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Covering the Bases: Game 90

PestanoFinal: Yankees 5, Indians 4 (14 innings)

FIRST: When a game is lost in extra innings, it is easier to blame the bullpen for the missteps that lead directly to defeat. On Wednesday night, Yankees center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury launched the go-ahead, decisive homer off Vinnie Pestano in the 14th inning. Ballgame.

Even with that finish, we’re not going to spend a whole lot of time second-guessing tonight (or this morning, rather). Cleveland’s relief corps had worked pristinely while pressed into extra duty this whole series, up until the ill-fated 0-2 offering that left Pestano’s right hand.

We’ll get to Vinnie P. in a moment, but let’s take a moment first to tip the ol’ cap to the Tribe’s bullpen.

“They’ve been doing it all year, from what I’ve seen,” Indians starter Josh Tomlin said. “They continue to keep doing it. They kept us in the game and did a great job.”

The home run allowed by Pestano actually ended an impressive run of 18 consecutive scoreless innings for Cleveland’s relievers. Sixteen of those innings came in the first three games in this series against New York. That will happen when a starter (Justin Masterson) lasts only two innings on Monday and Wednesday’s game includes two “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” sing-alongs.

Take a look at the work of the rotation vs. bullpen in this series:

Rotation: 16 IP, 18 H, 12 R/11 ER, 5 BB, 12 K, 6.19 ERA, 1.44 WHIP
Bullpen: 16 IP, 10 H, 1 R/ER, 3 BB, 18 K, 0.56 ERA, 0.81 WHIP

In the loss to the Yankees, Scott Atchison, Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen followed Tomlin’s seven innings with one frame apiece. John Axford then went 1.1 innings and Marc Rzepczynski logged two. Pestano finished the 14th inning, when the relief corps finally flinched.

“They did great,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “Get into a game like that and you’re playing at home, so you always feel like you have an advantage. Everything went pretty much right. Cody pitched out of a little bit of a bind, everybody else really came in and did what they’re supposed to. Vinnie got ahead of Ellsbury 0-2 and tried to bury a breaking ball and left it over. And that’s the game.”

SECOND: This does, however, bring us to the timing of Pestano’s appearance.

Since the right-hander has come back up from Triple-A Columbus, Francona has limited him almost exclusively to facing righties. Including Wednesday’s outing, Pestano has held right-handers to a .208 (5-for-24) average, while lefties have torched him at a .583 (7-for-12) clip. While at Triple-A, Pestano gave up a .314 average to lefties and limited righties to a .125 mark. Entering Wednesday, Pestano had 15 at-bats against righties and only two against lefties since his return on June 20.

“We try to use him against as many righties as we can,” Francona said, “just because we’ve been so successful against them. When you get in a game like this, you really can’t pick and choose too much. I wanted to get him through [Derek] Jeter and it didn’t work.”
Francona was referring to the fact that, when he pulled the left-handed Rzepczynski with one out in the 14th, New York had two right-handed batters (Brendan Ryan and Jeter) sandwiched around the left-handed Ellsbury. Pestano got Ryan to fly out to right field and then he worked Ellsbury into an 0-2 count. That is when Pestano turned to his slider.

“I was trying to back-foot it — just didn’t get it there,” Pestano said. “When you throw a pitch like that to a hitter like that, you need to get it down. It just didn’t get there and he did what he gets paid to do. I can’t make that mistake in that situation. But, can’t take it back — just got to learn from it.

“Lefties throughout my whole career have always seen me better. It’s just one of those things, I had him 0-2, I was in control of the at-bat, I made a mistake and he hit it out. I just needed to execute better.”

Pestano followed with a strikeout of Jeter. The home run was actually the first run allowed by Pestano since his promotion back to the big leagues. He entered the 14th-inning appearance with a 0.00 ERA, .176 opponents’ average, seven strikeouts, no walks and no extra-base hits allowed in five innings back in the Tribe’s bullpen.

THIRD: Tomlin did give the Indians seven innings and it would’ve been a strong performance had Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira not been in the lineup. Tex launched two homers off the right-hander — a solo shot in the fourth and a two-run blast in a three-run fifth.

I just made a few mistakes to one hitter and paid for it,” Tomlin said. “For me, I’m just trying to stay away, show him in when you need to and stay back away. He kind of dives a lot, so he likes the ball middle or out on the outside part of the plate. But, you can kind of get him, if you keep the ball away on him for the most part, he can roll over some pitches.

“I just left two pitches kind of over the middle of the plate and that’s what he did with it. The curveball [for the first homer] just wasn’t executed. It wasn’t down low enough. And the fastball [for the second homer], I tried to get away, just leaked over the middle of the plate.”

Tomlin has now given up 13 home runs in 13 appearances this season. In the no-decision against the Yankees, he ended with five strikeouts, no walks, eight hits scattered, four runs surrendered and 96 pitches (72 strikes).

“I thought he was really good,” Francona said of Tomlin. “The first home run to Teixeira was a breaking ball down that I thought was a good pitch. After he gave up that one to him he stayed away with it and a fastball came back up over the plate for the two-run homer. He’s going give up some hits. He spread them out a little bit.
“Teixeira got him twice. That accounted for three of the runs. Josh will never back down, that’s not an issue.”

HOME: Some of the offensive highlights — Nick Swisher had two hits and two RBIs, giving him nine RBIs in his past eight games for Cleveland. He’s hit .276 with three extra-base hits over that span as well. … Lonnie Chisenhall finally surpassed the required plate-appearance benchmark to qualify for the batting race. That said, he went 0-for-5 and has seen his average drop from .393 to .325 in his past 22 games. … Michael Brantley went 1-for-6 and is tied with Chisenhall with a .325 average on the season. They are tied for fourth overall in the American League. … Jason Kipnis, Asdrubal Cabrera and Chris Dickerson also had multi-hit games for the Indians. … All of this said, the team went 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position, stranding 11 runners along the way. In the 10th, Cleveland had a prime chance to collect a walk-off win after former Tribe pitcher David Huff walked the bases loaded with one out. Against Shawn Kelley, Swisher struck out and David Murphy grounded out to end the promising rally.

Wednesday’s links:

On deck:

Yankees (46-44) at Indians (44-46)
at 7:05 p.m. ET on Thursday at Progressive Field

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 89

 

BrantleyFinal: Indians 5, Yankees 3

FIRST: Nick Swisher’s eyes lit up when Michael Brantley’s name was mentioned on Tuesday night. And, why not? Cleveland’s lone guaranteed All-Star had himself a night against Yankees righty Masahiro Tanaka.

Then again, Brantley’s been having himself lots of nights in his breakout first-half showing.

“Dr. Smooth is doing it, man,” Swisher said. “He’s just a pro hitter. That’s all there is to it.”

All Brantley did against Tanaka, who entered the evening 12-3 with a 2.27 ERA, was go 3-for-4 with one home run, two doubles and three RBIs. Brantley became the first hitter to collect three extra-base hits in the same game against New York’s All-Star starter.

Of course, multi-hit games are becoming the norm for the good doctor. According to the Indians, Brantley’s team-high 30 multi-hit games makes him the first Cleveland hitter since 2006 (Grady Sizemore) to have at least that many multi-hit affairs within the club’s first 89 games.

Against Tanaka, Brantley pulled a double down the right-field line in the first, slashed a pitch down the left-field line for a double in the fifth and launched a homer to right-center in the seventh. Brantley joined Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox and Luis Valbuena of the Cubs (yes, you read that right) as the only players with three hits in one game against the pitcher this season.

“I really just tried to get mistake pitches,” Brantley said. “Balls out over the plate. Splits that didn’t go all the way down. I was just trying to get him up [in the zone]. I was lucky enough to get a couple balls out over the plate and put some good swings on it.”

Easier said than done, of course.

