Some notes and quotes from Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to the Royals.
FIRST: The cards and cribbage board were sitting on Terry Francona’s desk in the visiting manager’s office on Tuesday afternoon. As is typically the case before each game, Bryan Shaw had been in there, taking on his manager. Josh Tomlin joined this time, too.
After the daily meeting with the media, Francona was asked how he fared.
“I got killed,” the manager said in disgust.
When the eighth inning rolled around later in the evening against the Royals, Francona played the card he usually plays, sending Shaw out to the mound. Through thick and thin, the manager has remained loyal to his setup man. And that is not expected to change after what took place in the latest loss to Kansas City.
Shaw allowed a two-out, two-run home run to Salvador Perez to put Cleveland on a path to another tough defeat. It’s the third straight outing in which the righty has given up at least one run. Two of those included a homer. His rate of 2.5 homers allowed per nine innings in a career worst. His ERA has ballooned to 5.68.
Francona is sticking with his guy.
“I don’t want an alternative,” said the manager. “That would not be a smart move on my part. He’s been a good pitcher for us and his stuff’s good. We can’t run away from guys when they have a tough week. That doesn’t make sense to me.”
Francona’s argument for keeping Shaw as his eighth-inning man stems from a few things.
First, nine of the 16 runs allowed by the righty came within two ugly outings in early April. That did a number on Shaw’s overall ERA. After that rough start to the year, Shaw spun a 1.35 ERA with a .200 opponents’ average over the 23 games (20 innings) prior to his last three appearances. On top of that, Shaw has averaged a career-high 94.5 mph on his cutter.
“His stuff’s been really good,” Francona said. “It’s not always one thing. I remember there was a bloop. There’s factors. I think the one recurring thing when he has a tough time is he’s fallen behind in the count.”
To Francona’s point, Shaw slipped behind, 2-0, to four of the five hitters he faced in this loss.
The bloop he probably remembers from this week was the broken-bat, walk-off single by Yunel Escobar vs. Shaw. If that bat doesn’t break, it’s probably a flyout to center field on Thursday night. Similarly, if Jose Ramirez didn’t botch a play in the eighth on Tuesday, Perez might never have stepped into the batter’s box.
SECOND: With one out in the eighth inning, Shaw got Eric Hosmer to chop a full-count offering to the left side of the infield. Playing in the shift, Ramirez ran in and gloved the grounder cleanly.
“The transfer, I think he tried to rush a little bit,” Shaw said. “It just looked like he tried to rush a little bit, tried to get it over there, get the out, and it just came out. It’s one of those things. It happens.”
Ramirez fumbled the ball on the transfer and Hosmer was rewarded with an infield single (that could have easily been ruled an error). Said Francona: “That’s a good pitch. We probably need to make that play.”
Asked about the miscue, Ramirez said through a translator: “It was a grounder that wasn’t that easy. It was a grounder that was moving forward and I tried to throw it and I couldn’t. I try to do the best that I can, but this happens. I can’t always do the best.”
Shaw followed with a strikout of Lorenzo Cain. Had Ramirez retired Hosmer on the previous play, the inning would have ended with that punchout and Cleveland would’ve carried a 2-1 lead into the ninth. Instead, the Royals were given a extra life and Perez (1-for-12 against Shaw before that at-bat) took advantage.
“I threw the pitch where I wanted to,” Shaw said. “I probably should’ve maybe thrown it more off the plate, but I threw it for a strike. Obviously, he hit that. Everybody else, we fell behind, but we came back at them and attacked and got the outs when we needed to. I think falling behind guys.
“Maybe I should’ve shook. Maybe I should’ve thrown something else there. You can second-guess the pitches all you want. Obviously, hindsight, after what happens. If it hits a popup there to center, we get out of the inning, we’re not even having a conversation.”
It went 415 feet.
THIRD: That three-batter span in the eighth inning was the difference in Josh Tomlin walking away with a no-decision instead of improving to 9-1 on the year.
Tomlin had “everything” working, per Francona. The right-hander logged seven strong innings, with his lone hiccup coming via a homer by rookie Whit Merrifield in the third. Tomlin struck out five and walked none, improving his American League-leading strikeout-to-walk ratio to 7.14.
“He commanded. He competed. He changed speeds,” Francona said. “We didn’t always help him. We had one inning where, man, he gets a big popup and all of a sudden it’s second-and-third and he pitched out of that. There were some high-leverage innings because of the score of the game, but he was terrific.”
About that popup.
With a runner on first and two outs in the sixth, Perez sent a high fly to shallow center and the Royals catcher flipped his bat away in anger. Rookie center fielder Tyler Naquin sprinted in and, as shortstop Francisco Lindor closed in fast as well, called for the ball and made a sliding catch attempt.
Naquin didn’t make the grab, Perez got a double and Tomlin was forced to work out of a tough jam with a 2-1 lead.
“Naquin called him off. Frankie would’ve caught it,” Francona said. “That’s just I think a little bit of inexperience. He’s got to let Frankie take it if he can’t there. It’s not his fault he can’t get there. We had him [playing] really deep. But, you can’t call it unless you know you’ve got it.”
Heading into the night, Naquin had an MLB-worst minus-10 Defensive Runs Saved in center field this season. His minus-32.5 UZR/150 was the lowest among the 36 big leaguers with at least 200 innings in center this season. Naquin was lauded for his defense coming up through the Minors, but the transition to the Majors has been rocky to date.
HOME: The eighth inning did end in spectacular fashion for the Indians.
After Perez’s game-changing shot, Shaw induced a grounder up the middle off the bat of Kendrys Morales. Just as they did in Cleveland on June 4, shortstop Francisco Lindor and Ramirez teamed for a highlight-reel 6-5-3 putout. Lindor dove, snared the ball and flipped it to Ramirez, who threw out Morales at first base to end the inning.
EXTRAS: The late collapse also spoiled a handful of good offensive performances (albeit in a low-scoring affair). On the one-year anniversary of his MLB debut, Lindor collected three hits for the Tribe. Jason Kipnis, who headed into the game with an .888 OPS this June and an .864 OPS in June for his career, chipped in a go-ahead, RBI single in the fifth. Carlos Santana also belted a home run in the third inning.
Stay tuned for more…
Will Benson was just one of two players to accept the invitation to experience Day 1 of the MLB Draft from MLB Network’s Studio 42. As part of the day in and around New York, the young hitting prospect received a tour of Yankee Stadium.
MLB.com’s Mark Newman sent this note over from that trip: “One of the cool scenes during the day as he toured Yankee Stadium was him posing between the plaques of Jackie Robinson and Nelson Mandela as his mom, Ramona, took his picture. Then he proceeded to read all the Mandela quotes on the plaque closely.”
After chatting for only a few minutes with Benson via conference call, that story is not the least bit surprising. What is surprising about it is that Benson is all of 17 years old. This kid has lofty goals and aspirations, and he hasn’t even stepped onto a professional baseball diamond yet.
Now, we’ll see where Benson goes from here, and he has a long road ahead of him before he potentially reaches the Major Leagues. I will say this, though. In my decade-plus of covering the Draft, there have been two players who struck me as extremely polished and mature well beyond their years after the first interview. One is Benson, and the other was Francisco Lindor.
Lindor also had big goals for himself on and off the field. We’ve all seen what he’s turned into between the lines for the Indians. This year, now that he’s a full-time shortstop in the big leagues, he’s also started to do work away from the stadium. On Saturday, for example, the MLB Urban Youth Academy in Compton, Calif., will host Lindor, who has made it part of his mission to impact youth in Cleveland and around the country.
