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Catching up with Mike Aviles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Can Adriana travel with you guys now?

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

Q: Has she started school?

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

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

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

Q: He’s not a motormouth like you?

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

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 16

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Detroit Tigers

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Indians did not need this.

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

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

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

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

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

That was definitely put to the test on Sunday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manship engaged in a six-pitch battle with Miggy.

ManshipMigyy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Lindor down, Miggy out

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

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

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

Lindor1

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

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

Lindor2

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

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

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

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

Lindor3

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

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

Lindor5

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

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

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 15

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

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

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

“It’s awesome,” he said with a grin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KluberK

Here is what the swing looked like:

I mean, that’s not even fair.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This one had a 106.6 mph exit velocity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 14

Cleveland Indians v Detroit Tigers

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

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

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

Let’s see…

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

Wait. What? Carlos Santana leading off?

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

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

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

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

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

CSNB

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

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

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

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

So, how did Santana do in his leadoff debut?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are the last two outings carryover from last year?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allen wouldn’t argue with that.

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

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 13

CanoPic

Some notes and quotes from the Indians’ 10-7 loss to the Mariners on Thursday.

FIRST: It’s so easy to say a manager left a pitcher in one batter too long when the last pitch thrown results in a home run.

On Thursday, following a three-run home run off the bat of Robinson Cano in the 10th inning, you could slip into that common line of thinking. It was closer Cody Allen’s second inning of work. It was the eighth batter he had faced. The ball that soared into the bushes beyond the wall in center represented Allen’s 30th pitch.

Or maybe, as Allen told us, it was simply, “A bad pitch to a good hitter.”

Let’s see. Here’s where the pitch went:

CanoPitch

And, here’s Cano’s slugging percentage on four-seam fastballs that have been tracked in his career by PITCHf/x:

CanoMap

Confirmed. It was a bad pitch to a good hitter.

Now, yes, the home run was a problem. The bigger issue, as Allen also pointed out, was that he issued a pair of walks in the 10th inning before the blast. Steve Clevenger drew a leadoff walk and, even more damaging, Franklin Gutierrez watched a full-count fastball sail low for a two-out free pass with Cano on-deck.

“I just completely botched it,” Allen said.

Still, the matchup with Cano was favorable on the surface. In his career against Cleveland’s closer — SAMPLE SIZE ALERT! — Seattle’s second baseman was 0-for-7. More relevant is the fact that Allen had held lefties to a .189 average in his career before this ill-fated meeting.

Indians manager Terry Francona could have intentionally walked Cano to load the bases, but that would’ve have summoned slugger Nelson Cruz to the plate. Bryan Shaw, who has had mixed results to this point this season, was warming in the bullpen, but Allen vs. Shaw was the matchup Francona preferred.

“Cody’s really good, but he’s better against lefties,” Francona said. “There may come a day where it’s like second and third or something [where you’d intentionally walk him], but no, he’s actually better against lefties. That was the first time Cano ever got a hit. I know Cano is good — so is Cruz.”

When pitching coach Mickey Callaway headed to the mound after Allen’s second walk, it was simply to give the closer a few extra seconds to gather himself.

“We weren’t talking about trying to pitch around him or anything like that,” Allen said. “Obviously, Cano is a very good hitter. He’s dangerous. You don’t want to load the bases for Cruz.”

To use Allen’s phrasing, he just botched the 93-mph fastball to Cano.

SECOND: Seattle’s game-deciding push in extras effectively erased the work of Cleveland’s offense.

Down 5-0, Rajai Davis belted a three-run homer in the fifth. Down 7-3, Cleveland scratched out two runs in the sixth and Mike Napoli delivered a two-run, game-tying, pinch-hit blast in the eighth inning.

While the Indians are 6-7 on the season, I will say this: We’ve seen some in-game fight that was lacking last season, especially in the first half.

“Our offense has done a heck of a job,” Allen said. “We’ve gotten some big hits. Napoli has hit a few huge homers for us. Just to keep fighting right there, that’s something that’s going to pay dividends for us down the road.”

Napoli agreed.

“We’re not going to give up. We know we’ve got a good team,” Napoli said. “We know we’ve got a good offense. It doesn’t matter what’s going on in the game, we’re going to go up there, give good at-bats and try to scrap away.