Dating back to May 1, Brantley has hit .359 (83-for-231) with 10 homers, 28 extra-base hits, 40 RBIs and 46 runs scored in 58 games. With his showing on Tuesday, he’s now hitting .369 with runners in scoring position, .438 with RISP and less than two outs and .278 with RISP and two outs. Overall, Brantley has hit .328 with 14 homers, 37 extra-base hits and 60 RBIs through 85 games.

Brantley and Angels outfielder Mike Trout are the only two players in the Majors right now with at least a .300 average, 35 extra-base hits, 60 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. Over the past 100 seasons, only one Indians player has hit those marks in the first half: Roberto Alomar in 1999. That’s some good company that Brantley is keeping right there.

“Even the outs he makes are good outs,’ Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer said. “He has good at-bats. It’s almost like a sigh of relief when he gets to the plate. It’s like ‘OK, Brantley’s at the plate, we’re in a good spot.'”

SECOND: The hope for the Indians would be to once again experience the same feeling when Swisher is in the batter’s box. Well, in Tuesday’s win, he belted a two-run home run off Tanaka in the sixth inning to put Cleveland ahead for good.

Over his past seven games, Swisher has hit .261 (6-for-23) with two homers, one double, seven RBIs, two walks and 10 strikeouts. Is that a great showing? Not by any means. What it is, though, is possibly a positive stepping stone for a hitter batting .198 on the season. It’s the first time this season that Swisher has at least seven RBIs in a seven-game span.

“I really kind of feel like things are really kind of turning the corner for me, man,” said Swisher, who has two homers in as many games. “I need to clean up my defensive game, for sure. But, on the offensive end, things are really kind of turning in the right direction for me.”

You’ll note that Swisher — unsolicited, I’ll add — brought up his defense at first base. In the fifth inning, Swisher let a ball go through his wickets for his ninth official miscue of the season. It was one of three errors on the night for the Tribe, but fortunately for the club, Swisher’s did not lead to a run.

THIRD: The main reason that Cleveland’s three errors did not bite the team more than they could have was the solid effort from Bauer. The right-hander weathered some early command issues, along with two errors within the first three innings, and pieced together seven strong frames opposite Tanaka.

Bauer’s pitches by inning looked like this: 25-17-25-12-8-11-14

Across the first three innings, Bauer logged 39 strikes within 67 pitches for a 58-percent strike rate. Across his final four frames, he registered 32 strikes within 45 pitches for a rate of 71 percent. Bauer also began hitting 96-97 mph by the third inning and held the velocity throughout the outing. After giving up a single to Ichiro Suzuki in the second, Bauer gave up one hit to the final 21 batters he faced.

“It was the same game plan the whole time,” Bauer said. “I was just better able to execute it. It takes me a little while to get comfortable in the game situation. So when I did get comfortable, my velocity picked up a little bit, my stuff a little bit sharper and I was able to locate better.”

Francona liked what he saw from Bauer as the game progressed.

“It seemed like after about his 70th pitch, he had another gear,” Francona said. “I’m sure then, once he starts throwing that fastball where he wants to with probably a little added velocity, then you’re starting to see confidence. They have to respect it more and then he starts flipping the breaking ball in there. It just kind of goes hand in hand.

“I think that’s a good sign. I mean, you’d love to see a guy come out and put up zeros right off the bat, but I still think it’s a good sign that he’s into the seventh inning and it looked like that was his best inning. I think that really speaks volumes. You see a lot of good pitchers that have that quality.”

HOME: Indians third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall went 1-for-3 with a single and walk in four plate appearances on Tuesday, giving him a .332 average on the season. It also gave him 275 plate appearances, which is just under the 275.9 required (3.1 pate appearances per 89 team games) to qualify for the American League batting race. If Chisenhall reaches four PA’s on Wednesday, look for him on the AL batting leaderboard on Thursday morning. Right now, he’d rank third in the league, though Brantley is suddenly right on his heals.

Tuesday’s links:

On deck:

Yankees (45-44) at Indians (44-45)
at 7:05 p.m. ET Wednesday at Progressive Field

–JB

What can Tribe do with Masterson?

MastyIt seems pretty clear that something’s got to give on the Justin Masterson front. There were no signs on Monday night that the sinkerballer is close to pulling out of his recent funk on the mound.

Masterson’s issues have put the offense in early holes and taxed the bullpen (he’s averaged roughly 3.2 IP across his last five starts). Monday was more of the same: a 5-0 hole by the third inning and seven required innings from the relievers.

After the latest effort, Masterson seemed to be at a loss.

“I think I feel good,” Masterson said. “I don’t know. Who knows? It’s one of those where it’s a tick [off]. You’re so close and yet you’re so far away. I felt like tonight was going to be such a great one. We had a great bullpen session, got some good things in. Something so, so tiny can make such a big difference when you’re  going 60 feet, six inches.”

Here are some of the ugly details:

  • Masterson has posted a 13.00 ERA in his past three starts, throwing 230 pitches in that span with nearly as many balls (109) as strikes (121). That sample includes just nine innings, in which he’s given up 13 earned runs on 20 hits with 10 walks against 14 strikeouts.
  • It’s not much better if you keep going back over the past six weeks or so. Masterson has a 9.50 ERA in his last five starts (19 earned runs on 27 hits with 17 walks in 18 innings) and a 7.16 ERA in his last 11 turns (39 earned runs on 60 hits with 36 walks in 49 innings).
  • This is only the fourth time in the past 100 seasons that an Indians starter has lasted four innings or fewer with at least three walks issued in three straight starts (a club record). The others include: Roberto Hernandez (2009), Ray Lamb (1971) and Willie Mitchell (1915).
  • The previous three occurrences of a Cleveland started logging four innings or fewer in at least three straight starts came in 2012 (Jeanmar Gomez) and 2009 (David Huff and Hernandez). The club record is five such outings in a row (done five times).
  • If this was Masterson’s last outing of the first half (a distinct possibility), he will have given up 66 runs in 98 innings. There have only been two other Cleveland pitchers in the past 100 seasons to allow at least that many runs in no more than 98 innings: Dave Burba in 2001 and Tom Candiotti in 1987.
  • Masterson already has eight starts this season with fewer than five innings logged. To be fair, I’ll point out that one of those was abbreviated due to a rain delay. Still, the last Cleveland pitcher to have at least eight such starts in a single season was Cliff Lee, who had eight in all of 2004.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, what are the Indians’ options for Masterson?

  1.  The obvious option is to place Masterson on the 15-day disabled list. He’s been open about the fact that he’s been bothered off and on by a right knee injury since around his second start of the season. It would then seem logical, given the continued issues on the mound, to place Masterson on the DL, especially with the All-Star break coming up soon. Cleveland could make the move and call up a reliever until a fifth starter would be needed on Saturday. Masterson would be eligible to be activated on July 23.
  2. The only issue with that option is the fact that Cleveland could need a sixth starter for July 22, because of the doubleheader with Detroit on July 19. So, another option is to keep Masterson active, but do the ol’ temporary move to the bullpen. Under that scenario, Cleveland could option its eighth reliever to the Minors to call up a fifth starter (Zach McAllister or Danny Salazar) for Saturday’s game before the four-day All-Star break. The Indians can afford to be short one of its eight relievers with the break coming, and Masterson can act, technically, as the extra reliever.
  3. If Masterson isn’t put on the disabled list, he could be brought back to start on July 22 (assuming Cleveland goes with its MLB five-man rotation for the first four games, including the doubleheader). Here’s the catch, if the Indians use the 26th-man rule to add a starter for the twin bill (let’s say, Salazar, for example), the rotation can essentially stay untouched one through five until Aug. 3 (thanks to the scheduled team off-day on July 28). Of course, maybe manager Terry Francona wants that 26th spot for another reliever. If it is used on a starting pitcher, that would basically give the Indians and Masterson their pick for which game best suits him for returning. He could come back in any one of the five series after the break. At a minimum, he’d have two weeks to sort through any issues behind the scenes before rejoining the rotation, all without having “DL” on his career resume.
  4. Then again, if Cleveland wants to avoid the roster trickery and increase the team’s flexibility, it goes back to DL’ing Masterson. They could use his stint to call up an extra catcher (optioning rookie outfielder Tyler Holt to clear a spot for that potential move is also an option) or an added reliever for Francona’s bullpen army. Then, Cleveland would worry about the fifth starter on Saturday and Masterson would be eligible to come back in roughly two weeks anyways.
  5. The other choice is to continue to let Masterson work the kinks out on the mound. If he feels like he’s just a “tick” off, give him the last start of the first half, let him use the All-Star break to his advantage physically and mentally, and then bring him back as the fifth (or sixth) starter to start the second half. In that scenario, he’d have at least nine days between starts.