Asked if he had heard of Lindor’s work with the R.B.I. program, Benson said it was actually a topic of conversation with Cleveland’s scouts before he was drafted by the club:
“CT Bradford with the Indians, the area scout in Georgia, he was explaining to me how the Indians are all about giving back to the kids and being prevalent in the community. That’s kind of part of my mission. I’m very thankful the Indians drafted me, but it doesn’t mean anything if I don’t impact the people that are in Cleveland, impact the world.”
Benson will be a fun player to follow as he climbs the organizational ladder, and not only for the tape-measure home runs he can launch.
Here is the rundown on Cleveland’s picks in the Draft’s first 10 rounds:
Brad Grant, Cleveland’s director of amateur scouting: “We couldn’t be more excited about this pick. He’s a big, physical athlete — a potential five-tool-type player. Very good ability to hit, to hit with power to all fields, to run, throw and field. Really, the whole package. He’s a special person that comes from a very special family, as well. A guy we’re very excited about and a guy that our scouts did an unbelievable job in working through and really getting to know and putting all the pieces together with him.”
Partially due to his size and frame, and also because he comes from Atlanta, Benson has faced comparisons to Jason Heyward. Grant said he doesn’t like to label a prospect in that manner, but he added: “Those are obviously natural comparisons with the body and the size and the presence to him and the power potential. I think Will Benson is exciting for all of those reasons.”
Benson had this to say about being compared to Heyward: “It’s an honor to have that comparison. I think, defensively, that’s a good comparison. I think we both have a lot of range and can throw the ball really well. I think, offensively, I can possibly do better. That’s no discredit to what Jason Heyward has done. He’s a monster on the offensive end. He’s always on base and he can hit for average. But, I think I can hit for a little bit more power and still have that average. Defensively, I want to be just like that or even better. Offensively, I think I can take it to the next level.”
Grant: “He’s another guy that we couldn’t be more thrilled about getting. Again, a very good hitter. He’s a guy who we feel is going to hit with power as well in the future. He has a plus arm — solid fielder. Another guy with really good makeup as well. He’s a guy that we spent a whole lot of time with — our scouts spent a whole lot of time with — and got to really know him and his family well as well.”
Lottery Round B (No. 72): C Logan Ice
School: Oregon State
Slot value: $892,200
MLB.com pre-Draft ranking: 108
Grant: “What really stands out about Logan is his defensive ability. He’s an advanced framer, an advanced defender behind the plate. He does some things defensively the are very, very good and he put together a very good offensive year as well. He’s a guy that we’re very excited about getting with that third pick.”
Round 3 (No. 92): RHP Aaron Civale
Slot value: $655,500
MLB.com pre-Draft ranking: 136
Grant: “We view him as a right-handed starter, a guy that can really throw strikes, a guy that has a solid-average fastball, the making of a plus slider, a very good changeup. What really stands out about him is his ability to control the fastball, the ability to work it to both halves, the ability to keep it down in the zone.”
Round 4 (No. 122): RHP Shane Bieber
School: UC Santa Barbara
Slot value: $482,500
MLB.com pre-Draft ranking: 151
Grant: “He’s another guy that has an advanced feel to pitch. He really commands the fastball extremely well and he’s another guy who throws a ton of strikes. He’s got a solid-average fastball, a solid-average slider and a feel for a changeup.”
Round 5 (No. 152): OF Conner Capel
School: Seven Lakes (Texas) HS
Slot value: $361,300
MLB.com pre-Draft ranking: 73
Grant: “He’s a big strong guy that we feel is probably going to be more power than hit. He does make consistent contact — he made it all summer. And we think the power is going to continue to develop with him. We feel like he’s got a chance to be a solid-average hitter and then hit for power as well. So, a good combination there.”
Round 6 (No. 182): INF Ulysses Cantu
School: W.E. Boswell (Texas) HS
Slot value: $270,300
MLB.com pre-Draft ranking: 105
Grant: “We’re going to play him at third base and see. What stands out about Cantu is his ability to hit. All summer long we watched him. All summer long he hit. He’s got some power in the bat, too, despite the 5-11 frame. But, he can really hit. He’s got an unbelievable understanding of the strike zone. He doesn’t chase. There’s not much swing and miss at all. His bat is what stands out about him.”
Round 7 (No. 212): C Michael Tinsley
Slot value: $202,900
MLB.com pre-Draft ranking: n/a
Grant: “We’re going to send him out there as a catcher, certainly. But, what really stands out about him as well is his bat. He’s a guy that does not strike out. In 251 plate appearances, it was like 18 strikeouts. So, he’s a guy that makes hard consistent contact, uses all the fields, and we’re going to continue to give him every opportunity to catch. I think if you look at our organization, you look at our instructors and our managers, we’ve got a lot of former catchers in our system. So, we’re going to work with him and see if we can get him better.”
Round 8 (No. 242): RHP Andrew Lantrip
Slot value: $178,700
MLB.com pre-Draft ranking: n/a
Grant: “He’s another guy with elite ability to command the strike zone. I know I keep pointing it out, but 90 innings with five walks. He’s a guy who’s got solid-average stuff across the board. He can really pitch with his fastball, move it around. He’s got an average slider. He’s got a feel for a changeup. He’s a guy we feel could start and can advance as a starter with his ability to throw strikes.”
Round 9 (No. 272): OF Hosea Nelson
School: Clarendon College
Slot value: $166,700
MLB.com pre-Draft ranking: n/a
Grant: “We try to factor that in [that his statistics came in Juco]. I mean, to hit .530 with 20 home runs and 18 doubles in Juco with a 1.600 OPS is still pretty good. Wherever you do it, it’s really good. He’s a good athlete. He’s a plus runner. He’s a guy that put together an unbelievable year, so we’ll see where it goes. But, we definitely factored in the numbers with him, too.”
Round 10 (No. 302): SS Samad Taylor
School: Corona Senior (Calif.) HS
Slot value: $156,600
MLB.com pre-Draft ranking: n/a
Grant: “Samad is an interesting guy. He’s only 17 years old. He played really well over the course of the summer, played well over the course of the spring. He’s a plus runner. He can play both short, play second, play the middle infield. Just with his age and where he’s going, we feel the bat has some upside. He does make contact right now and, as he continues to get stronger and continues to fill out, we feel there’s more upside in the bat as well.”
As I sat down to begin writing this post, Mike Napoli sent a fastball from Wade Miley to right field for a long single in the second inning in Seattle. That he took the pitch — one low and on the outer half of the plate — to the opposite field was a good sign.
We’ll get to that a bit later.
First, let’s start a few seasons back, because Napoli’s solid start to this season has many followers of the Tribe thinking back to another right-handed slugger who got off to a solid start. Remember Mark Reynolds? He’s a cautionary tale for Cleveland, which is enjoying what it’s getting from Napoli, and hoping it will continue.
Flashback to May 6 of that 2013 season, when Reynolds dropped jaws after flicking his bat away. He absolutely crushed a pitch against the A’s and admired it as he walked out of the box, spitting before moving into his home run trot.
It was a thing of beauty, and it was the beginning of the end for the slugger in Cleveland.
After that game, we interviewed Reynolds about the blast and about his reaction to it — a bit of gamesmanship that stemmed from being hit by a pitch a few innings earlier — and we discussed his strong start. At the time, Reynolds was batting .300 with a 1.026 OPS out of the gates for the Indians.
“To be able to come out and have the start I’ve had,” Reynolds said that day, “I think it has a lot to do with experience. It has a lot to do with not caring what you guys write about me. I’m just doing my thing and having fun out there.”
And then, as we all said our thanks and began to walk away, Reynolds added…
“Wait ’til I go into an 0-for-30. Then you [guys] will be all over me.”
He wasn’t far off. Reynolds hit .179 with a .532 OPS in his next 71 games and was released by the Indians on Aug. 12.