“We’re just trying to get on that roll. Right now, we’re putting some things together and then we back off a little bit. But, it’s the first 13 games. You’d like to play better, but we’re at .500. We’re just going to continue to try to get better.”

THIRD: About that Napoli home run…

Francona informed the first baseman on Wednesday that he was going to be out of the starting lineup for Thursday’s noon game. Carlos Santana started at first and Marlon Byrd got the nod as the designated hitter. Before and during Thursday’s game, though, Napoli did what he could to stay sharp and ready.

“I knew I wasn’t playing today,” Napoli said. “But I came in, did my work and I actually did extra hitting. You watch the game and, I’ve been around for a while, so I know the routine of when you’re not in there, staying loose. I go and hit twice during the game and just watch and see situations.

“It’s never a day off. You might have the opportunity to come in the game late. It’s all about preparation and being ready.”

That kind of preparation and focus is the the stuff Francona loves to see.

“It’s kind of fun,” Francona said, “to watch a guy that’s not playing, sit there for eight innings, and be locked in and then go do what he did. That’s pretty impressive.”

What Napoli did was work into a 2-0 count against Mariners reliever Joaquin Benoit. Then, the slugger drilled a pitch 109.4-mph off the bat to left field, where it sailed into the bleachers. You’ve got to feel for the fan in the poncho who tried to catch it with his bare hand. That’ll sting for a few days.

The blast pulled the game into a 7-7 tie.

“At the moment, it was an exciting moment,” Napoli said. “It’s something that, when you’re on the bench, you think about all game and try to hopefully get that opportunity. But, it doesn’t really mean anything coming away with a loss.”

HOME: If a game is caught in a 7-7 deadlock and heading to extra innings, something didn’t go right. On this afternoon, Cleveland received a second straight subpar outing from righty Cody Anderson.

“If I would have done my job,” Anderson said, “we’d be walking away with a win.”

Anderson gave up five runs on nine hits in 3.2 innings. That makes it 10 runs surrendered on 18 hits in 8.1 innings over his past two starts combined. In the second inning, Anderson gave up a two-run homer to Seattle’s backup catcher, Steve Clevenger. He smacked a 2-1 changeup out to right field, marking the first homer allowed by Anderson on a changeup this season.

“[I’ve been] just leaving my changeup middle-in to those lefties,” Anderson said. “When I get it to the right location, they keep hitting it down the line a little bit. I’ve just got to keep it down and get it where I need it to be.”

“He didn’t walk anybody,” Francona said. “But he pitched behind in the count and he was up, not by design, necessarily. He made some of the guys down in the order probably more dangerous than they need to be. I thought coming out of the chute, though, he was letting go of the ball good, just still up more than it needs to be.”

Those calling for Trevor Bauer to be moved back to the rotation, well, he pitched in relief and turned in a busy pitching line, too. Bauer gave up two runs on three hits with two walks, two punchouts and a hit-by-pitch in two innings.

EXTRAS: Francisco Lindor raised some eyebrows in the ninth inning, when he tried to steal second base with two outs and Carlos Santana sitting in a 1-0 count. One swing wins the game for Cleveland. Instead, one caught-stealing ended the inning. Francona challenged the call, but it was confirmed via replay as an out. The manager defended Lindor’s decision-making after the loss.

“It was a pretty good slide step first-pitch [by reliever Tony Zych],” Francona said. “And then he picked his leg up. … I think it’s a little bit a muddy track, but no, that was a good time to go.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 12

Salazar

Some notes and quotes from the Indians’ 2-1 loss to the Mariners on Wednesday.

FIRST: Out of the chute, Danny Salazar has been the best starter in Cleveland’s rotation. Before the seventh inning on Wednesday, the righty had actually registered at least one strikeout in every frame he worked in this season.

But, I tweeted about that streak, so it ended. My bad.

As I’ve said numerous times to this point in these posts, it’s WAY too early to draw any conclusions about what is or is not working for any player (pitcher or batter). But, we can start looking for things to monitor. So, I went looking to see what, if anything, Salazar has done differently to this point this season.

Has he altered his pitch usage?

SalazarUse

That’d be a no.

In fact, it’s pretty incredible how close his pitch distribution has been so far this season.

So, let’s check out his pitch velocity…

SalazarVelo

OK, then. That’s pretty consistent so far compared to 2015, too.

