looked better as the season has progressed.
The Indians can only hope it continues. With Salazar’s status uncertain, Clevinger and Josh Tomlin will be in the rotation. They will start on Wednesday and Thursday in Chicago (the order to be determined).
“Obviously, losing Salazar for any period of time, that’s a big deal,” Gimenez said. “But, the fact that we do have guys that are truly capable of stepping in, it makes it a lot easier.”
THIRD: The in-game chess match that Francona won came in the seventh.
James Beresford led off with a single against Shawn Armstrong and was then moved up to second via a sac bunt from Byron Buxton. That prompted Callaway to chat with Armstrong, who issued an intentional walk to Dozier. The second baseman has about a 1.200 OPS since the end of July, so an IBB with first open made a lot of sense.
That brought up Mauer.
Now, rather than hand the ball to relief ace Andrew Miller with 1-1 deadlock in the seventh, and the game potentially on the line, Francona turned to lefty Kyle Crockett. On the year as a whole, Crockett has given up a .316 average (.770 OPS) to lefties between Triple-A and the Majors.
Looking at Crockett’s more recent outings paints a different picture, though. Since returning to the Majors on July 19, the lefty had limited left-handed batters to a .217 (.554 OPS) showing, entering the night. Mauer was sporting a .239 (.648 OPS) showing against lefty pitching.
Crockett fell behind, 2-0, but then worked back to even and eventually froze Mauer with a low-and-away fastball for strike three. Zach McAllister then entered the game and finished off Polanco to end the inning.
“That’s a big spot,” Francona said of Crockett’s battle with Mauer. “And he did well.”
Francona did eventually turn to Miller for the 10th inning, which he handed in 13 pitches. Had Cleveland taken the lead in the 11th, Francona said Miller would’ve likely remained on the mound to close things out. With the game still knotted, the manager kept the line moving.
Francona said common sense has to outweigh temptation when it comes to potentially over-using his top arms.
“It’s always tempting,” said Francona, when asked if he considered keeping Miller in for a multi-inning outing. “And, if we would’ve taken a lead, we would have. But, no. Tempting is a bad word in the 11th inning. It’ll get you into trouble.”
HOME: There was little in the way of offense in the loss for the Tribe. Things looked good out of the gates, when Rajai Davis doubled, Jason Kipnis singled and Francisco Lindor put the Tribe on the board with a sacrifice fly.
Mike Napoli followed with a walk, Carlos Santana loaded the bases with an infield single and then …
… Minnesota won in the 12th.
After Santana’s single in the first, Cleveland went 2-for-21 the rest of the way against lefty Hector Santiago and then 2-for-16 against the Twins bullpen. Santiago allowed five hits, walked four and only struck out two, but Cleveland did little damage with the balls put in play.
The Tribe finally looked like it had a breakthrough in the top of the ninth inning. Lonnie Chisenhall singled and moved up to second on a sac bunt from Coco Crisp. The Twins then opted to intentionally walk pinch-hitter Tyler Naquin, pitting Davis against reliever Brandon Kintzler.
Davis sliced a pitch hard down the right-field line, where Minnesota’s Max Kepler sprinted in pursuit of the ball. If it dropped in, Davis would have likely had at least a double and one, maybe two runs, would’ve scored for the Tribe. The ball never hit the ground.
According to Statcast, Kepler covered 70 feet and hit a top speed of 18.7 mph. The right fielder, who has killed Cleveland with his bat all year, used an all-out dive to snare the ball with his glove. It was a game-saving catch.
It was also a bit of payback for Kepler. On Friday night, he hit a sinking liner down the left-field line in the eighth, when the Twins were trying to cut into the Tribe’s 5-4 lead. On that play, it was Davis who made a highlight-reel diving catch to rob Kepler of an extra-base hit and a potential Minnesota rally.
“Those are plays that save you a games,” Francona said of Kepler’s catch. “That was a really nice play.”
Stay tuned for more…
FIRST: And then there were three. After what happened Friday night, Cleveland’s rotation consists of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and a whole lot of uncertainty.
The Indians did not need this. After the fourth inning against the Twins, right-hander Danny Salazar complained of tightness in his forearm. With a No. 5 spot currently up in the air, another bullpen day on deck for Saturday, and Cleveland approaching a likely postseason berth, this was a bad development.
Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway shrugged when asked how concerned he is about Salazar’s injury.
“Right now, we really don’t know,” Callaway said. “We’re just waiting for him to come in tomorrow and see how he is. There’s always concern when one of your starters is feeling something.”
And this is hardly the first time Salazar has felt something this season.
Salazar had a start skipped in June due to shoulder fatigue. He was held out of the All-Star Game and then had a DL stint due to inflammation in his right elbow. Now, his forearm? They’re all connected, and it’s worrisome for a hard-throwing pitcher of Salazar’s stature.
Indians manager Terry Francona said the good news right now seems to be that the problem is not structural. That’s all we know for now. If he needs to be skipped again, you could see Josh Tomlin moved back to the rotation. Lefty Ryan Merritt could potentially get a look from Triple-A Columbus, too.
“We’ll certainly keep an eye on him tonight,” Francona said. “And then when he shows up tomorrow, we’ll see how he feels and then we’ll go from there. That’s really all we have right now.”
Salazar’s complaint did back up what was on display on the field. For the first three innings, the righty looked well enough. He made a mistake pitch to Joe Mauer in the first that led to a home run, but was solid enough otherwise. Brian Dozier also had an RBI double in the second, but that followed a two-out error by Jason Kipnis.
In the fourth, Salazar’s pitches lacked the usual life. According to PITCHf/x, the righty averaged 94.8 mph with his fastball in the first, 94.6 mph in the second and then 95.3 mph in the third. In his last inning, Salazar averaged 92.5 mph, with his last heater clocking in at 90.3 mph. In that inning, Byron Buxton belted a two-run homer.
“He looked good. The ball was coming out good,” Callaway said. “I thought in the fourth inning, just watching, it was a little weird. It looked like he was throwing a bar of soap, the way he was releasing the ball. So, I wasn’t shocked when he came in.”
After the game, Salazar was getting treatment and was not available for comment. There will hopefully be more information prior to Saturday’s game here in Minny.
SECOND: The Indians scored four runs in the third inning — two on a bases-loaded double by Lonnie Chisenhall — to capitalize on an error by the Twins. Then, this game took a jaw-dropping turn in the Tribe’s favor in the fifth.
Twins righty Tyler Duffey threw a first-pitch breaking ball to Mike Napoli, who then sent the baseball into oblivion. Specifically, it rocketed into the third deck behind left field. As Francona likes to say, that’s big boy territory.
“I can’t even hit a golf ball that far,” Francona joked.
According to Statcast, Napoli’s solo shot went 463 feet with an exit velo of 112 mph. Both marks are the best on a home run for an Indians hitter this season. If you recall from Thursday, Napoli belted one 464 feet with a exit velo of 113 mph. That one was yanked foul at Progressive Field, though.
“I’m in that position where I can at any time change a game, and I know that,” Napoli said. “I mean, I’m not going up there just trying to hit singles.”
THIRD: It certainly was not Cleveland’s plan to have an unexpected bullpen day on the eve of another bullpen day.
After Salazar mentioned the forearm tightness, though, Callaway said “it was a no-brainer” to get the righty out of the game. At that juncture, Francona turned to rookie right-hander Joe Colon, who worked a clean fifth and began the sixth for the Indians. After four more shutout innings, Colon wound up with his first MLB win.
“The whole bullpen [did great],” Francona said. “That’s tough to string together zeros like that. … Everybody picked each other up.”
Zach McAllister entered after Colon issued a leadoff walk in the sixth, and escaped the inning unscathed. Dan Otero handled the seventh, which ended with a luck-assisted double play.
On the 10th pitch of battle with Mauer, Otero induced a sharp grounder up the middle. Jorge Polanco was running on the 3-2 pitch, so shortstop Francisco Lindor glided over to cover the bag. He wound up with a grounder in his glove, stepped on the base and tossed the ball to first for the inning-ending twin killing.
Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen then teamed to set down the final six Minnesota batters in order to finish off the win.
“That was a hard game to win,” Francona said.
HOME: There are so many pieces to Francona’s roster puzzle, especially when it comes to the outfielders right now.