Throughout that May in ’13, many Indians fans were e-mailing and tweeting and calling in to talk shows, begging the Tribe to hand Reynolds an extension. Surely, that incredible start was worth more than the one-year deal the Indians handed him. He was the Right-Handed Power Bat that Cleveland needed.
But then, he wasn’t.
That brings me to this tweet I received not long ago about Napoli:
For starters, the 34-year-old Napoli is five years older than Reynolds was during that ’13 campaign, so a contract extension is already questionable simply due to age. Perhaps a short-term pact wouldn’t be out of the question at some point, but if the Reynolds situation taught us anything, it’s not to overreact, or even just react much at all, to roughly two months of at-bats.
And, when you look at the numbers, 2016 Napoli has been very similar to 2013 Reynolds.
Here’s a look at Napoli through Monday (223 plate appearances):
.234/.305/.502. 14 HR, 42 RBI
Here’s Reynolds April 2-June 4, 2013 (223 plate appearances)
.247/.332/.485, 13 HR, 41 RBI
Now, much of Reynolds’ production there is inflated due to his incredible five-week showing out of the gates. Napoli, for the most part, has stayed relatively close to his slash line all season. That alone is reason to believe Napoli’s production is a little more sustainable. His peaks and valleys have been there, but not nearly as extreme as with Reynolds back in ’13.
There is also the matter of strikeouts. Napoli strikes out a lot — like 35.9-percent-of-the-time a l0t. During the noted sample of plate appearances for Reynolds, his strikeout percentage was 27.8. That’s still high, but not to the same level as Napoli this season. That said, not all strikeouts are created equal.
Anyone who has paid close attention to Napoli this season would probably be quick to tell you that he strikes out looking quite a bit. Heading into Tuesday’s action, Napoli had gone down looking in 28 of his 80 strikeouts (35 percent). Prior to ’16, Napoli had a 27.3-percent looking strikeout rate, so there’s reason to believe he’ll improve there as the season wears on.
One of the big issues with the looking strikeouts has been low-and-outside pitches.
The above strike-zone map shows that 20 the 80 strikeouts by Napoli this season have been low and away. Half of those called. Ryan Lewis of the Akron Beacon Journal chatted with Napoli about that trend back on May 20. As it happens, Napoli hasn’t had a called strikeout to those quadrants since May 21. Ten of the 14 strikeouts to those two areas through May 21 were called.
So, there’s been progress of late. Consider Napoli’s home run against the Royals on June 5. Not only was a pitch to that low-and-away portion of the plate, but Napoli took it to the opposite field for a home run off Chris Young.
Here is Napoli’s production on pitches to that area of the strike zone:
This does, in a way, bring us back to Reynolds. Reynolds struck out fewer times in the noted sample, but he went down swinging more than Napoli. Cleveland’s current first baseman averaged 4.7 pitches per plate appearance (contributing to some of those called third strikes), while Reynolds saw 4.3 P/PA.
Reynolds went down looking in 12.9 percent of his strikeouts through June 4 of 2013. His swinging strike rate of 14.4 percent was higher than Napoli’s is now (12.7 percent). Their ball-in-play percentages are roughly the same (28.9 for Nap and 30.5 for Reynolds). And, their respective BABIPs were in line with their career norms (.306 for Napoli, who has a .307 career mark; .287 for Reynolds, who’s had a .284 mark from ’12-16).
In terms of all those swinging strikes for both players, here’s the comparison:
So, it’s pretty clear here that pitchers were exploiting a weakness of Reynolds with pitches low and outside the zone. That’s been an area in which Napoli has run into a good chunk of called strikeouts, but not nearly as many swings and misses.
Of all those swinging strikes for Reynolds, a good portion came against sliders/curveballs (33.3 percent). Napoli’s swinging-strike rate on those breaking balls is 21 percent. Napoli has been more prone to swinging and missing at hard fastballs. Napoli has a .160 ISO/.320 SLG on pitches of 94 mph or greater, while Reynolds had a .259/.481 showing on such pitches in the comparison sample. On the other hand, Napoli has a .225 ISO/.450 SLG on sliders/curveballs, while Reynolds had a .164/.377 showing.
So, as much as they look similar on the surface, 2016 Napoli and 2013 Reynolds are hardly the same hitter. Napoli might swing through the hard heat at times, but he can fight off put-away breaking pitches and grind through longer at-bats. Reynolds, if he didn’t jump on the hard stuff, was more prone to being put away with breaking pitches, espcially out of the zone.
Does this mean Napoli can avoid the kind of collapse Reynolds experienced three years ago? Well, when he strikes out in eight straight plate appearances — like he did in last month’s trip to Boston — it’s not hard to envision a prolonged slump. That said, there are aspects of his season to date that make it seem like he’d be less likely to fall into a cavernous slump like Reynolds did.
Still, I wouldn’t come running to him with a contract extension if I were Cleveland just yet. I’d just enjoy what Napoli is doing and see how far it helps take the Tribe.
Some notes and quotes about Sunday’s 7-0 win over the Royals.
FIRST: Place. How’s that sound?
The American League Central is beginning to play out the way we all expected. The top four teams — each of which has spent time in first place at some point this season — are clustered closely together.
Right now, though, your Indians are atop the division.
The Tribe headed into this series after a rough 2-4 showing to open this homestand. The second of those wins, however, was a walk-off victory. And, it was a walk-off that arrived on the day Marlon Byrd was sent packing with a 162-game suspension. It was a much-needed win on an emotional day, and it came at a great time, given that the then-first-place Royals were coming to town.
“It’s a good end to a really long day,” Indians manager Terry Francona said that night. “You can’t help but have emotions when you’re dealing with some of the stuff we did. It’s a nice way to end the day. I think we’re all going to sleep good.”
The Tribe should sleep well Sunday night, too, especially considering a three-hour rain delay in the sixth inning interrupted play. Now, it’s off to Seattle for the start of a 10-game swing against the Mariners, Angels and Royals.
In this set against Kansas City, Cleveland had a chance to gain some ground. The Indians went ahead and swept the Royals, turning a 2.5-game deficit in the division into a 1.5-game lead.
Before the rain arrived, Corey Kluber led the way to the win column with six stellar innings. After a pair of first-inning singles, Kansas City went 0-for-16 against the right-hander with six strikeouts and five outs via grounders.
During the four-game sweep, the Indians’ pitching staff posted a 1.50 ERA with a 3.1 K/BB ratio and 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings. Over 36 innings against the Royals, Cleveland’s pitchers allowed a .198/.257/.294 opponents’ slash line. Kansas City managed only six runs on 25 hits, including six extra-base hits.
On the other side of the coin, the Tribe offense posted a .308/.354/.608 slash line to go along with 25 runs and 40 hits, including 19 extra-base hits. That includes a season-high seven extra-base hits in Sunday’s win.
SECOND: With a sweep of the Royals on the line, the Indians had a favorable matchup with Kluber squaring off against right-hander Chris Young in Sunday’s finale.
This marked Young’s first start for Kansas City since May 9. He had a stint on the disabled list, but the righty had also been extremely homer prone in his time in the Royals’ rotation. That aspect came into play in a big way in Cleveland’s win.
Mike Napoli started the party with a leadoff shot in the fourth and the Indians belted three more long balls in the fifth. Those came off the bats of Tyler Naquin, Carlos Santana and Francisco Lindor — each pulled shots to the right-field seats.
With that showing, Young has now allowed 3.73 home runs per nine innings this season. Among the 162 pitchers with at least 30 innings logged in the Majors this year (as of this writing), Young has the highest HR/9. The right-hander’s negative 0.8 fWAR is also the lowest in baseball.
THIRD: Naquin didn’t win the longest drive competition — Santana’s shot traveled 441 feet, per Statcast — but the rookie did have the hardest-hit homer of the night.