Maybe we should ask the man himself…

Hey, Danny, what’s been working for you early on this year?

“Being aggressive,” Salazar said. “Not slowing down with any pitch, and just being aggressive with every single pitch.”

Now, this is interesting, and perhaps it was just a here-is-a-baseball-cliche response, because it’s hard to find much evidence to support that statement from Salazar. He’s actually thrown fewer strikes so far compared to 2015. And, his velocity isn’t any higher than a year ago. It’s actually a skosh from last year.

Statistically speaking, it actually looks like the hitters are the ones who have been more aggressive against Salazar. Heading into Wednesday’s start, batters were swinging at 76.7 percent of pitches in the strike zone (up from 69.3 percent in ’15). Salazar has exploited this, inducing a 16.8-percent swinging-strike rate (up from 11.8 percent in ’15).

So, maybe it’s a mentality, which we can’t really quantify. His response reminds me of Carlos Carrasco in the final two months of 2014. Then-bullpen coach Kevin Cash stressed going all-out with every pitch, attacking the hitters aggressively and not taking his foot off the gas. If Salazar is trying to adopt that mental approach, that’s not a bad thing.

On Wednesday night, the righty was charged with two runs over seven innings, in which he struck out seven, walked three and allowed three hits. That’s usually going to net a win. On the year, Salazar has a 1.47 ERA with 23 strikeouts, nine walks and a .129 (8-for-62) opponents’ average. That’s good, and the Indians can only hope it lasts.

“When you start backing [starts] up, and talking about consistency, that’s a good feeling,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I don’t see any reason why that should change. He’s working hard, his routines are good, he’s going to be OK.”

SECOND: The reason for Salazar’s unfortunate trip to the loss column? Mariners right-hander Taijuan Walker. He went six innings, struck out six, walked none and allowed only one unearned run. Walker is only the fifth righty Cleveland has seen in 12 games, so maybe there was some rust for the Tribe.

Then again, Walker has done well against the Indians in his young career. He has given up just one earned run in 20 innings in his career against Cleveland.

“He’s got velocity, off-speed, athletic,” Francona said. “He’s good. He’s kind of how we feel about Danny. I’m sure that’s the same way they feel about him.”

THIRD: The Indians also made a handful of mistakes that cost them under the low-scoring circumstances.

In the third inning, Juan Uribe led off with a double, but was quickly caught too far off the base on a comeback to the mound from Tyler Naquin. Walker caught Uribe in a rundown and erased the runner before only allowing a Jason Kipnis sac fly.

Later in the eighth inning, Naquin led off with a single with the Indians trailing by one run. Jose Ramirez then attempted a sacrifice bunt — Francona said that decision came from the dugout — but chopped it right back to the mound. Joaquin Benoit gloved it and nabbed Naquin at second base. Kipnis flew out. Francisco Lindor grounded out. And that was that.

In this case, I didn’t have an issue with the bunt strategy, but the execution was poor and cost Cleveland.

“He ended up getting to second in the inning on a wild pitch,” said Francona, referring to Ramirez. “But, you know, in a game like that, you need to do every little thing, because we were having such a tough time.”

HOME: That brings us to the seventh inning. With two outs, Uribe drew a walk against Joel Peralta. Francona made a sound decision calling upon Rajai Davis to come off the bench as a pinch-runner. Unfortunately, Davis got fooled by Peralta on an 0-1 pick-off throw to first base. Davis shifted to his right and he was dead in the water. Another rundown ensued and the Mariners got the tag on Davis for a crucial out.

“Those things [happen] when you’re trying to be aggressive, which he was,” Francona said. “Peralta kind of gave him a good [move] — kind of dropped his head. The idea was he was going to be aggressive. I know it probably doesn’t look great, but the idea was for him to be aggressive there.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 11

NapSome notes and quotes from the Indians’ 3-2 win over the Mariners on Tuesday.

FIRST: Marlon Byrd, Collin Cowgill and Mike Napoli were in the batting cage on the field at Progressive Field a few hours before Tuesday’s game. Hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo was feeding them pitches through a pitching machine, rather than throwing.

This wasn’t just a case of a coach trying to save his arm. The machine was sending pitches that broke inside on the right-handed hitters. They were sliders, as seen from a left-handed pitcher. Left-handed pitchers have been featured in surplus against Cleveland of late.