Friday’s win provided the perfect example. Chisenhall started in right field, delivered his two-run double, scored a run and was then lifted for Rajai Davis in the seventh inning. With lefty Taylor Rogers on the mound for the Twins, Francona wanted to use Davis off the bench.
“We’re being put in the best situations possible for us,” Chisenhall said. “It’s working out great right now.”
In this game, Davis didn’t deliver at the plate, but he came through big in the field. After pinch-hitting for Chisenhall, Davis took over in left, with Abraham Almonte sliding over to right. That defensive alignment paid off in the eighth inning.
Max Kepler sliced a pitch down the left-field line, where Davis raced to a top speed of 20.7 mph, per Statcast.
“I was convinced that ball can’t fall. Not fair,” Davis said. “It was just one of those plays you’ve got to go all-out. It’s a crucial part of the game. If that ball drops in, who know what happens? I was fortunate enough to get a good jump on it.”
As he closed in on the diving fly ball, Davis used a lunging, sliding dive to snare the baseball before it dropped to the grass. Instead of a possible one-out double, the Twins now had two outs and no one one in a one-run game.
“That was probably the play of the game,” Francona said. “I mean, if that ball gets by him, it’s a double at minimum. That was a great play. He went a long way.”
Stay tuned for more…
Some notes and quotes from Thursday’s 10-7 win over Houston
FIRST: The ball was rolling away behind home plate. Catcher Jason Castro was standing in front of home-plate umpire, Jim Joyce, arguing. Francisco Lindor, Mike Napoli and Jose Ramirez just kept running. Lonnie Chisenhall, the batter, stood off to the side as a spectator.
No one was quite sure what was going on.
“It was like, ‘What happened?'” Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer said. “And then it was such a weird [play]. The catcher didn’t go after it. Everyone was just kind of standing around. They didn’t appeal to third. No one really made a call and guys were just [running around the bases]. I didn’t know what was going on.”
At the root of all the confusion was a 2-2 pitch from Houston rookie David Paulino. With the bases loaded and two outs in the third, his offering to Chisenhall bounced in the dirt and then struck the Indians outfielder’s bat. Foul ball. Play’s dead. It seemed pretty clear when looking at the replay.
Here was the issue: Joyce called it a wild pitch, which is not reviewable. Under that scenario, the ball was live, meaning that Lindor, Napoli and Ramirez should all have been counted as runs for their jogs home amidst the arguing. Here’s the other thing, though: Joyce called time during his discussion with Castro.
After the game, a pool reporter asked Joyce why he called time at that moment:
“A player [was] discussing with me what had happened and he was emphatic about it. I’m not going to let bases loaded, keep rolling. To use a little bit of common sense and some fair play on that one, I wanted to call time and figure out what had happened.”
As for the wild pitch call, Joyce consulted the rest of the crew:
“We did not have the ball hitting the bat,” Joyce said. “Me, originally, and then I went to each crew member and asked them the same thing. If any of them had it hitting the bat, I would have turned around and called a foul ball. My partners couldn’t help me on it. Since I called timeout, I score two runs and put the other guy on third.”
So, in Joyce’s determination, Lindor and Napoli scored from third and second, respectively. Ramirez was sent back to third. The crew then consulted replay to confirm that the play was not reviewable, and to doublecheck where Ramirez should be placed. Ramirez was then sent back to second before play resumed.
“You have to continue to play the game and let the umpires make the call,” Lindor said. “I’m going to continue to play the game and I’m glad Napoli went hard. Napoli’s always done that. I touched home plate and I started telling him, ‘Come home. Come home. Come home.’ But, he was on his way. As soon as he touched the plate, we went back to the dugout. That was huge.”
Added Indians manager Terry Francona: “Nobody ever wants to have a call go against them. I will say, that guy behind the plate [Joyce] gives you as good an effort and is as conscientious as any umpire I’ve ever been around. And there have been calls that have gone against us with him. It’s just hard to get mad at him, because he gives you everything you ever ask for.”
Astros manager A.J. Hinch said: “I think everybody in the ballpark saw the play the way it happened except for the four guys on the field. The hitter’s reaction and the catcher’s reaction and the baserunners’ reaction told the story. … Common sense loses again, so all you can do is wear it. Game-changing plays should be reviewable.”