Naquin’s leadoff blast against Young rocketed off his bat at 109 mph and carried to the first row of the second deck.
The home run was the third in as many days for Naquin, who was called back up from Triple-A on Wednesday after Byrd exited stage left. Dealing with being sent back and forth between The Show and the farm can be tough on a young player, but Naquin has looked more relaxed this time around in Francona’s view.
“I do think he’s in a better place,” Francona said before Sunday’s game. “Early in the year, he was finding ways to get hits. You can tell, like he was trying not to swing at those breaking balls in the dirt. Now, he’s taking [pitches] a little bit better. You can tell he’s a little bit more relaxed. It looks like things are starting to slow down a little bit.”
Naquin became the first Cleveland rookie to homer in three straight games since Jason Kipnis accomplished the feat in four consecutive games from July 31-Aug. 3, 2011.
HOME: There is no place like it for Napoli.
With his 1-for-4 showing on Sunday, Napoli ended this 10-game homestand with six home runs and a dozen RBIs for the Tribe. In that span, he also posted an .805 slugging percentage. His opposite-field shot in the fourth (Napoli’s first oppo taco of the season) came with a 103-mph exit velo and flew 355 feet, per Statcast.
According to Cleveland.com’s Zack Meisel, it was not only Napoli’s first opposite-field homer of the year, but his first since April 25 last season.
The recent homestand was also just a continuation of Napoli’s play at Progressive Field to this point this year. Through 29 games at home, the first baseman has hit .284 with 10 of his 14 home runs and 32 of his 42 RBIs. Napoli has a .637 slugging percentage in front of the local audience, too.
And, yes, after his homer, Napoli made a call to the bullpen. No, we still don’t know who he’s calling out there.
Stay tuned for more…
Some notes and quotes from Friday’s 6-1 win over the Royals.
FIRST: Remember the scene in Bull Durham? Crash Davis jogs out to the mound and instructs the flame-throwing Nuke Laloosh to throw the next pitch at the mascot. Laloosh plays along and hits the ball.
“I wouldn’t dig in if I was you,” Davis tells the hitter through laughter. “I don’t know where it’s going to go. Swear to God.”
Danny Salazar wore the Wild Thing glasses during Spring Training, but the Tribe’s hard-throwing righty has a touch of Nuke in him this season. He has been the epitome of “effectively wild” and Salazar has been one of the American League’s best pitchers in the process.
With his eight-inning performance on Friday night, Salazar’s statistics to this point paint a picture of a top-five starter in the AL. Here are his ranks among starters in the league as of this writing:
10.7 K/9 (first)
29.2 K% (first)
2.24 ERA (second)
5.8 H/9 (second)
.181 AVG (second)
1.8 fWAR (fourth)
3.01 FIP (fourth)
Look at this one, though…
4.4 BB/9 (45th out of 49 qualified starters)
On Friday night, that overall pattern continued. Salazar issued five walks, but he limited Kansas City to just one run via a solo homer by Drew Butera in the third inning. The righty only allowed three hits overall, and he balanced out the occasional lapses in command with nine strikeouts.
“Even though he did have some walks, his stuff was so good,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “His fastball, I think even on his last pitch was 97 or 98 [mph]. Really effective offspeed to go with it. When you are throwing that hard, and he starts throwing that breaking ball and changeup — a lot of good weapons. He did a good job, because they came into the series swinging the bat pretty good.”
It was impressive that Salazar even made it eight innings.
Typically, between a hefty pile of walks and a high volume of strikeouts, a pitcher will leave early due to a high pitch count. Salazar threw 67 of his 113 pitches between the walks and punchouts on Friday night, but he managed to stay on the hill thanks in part to Kansas City’s aggressive lineup.
Consider this: The last pitcher to go at least eight innings with at least nine strikeouts and five walks was A.J. Burnett on May 12, 2001. If you recall, that was his wild no-hitter for the Marlins. Before Salazar on Friday, it hadn’t happened since Sept. 7, 2000, when Kansas City’s Dan Reichert had that rare combination. Prior to that? Not since 1993.
“I think trying to stay focused there and a little bit mad,” Salazar said, “helped me a lot to be aggressive and forget about the walks.”
Salazar said the Butera home run got underneath his skin.
“That made me mad,” he said. “I tried to throw a slider there and I threw it for a strike. I just put it there, instead of throwing it down in the zone. After that, I got a little bit mad and started being aggressive.”
SECOND: Tyler Naquin experienced the joy of making an Opening Day roster this season. He has also felt the sting of being sent back to Triple-A more than once. It can be tough to be a young player with options when a team is in a roster crunch.
“I agree with that. I think it is [tough],” Francona said. “The last time was harder than maybe we realized. I think that’s when you have conversations with guys. The big
thing is maybe not the emotions at the time, but where do you go from here. How do you make it better?
“I think we are in a really good place, which is really good. This kid’s got a chance to be a good player for awhile.”
On Friday night — in his second game back with the Tribe from Triple-A Columbus — Naquin cleared a Major League wall for the first time. He hit .315 in the 22 games before his first trip back to the Minors. He hit .333 in five games in his second brief stint with Cleveland. Since coming back this time, Naquin has gone 2-for-6.
Lonnie Chisenhall, who remembers all too well what it was like to deal with the trips back to Triple-A, has been impressed with how Naquin has handled things.
“When he comes up, he’s positive. When he gets sent down, he’s positive,” Chisenhall said. “It’s part of the game. I know he’s put a lot of miles on his truck from here to Columbus, but when he comes up, he’s got energy when he’s here. He doesn’t feel sorry for himself. He doesn’t sulk.
“He goes down and gets to work and, when he gets back, he’s working here, too. That’s good to see, especially out of a young guy who has options, and he’s not really sure of his fate.”
Chisenhall was also impressed with Naquin’s home run in the seventh inning, when the rookie outfielder shot a pitch from Edinson Volquez over the 19-foot wall in left for a solo shot. It rocketed off the bat at 104.5 mph and soared 401 feet.
“I haven’t seen too many lefty oppo home runs here,” Chisenhall said. “There’s probably been six or seven that I’ve seen and that was one of the more impressive ones. It’s up there. He’s got pop and quick hands.”
Naquin obtained the baseball and said he’s “just gonna put it in a case and let it sit there.”
“[It’s] awesome,” Naquin said. “A Major League home run. No words that could describe that.”
Did he know it was gone?
“I knew when I hit it that I hit it well enough to get it out,” Naquin said. “I always run hard. I’m always going to run hard. You never know. The wall is a little tall out there.”
Said Francona: “That ball went out in a hurry. That’s hard to do. Good for him. He’s come back this time and seems more relaxed, which I think is good.”
THIRD: Also in the seventh, Chisenhall flashed some of his defensive prowess.
Cheslor Cuthbert ripped a pitch from Salazar to deep right field for a sure single, but he was tempted to try for a two-base hit. Chisenhall gathered the baseball near the warning track and had other plans.
Chisenhall uncorked a 90-mph throw that covered 225 feet, per Statcast. Shortstop Francisco Lindor snagged the throw from the dirt with a nice pick, and applied a swift tag for a highlight-reel out.
“I loved it. I was jumping there,” Salazar said. “He has a great arm. He’s becoming a great outfielder going from third base to right field. The way he’s playing, the way he works every day, he’s out there taking fly balls and things like that. I love having him back there when I’m pitching.”
After the tag, Lindor stood up quickly and pointed out to Chisenhall in celebration.
“He told me to hit him in the chest next time, too,” Chisenhall quipped. “He made a great pick. That was probably one of the better parts of the play. The throw was on line, but he did a good job staying with it. I’ll try to hit him in the chest next time.”
HOME: We’ve mentioned Cleveland’s above-average baserunning in this space this year, because that aspect of the Tribe’s game has been a great development this season. The Indians have been, and continue to be, arguably the top baserunning team in the AL.