Seattle’s starter for Tuesday, Wade Miley, represented the seventh lefty starter seen by the Indians in their first 11 games. Last year, there were times where it seemed like teams purposely altered their rotations to throw lefties at the Tribe. Out of the gates this year, this feels more like a schedule-based fluke.

Manager Terry Francona sees it that way, too.

“I felt like last year, teams were trying to manipulate their rotations so we could face some lefties,” Francona said. “This year, we’re actually positioned a little bit different, where we’re OK. It’s just the luck of the draw. I haven’t seen anybody move their rotation or anything.

“And with [Michael] Brantley and [Lonnie] Chisenhall out, we have righties in their place.
It’s about the most I’ve ever seen, though. That’s for sure.”

So far, the Indians have faced David Price, John Danks, Chris Sale, Matt Moore, Drew Smyly, Steven Matz and Miley.

Cleveland tweaked its roster over the winter to hopefully improve production against lefties, but it hadn’t really worked out too well leading up to Tuesday. Right-handed hitters Marlon Byrd, Collin Cowgill, Rajai Davis and Juan Uribe, for example, were a combined 5-for-58 (.086) against lefties through the Tribe’s first 10 games.

Well, things got better on Tuesday. The Indians went a combined 9-for-17 against Miley, whose first four walks of the season all came in his fourth and final inning. Two came with the bases loaded to put the Indians up 3-0. In the third, Francisco Lindor and Mike Napoli, who have both done well vs. southpaws, had back-to-back two-out doubles to put the Indians on the board.

After Miley left, M’s lefty Mike Montgomery logged 2 2/3 innings in relief.

Here is how Cleveland’s lineup fared against the left-handers on Tuesday:

Davis: 1-for-3, single, walk, RBI (4-for-25 on the year)
Kipnis: 1-for-4, infield single (5-for-26)
Lindor: 3-for-3, 2 singles, double, walk, RBI (11-for-24)
Napoli: 1-for-3, double, walk (6-for-21)
Santana: 0-for-3 (2-for-21)
Gomes: 1-for-3, single (7-for-21)
Byrd: 2-for-3, 2 singles (3-for-17)
Uribe: 1-for-3, single, walk (2-for-18)
Cowgill: 0-for-2, walk (0-for-9)

Napoli was asked what it has been like to see so many lefties out of the chute.

“It’s nice for me,” he said with a laugh. “But, yeah, it’s a little odd. You really don’t run into a streak like that. It is what it is. We’re going to see some righties and that’ll be good for our left-handed hitters.”

SECOND: The Indians flashed some strong defense on Tuesday night. More specifically, Lindor and Napoli each turned in a highlight-reel play.

Lindor’s gem came in the fifth, when Nori Aoki slapped a pitch from Carlos Carrasco into the hole. The young shortstop glided over, made a backhanded grab and did a jump throw to first base that brought flashbacks of Derek Jeter in his prime.

“That’s a tough play, especially with a speedy guy,” Napoli said. “But, he knew the runner, he knew what he had to do. His exchange was really quick and he made a nice play. He’s capable of doing that kind of stuff. It’s nice seeing it.”

Napoli’s play came in the sixth, when Robinson Cano sent a sharp grounder up the first-base line. Napoli quickly shifted to his left and made a diving snag, recovering swiftly enough to flip the ball to Carrasco at first base for the out.

“You don’t see that play too often in the hole any more,” Francona said of Lindor’s play. “And Nap has been good and continues to be. When you look at him, I’m not sure you realize how good he can move. He’s into the game and it’s been fun to watch.”

THIRD: Carrasco’s outing was not spectacular, but it was a solid performance, especially under the circumstances. He rolled his ankle upon reaching first base, while covering the bag on a play in the third inning. Carrasco stayed in the game, logged 6 1/3 innings and held Seattle to one Kyle Seager solo home run. Carrasco struck out five, walked three and scattered four hits.

(And, really, we should’ve expected that. Seager is now hitting .418 in his career at Progressive Field. And he was in an 0-for-17 slump. So, he was due.)

“[He was] good,” Francona said of Carrasco. “He kind of turned his ankle a little bit. I know it was hard for him to push off, but he continued to pitch and, besides the one pitch to Seager, he kept them off the score board. He did a really good job.”