“I have not seen the play, yet,” Joyce said. “I will be looking at it tonight, you can bank on that.”
SECOND: Throughout his Indians career, Carlos Santana has been a target of criticism from a certain segment of the Cleveland fan base that has an infatuation for batting average. I put some of the blame on former manager Manny Acta, but only due to the high expectations he placed on the Tribe’s switch-hitting catcher.
Several years ago, when Santana was still cutting his teeth in the Majors,Acta opined that the former catcher could develop into “a monster” as a hitter. Acta said that, not only did Santana have the potential launch 30 home runs and draw 100 walks, he could be a .300 hitter.
Santana never did develop into that player for the Indians. He has become a versatile, valuable player, though.
Some fans, however, have latched onto the fact that he doesn’t hit for a high average, among other things. (That led to the creation of the Carlos Santana Narrative Buster by Fangraphs’ August Fagerstrom.) He hit .231 in each of the past two years, for example. In that same stretch, and throughout his career, he continued to post a plus on-base percentage, while offering solid power and ranking near the top of MLB in pitches per plate appearances and walks.
Well, guess what? Santana won’t hit .300 this year, but he has finally crossed that 30-homer plateau.
“It was great,” Santana said. “I’m so happy, especially today, getting the top in my career. Thirty home runs. I’m happy.”
That led to a special moment shared between Santana and Mike Napoli in the dugout after No. 30 arrived. After Santana’s two-run shot in the fifth, he received high fives from his teammates in the dugout, where he then took a seat on the bench. That’s when Napoli called him over and gave him a big congratulatory bear hug.
“Nap and him had a good moment in the dugout,” Bauer said, “where they were proud of each other, and congratulating each other. Hopefully, they get to 40. That’d be great.”
Santana and Napoli are the first Indians teammates to have at least 30 homers apiece in the same season since 2002, when Jim Thome and Ellis Burks achieved the feat.
“I’m happy for him,” Napoli said. “I remember saying in Spring Training that we were both going to hit 30. I think it’s a pretty cool and a special moment for me and him. He’s done a lot to help us this year.”
One of the issues in previous years with Santana was that he griped some about serving as a designated hitter. This year, he has embraced every challenge or request thrown his way by Francona. He has started 51 games at first base and 81 at DH. He has started 73 games as the leadoff man and 58 between the Nos. 4-5 spots.
Along the way, he’s posted a career high in homers and could end the year with a personal best for slugging percentage and OPS. As of this writing, he and Josh Donaldson are the only hitters in baseball with at least 30 homers, 70 RBI, 75 runs and 85 walks.
“Carlos has done a number of things this year that are improved over the past,” Francona said. “It’s been so much fun watching it happen. He’s joining in more as a teammate and handling moving back and forth, and hitting first, hitting fifth. Nothing has taken the smile off his face, and that’s a really good thing.”
Side note: Napoli almost launched No. 32 in this win, too. In the third, he absolutely crushed a pitch down the left-line, where it yanked foul with an exit velocity of 113 mph. Thanks to Statcast, we also know that it soared 464 glorious feet. That is… far. Alas, it was just a pretty foul ball.
THIRD: After I posted the lineup before today’s game, this predictable tweet popped up in my mentions…
Well, guess what, Jason? Good news: It’s still September.
Abraham Almonte may not be eligible for postseason baseball in October, but he is still very eligible to help Cleveland achieve its playoff aspirations down the stretch here in September. Today, on Sept. 8, which is a day in which Almonte is still very much eligible to play for Cleveland, he had two hits, two runs, two RBI and one outfield assist.
In the second inning, Almonte played a carom off the left-field wall perfectly and fired a strike to second baseman Jason Kipnis, who tagged A.J. Reed for an out. Reed was trying to turn a surefire single into a double. Almonte then doubled to open the fourth and later scored. In the fifth, he delivered a two-run triple.
Yes, Almonte got popped for 81 games for testing positive for PEDs. It happened. It stunk for the Indians and has forever tainted what he did or will do on the field. There’s nothing Almonte or Cleveland can do about it now, though. The outfielder is on the roster, eligible to play and he can still impact the team.
And, Almonte has certainly done his part in trying to help Cleveland get to October, even if he can’t be a part of it.