This came into play again in the eighth inning, when Jose Ramirez delivered a one-out double down the left-field line. Ramirez then stole third base, forcing an errant throw by Royals catcher Drew Butera. That allowed Ramirez — sans helmet — to sprint home for an insurance run for the Tribe.
“I think, in general,” Francona said, “our entire team has done a really good job of going hard but being smart. Not running into outs, but trying to be aggressive while still being intelligent. That’s a good combination, our guys have done a good job of that.”
Stay tuned for more…
Some notes and quotes from Thursday’s 5-4 win over the Royals.
FIRST: We will get to Francisco Lindor’s heroics, and what was running through his mind in the ninth inning on Thursday night, but let’s start with what ignited Cleveland’s latest walk-off win.
With Kansas City clinging to a 4-3 lead in the final frame, Carlos Santana led off by ripping a pitch from Joakim Soria into right field. The Indians’ designated hitter, who has been an above-average baserunner all season long, hustled up the line and around first base, forcing right fielder Paulo Orlando to quickly get the ball.
Orlando bobbled it and Santana made it to second base thanks to the error.
“That’s what won the game for us. Right there. That play,” Lindor said. “That’s what won the game for us. Besides the stuff that happened in the earlier innings, that play right there, I think it won the game for us. First, it gave us the momentum. Second of all, we started to believe. It was like, ‘Yes, we’re going to score. That run has to score.’
“The hustle by him — he’s not the fastest guy — but that hustle by him says a lot. He not only wanted a base hit, but he wanted to get to second. That’s important.”
Indians manager Terry Francona credited Santana for playing a part in the fielding error, too.
“Carlos put himself in a position where maybe he kind of helped the miscue,” Francona said. “Because, if you don’t push it, that doesn’t happen. And to get himself in a position to maybe not only maybe cause it, but to be in a position to where he can move up, which kind of set up the inning.”
Jason Kipnis followed with a sac bunt, moving pinch-runner Michael Martinez to third. Lindor then delivered the key hit — a triple to the wall in right-center. That set the table for Mike Napoli to deliver a game-winning sacrifice fly. Lindor scored from third, diving head-first across the plate to set off another on-field party.
Three times in this one, Cleveland took advantage of a Kansas City error.
First baseman Eric Hosmer made a throwing gaffe in the third, allowing Lindor to advance to second on a single. Lindor later scored on a hit from Jose Ramirez. In the eighth, Napoli singled into the hole, but shortstop Alcides Escobar made an ill-advised throw, which led to an error that moved Napoli up 9 0feet. He later scored on a single by Tyler Naquin.
“It’s rare. Whenever they make errors, it’s rare,” Lindor said. “They’ve got a great defensive team. Whenever you see them making mistakes and us taking advantage and making them pay for it, it’s huge.”
The Indians have now won back-to-back walk-offs for the first time since May 17-18, 2013.
SECOND: Now, about Lindor…
After the game, the shortstop said that he usually has a song running through his mind when he is walking to the plate. Lately, and again on Thursday, it was “Space Jam” by the Quad City DJ’s, a tune that’s been his walk-up music for a couple weeks now.
“Usually I’m singing my song in my mind,” Lindor said. “It gets me off the game.”
When Lindor walked to the plate in the ninth, though, something else was on his mind.
“Brantley’s voice,” Lindor said with a laugh.
Let’s let Frankie explain:
“He was telling me, he was like, ‘You can’t go to the plate thinking, “I’ve got to get a hit.” To get out of the slump, you can’t go to the plate thinking, “I’ve got to get a hit.” That’s when you’re going to go up and go straight back down. Think about making hard contact. If you make hard contact, that’s a plus. Think what you did right and, after that, take it to the next at-bat.’ That’s what we were talking about.”
Heading into the game, Lindor was in an 0-for-12 funk, or a 1-for-15 dry spell if you go back a little further. Leading up to the ninth inning, Lindor was in a 2-for-19 drought. The shortstop didn’t really view this as a typical slump, though.
“I never felt like I was going through a slump,” Lindor said. “I felt like I was having good at-bats. I felt like I was on time. I was just either getting on top of it or getting under it. So, I felt good the whole entire time.”
Lindor certainly felt good after what happened in the ninth.
THIRD: Before the late-inning comeback, the story of the night was the return of right-hander Carlos Carrasco. The starter was limited to around 80 pitches, and his night ended after he logged 78 in five innings. Carrasco allowed three runs on nine hits, including eight singles, and ended with two strikeouts and one walk.
It wasn’t a great outing, but having Carrasco back was a mental lift for the Indians.
“It’s a big relief. A big relief,” Lindor said. “It’s a relief. That’s at least 10-15 wins right there. I’m happy for him. I’m happy for the Indians. I’m happy for the fans, because he’s a fun guy to watch.”
Carrasco admitted to being a little nervous, but was happy with how things went overall.
“It was a lot of work that I did for the last six weeks,” Carrasco said. “It feels great to see my teammates fighting. We are close. Coming back today and pitching, I tried to go deep in the game. I only went five innings, but I feel great.”
HOME: The last play of the game came down to Lindor’s legs vs. Jarrod Dyson’s arm.
Napoli sent a pitch from Soria to left field, where Dyson made the catch. Lindor didn’t care how far or close Dyson was to the infield, the shortstop was planning on running home to try to score the winning run.
“No one is stopping me,” Lindor said. “I’m going no matter what. It could’ve been a little closer. I’m going no matter what. I wanted to score. That’s the ultimate goal. You get on base, because you want to score. You don’t want to get on base and just stay on base. As soon as I saw the ball go up, I’m going. I’m going. I’m going. And the third baseman kind of got in my way. I tried to get away from him. As soon as I saw him catching the ball, I was going no matter what.”
Lindor sprinted from third to home in 4.2 seconds, hitting a top speed of 19.8 mph. Dyson unleashed a 95-mph throw that traveled 261 feet. Lindor, and the Indians, won.
Stay tuned for more…
Some notes and quotes from Wednesday’s 5-4, 11-inning win over Texas.
FIRST: Wednesday did not start off as a good day for the Tribe. Reports swirled, and confirmations soon followed, that veteran outfielder Marlon Byrd had been hit with a 162-game suspension for testing positive for a banned growth hormone.
Byrd met with manager Terry Francona and Chris Antonetti, the team’s president of baseball operations, before the game against the Rangers. The 38-year-old spoke to his team and expressed that this was not the way he wanted his career to end. After that blow to the roster, a handful of players declined comment on the situation.
This wasn’t shaping up as a memorable day in Cleveland’s season.
But, as Trevor Bauer put it…
“When stuff like that happens,” Bauer said, “the field is almost like a little respite, where personal issues, family issues, friend issues, whatever is going on, when you step between the white lines, all that stuff fades. When the game ends, all that stuff comes back pretty quick. It’s a lot easier to handle when you go out on a winning note than when you lose.”
So, it’s safe to say that the Indians needed a good win to salvage the day, and this series.
The Indians took a 2-1 lead in the first inning, and then Texas tied it up in the third. The Indians grabbed a 3-2 lead in the fifth, and then Texas tied it up in the seventh. The Indians ran to a 4-3 lead in the eighth, and then Cody Allen blew a save and Texas knotted things again in the ninth.
Finally, in the 11th inning, Yan Gomes delivered.
After Lonnie Chisenhall opened with a double, Gomes chopped a pitch up the middle and into center field for a single. The player swarmed the catcher on the field and celebrated a great ending to what started off as a bad day. This was now a good day for this group of players, which will carry on without Byrd the rest of the way.
“Once you hear that kind of news, it definitely hit us in there,” Gomes said. “Once we step between our lines, you’ve got to put that stuff aside. It is big, man.”