Were you able to follow along with that stream of thought? No matter how you slice it, Masterson will have some extra rest between outings coming up. How Cleveland handles that (DL stint or no DL stint) will likely be with the idea of keeping as much roster flexibility as possible, while also giving Masterson time to work things out. We haven’t even touched on the fact that the Indians are sitting less than a month away from the July 31 Trade Deadline. That surely factors somewhat into the team’s thinking, too.

Francona will likely shed more light on the situation and the club’s plans on Tuesday. Stay tuned…

UPDATE — 2:45 p.m. ET Tuesday: The Indians placed Masterson on the DL prior to Tuesday’s game against the Yankees. The Tribe called up a reliever (Nick Hagadone) for the time being, considering the team won’t need another starter until Saturday. Now, Masterson can rest his right knee and Cleveland will have its pick of when to bring him back after July 23 and into August (thanks to the doubleheader 26th man rule for July 19 and the off-day on July 28).

–JB

Month in review: June

Lonnie-Chisenhall-and-Jason-Kipnis-danced-to-YMCA

The Indians got off on the wrong foot in April and got their act together in May. June was about staying afloat for a Cleveland club that is trying to stick in the American League playoff race despite rough first-half acts from key players such as Justin Masterson and Nick Swisher.

June was about Michael Brantley’s continued emergence as Cleveland’s best all-around player, Carlos Santana’s comeback from two awful months and the breakout showing from surprise batting crown contender Lonnie Chisenhall. It wasn’t a great month overall, but the Tribe had plenty of historical footnotes in what ultimately was a .500 showing for the club.

Here is a glance at the month that was for the Tribe…

AL Central standings heading into July:

1. Tigers 45-34 (–)
2. Royals 43-39 (3.5)
3. Indians 39-43 (7.5)
4. White Sox 39-44 (8)
5. Twins 37-44 (9)

Overall: 13-13
Record at home: 6-4
Record on road: 7-9

Offense (AL rank)

.249 AVG (t9)
.307 OBP (11)
.388 SLG (9)
.695 OPS (10)
115 R (7)
228 H (9)
42 2B (t-7)
5 3B (t-5)
25 HR (8)
113 RBI (7)
13 SB (9)
73 BB (10)
216 K (t-12)
355 TB (10)

Notes: A pretty average to below-average month for the Tribe’s offense, which looked to be turning a corner in May. Cleveland’s .695 OPS was its lowest for June since the team posted a .656 mark in 2011. It was kind of an odd offensive month. This was the first June since 1971 that the Tribe had at least 115 runs and 228 hits, but an OPS of .695 or below. Cleveland hadn’t done that in any month since September 2010.

Pitching (AL rank)

13 wins (t-7)
4.02 ERA (9)
4.20 rot. ERA (12)
3.69 rel. ERA (8)
5 saves (t-11)
237.1 IP (11)
239 H (12)
116 R (10)
106 R (10)
26 HR (8)
80 BB (t-10)
212 K (5)
.265 AVG (12)
1.34 WHIP (12)

Notes: Cleveland collected at least 212 strikeouts in one month for the third time this year. They did so in three months last season, too. Prior to 2013, the Indians achieved that feat in September 2010 and then you have to go back to 2001 to find the next prior occurrence. The last time Cleveland gave up at least 116 runs, but no more than 106 earned runs was August 2012 (that was a fun month, remember?). The list of months in team history with at least 212 strikeouts and 80 walks or fewer is short: June 2014, September 2013, September 2010, May 1968, September 1966 and June 1963. The 116 runs allowed are the most among any of the months listed.

Player of the Month: 3B Lonnie Chisenhall
Stats: .311/.364/.556/.919, 5 HR, 11 XBH, 21 RBI, 11 R, 28 H, 24 games

Notes: Shin-Soo Choo (September 2010) was the last Indians batter to have at least a .311 average, .556 slugging, five homers and 21 RBIs in a single month. He also did so in 2008 and Travis Hafner accomplished the feat three times across the 2004-06 seasons. The last third baseman to have those numbers in one month was Case Blake in June 2004.

Apologies to… Michael Brantley (.341/.413/.516) and Carlos Santana (.308/.426/.590). Any one of the three players could’ve gotten the nod this month. I gave it to Brantley in May even though Chisenhall had a stellar month as well. I have the edge to Lonnie Baseball in June, because he had been building toward the breakout showing that has him on the cusp of the batting race qualifiers. Santana’s first two months were abysmal, making his rebound impressive. Let’s see it continue deep into July and the second half.

Previous ’14 winners: OF David Murphy (April), OF Michael Brantley (May)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Corey Kluber
Stats: 1-3, 2.89 ERA, 37.1 IP, 32 K, 11 BB, .248 AVG, 1.21 WHIP, 6 starts

Notes: Low run support took a toll on Kluber’s win-loss record, but loyal readers should know I don’t pay too much attention to those columns. With or without support, Kluber was again Cleveland’s top pitcher for June. He wasn’t as strong as he was in May, but that was an impossible pace to keep going. The tough luck made for a rare month for Kluber. He became the first Indians starter to have at least three losses to go along with at least 37.1 IP and an ERA of 2.89 or better since Cliff Lee in May 2009. The last righty to have that kind of bad luck was Tom Candiotti in July 1990.

Previous ’14 winners: RHP Zach McAllister (April), Kluber (May)

Reliever of the Month: RHP Cody Allen
Stats: 1.59 ERA, 11.1 IP, 15 K, 2 BB, .086 AVG, 0.44 WHIP, 4 saves, 11 games

Notes: Allen became the first pitcher in Indians history to have a WHIP of 0.44 or better while appearing in at least 10 games in a single month. The list of pitchers in team history with at least 10 appearances and an opponents’ average of .086 or better includes: Rich Hill (July 2013), Aaron Fultz (May 2007) and Steve Karsay (April 2001). This marked the 10th time a pitcher for Cleveland had a 1.59 ERA or better with at least 15 strikeouts and four saves in 10 or more games in a month. The last to do it was Bob Wickman in May 2001. Allen and Wickman are the only pitchers in that grouping with two or fewer walks.

Previous ’14 winners: RHP Bryan Shaw (April, May)

Game of the Month (hitter): 3B Lonnie Chisenhall
June 9 at Rangers: 5-for-5, 3 HR, 1 2B, 3 R, 9 RBI, 15 TB

Notes: Chisenhall became only the fourth player since at least 1914 to have at least 3 homers, 5 hits and 9 RBIs in a game, joining Fred Lynn (1975), Gil Hodges (1950) and Walker Cooper (1949). Chisenhall is the only player in MLB history to do so in just five plate appearances. He tied Cleveland’s franchise record for RBIs in a single game at nine (Chris James on May 4, 1991).