“When he first got here for the first 10 days or two weeks [after the suspension],” Francona said, “you could kind of tell he didn’t quite know where he fit. At the time, our roster wasn’t perfect. But then, he started getting some at-bats and his game got sharper, too. Better outfielder. The things we saw last year.
“And he understands why we don’t play him sometimes. He’s still always ready to play.”
HOME: Bauer went five innings in this one and allowed five runs on seven hits, including a pair of home runs. He walked two, struck out two and was pulled after 79 pitches. It wasn’t a great outing and the righty wasn’t about to make any excuses.
“Yeah, I sucked. I was not good today,” Bauer said. “I’ll be better next time. Obviously, not one of my best ones.”
And that, really, was all there was to say about that.
The good news for Bauer was, as he so famously put it after one of his bad outings last season, “Team won.” The win for Cleveland increased the team’s lead over Detroit in the division to six games with 23 games left in the regular season. Bauer said he’s not much into scoreboard watching, but he did add this…
“We’re up. If we win, we’re in. If we lose, we give other teams a chance. When you’ve got people down, step on them and finish the thing.”
Napoli also wanted to make it clear that Cleveland isn’t just looking at the Tigers to see what they’re doing. The Indians want home-field advantage. They’re also keeping a close eye on the Rangers.
“We’re still a game and half back of Texas,” Napoli said. “We know every game is important, and there’s no letting down. Detroit has a good team. By no means are they out of this. I’ve seen leads shrink pretty quick. Our goal is to have the best record in the American League and try to have home-field advantage.
“Every game we come out, we’re going to be playing the game the right way and trying to win.”
Stay tuned for more…
Some notes and quotes from Wednesday’s 6-5 win over Houston
FIRST: The Indians are in a playoff race and the spotlight is on the club right now. So, it was only a matter of time before the midges arrived to share the stage and steal away some of the attention at Progressive Field.
The swarm began to buzz around the infield and mound especially bad in the top of the fourth inning. As Carlos Carrasco delivered a curveball to Yulieski Gurriel, one flew into the pitcher’s eye, causing him to yank the pitch and prompting a brief delay of game as he was tended to on the field.
“That was weird,” Carrasco said. “I throw the curveball right there and threw it maybe 20 feet away or something like that. … This is the first time it has happened to me.”
Gurriel wound up with a single to right field and the next batter, Colby Rasmus, crushed a two-run homer over the right-field wall. Houston had a 3-2 lead, but Carrasco settled down from there and logged 7.1 solid innings. The righty didn’t use the annoying midges as an excuse.
“It doesn’t feel good,” Carrasco said. “But, I just have to come back and make my pitches. I got a groundball base hit. And the first pitch, [Rasmus] homered. It was a bit inside.”
It was reminiscent of Game 2 of the American League Division Series against the Yankees in 2007, when former New York reliever Joba Chamberlain (previously with the Tribe this year, too) was rattled by the midges while facing the Tribe. After Wednesday’s game, Carrasco even tweeted at Chamberlain: “I feel your pain brother!”
Indians manager Terry Francona laughed when asked if he remembered dealing with the bugs at old Cleveland Stadium on the lake.
“I remember them from everywhere,” Francona said. “When you’ve got skin like mine, it doesn’t matter what city you’re in.”
First baseman Mike Napoli did his part, surely killing a few of the bugs with the home run he belted into the left-field bleacher seats in the fifth inning.
“That was different,” Napoli said of the bugs. “It was a little like that last night. Tonight was a little worse. I remember seeing it in the playoff game — Joba throwing. He had 10,000 of them on his neck. I know it could be worse. That was just part of [the game]. We both had to deal with it.”
SECOND: One of the great things about baseball is the game that can develop within the game.
Consider the fifth inning on Wednesday night, when the Astros turned to lefty Kevin Chapman to face Tyler Naquin with one out and runners on first and second base. Now, this isn’t typically a point in a game where a team would pinch hit, but it made sense in this scenario given that: A) Brandon Guyer is on the bench, and B) It’s September, when rosters are expanded.
“Yeah, if you do it in July, when you have a three- or four-man bench, it’s hard to do that,” Francona said. “Now, you can. But, the guy has to be ready to hit and [Guyer is] always ready.”