SECOND: Gomes got the glory, and deservedly so, but don’t overlook the at-bat that Chisenhall turned in to set the stage.
With Byrd out, expect Chisenhall to get some more playing time against left-handed pitchers. Such was the case on Wednesday, when the outfielder was in the lineup against Texas lefty Cole Hamels. In the 11th, Chisenhall was charged with the task of facing sidearming lefty Alex Claudio. No easy chore.
“He disrupts your timing,” Chisenhall said. “He’s throwing multiple speeds. It feels like multiple angles. It’s not as comfortable as you want to be up there. He does a good job. I think he’s just as effective against righties. It’s not a fun at-bat.
“I think his heater was up to 88 [mph], and he had a 66-mph curveball. It’s a big change, especially if you can throw it for strikes. I think he got a couple over. That’s not an easy adjustment.”
Chisenhall received a pair of sinkers. The first tailed low and over the middle, and he fouled it off. The next one was low and inside, but Chisenahall managed to slash the pitch the opposite way. It shot down the left-field line for a double.
Now, the general thought over the years has been that Chisenhall does not hit lefties well. And, his career splits — .261 (.727 OPS) vs. RHP and .247 (.681 OPS) vs. LHP — do show that he is better against right-handers. That said, most of Chisenhall’s woes against lefties comes pre-2014.
“I think at times it’s good for him,” Francona said of having Chisenhall face lefties. “I also think there’s probably certain styles of left-handers that he actually has really good swings against. And I think when he’s swinging the bat well, it probably doesn’t matter as much.”
With his showing on Wednesday, Chisenhall is now batting .385 (5-for-13) against southpaws this year. Dating back to 2014, he has hit .283 (51-for-180) against left-handers. From 2011-13, Chisenhall hit .194 vs. lefties. Part of it is experience. Part of it is Francona picking his spots wisely to expose Lonnie to left-handers.
“I think my quality of at-bat has [improved],” Chisenhall said. “I’m not even sure what the splits are, so I don’t want to comment. I know I hit well against lefties one year, at least, maybe two. The splits are what the splits are, but I feel like my quality of at-bats and approach are much better against lefties.”
THIRD: Bauer walked away with a n0-decision after giving up three runs on four hits over seven innings. It wasn’t an incredible outing, but it was an effective one for Cleveland. It was also a solid showing, considering the right-hander gave up an .833 opponents’ OPS over his past three starts combined.
“I thought I threw the ball well again,” Bauer said.
The bullpen also was solid, with the exception of a brief lapse by Allen. The closer gave up a bloop single and then induced a pair of ground balls, so it’s not like he got beat around. What killed Allen was the fact that he issued a leadoff walk to Mitch Moreland. That’s the cardinal sin of closing, and it came back to bite him on Wednesday.
HOME: Mike Napoli launched a two-run home run in the first inning, marking his 12th shot of the season. What stood out about the shot, though, was the circumstances. Remember back on Monday, when season-ticker holder Kat Heintzelman came with a sign asking for “a hug and a homer” from Napoli? Heintzelman was on the eve of starting chemotherapy, and Napoli obliged with a pregame hug. He then hit a home run in that game. Well, on Wednesday night, Kat got to meet Napoli before the game and then she went to her seats (with her chemotherapy equipment) to watch Cleveland take on Texas. And, of course, Napoli homered again. What a story. Check Indians.com later for more.
Stay tuned for more…
Following Tuesday’s loss to the Rangers, Indians outfielder Marlon Byrd began cleaning out his locker inside the home clubhouse. Unsure of what was going on, bench coach Brad Mills alerted manager Terry Francona of the situation.
Francona called Byrd after they left the stadium, but the veteran outfielder said he would explain what was going on before Wednesday’s game. As it turned out, Byrd was hit with a 162-game suspension from Major League Baseball for testing positive for the growth hormone secretagogue Ipamorelin, a banned substance under the Joint Drug and Prevention Program.
With Byrd off the roster, and possibly done in baseball, the Indians made a few roster moves prior to Wednesday’s game. Outfielder Tyler Naquin is back from Triple-A Columbus, along with lefty reliever Tom Gorzelanny. Right-hander Shawn Armstrong was optioned to Triple-A to clear a spot on the active roster.
Here is the full transcript of the press conferences about the Byrd situation:
Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti
Q: How disappointing was it to get this news?
CA: “It’s disappointing. Any time you lose a player who is contributing to your team, or is expected to contribute to your team in a meaningful way, it’s disappointing. But, our responsibility now is to deal with that reality and give other guys opportunities to contribute and step forward and contribute and pick up the slack with it.”
Q: When did you find out?
CA: “So, last night, Marlon packed up his locker and started putting some of his things together. So, after the game, Tito called Marlon just to check in on what was going on. Marlon said he had some things going on and he wanted to talk to Tito today, so he and Tito met this morning and then Marlon shared the news with Tito at that point.”
Q: Do you believe Byrd’s explanation?
CA: “It’s impossible for us to know, honestly. There’s really only one person who knows what transpired and, in this case, that’s Marlon. I think our job is to deal with the reality and, for us, that’s the impact it has on our team and our organization, which is: Marlon is not going to be playing for us for the balance of this year. So, how do we move forward without him?
Q: So, how do you move forward without him?
CA: “Right now we recalled Tyler Naquin for today. So Tyler, who was up earlier in the year and he was contributing to the team when he was up here and, when Lonnie came back, he went down to the Triple-A and continued to make progress down there. He’ll get another opportunity up here, along with the other guys who are already on the roster.”
Q: Will you look for outfield help outside the organization?
CA: “That’s something that we’ll take some time to determine. The first thing we’ll do is give the guys that are here the opportunity. And then, part of our responsibly, not only in this instance but just generally, is to continue to look for options that would make our team better. This creates another potential opportunity in our outfield to do that, but I
don’t think it changes our approach considerably for how we would normally operate. I think we spend the balance of the year looking for ways to improve as a team and as an organization, and we’ll continue to do that.”
Q: Did his past suspension create any hesitancy in signing him?
CA: “We spent a lot of time working through that. It had been three years at that point since he had the positive test. And he had been tested a lot of times — 2013, 2014 and ’15. We did considerable work and due diligence on him as a teammate and a professional, and ultimately felt that it was worth the risk. To Marlon’s credit, he actually came in and fit in very well with our team, got a long with the players, made a positive impact on the field and in the clubhouse. Obviously, this is an unfortunate [situation]. So, that’s why this was especially unfortunate to learn of the suspension.”
Q: What’s the latest on Michael Brantley?
CA: “Just that he’s continuing to progress with his hitting progression. He took more swings off the tee yesterday and felt it went well. Hopefully, he continues to progress. But I think, as Tito said, we want him to not only come back healthy, but strong and ready to contribute for the balance of the season. So, this won’t have any impact on Michael’s timetable. We’ll look at Michael being ready whenever he’s ready to come back and contribute.”
Q: Do you think the Byrd news will have a negative impact on the clubhouse?
CA: “I hope not. I think we have a really professional group of guys that have learned how to handle adversity over the course of the last few years. Adversity comes in a variety of different forms. This is just one other opportunity to come together as a team and overcome it.”
Q: Was this news especially tough given the number of issues in the outfield already?
CA: “Yeah, I think with what’s transpired with our outfield, even going back to Spring Training and losing Abe, and Lonnie was out for a while, and Michael’s been out for a while. So, that’s been probably the area of our team where we’ve had the most turnover. So, hopefully, we can get a little bit more continuity now moving forward and in a few weeks hopefully get Michael back.”
Q: How important is it to make sure Brantley doesn’t push himself harder now?
CA: “We will talk about that explicitly with Michael. I think we are all of the same mindset in making sure that we go through his rehab in a very thoughtful and judicious way to make sure that, when he comes back again, he’s not only healthy, but strong and ready to contribute for the balance of the season.”