Game of the Month (pitcher): RHP Josh Tomlin
June 28 at Mariners: 9 IP, 1 H, 0 R/ER, 0 BB, 11 K, 111 (77), 96 game score

Notes: Tomlin’s 96 game score was the highest in the American League this season and only second to Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw’s June no-hitter against the Rockies. Tomlin became the second pitcher in Cleveland history at least 11 strikeouts, no walks and no more than one hit allowed in a shutout, joining Len Barker (perfect game vs. Blue Jays in 1981). Tomlin’s outing marked only the 21st time since at least 1914 that an MLB pitcher had that kind of line.

———————————————————————————–

Minor League standouts for June

Triple-A Columbus

Player of the Month: C Roberto Perez
Stats: .312/.400/.532/.932, 3 HR, 10 XBH, 21 RBI, 12 R, 21 games

Previous ’14 winners: 1B Jesus Aguilar (April), OF Matt Carson (May)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Austin Adams
Stats: 0.00 ERA, 12.1 IP, 10 K, 1 BB, .171 AVG, 0.65 WHIP, 1 save, 10 games

Previous ’14 winners: RHP Trevor Bauer (April), LHP Nick Hagadone (May)

Double-A Akron

Player of the Month: OF Tyler Naquin
Stats: .333/.394/.448/.842, 2 HR, 6 XBH, 10 RBI, 17 R, 24 games

Previous ’14 winners: 3B Giovanny Urshela (April), Naquin (May)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Bryan Price
Stats: 1.80 ERA, 10 IP, 16 K, 2 BB, .189 AVG, 0.90 WHIP, 1 saves, 8 games

Previous ’14 winners: LHP Kyle Crockett (April), RHP Tyler Sturdevant (May)

Class A (high) Carolina

Player of the Month: OF Luigi Rodriguez
Stats: .329/.444/.534/.979, 3 HR, 8 XBH, 8 RBI, 14 R, 16 BB, 22 games

Previous ’14 winners: SS Erik Gonzalez (April), OF Anthony Gallas (May)

Pitcher of the Month: LHP Ryan Merritt
Stats: 2-0, 1.29 ERA, 28 IP, 20 K, 6 BB, .170 AVG, 0.82 WHIP, 4 starts

Previous ’14 winners: Merritt (April, May)

Class A (low) Lake County

Player of the Month: INF Claudio Bautista
Stats: .309/.321/.556/.877, 4 HR, 10 XBH, 15 RBI, 14 R 21 games

Previous ’14 winners: OF Cody Farrell (April), INF Paul Hendrix (May)

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Ben Heller
Stats: 0.00 ERA, 12.2 IP, 27 K, 3 BB, .095 AVG, 0.55 WHIP, 2 saves, 8 games

Previous ’14 winners: RHP Jordan Milbrath (April), RHP Robbie Aviles (May)

Class A (short season) Mahoning Valley

Player of the Month: OF Jorge Martinez
Stats: .283/.327/.522/.848, 2 HR, 6 XBH, 13 RBI, 6 R, 12 games

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Justin Garcia
Stats: 0.00 ERA, 10 IP, 4 K, 3 BB, .212 AVG, 0.78 WHIP, 4 games

Arizona (Rookie) League

Player of the Month: 1B Emmanuel Tapia
Stats: .391/.417/.652/1.069, 1 HR, 4 XBH, 6 RBI, 5 R, 6 games

Pitcher of the Month: LHP Thomas Pannone
Stats: 1-0, 2.00 ERA, 9 IP, 11 K, 2 BB, .156 AVG, 0.78 WHIP, 2 starts

Dominican Summer League

Player of the Month: OF Gabriel Mejia
Stats: .333/.444/.411/.856, 5 XBH, 10 RBI, 17 BB, 27 SB, 21 R, 25 games

Pitcher of the Month: RHP Cesar Ventura
Stats: 2-0, 1.54 ERA, 23.1 IP, 14 K, 5 BB, .184 AVG, 0.90 WHIP, 5 games (3 starts)

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Month in review: April
Month in review: May

–JB

Tomlin’s near perfecto by the numbers

628TomlinSEATTLE — Josh Tomlin cracked a smile on Saturday night when Clayton Kershaw’s name was mentioned. The Indians starter found it hard to believe that anyone would compare one of his outings to the no-hitter spun by the Dodgers ace earlier this month.

As unlikely as it might seem, considering the type of command-oriented style that Tomlin utilizes, the start the right-hander gave Cleveland in its 5-0 victory over the Mariners put the pitcher in that kind of elite company. Statistically speaking, only Kershaw’s near perfect game rates better this season than the one-hitter Tomlin turned in at Safeco Field.

“Oh, come on,” Tomlin said. “That’s not right.”

Here is a look at the historical elements of Tomlin’s showing in Seattle:

• Tomlin finished with 11 strikeouts, no walks and one hit allowed in a shutout over the Mariners. Kershaw (15 strikeouts and no walks in a no-hitter against the Rockies on June 18) is the only other pitcher in the Majors this season to have an outing with at least that many strikeouts, no walks or runs allowed, and no more than one hit yielded in a complete game.

• According to baseball-reference.com, this marked only the 21st time in the past 100 years that a pitcher ended an outing with at least 11 strikeouts, no walks and no more than one hit allowed in a shutout. Ten of those unique performances were either no-hitters or perfect games. The only other Indians pitcher to achieve the feat was Len Barker in his perfect game against Toronto in 1981.

• Tomlin’s performance netted a Game Score of 96. The formula, which was developed by Bill James, has a maximum score of 114. Kershaw (102 Game Score in his no-hitter) is the only pitcher to have a better rating this season. St. Louis’ Shelby Miller (98 on May 10, 2013) turned in the last Game Score of at least 96 that was not a no-hitter.

• Tomlin’s start marked the 20th Game Score of at least 96 in Indians history, but only the fifth for a start consisting of no more than nine innings. The other four were turned in by Bartolo Colon (97 on Sept. 18, 2000), Barker (98 on May 15, 1981), Dennis Eckersley (98 on May 30, 1977) and Bob Feller (96 on July 12, 1940).

• Tomlin’s outing represented only the sixth time in the past 100 years that a Cleveland pitcher has at least 11 strikeouts with no walks in a shutout. The others on that short list include Barker (May 15, 1981), Luis Tiant (July 3, 1968), Stan Williams (May 18, 1968), Feller (June 6, 1941) and Guy Morton (Aug. 15, 1915).

• It marked just the ninth time in the past 100 years that a Cleveland pitcher ended an outing with at least 11 strikeouts and no more than one hit allowed in a shutout. That group included Colon (Sept. 18, 2000), Barker (May 15, 1981), Eckersley (May 30, 1977), Tiant (Sept. 25, 1968), John O’Donoghue (Aug. 19, 1967) and Feller (three times).

• This marked only the 11th time in Mariners history than an opposing starter ended with at least 11 strikeouts and no walks. Tomlin became just the fourth pitcher in that grouping to turn in a complete game in the process, joining David Price (May 13 this season), Dan Haren (May 24, 2012) and Roger Clemens (April 29, 1986).

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 76

140622DetroitFinal: Tigers 10, Indians 4

FIRST: Cleveland tried to pick its poison all weekend and wound up dying with every drop.

Detroit doesn’t boast the Miguel Cabrera-Prince Fielder slugging combo these days, but that hasn’t mattered. The heart of the Tigers’ order is as healthy as ever, especially of late with Miggy doing Miggy things and the Martinez men (Victor and J.D.) swinging some of the hottest bats in baseball.

“We’ve gotten nicked up going through that middle quite a few times in this series,” Indians manager Terry Francona said.

It’s worth noting that Francona made that statement before Sunday’s game. then, Cabrera went out and launched a first-inning home run off Josh Tomlin and added two more RBIs before the day was done. J.D. Martinez helped power a seven-run outburst in the fifth (one aided by two errors) with a two-run single to center.