Guyer, who entered the night with a 1.005 OPS against lefties this season, grabbed a bat and headed to the plate. Chapman has spent the bulk of this season at Triple-A. Between the Minors and Majors, the lefty has given up a .318 average (.911 OPS) against right-handed batters and a .225 average (.623 OPS) against lefties.
The percentages played in Guyer’s favor. He connected for a two-run double to left-center that pushed the Indians ahead, 6-3.
“He’s got over 1.000 OPS against left-handers,” Francona said. “That’s a really valuable guy to have.”
THIRD: It sure would be nice for the Indians’ offense if Napoli began to heat up for the final postseason push.
Prior to Monday, Napoli hadn’t launched a home run since Aug. 11, but his game-changing blast in the fifth marked his second in three games now. Francona has reminded plenty of times that the first baseman does seem to have a knack for hitting homers in bunches. Along those lines, consider that Napoli had seven homers in 11 games from July 30-Aug. 11, six homers in 13 games from July 4-20 and six homers in a 10-game stretch from May 27-June 5.
“Yeah, pretty much my whole career has been like that,” Napoli said. “I know that when I’m struggling, I’m going to find it. Just stay positive and do my routine in the cages and usually I get out of it.”
Added Indians closer Cody Allen: “He’s a huge reason why we’re in the position we’re in. It’s a long season. You’re going to go through droughts. I know he didn’t hit a homer for a couple weeks, but the guy was still putting up really good at-bats. He was still getting his hits. He was moving guys over. He was still driving in runs. He just wasn’t doing it with tapemeasure shots like he did tonight.
“Obviously, homers are big lifts. That two-run shot to get us ahead with one swing,
that’s a big lift for us. And that’s a deflator for the other team. But, we’ll take runs any way we can get them.”
HOME: This win, which was the seventh in nine games for Cleveland, ended with a cool moment between Allen and Astros All-Star Jose Altuve.
With two outs (both strikeouts) and a runner on first, Allen and Altuve engaged in a five-pitch battle. Within the confrontation, Altuve fouled off a pitch for a strike and then watched another. On Pitch No. 5, the hard-throwing righty unleashed an elevated, 95-mph fastball and Altuve, who has an 86-percent contact rate, swung through it for a game-ending strikeout.
“It’s one of the best hitters in baseball,” Allen said. “Those are situations that you don’t like them all the time, but in hindsight, you enjoy them. It’s competition at its best. A game on the line against a very good team.”
Immediately after the strikeout, Altuve looked in Allen’s direction and nodded in respect.
Allen didn’t see it at the time.
“I think I was catching my breath,” said the closer. “That’s pretty cool. That’s a guy that, he’s one of the faces of baseball. So, to get that, that’s pretty cool. Before my career’s over, I’ll probably be sending a jersey over for him to sign one day. He’s one of those guys.”
After Allen wrapped up talking to reporters, he said, “I’m going to go watch that right now.”
Stay tuned for more…
Some notes and quotes from Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to the Astros
FIRST: It really doesn’t seem fair to dissect Corey Kluber’s outing too much on Tuesday night, but that’s really all that was left to do in the wake of another stagnant night for the Indians’ offense.
Similar to how Cleveland approached Monday’s game, Houston was forced to use a bullpen day. This was supposed to be the 2015 American League Cy Young winner (Dallas Keuchel) against the 2014 winner (Kluber), but Keuchel was scratched and sent back to Houston due to shoulder inflammation.
So, it was Kluber vs. Brad Peacock and Company.
Advantage, Kluber? Not this time.
“He’s been great, especially for this playoff run,” Indians catcher Roberto Perez said. He’s been awesome. For me, being behind the plate for him, I’ve been honored. He’s a great pitcher. He’s kept us in the ballgame. He’s a warrior. He likes to compete. He’ll always give you his best.”
And, for the most part, Kluber did that against Houston.
The righty held the Astros to an 0-for-5 showing out of the gates and ended his seven-inning performance by limiting Houston to 1 hit in 17 plate apperances. That sure sounds like the guy who went 7-0 with a 1.94 ERA in his 10 rotation turns prior to facing the Astros on Tuesday night.
Kluber struck out nine and allowed four hits in his 112-pitch effort.