Q: Do you have to pay Byrd’s salary?
CA: “No. He receives Major League service, but not salary. … We paid him up through yesterday.”
Q: Did you or Francona address the team?
CA: “Marlon addressed the team a little while ago. And Tito was in there when Marlon addressed the team. I talked with Marlon before he visited with the team.”
Q: What did Byrd say to you?
CA: “I’ll keep that conversation confidential. I think it’s best probably left between the two of us. But, he talked a little bit about his experience, what led him to this point, talked about some things about the organization and the team. But, I’m not sure it’s productive to get into those details.”
Q: Do you still feel good about giving him the opportunity to come here?
CA: “I do. I think when you look back, he made a positive contribution to the team. Obviously, we didn’t have the information that we’re now sitting with here today. As I said earlier, he was a positive and contributing member to our team both on the field and in the clubhouse.”
Q: Do you know anything about the substance found in the positive test?
CA: “I don’t, no. Other than it’s a metabolite of a performance-enhancing drug. That’s about the extent of what I know.”
Indians manager Terry Francona
Q: How did your conversation go with Byrd?
TF: “I knew something last night was going on, because Millsy had called me and said, ‘Hey, Marlon’s packing up some of his stuff.’ Marlon lives in my building, so I just called and checked on him. He said, ‘I need to talk to you.’ I said, ‘What floor are you on?’ He said, ‘No, I need to talk to you. I’ll talk to you in the morning.’ So, we met this morning and he told me. He just basically told me and walked me through it and everything. So, I immediately called Chris and we got the ball rolling on, one, trying to digest all of that, also knowing that we need to get a player here. So, it’s been kind of an unsettling day.”
Q: What’s the level of disappointment, having also gone through this with Almonte?
TF: “It doesn’t have to be a couple. One’s enough. You’re balancing people make mistakes, and Marlon came in and talked to his teammates and the coaches and stood up in front of everybody and took responsibility and apologized. And also, basically, he told the guys that his career is over and this is not how he wanted it to end. I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of criticism of the situation, but it doesn’t take away that we care about him. We care about our team, but we also care about the individuals. So, that hurts. It feels like we got kicked in the stomach a little bit.”
Q: Is there any regret over signing Byrd?
TF: “I mean, I wish today wouldn’t have happened. But, I’m not sure [how you can say that]. Every time something goes wrong, I don’t know that you can [say that]. Marlon’s been a good teammate and he’s a good kid. Provided, he was playing pretty well. I’m not
sure how you can always go back and say [that]. That’s impossible, first of all.”
Q: How did the team take the news?
TF: “After he talked to everybody, I said a couple things to our team and then I left them alone to have some time with him. I thought that was probably the right thing to do.”
Q: You didn’t know until today?
TF: “I guess the way that the system is in place is you’re not allowed to share that stuff. It’s the same thing we had to do with Abe. He wasn’t hiding stuff from us. He was just following instructions.”
Q: What does the outfield situation look like now?
TF: “We called up Naquin today. A little bit all season, whether it’s righties or lefties, at times we’ve had a position where we didn’t have the platoon advantage you might want. In the near future, that could be the case. It actually could help. It could create some spots for Lonnie to face lefties, which could help him. Michael Martinez might get to play a little bit. We’ll see. I don’t have all the answers to that because this is still pretty fresh. We’re just trying to get organized for the day. There’s a lot going on. Gorzelanny getting here. We talked to Armstrong.”
Q: Do you expect Antonetti to look for outfield help outside the organization?
TF: “I don’t know. On top of that, they had meetings today for the Draft. It was a busy day all around. My first thought today was Marlon, not the other things.”
Q: Can you walk through the decision to add Gorzelanny?
TF: “We wanted to protect our bullpen last night. We had intended to [call up] Gorzelanny, but he threw two innings, so there was no reason to get him here last night. He couldn’t pitch. So, we waited a day. That was the reasoning behind it. Gorzelanny had an out [clause]. I don’t feel like we saw him at his best this spring. He’s throwing the ball pretty well right now. It’s a good time to see if he can be the guy who can go ahead, and we can put in that situation.”
Some notes and quotes from Sunday’s 6-4 loss to Baltimore.
FIRST: Every pitcher who is fortunate enough to reach the Major Leagues learns a valuable lesson. Three starts into his big league career, Mike Clevinger has received that lesson loud and clear from the hitters he has faced.
“It’s just how easily a mistake is capitalized on,” Clevinger said.
A pitcher with the stuff that Clevinger has can get away with slight missteps in the Minors. In The Show, the batters are paid good money to exploit those same missteps. Through his first three outings in the big leagues, Clevinger has displayed the makings of a talented pitcher, but also the youthfulness of a rookie getting his first taste.
With his latest effort, which consisted of 89 pitches in four innings, Clevinger saw his season ERA climb to 8.79 through 14.1 innings.
“I don’t think these three starts are going to define who he is in his Major League career,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I think he’s going to do some really good things. Like a lot of inexperienced pitchers, players, you’re kind of learning on the run right now. I think when you make a mistake here, you pay for it more.”
At 25 years old, Clevinger isn’t exactly a young pup, but he is low on mileage thanks to Tommy John surgery a few years back. He is also still only a couple years into the mechanical overhaul that he went through after being acquired by Cleveland in 2014. it would be ill-advised to draw any sweeping conclusions from his three outings to date.
Think back to Corey Kluber. Through his Age-26 season, the righty had a 5.35 ERA and only 15 big league appearances under his belt. Or, think back to Carlos Carrasco. He went 10-15 with a 4.93 ERA before his Age-25 season, which he actually missed due to Tommy John. More often than not, it takes time for pitchers to learn, adjust and develop into big league starters.
“There’s no part of me that doesn’t think I belong,” Clevinger said. “That’s not there. It’s consistency and finding that even keel.”
Clevinger looked to have found that after the three-run double he gave up to Mark Trumbo in the first inning. Following that hit, Baltimore went 2-for-12 against the right-hander the rest of the way. In the second, Clevinger ended the inning with a nice 3-2 slider to Manny Machado, who swung through the ninth pitch of the at-bat for a strikeout.
“It finally felt like I was pitching instead of throwing,” Clevinger said. “It kind of felt like I was throwing at the beginning and I was out of my mechanics. I wasn’t there mentally, it didn’t feel like, until I got into the second and started finding my groove.”
SECOND: As alluded to above, a key moment in this one arrived in the first inning, when Clevinger squared off against Trumbo with the bases loaded and one out.
Clevinger reached this encounter after issuing a leadoff walk to Adam Jones, allowing a one-out single to Machado and then walking Chris Davis. After falling behind with a first-pitch changeup in the dirt, the rookie pitcher stuck with fastballs the rest of the way against Trumbo.
As you can see, the seventh pitch was over the middle and slightly up. That’s the ol’ wheelhouse, and Trumbo licked his chops and sent the pitch rocketing to the big green wall in left at a speed of 116 mph off the bat. It was damage enough to score three runs for the Orioles.
“With the way my fastball command was in the first inning,” Clevinger said, “it was hit or miss with where that was going to go. I was trying to throw a fastball away. Usually, when I have my command going, I might not have even gone to … two fastballs in a row 3-2 to him right there. But, I kind of cornered myself into throwing that pitch either way and I left it up and he capitalized.”
THIRD: After Clevinger was pulled from the contest, reliever Dan Otero took over on the hill and gave the Tribe a terrific effort. The righty faced seven batters, retiring six to spin a pair of shutout innings that halted Baltimore’s offense in its tracks.
“Oh man,” Francona said. “At the time, that completely gave us a chance to win the game. He calmed the game down for us. We didn’t win, but it was exactly what we needed. We needed to slow them down, give ourselves a chance.”