During the three-game brooming of the Tribe, Detroit’s three-four-five hitters (Cabrera, V-Mart and JD-Mart) combined to hit .351 (13-for-37) with three doubles, four home runs, four walks, 11 runs scored and 13 RBIs. That’s all. Of course, complicating matters was the fact that the Tigers’ Nos. 1-2 hitters went a combined 8-for-28 with three extra-base hits and three walks in the series, too.

“The middle of their order is unbelievable,” said Tomlin, who surrendered eight runs (five earned) in four-plus innings. “You’ve got to keep the first two guys in their lineup off base and hope to face those guys with nobody on.”

SECOND: Consider this series a big of payback for the Tigers, who spoiled the fact that Cleveland enjoyed a three-game showing of 100,280 fans (the most for a three-game weekend set for the Tribe since Aug. 26-28, 2011). Detroit swept the Indians after being swept by the Tribe in the clubs’ last clash in Cleveland on May 19-21.

In that three-game series, the Indians hit .347 as a team, went 15-for-42 with runners in scoring position and churned out 22 runs on 43 hits, including 16 for extra bases. This series, the Tribe hit .281, but went 5-for-24 with RISP and scored 12 runs on 32 hits (nine XBH). The Indians posted a 5.46 ERA this series compared to a 3.94 mark in the set in May.

Making three errors on Sunday certainly didn’t help matters for Cleveland.

“They just blew it open and we helped them,” Francona said. “They don’t need any help.”

“They’re a good team,” Tomlin said. “We’re capable of beating them. We just didn’t this series. That’s how baseball goes. We swept them the first one they came here. Now, they sweep us coming here again. When we face them again, we’ve got to do a better job against them. That starts out on the mound, limiting that damage.”

THIRD: Three hitters who have hurt the Tribe of late are David Murphy (in 1-for-30 spell), Nick Swisher (5-for-37 since coming off the disabled list) and Jason Kipnis (3-for-26 on the homestand). Talk about a well-time off-day for the team on Monday.

“So excited about this day off,” said Kipnis, who now has an uncharacteristic .337 slugging percentage through 50 games played. “I could use it more than anybody else. We’ve played a lot of games in a row, though. We battled the first two games, didn’t play that well today. … Some guys are tired mentally and physically, so we’re ready for a day off.”

Of the three, Swisher’s showing is part of a season-long funk. He’s now sporting a .194/.282/.320 slash line for Cleveland through 58 games.

Throughout Carlos Santana’s offensive woes early on this season, you could at least point to the fact that he was getting on base via walks. His OPS was still respectable, even though his batting average was below .200. The hope was that, eventually, the negative trends would correct themselves and catch up with the on-base ability. Over the past few weeks, Santana has done just that.

The same theory should apply to Swisher, whose signature throughout his career is consistent on-base production. That is why his slump this year has been troubling, especially so since his return from the DL. In his past 37 at-bats, Swisher has 18 strikeouts and no walks. In the series against the Tigers, he went 2-for-12 with eight strikeouts. The Indians need much more from the man originally signed to be the cleanup hitter.

HOME: From the Department of Positivity, Michael Brantley bounced back from an 0-for-5 on Saturday (only his second 0-for-5 within his All-Star-worthy season) with a 3-for-5 showing on Sunday. Brantley had two doubles and three RBIs in the losing cause for Cleveland.

Santana — now batting .202, for those obsessed with batting average — collected a single in four at-bats. Over his past 20 games, Santana has hit .333 (23-for-69) with six homers, four doubles, 13 runs, 16 RBIs and 16 walks for the Indians. Entering the day, his 1.114 OPS in June ranked second to only Mike Trout (1.188) in the American League.

Brantley, who returned from a mild concussion with a pinch-hit appearance Friday and a start Saturday, has hit .391 (27-for-69) in June. For the month, the left fielder has two homers, seven doubles, 10 RBIs and 15 runs scored in 18 games. Entering the day, Brantley and Detroit’s Cabrera were tied for the AL lead with 16 go-ahead RBIs this season.

NOTE: I will not be in Arizona for Cleveland’s upcoming two-game series against the D-backs. I will resume the beat duties for the second two legs of the trip (Seattle and Los Angeles). In the meantime, keep checking Indians.com for updates.

Indians (37-39) at D-backs (32-47)
at 9:40  p.m. ET  Tuesday at Chase Field

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 73

140619SwishFinal: Indians 5, Angels 3 (10 innings)

FIRST: Nick Swisher was having a bad day. Before he even got to the ballpark on Thursday, Swish was one of the many people (yours truly, included) stuck in the awful traffic jam I-90 coming from Cleveland’s West side. That threw the normal morning routine out of whack.

Then, Swisher struck out in the second inning, fourth inning and sixth inning against Angels lefty C.J. Wilson, even though the first baseman/designated hitter had a .314 average off the pitcher going into the day. After the strikeout in the sixth, the Progressive Field faithful aired some frustration, sending some boos Swisher’s way as he headed back to the bench.

“Hey, that’s what happens being a baseball player,” Swisher said. “Sometimes that’s going to happen. You’ve just got to keep going out there fighting, grinding, scrapping and just know that good things are going to happen.”

In the ninth inning, Swisher finally made solid contact. He drilled a pitch from Angels sidearmer and former Indians setup man Joe Smith to dead center field. On another day, maybe the ball would’ve carried. On Thursday, a strong wind knocked it down and Swisher flew out.

“Right into the teeth of the wind,” Indians manager Terry Francona said.

Naturally, the baseball gods saw fit to have Swisher step to the plate with the bases loaded, two outs and the Angels holding a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the 10th inning. Entering the at-bat, he wasn’t just 0-for-4 on the day, but 2-for-24 with 10 strikeouts and no walks for the Tribe since coming off the disabled list.

Naturally, Swisher launched a grand slam.

“I feel like I hit the ball off Smitty better and that ball didn’t go nowhere,” Swisher said with a laugh. “I was just trying to hit it on a line somewhere. Either way, I faced [Ernesto] Frieri the night before and saw him. That time, he had a heavy dose of sliders. In that at-bat, he came right at me with fastballs. I was just happy to get the head on that one.

“I’ve never hit a walk-off grand slam before. Man, I’m a little giddy right now!”

As was written on Sunday, Cleveland can only hope that Swisher’s home run is a sign that he’s beginning to turn things around. It’s been a troubling start for the veteran, especially in terms of power production. He currently has a .200/.292/.329 slash line, compared to .252/.356/.456 line for his career.

“As long as he’s healthy, which he is, he’ll get [his hits],” Francona said. “He started out this way last year. The average might be a little lower because of his slow start, but he’ll still impact us offensively. There’s guys, when their baseball card’s that long and they’re not hurt, they’ll hit.”

Since coming off the DL, the strikeout-to-walk ratio is certainly concerning, but his strikeout rate (one per 3.7 at-bats) is only slightly below his career rate (4.0). His walk rate (12.1%) is below his career norm (13.2%), but it’s in line with his showing across 2012-13. What’s really alarming is the drop-off in power. His in-play percentage (62%) is above his career rate (60%), as is his line-drive percentage (32% to 21%).

That said, the hits that are falling aren’t homers (1.7 HR% compared to 4.0% for his career) or extra-base hits (6.7% compared to 9.1% for his career). Part of the problem can be found in his BaBIP (.248 compared to .289 for his career) and foul-ball rate (29.3% compared to 25.8% for his career). Based on all of that, it looks like Swish has been fouling off a chunk of pitches he used to drive.

“I’m just starting to get back and start to get back into the rhythm of the game a little more,” Swisher said of his recent performance since coming off the DL. “Every day that I come back and play, I feel like I’m getting more in the game. … [In the 10th inning], I wasn’t going up there taking any pitches. I was ready to go from pitch one. That might be the mentality I need to start taking.”