HOME: There was plenty of groaning across social media when Francona (as he said he would) stuck with Bryan Shaw as his eighth-inning setup man on Tuesday night. And, besides a one-out double to Cano, Shaw looked sharp. He struck out one and got through the eighth unscathed, setting up the save for closer Cody Allen.

It was a great bounceback outing for Shaw, who gave up four runs in two-thirds of an inning on Saturday and five runs in two-thirds of an inning on April 9.

“Nobody’s worried about him,” Allen said of Shaw. “He’s as consistent as they come. I was in the same spot last year. It just seems, for those two outings, every time they hit the ball, they got a hit. He fell behind some guys and got hurt, but he’s as consistent as they come. His stuff is really good. It’s not like his velo is way down or anything like that. He’s
in a good spot.

“I think early in the season and then late in the season stuff gets really magnified. A full body of work is what makes guys good. And Shaw’s been really good ever since he’s got to the big leagues. I don’t think anybody is worrying about it.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 10

KluberSome notes and quotes from the Indians’ 6-0 loss to the Mets on Sunday.

FIRST: Let’s first get something out of the way: Corey Kluber was not entirely at fault for what took place at Progressive Field on Sunday.

Was Kluber at his best? Hardly. But, per usual, he had a lack of run support. And, per the unusual, the sun played an unfortunate role in ballooning his season ERA. Naturally, after rain delays, postponements and snowstorms, a sunny cloudless sky cost Cleveland a few crucial runs against New York.

“It was unfortunate that it had to turn out this way for him,” Indians center fielder Rajai Davis said of Kluber. “But this is the game of baseball, and sometimes we don’t have control over these things.”

OK, now that we’ve got that out of the way, should there be some level of concern over how Kluber is pitching so far this year? Maybe. Three starts isn’t really enough to draw much of a conclusion, but it’s enough to give you things to monitor as the season progresses.

Three starts in, Kluber has displayed diminished velocity, which both he and manager Terry Francona downplayed after the loss.

“There’s maybe a couple things,” Francona said. “One, I think there’s times when mechanically he might swing open a little bit. You’d be much better to talk to [pitching coach Mickey Callaway] and Klubes about that, because I’m not very good about that. But I also think confidence plays a big part in it.

“We’ve all seen him, as he gets into a game, he gets on a roll, it seems like it creeps up. He still has the ability, when he gets going, you saw how many bats he missed. He just made some mistakes early and they made him pay for it. I’ve always felt, though, watching him pitch, as he gets going into a game his velocity can really start to creep up.”

Kluber didn’t go into much detail, other than to say: “I feel fine, so it’s probably just a little mechanical adjustment.”

KluberVelo

Kluber velocity 2014-16, entering Sunday (via brooksbaseball.net)

On Sunday, Kluber’s four-seamer (91.5 mph on average) and sinker (91.9) were both down against the Mets. Perhaps not coincidentally, New York went 7-for-15 against the right-hander’s fastballs in the win. The velo on Kluber’s curve (82.5) and cutter (88.2) were also down. As the game wore on, Kluber became more effective, and had the most success with his curve (0-for-7 with five of Kluber’s eight strikeouts).

Kluber averaged 93.6 mph in April of 2014 and posted a near-identical 93.7 average in April 2015. He’s down a little more than 1 mph so far this month.

I’m no scout, but the biggest issue that I see here is that Kluber, when he was at his peak during his 2014 Cy Young season, worked in three very distinct velocity tiers. The curve (called a slider in the above chart) came in around 82-84, the cutter came in around 88-91 and the fastball (four-seam or sinker) came in around 94-96. Combined with the movement on the three pitches, it can be a devastating arsenal that keeps hitters guessing and off-balance.

So far this season, all of Kluber’s pitches are down a touch, but what seemed most glaring on Sunday was the fact that his cutter was in same velo range as his other fastballs. While the movement is obviously different between a sinker and cutter, if they are coming in around the same range, that can only help a hitter’s timing. And, if hitters can have success against the fastballs and cutters, it hinders Kluber from getting into counts where he can put them away with his curve.

Maybe it is a mechanical issue, as Kluber and Francona said after the game. Maybe Kluber heads to the bullpen this week to work on it with Callaway and next outing he comes out looking like the starter we’ve grown accustomed to seeing over the past two years. It’s not like Kluber was a complete mess Sunday. Issues out of his control played a role, and then he held New York to a 2-for-15 showing to close out his outing.