Down 4-0, the Indians fought back into a tie thanks to a trio of home runs.
Carlos Santana led off the fourth with a blast to right field. Statcast measured it at 99.5 mph off the bat and gave it a projected distance of 402 feet. Mike Napoli one-upped him with a two-run shot later in the fourth. That one had a 101.4 exit velo and flew 407 feet. Napoli’s blast came off Chris Tillman’s knuckle-curve.
Not to be out-done, Jason Kipnis came through with a shot of his own in the sixth. His was 102.6 mph off the lumber and sailed 408 feet out to right field.
HOME: This defeat, however, was defined by missed chances in the later innings.
In the ninth, Marlon Byrd and Rajai Davis came through with consecutive singles to get things started against closer Zach Britton. Britton then got Santana to ground out before fanning Kipnis and Francisco Lindor to end the game.
The biggest at-bat of the afternoon came in the eighth, though.
With one out and runners on first and second, Orioles reliever Darren O’Day elected to intentionally walk Jose Ramirez. Not only did this set up a potential double play, but it helped Baltimore avoid facing one of the Tribe’s best clutch hitters this season (which I wrote about pregame).
That move prompted Francona to turn to Lonnie Chisenhall as a pinch-hitter for Juan Uribe. SAMPLE SIZE ALERT! on all of this, but… Chisenhall headed to the plate with one career homer off O’Day, plus a .375 average with RISP/less than two outs and a .308 average with RISP this season.
Chisenhall then engaged in a nine-pitch battle with O’Day.
“Chisenhall’s had some luck against him,” Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said. “I like Darren against anyone, but it was cat and mouse.”
Only twice in the at-bat did O’Day use his slider. The first time — on the fourth pitch — it was inside and Chisenhall fought it off during a series of six straight foul balls. For the most part, O’Day also stayed elevated and inside, with the exception of his third pitch — a low sinker that Chisenhall fouled off, too.
Some of the fouled pitches were out of the strike zone, but as Chisenhall put it: “He kept pounding me in, pounding me in, close enough [that] I couldn’t take it. I kept fouling it off.”
Finally, following a run of four straight fastballs, O’Day went back to the slider on his ninth pitch. It ventured farther outside than any of the previous eight pitches, and the offspeed offering just locked Chisenhall up. The Tribe outfielder began walking back to the dugout immediately. He knew it was strike three.
“He had a really good at-bat,” Francona said. “O’Day kept elevating, elevating, elevating fastballs. And then, he finally threw a breaking ball that froze him.”
“I know it caught enough of the plate,” Chisenhall said. “I was frustrated with myself. It was the kind of a pitch I like to hit off of guys like that. Even after throwing five or six in like that, he just got me. It’s a real tough at-bat. … Unfortunately, I couldn’t pull the trigger on that last one. It was frustrating.”
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Some notes and quotes from Saturday’s 11-4 win over Baltimore.
FIRST: What were you doing 1,061 days ago?
On July 2, 2013, the Indians were coming off a fifth straight win and they moved into sole possession of first place in the American League Central. Perhaps you, loyal Tribe fan, thought Cleveland would remain their for a while. Well…
… that brings us to today.
With their win over the Orioles — Cleveland’s ninth in the past 13 games — the Indians moved back into sole possession of first in the AL Central. It’s the first time the Tribe can claim as much since that date three years ago. This is the first time the Indians have been in first at all since they were 1-0 to start the 2014 campaign.
What is remarkable about this run to the top of the division is that Cleveland has accomplished it without Carlos Carrasco and Michael Brantley for the bulk of this season.
“There’s people filling in,” Indians first baseman Mike Napoli said. “They’re doing a good job of coming up here and competing and doing what they can. It’s going to take all of us to do this. We can’t just have individuals out there on their own playing. I think we’ve done a good job of sticking together and getting what pitchers have been giving us, and passing it on to the next guy.
“It’s something that we’re going to have to continue to do to become more of a group and move forward.”
SECOND: During Cleveland’s recent trip to Boston, I caught up with Red Sox third-base coach Brian Butterfield. Butter is one of the best third-base coaches and infield instructors in the game, and he loves him some Mike Napoli.
When Napoli played for Boston, Butterfield would instruct younger players in camp to take their cues from the first baseman. Butter is incredibly detail-oriented and that characteristic is one reason he enjoyed having Napoli so much.
“Every little thing in the game is important to him,” Butterfield said. “People look at him and they see a big strong guy that has power and they think: ‘OK, one-dimensional.’ He’s one of the best baserunners in the league. He’s very detailed. If he had to drop down sacrifice bunts, he would do that for you. If he was asked to hit and run, he would do that for you.
“When you run your team defense, he knows where everybody is supposed to be, especially his position. If his toes need to be on the line, they’re going to be exactly on the line. He’s not going to fall an inch short.
“I love everything about him. The thing that makes him such a great baserunner is he cares about it. He takes great pride in it and he’s absolutely fearless.”
The baserunning element came into play on Saturday.
Any avid Tribe fan reading this should recall that Ubaldo Jimenez is not great at holding baserunners. It goes without saying that opposing teams — especially the pitcher’s former team — know this about the Big U. Cleveland exploited it, too, stealing four of five bases Saturday against the lanky right-hander.
In the Tribe’s four-run first, Napoli led the charge on a key double steal.
Guess what he noticed about Jimenez?
“He was not really paying too much attention,” Napoli said. “He looked home and would go. So, as soon as he turned his head, I just went.”
Napoli beat the throw from catcher Matt Wieters to third base, and Jose Ramirez followed suit behind him at second. Two batters later, Yan Gomes brought them both home with an single to right field.
“Everyone wants to talk about someone has to be fast to be a good baserunner,” Napoli said. “But, it takes instincts. It takes thinking ahead and having a plan. If a guy is going to give you a base, go and take it. That’s how I was brought up. I think we do a good job here.”
THIRD: Running the bases was not only critical in Saturday’s win, it’s been a strength of Cleveland’s all season long.
With Saturday’s performance, the Indians increased their team baserunning rating to 8.8, which ranks first in the American League. Heading into Saturday, Cleveland also ranked first with an extra-base taken rate of 52 percent. The Tribe’s 37 steals (and 80.4 percent success rate) both rank second in the AL.
“It’s one of the things I’m most proud of with our guys,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “It’s something we talked about the first day of Spring Training. … I think the way you run the bases, it obviously helps in a number of ways during the game. But, I think guys that run the bases correctly, regardless of whether they got hits or not, are the same guys that back up bases.
“It goes a long way towards how you’re going to play the game. I think our guys have done a really good job in that area.”
HOME: The Indians had the upper hand on Saturday when the lineup cards were exchanged. First of all, the struggling Jimenez was on the mound. Second, Pedro Alvarez was manning third base. Predictably, Jimenez labored (1.2 innings) and Alvarez made two of Baltimore’s four errors, paving the way for three runs.
That said, Cleveland did what good teams do: It took advantage on a day things were stacked up in its favor. Eight players scored at least one run. Five knocked in at least one. Four players had multi-hit games. There were not many huge hits, but rather a collection of well-timed ones for a strong all-around offensive showing.
“How many times do you see a guy where you let him off the hook,” Francona said, “and then they settle into the game? We did a good job of not allowing that to happen. It made for a better game for us, because you could see [the Orioles] coming.”
It was more than sufficient for Danny Salazar, who gave the Indians a solid outing, in which he allowed two runs on six hits in six innings. The righty wasn’t at his best, but the early lead played in his favor.
“That was great,” Salazar said of the early cushion. “[That] gives you a little more confidence to go out there and to work really strong so they can’t come back. I think that’s big. I think that makes the game a little bit easier for us.”
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