SECOND: There was some history made by Swisher with his game-winner. It marked the first walk-off grand slam in extra innings in Progressive Field history. It is only the third such homer by a Cleveland hitter since at least 1955. Don Dillard had a walk-off slam in extra against the Tigers on July 4, 1962 and Carlos Martinez achieved the feat on Sept. 6, 1992 against the Mariners.

Cleveland’s walk-off grand slams (since at least 1955)

Today: Swisher off Frieri (LAA) in 10th
July 7, 2011: Travis Hafner off Luis Perez (TOR) in 9th
April 29, 2011: Carlos Santana off Joaquin Benoit (DET) in 9th
July 28, 2002: Jim Thome off Juan Acevedo (DET) in 9th
July 14, 2002: Bill Selby off Mariano Rivera (NYY) in 9th
May 23, 1999: Omar Vizquel off Todd Jones (DET) in 9th
May 3, 1998: Sandy Alomar Jr. off Roberto Hernandez (TB) in 9th
July 31, 1996: Albert Belle off Bill Risley (TOR) in 9th
July 18, 1995: Albert Belle off Lee Smith (CAL) in 9th
Sept. 6, 1992: Carlos Martinez off Mike Schooler (SEA) in 12th
Sept. 9, 1979: Bobby Bonds off Tom Buskey (TOR) in 9th
April 22, 1973: Ron Lolich off Sonny Siebert (BOS) in 9th
July 4, 1962: Don Dillard off Jerry Casale (DET) in 13th
Aug. 10, 1955: Ralph Kiner off Al Aber (DET) in 9th

Said Santana: “That was the most emotion I’ve had in my life. Grand slam. It’s the best in baseball. That was my favorite moment. I only have one in my career. If I have a chance, I want to do it again, because it’s the best.”

THIRD: The Indians nearly lost this one in the top of the 10th inning, when Albert Pujols broke open a 1-1 tie with a two-run single through the right side of the infield. With that chopper, Pujols beat Cleveland’s pull-oriented shift. Under a normal defensive alignment, second baseman Jason Kipnis would’ve easily gobbled up the grounder.

“I think we’d do the same thing again,” Francona said, “It’s just hard to watch that ball go through.”

With two outs, Atchison allowed a single to Kole Calhoun and a double to Mike Trout to put runners on second and third base for Pujols. Caught in a 1-1 tie, Cleveland could’ve had opted to walk Pujols and let lefty Kyle Crockett face Josh Hamilton.

“As much as we think Crockett commands,” Francona said, “I just thought it made more sense to let Atch pitch and approach like the count’s 0-2.”

As for the shift, hey, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. The information shows that it tend to work more often than not.

“I thought Atch actually pitched him tremendous,” Francona said. “Give Pujols credit. He’s pretty smart, too, besides being good. You’ve got to take something away, and he beat us with it. Fortunately, we end up coming back and win the game. “

HOME: Indians starter Justin Masterson fought his command again — half of his first 70 pitches were balls — but the sinkerballer hung in there for seven innings. He allowed four hits, walked three, hit a batter, threw a wild pitch (leading to a run) and logged 116 pitches, but he hung in there.

This is where we can tip the ol’ cap to Cleveland’s defense.

In the fourth inning, Howie Kendrick sent a low line drive into right field with no outs and runners on first and second base. Right fielder Ryan Raburn made a nice leaning-almost-falling grab on the ball for an out and made a head’s up throw to second to double up Hamilton. All of a sudden, a none-out jam is a two-out situation for Masterson, who then got the groundout he needed to escape.

“The line drive to right was knuckling,” Francona said. “[That play] was huge.”

In the fifth, David Freese led off with a single off Masterson. Hank Conger followed with a sharply-hit grounder to Santana at first base. Santana made a quick grab of the ball, stepped on first base and fired to second to complete a double play. Masterson then got a flyout to escape that inning.

“Carlos really helped a lot,” Francona said.

“My friends did a really good job out there,” Masterson said.

Tigers (37-32) at Indians (37-36)
at 7:05  p.m. ET  Friday at Progressive Field

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 70

SwisherShotFinal: Indians 3, Red Sox 2 (11 innings)

FIRST: Can one swing turn things around for Nick Swisher? Cleveland can sure dream about that possibility after his go-ahead blast against Boston in the 11th inning on Sunday afternoon.

When the baseball rocketed off Swisher’s bat, he stood in the box and watched it for a moment. It carried down the line and hooked around Pesky’s Pole for a leadoff shot off Red Sox righty Junichi Tazawa. Swisher was asked if he hesitated out of the box because he wasn’t sure it was a home run.

“I knew it was,” he replied with a smirk.

Swish was then asked if he was just enjoying the moment. At that, he laughed his best Brohio laugh.

“It was just one of those days,” Swisher said. “This year has kind of been crazy for me personally. So, just in general, just to be able to come up with a huge hit like that, help this team win a ballgame, especially here, Father’s Day, getaway game, we’re heading back home to where we feel extremely comfortable, man, it was crucial. I was so stoked, man. I wanted to smile all the way around the bases.”

Heading into that at-bat, Swisher was in a 1-for-12 funk at the plate since coming off the disabled list. Even after the decisive shot into the seats, Swisher is only batting .207 on the season. You’ll have to excuse the Red Sox for going right after Swisher in that situation.

“We’re challenging him,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said, “given his four previous at-bats on the day and maybe some of the inconsistencies he’s had during the season. We got beat on it.”

Swisher said he can lean on his track record, knowing he has the ability to bounce back and give the Indians a solid showing by the end of the season. He pointed to last season, when he dealt with a shoulder injury that affected his performance. By September, Swisher snapped out of a multi-month slump and helped the Tribe reach the playoffs.

“Last year, I had to deal with a little bit of something,” Swisher said. “This year, I’m doing the same thing. My second half last year, I really, really turned it on. That’s kind of what it’s seeming to turn out like again. I think just in general, I’m just trying to get the rhythm of the game, man.”

To Swisher’s point, he turned in a .238/.345/.387/.732 slash line in his first 82 games (354 plate appearances) in 2013. After that, he posted a .244/.336/466/.801 slash line in his final 63 games (280 plate appearances. Over his final 22 games in September, Swisher hit .294/.380/.588/.968 with seven homers, 11 extra-base hits, 13 walks, 15 runs and 17 RBIs.

“We all have confidence in Swish,” Indians starter Corey Kluber said. “I think we all have the feeling that it’s going to come around. I mean, when you have that kind of track record, it’s not an accident. I don’t think you suddenly forget what got you to that point. So, hopefully this is kind of that building block.”

Swisher certainly looked like himself on that last swing in the 11th inning.

“I’m just going up there, man, and just taking my swing,” Swisher said. “I’m not trying to manipulate stuff and punch balls to left field, man. That’s not my style. I’m a guy that, I’ll walk a lot, I’ll strike out a lot, I’ll hit you some home runs and I’ll bring a lot of energy. Just getting back to being me is my main focus.”

SECOND: Dr. Smooth continued his All-Star candidacy campaign on Sunday. In the first inning, Michael Brantley flashed both his offensive and defensive value to the Indians.

Brantley began his 2-for-4 showing with a two-out solo home run off Red Sox right-hander Brandon Workman three batters into the afternoon. It marked his team-leading 11th home run of the season. That also established a new career best for Brantley with only 92 games to play. You can bet Brantley has hit sights on his dad Mickey’s career-best 15 (set in 1988 with Seattle).

In the home half of the first inning, David Ortiz sent a pitch from Kluber scraping high off the Green Monster for an RBI single. Big Papi wanted more, which hasn’t been the wisest move on plays involving Brantley this season. Ortiz tried to stretch his hit into a double, but Brantley played the carom perfectly and rifled a throw to shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. Ortiz was nabbed and Brantley was credited with his eighth assist of the season (second among American League outfielders).