There is a key bit of information omitted from that above paragraphs, though. What was not included was a six-batter stretch between the second and third innings. In that brief segment of plate appearances, Houston drew two walks, pounded out three extra-base hits and scored the four runs necessary to take down Cleveland in this one.
“It wasn’t his best performance,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “But, yet, if not for a hanging 0-2 pitch, he would’ve given up one. He’s pretty good.”
SECOND: We’ll get to the 0-2 pitch to Marwin Gonzalez in a minute. It was what took place prior to that ill-fated offering that got under Kluber’s skin.
“The walks were the bigger issue,” said the pitcher.
With two outs in the second inning, Kluber got ahead of Evan Gattis with a first-pitch sinker, but then threw four straight balls. He missed up in the zone twice (both on two-seamers), once away and once low (both on curves).
“Gattis, I thought Kluber threw him a couple of great breaking balls,” Perez said. “But, he laid off. He ended up walking him.”
Next up was Colby Rasmus, who fell behind, 1-2, after taking a first-pitch ball. Kluber couldn’t put him away. He missed low with a curve, misfired high with a sinker and then went out of the zone low again with another breaking ball.
“That inning, he kind of lost a little bit of command of his fastball,” Perez said. “Sometimes, those things are going to happen.
THIRD: Kluber has escaped plenty of jams in his career and he came one pitch away from dodging harm in this situation, too. The righty used a pair of cutters to put Gonzalez in an 0-2 hole with runners on first and second base.
At this point, Perez called for Kluber’s curveball, and for good reason. The pitch is one of the elite offerings in the Majors and is especially deadly in a two-strike situation. Heading into Tuesday, Kluber had limited hitters to a .054 (2-for-37) showing on at-bats ending with a curve in an 0-2 count. Twenty-four of those 37 instances were strikeouts.
Here is the heatmap for Kluber’s curve in 0-2 counts prior to Tuesday:
Good luck, Gonzalez.
“The curveball has been pretty good since I’ve caught him,” Perez said. “So, I was trying to get one in the dirt, hopefully.”
Kluber didn’t put it in the dirt. He put it smack dab over the middle of the plate:
Said Gonzalez: “I wasn’t expecting something like that. Obviously, he’s one of the best pitchers in the game and he doesn’t give it up like that. … I was lucky to get that pitch and got a good swing on it.”
“It was a two-strike count,” Kluber said. “I’m not trying to throw breaking ball right in the middle of the zone. It was a bad pitch and he took advantage of it.”
HOME: Kluber allowed a run-scoring triple to rookie Alex Bregman in the third inning, but then held Houston to a 1-for-16 showing the rest of the way. The former Cy Young winner, and current Cy Young candidate, kept Cleveland within striking distance.
“After that point, I was just trying to keep the game manageable,” Kluber said, “and try not to let them score, and try to give the team a chance to come back. And we almost did.”
It’s certainly more daunting when the offense ends the evening with an 0-for-12 mark with runners in scoring position. Things went south so poorly that even Mr. Clutch, Jose Ramirez, went 0-for-2 with with RISP.
The tone was set in the first inning, when Carlos Santana singled, Jason Kipnis doubled and then Francisco Lindor, Mike Napoli and Ramirez each flew out to leave the runners at second and third. Five batters later, the Astros had a 3-0 lead and were off and running to their 13th win in 17 games.
“Obviously that was a big turn of events,” Francona said. “We have second and third and nobody out, don’t score and then they come back with three. That’s a big turnaround.”
Kluber’s effort did allow time for the Tribe to chip away, and the club did with one in the second (run-scoring groundout by Tyler Naquin), one in the eighth (Santana’s 29th homer of the year) and one in the ninth (Ramirez singled, moved to second on a passed ball, to third on a wild pitch and across the plate thanks to an throwing error by the catcher).
There was no walk-off magic this time, though, turning Kluber’s momentary lapse into his first loss since July 3.
“We had a tough time to score runs today. Same as yesterday, too,” Perez said. “The bats will come around. But, man, that was a tough loss.”
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
1. Cleveland 79-58 (–)
2. Detroit 75-63 (4.5 GB)
3. Kansas City 72-66 (7.5 GB)
4. Chicago 66-72 (13.5 GB)
5. Minnesota 51-88 (29 GB)
Stay tuned for more…