This is something worth keeping an eye on, though.

SECOND: There is no getting around the first inning. It was vintage Kluber… if we’re talking about the 2012 Kluber that put up a 10.50 first-inning ERA.

Leadoff walk to Curtis Granderson. Base hit pulled through the hole by Asdrubal Cabrera. No-doubt double by Michael Conforto, with no interference by the sun. Two batters and one mound visit from Callaway later, Lucas Duda delivered a two-run single.

There were no excuses about that game-opening sequence.

“Walking the leadoff guy is never good to start a game,” Kluber said. “But, we got a rollover ground ball from Cabby that just found a hole. I just didn’t make a good pitch to Conforto or Duda. They both drove in runs with them.”

THIRD: About the sun, though…

With two outs in the second inning, Granderson sent a pitch from Kluber to deep center field.

Now, we had already received a clue that the sun was an issue. In the first, catcher Yan Gomes went into foul ground to chase down a routine pop-up from Yoenis Cespedes. It dropped in and Gomes was (temporarily) given an error. The error was removed by the official scorer when, after looking at the replay, it was clear that Gomes couldn’t see the ball. That was, unfortunately, foreshadowing.

Davis sprinted toward the wall with his glove high in the air, and the ball dropped a few feet in front of him at the warning track. Granderson was given a triple.

“I had all the way,” Davis said. “And then as it was coming down, it came down right into the sun. I guess it was a little late to tell my left fielder, but it is what it is.”

Rather than an inning-ending catch, Davis’ troubles opened the door for the Mets. Cabrera followed with an infield dribbler, and made it to second on a throwing error by Kluber. Conforto added another double — this one bouncing off first base. And then, Cespedes sent a pitch high over center field.

Once again, Davis lifted his glove in the air to shield the blazing orb that was messing with him all afternoon. Once again, the center fielder had no shot as the ball plopped to the grass for an RBI double.

“I did see it off the bat,” Davis said. “Those are the ones you just have to play out of position to catch those balls. They’re not going to be easy balls to catch, especially with the sun out like that as high as it is, but you just have to make the adjustment, especially at this level.”

In the fifth, Marlon Byrd lost a ball in the sun in right, Davis made it there in time to make the catch, and the Cleveland crowd let out sarcastic cheers of approval.

Kluber’s pitching line now says six runs (all earned) allowed over six innings for this one. Three may never have happened had it not been for the sun. Go figure, too, considering that Davis made a catch in a snowstorm in Chicago a little over a week ago.

 

HOME: Through 10 games, the Indians have seen six left-handed starting pitchers. The latest, rookie Steven Matz, spun six shutout innings with a career-high nine strikeouts. It goes without saying that a six-run cushion after two frames helps, but the early returns against southpaws has not been great for Cleveland.

With Sunday’s showing, the Indians are now hitting .202 (34-for-168) against left-handed pitching this season. Collin Cowgill, Juan Uribe, Byrd and Davis — all with a solid track record against lefties — have gone a combined 5-for-59 (.085) against left-handers so far this year. Indians need that to turn around in a big way.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 9

HarveySome notes and quotes from the Indians’ 7-5 win over the Mets on Saturday.

FIRST: It’s rare to start thinking a no-hitter might be in play after one inning, but Mets righty Matt Harvey looked that good out of the chute on Saturday.

Rajai Davis, Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor saw a combined 10 pitches in the first, which went strikeout, strikeout, strikeout. Kudos to Davis for actually taking a ball in his at-bat.

The rest of the pitches had the same sequence: called strike, fouled strike, swinging strike. Smell ya later.

“That first at bat,” Lindor said. “Strike one, strike two, strike three.”

The strikeouts didn’t continue like that, but Harvey was no less dominant into the fifth inning. Cleveland went 0-for-13 against the Mets ace before Carlos Santana drew a five-pitch walk. And that, my friends, is where things began to tilt in Cleveland’s favor.

You’ll remember Jose Ramirez’s RBI double to break up the no-hitter two batters later. Or the run-scoring hits by Juan Uribe (single), Kipnis (double), Mike Napoli (single) and Yan Gomes (single). It’d be easy to lose sight of the walk that got things rolling.

“Nothing gets lost,” Indians manager Terry Francona said.

Why was that free pass so critical?