On the season, Brantley now has a .322/.390/.519 slash line to go along with nine stolen bases, 24 walks, 29 extra-base hits, 45 RBIs and 49 runs scored in 68 games. Since his average dipped to .301 on June 3, Brantley has hit .422 (19-for-45) with two homers, four doubles, four RBIs and 11 runs in 11 games. Since his average hit a season-low .253 on April 28, he’s hit .361 (61-for-169) with seven homers, 13 doubles, one triple, 26 RBIs and 36 runs in 42 games.

THIRD: Cleveland didn’t have the best outing from Kluber (“‘Sloppy’ might be a good word,” said the pitcher.) or from its offense (0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and 10 runners stranded). Dating back to Friday, the Indians have actually experienced an 0-for-20 slump with RISP. Somehow, they’ve still managed a pair of wins in the past two games.

“Being able to pull out two big wins,” reliever Cody Allen said, “it’s a great way to end the road trip.”

Allen, along with the rest of the bullpen, played a big role on Sunday. Allen handled the final two innings, keeping his pitch count low enough in the 10th to come back for the ninth.

Lefty Marc Rzepczynski entered in relief of Kluber in the sixth and promptly induced an inning-ending groundout from A.J. Pierzynski, who remains 0-for-Rzepczynski in his career. Righty Bryan Shaw then turned in a clean seventh. The ninth was patched together by John Axford and Scott Atchison, though an escape act was necessary.

Axford walked the bases full with two outs, but saying that on its own isn’t fair to the reliever. The righty did begin to reel it in and home-plate umpire Chris Guccione had some questionable calls (Said Francona: “I thought Gooch missed a couple pitches.”) along the way. Atchison took over with two outs and the bags full and got Brock Holt to ground out. It was a high chopper and took a great play by second baseman Jason Kipnis.

“There was a lot of good pitching,” Francona said.

HOME: Lonnie Chisenhall received a day of rest in the opener of the series in Boston after having played a long stretch of consecutive games, during which he was thrust into the national spotlight and was crushed with media requests in the days following his three-homer, five-hit, nine-RBI showing last Monday in Texas.

Across Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Chisenhall then went 0-for-10 to have his batting average drop down to .371 (gasp!).

Against lefty Craig Breslow in the 10th inning on Sunday, Francona pulled Chisenhall in favor of pinch-hitter Mike Aviles with runners on first and second base, two outs and the game stuck in a 2-2 deadlock. Chisenhall was 0-for-3 in his career against Breslow and 0-for-3 with three strikeouts in the game. Aviles, who hits right-handed, was 2-for-6 in his career against Breslow.

Aviles grounded out against Breslow, whose lefty-righty splits are essentially even, but Francona felt it was the appropriate move.

“Mikey had swung the bat good against him in the past,” Francona explained. “And Lonnie is just going through a little stretch where he’s not seeing it quite as good as he’s been, which I think is realistic. I mean, my goodness. Lonnie will be right back in there [Monday].”

EXTRA: Let’s take another moment to appreciate Carlos Santana’s continued improvement in the batter’s box. The first baseman (he certainly doesn’t seem to be a backup catcher or third baseman at the moment) went 3-for-5 on Sunday. He is now batting .340 (16-for-47) with three homers, four doubles, eight runs, 12 walks and 12 RBIs in his past 14 games. Since being activated from the concussion list, Santana has hit .343 (12-for-35) with four extra-base hits, six walks and eight RBIs in 10 games. After Sunday’s showing, he’s hitting .190. Yes, that’s brutal on an overall scale, and strictly in terms of batting average. It’s also the first time he’s hit as high as .190 since April 11 (.194). Santana seems to be chipping away. That is a great development for the Tribe.

Sunday coverage:

On deck:

Angels (37-30)* at Indians (35-35)
at 7:05  p.m. ET  Monday at Progressive Field

*doesn’t include Sunday night game

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 69

614KipnisFinal: Indians 3, Red Sox 2

FIRST: It is extremely difficult to win a game in the manner the Indians did on Saturday. We’ll get to the details of this scratch-and-claw victory in a second, though.

First, let’s take a moment — in this season chalk full of defensive miscues — to appreciate a gorgeous play that helped Cleveland clinch its trip to the win column.

“I thought Kip made a play off Ortiz’s ball that saved the game,” Indians manager Terry Francona said.

That’d be Tribe second baseman Jason Kipnis, who did indeed make a stellar play in the eighth inning against Boston slugger David Ortiz. With the shift in place, Kipnis was playing more toward first, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera was on the right side of second base and third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall was shaded toward second in shortstop territory.

With Cleveland clinging to a 3-2 lead, reliever Bryan Shaw issued a leadoff walk to Dustin Pedroia. That set up the clash with Ortiz, who had a game-changing homer on Thursday, three walks Friday and an RBI double off the wall in right already on Saturday.

“The inning didn’t obviously start the way we wanted it to,” Kipnis said. “Shaw could tell you that. You can’t come out and throw balls like that and just let them right on base. You’ve got to make them earn it.”

Shaw was bailed out when Ortiz drilled a 3-1 pitch into the shift and at Kipnis, who snared the ball after it took a sharp hop to the second baseman’s right. As Kipnis prepared to throw to second, Cabrera dropped to the dirt to avoid the baseball. Chisenhall — once a shortstop — handled the relay well and fired it to first to complete the double play.

“That’s a rocket,” Francona said.

“He hit it pretty hard,” Kipnis agreed. “The thing was the top spin on it — just getting the ball. As long as you can field it, you guys know as well as I do, you’ve got some time with him going down the [line].”

There were some chuckles among the press corps at that point, so the savvy Kipnis quickly corrected what could have been perceived as a shot at Big Papi’s “speed.”

“No,” Kipnis said, “usually, it’s because all he has to do is jog for most of his hits. He’s one of those guys where, he hits the ball so hard, you have a lot of time.”

Nice save, Kip.

SECOND: Now, back to where we started. This was a rare win for Cleveland in terms of how it was accomplished.

The Indians went 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position and finished with 13 runners left on base. The Tribe had four bases-loaded situations (granted, each came with two outs) and the only run produced out of that came via a walk from Carlos Santana in the seventh. Cleveland’s other runs came courtesy of 1) an RBI double from Asdrubal Cabrera, who was promptly thrown out trying to advance to third, and 2) a missed-catch error by Red Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski, allowing Cabrera to score from third in the seventh.

Hey, whatever works, right?

“We’re going to have to win some games like that,” Francona said. “You face good pitching, good bullpens, teams that play good defense. There’s all kinds of reasons.”

That said, this marked the first time since Aug. 19, 1984 that the Indians won a game with no more than three runs scored, along with at least 13 runners stranded and at least an 0-for-11 showing with runners in scoring position. Cleveland did so against the Brewers in that game 30 years ago. Don Sutton was on the mound for the Brewers, who also had former Indians Rick Manning in center field for that game, which was the second tilt of a double header.

The Indians aren’t going to complain about how they got the win. After losing four in a row, Cleveland was content with how things went.

“This is a good win,” Kipnis said. “This is a win we haven’t had in the last couple games. Usually, when we strand a lot of the runners and don’t come up with the big hit, we’re usually on the down side of things. … A win is a win, but after the little skid we’ve been going through, to have this kind of win is what we needed.”

THIRD: To pick up such a win, it obviously takes a solid effort on the pitching side of things. Lefty T.J. House looked a little shaky in the first inning, but he recovered nicely and lasted two batters and one out into the sixth inning for the Tribe. House wound up being charged with two runs, though the second came following his trip to the showers.

With a runner on third and one out in the sixth, Francona turned to reliever John Axford to face Mike Napoli. After falling behind, 3-0, Axford worked the count full before walking Napoli. The first reaction after the walk from Axford might be to think, “Oh, no, here he goes again.” In this case, though, a walk wasn’t a terrible end result. In fact, it potentially sets up a double play with Jonny Gomes (.167 vs. RHP, entering Saturday) at the plate.