Let’s let Davis explain…

“I think he was very effective in the wind-up,” Davis said. “Getting him in the stretch, he’s a different pitcher. I think he was very good out of the wind-up. Deceptive. Everything.”

Consider that the Indians went 1-for-14 against Harvey when he was working out of the wind-up on Saturday. When he was forced to move to the stretch, Cleveland went 5-for-8 with three walks, two steals, two doubles and five runs. Davis said getting Harvey into the stretch wasn’t a huge part of the pregame planning, but more of an in-game development that the Tribe exploited.

“He was just comfortable,” Davis said. “And he hadn’t been in the stretch pretty much all game. And once he got in the stretch, it was like an opening for us. And our guys did a good job of taking care of that.”

SECOND: Santana not only made an impact with his patience, the designated hitter showed off his speed in the fifth inning, too. Yeah, you read that right.

After Harvey walked Santana, he induced a flyout off the bat of Napoli. With two outs and Ramirez at the plate, Santana caught the Mets by surprise by stealing second base. It marked his first steal of the season, but don’t forget he swiped 11 bags last year.

“I think he can run,” Davis said. “He’s got some good speed. I think he can do that a few more times this year. Just keep surprising the defense. They didn’t really think he was going.”

Davis paused and then smiled.

“And neither did we.”

Francona praised first-base coach Sandy Alomar Jr. for his input and help when it comes to the Tribe’s players stealing bases.

“I thought Carlos’ was obviously huge at the time,” Francona said. “And Sandy gets a lot of credit for helping those guys down there. That was fun to watch.”

THIRD: Josh Tomlin, who hadn’t started for the Indians since March 29, gave a gutsy performance in his season debut. The righty lasted five innings, limiting the Mets to one run (via a leadoff homer by Curtis Granderson in the first) on four hits. Tomlin ended with six strikeouts and no walks in the effort.

Tomlin could have gone longer, but he was dealing with leg cramps from roughly the third inning on, per Francona. After one warm-up pitch before the top of the sixth inning, Tomlin grabbed at his right hamstring and left the game. After the win, Francona and Tomlin both indicated that it wasn’t serious.

“I don’t know if it was just the adrenaline of not pitching for that long,” Tomlin, “but my hamstring kept grabbing at me. I knew it wasn’t anything serious like a pull. It was just cramping up on me when I followed through. That last inning when I went out there, it grabbed at me and stayed there. It wouldn’t really release.”

JRamHOME: Long-time Indians beat scribe Paul Hoynes calls Jose Ramirez, “Boom Boom,” and it fits given Ramirez’s style of play. Ramirez goes all out and has learned to better control what looks like reckless aggression at times. As Francona said once, if Ramirez’s helmet is flying off — and it has been a lot of late — good things are usually happening.

Ramirez has been worked into the lineup on a regular basis — mostly in left field, but also at third base. On Saturday, for example, he began in left field and moved up to third later in the game after Francona changed the alignment after using a pinch-runner.

“Versatility,” said Lindor, when asked what Ramirez brings to the table. “He’s a switch-hitter. He can run, he can play defense, he can play outfield, he can in the infield, and
he is performing well. The opportunity they are giving him, he is performing very, very well. I wish he could continue to do that, because he’s helping us win.”

Boom Boom broke up Harvey’s no-hitter with a double to center field in the fifth inning. In the sixth, he waited on a deep fly ball from David Wright that caromed high off the left-field wall. Ramirez played it perfectly and made a quick spin-and-fire relay to second baseman Jason Kipnis, who tagged Wright for the out.

EXTRAS: Whether it’s 3 1/3 shutout innings or 3 1/3 awful innings, 3 1/3 innings is far too small a sample to draw any clear conclusions. Here’s what we can say about Bryan Shaw’s performance to date: It’s concerning.

Shaw has two good outings and two really, really ugly outings. On Saturday, working with a 7-1 lead, the setup man allowed four runs on three hits in two-thirds of an inning. He allowed two more homers. On the young season, Shaw has allowed nine runs on eight hits, including three long balls. His velocity is actually up a tick from last year, so this appears to be more of a command issue at the moment.

“It just looks like he’s searching a little bit for the strike zone,” Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said after the game. “Any time you’re searching for the strike zone,
hoping you throw a strike, bad things are going to happen. He needs to get aggressive, throw the ball over the plate with conviction and live with the results.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

 

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