“[Napoli] is a good curveball hitter,” Axford said. “So, I was trying to throw a slider to start him off and get him to roll over, keep the ball on the infield rather than something in the air. When I fell behind, it was a matter of nibbling at that point, making sure I wasn’t going to give him something too good. Since I didn’t have the slider at that point, it was a matter of trying to keep things away from him a little bit.

“That 3-2 pitch, I was going to make sure it was off the plate. If he was going to swing, he was going to swing. If not, at least we have a double play in order.”

Axford got his grounder, but it wasn’t hit hard enough to Cabrera to make for a tailor-made twin killing. The shortstop got the out at first, but Gomes narrowly beat the throw to first, allowing Dustin Pedroia to score from third base.

No harm done in the end. Axford, Kyle Crockett, Shaw and Cody Allen pieced together the final 3.2 innings to pave the way to the win for the Tribe.

HOME: Helping Cleveland’s cause was a decision made by Pedroia in the seventh inning. With runners on the corners and no outs, Kipnis chopped a pitch to Boston’s second baseman. It looked like a sure double play, but that would have allowed the Indians to pull the game into a 2-2 tie. Pedroia saw an opening to get Cabrera at home plate, so he went for it.

“I think, like everyone else, we thought he was going for the double play,” Kipnis said. “But, Pedey is about as heads-up a defender as they come. He saw that he had a chance to get him at home.”

Pierzynski was not able to corral the throw and the catcher was charged with an error on the play. When Pierzynski turned to tag Cabrera, the ball skipped away in front of the plate. It looked like Cleveland’s shortstop would have been out with a clean grab and tag.

“If he caught the ball and held on to it,” Kipnis said, “he might’ve got him.”

Red Sox manager John Farrell didn’t fault Pedroia for the game-tying run.

“I can see where it’s a questionable play in a first-and-third situation,” Farrell said, “but Pedey feels like he’s got a chance to cut the runner down at home. The throw was on the backhand side to A.J. just enough that he can’t field it cleanly. But, you can’t second guess that. That’s a good, aggressive defensive play.”

On deck:

Indians (34-35) at Red Sox (31-37)
at 1:35 p.m. ET  Sunday at Fenway Park

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 68

613MastyFinal: Red Sox 10, Indians 3

FIRST: If the Indians want to get where they want to get, they’ve got to get Justin Masterson going again. That is the reality of Cleveland’s situation. In a rout at the hands of the Red Sox on Friday night, Masterson’s enigmatic season hit an unfortunate snag once again for the Tribe.

If you remove any outings shortened by poor weather or injuries, Masterson’s performance in Boston marked the shortest of his career both in terms of innings (two) and pitches (59). He ended with zero strikeouts in a normal start for the first time since May 29, 2011, against Tampa Bay.

“I threw too many balls. That’s more or less what happened,” Masterson said. “I put the bullpen in a bad spot. They had to come in way too early before they’re supposed to come in.”

From the get-go this season, Masterson displayed diminished velocity — one of the largest one-year decreases in baseball this year for a starting pitcher. Still, no red flags were raised during his stellar spring, and he began the season with a gem on Opening Day. From there, it has been an up-and-down, inconsistent, perplexing game of survival for the sinkerballer.

Let’s take a look at the three-month roller coaster to date:

First start: 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 4 K, 1 BB
Next two: 10.80 ERA, .368 AVG, 8.1 IP, 14 H, 11 K, 8 BB
Next five: 2.94 ERA, .230 AVG, 33.2 IP, 29 H, 33 K, 11 BB
Next three: 9.98 ERA, .344 AVG, 15.1 IP, 21 H, 7 K, 11 BB
Next three: 1.72 ERA, .214 AVG, 15.2 IP*, 12 H, 19 K, 8 BB
Friday at BOS: 2 IP, 3 H, 5 R, 4 BB, 0 K

*includes one rain-shortened start

Indians manager Terry Francona was asked if the peak-and-valley nature of Masterson season was getting frustrating for the ballclub.

“We want to win every game,” Francona replied, “and I’d love to see everybody go nine. That’s not the way the game is. So, rather than getting frustrated, I think we want to just help where we can. [Pitching coach Mickey Callaway] kills himself trying to help these guys, so I don’t think we’ll let it get frustrating. We just want to help.”

As for Masterson, he focused less on his personal problems on the mound — issues he’ll continue to tackle behind the scenes with Callaway this week — and instead expressed regret over putting too much pressure on the bullpen. Francona turned to the relief corps in the third, when Masterson issued back-to-back walks to open the frame, while the game was still in a 3-3 deadlock.

“It’s been an interesting season for me,” Masterson said. “Then again, what’s disappointing even more so tonight — walking, or whatever — is just making the bullpen have to do more than they need to. That sets them up for some tough games coming up, because guys are going to have to work harder than they need to. That’s all because of me.”

Both Francona and Masterson were asked if the pitcher was physically OK.

Said the manager: “No, he’s fine.”

Said the starter: “I mean, physically, in the fact that the body is healthy. But, as far as feeling comfortable and being able to make pitches, no, it just didn’t take place.”

SECOND: For four innings, Cleveland’s bullpen performed admirably in the wake of Masterson’s mess.

With two runners aboard and no outs in the third, Francona turned the ball over to rookie lefty Kyle Crockett, who was summoned from Triple-A before the game. Not only was Crockett just promoted, he arrived to Fenway Park with less than two hours to go until first pitch. Crockett gave up a one-out, two-run double to Mike Napoli in the third, but logged 1.2 innings before bowing out.

All things considered, Crockett gave the Tribe a solid effort.

“I thought he showed very good poise in a tough situation,” Francona said. “I thought he made one bad pitch to Napoli. Other than that, I thought he was tremendous. The presence of Napoli back in their lineup makes their lineup look different.”

Scott Atchison got the Indians through five innings, keeping Boston’s lead at two runs. Marc Rzepczynski followed suit with a clean sixth inning, but then yielded consecutive singles to open the seventh. That initiated a win-clinching push for the Red Sox. Combined, Rzepczynski, Bryan Shaw, Josh Outman and Cody Allen allowed five runs on six hits across the seventh and eighth innings.

“You know when you go to the bullpen that early,” Francona said, “if somebody has a hiccup, you’re going to pay for it. But, for a while there, Crockett did a good job and we kept it at 5-3. And then it got out of hand.”

THIRD: On the positive side, Carlos Santana belted a two-run home run for Cleveland in the second inning, giving the Tribe a quick, albeit, short-lived lead. Santana finished 1-for-4, but the long ball continued his recent upward trend. Over his past 12 games, Santana has hit .300 (12-for-40) with three homers, two doubles and 11 RBIs for the Indians.

Cleveland wants Santana to focus on the recent success, rather than being overwhelmed by the .176 season average that is in bright lights on the scoreboard.

“His batting average is going to be low for a while, because he had a bad start,” Francona said. “But he’s starting to take some more aggressive swings and staying in the middle of the field. He just missed another one [in the sixth inning] — he just got a little bit on the end. If he gets hot, that’d be great for us.”

HOME: Earlier this season, we had the good fortune of witnessing Yan Gomes take on Brandon Gomes. As you might recall, Yan is the only Gomes in Major League history to have a hit off another Gomes. Your move, Jonny 0-for-Gomes. I bring this up because, on Friday night, we got to see a Rzepczynski vs. Pierzynski clash in the sixth inning. A.J. Pierzynski is now 0-for-Rzepczynski in three career at-batzynskis after flying out to center.

You heard it here first.

On deck:

Indians (33-35) at Red Sox (31-36)
at 4:05 p.m. ET  Saturday at Fenway Park

–JB

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