Covering the Bases: Game 39

LindorSliderPicSome notes and quotes from Friday’s 4-2 win over the Red Sox.

FIRST: Francisco Lindor brought his traveling magic show to Fenway Park on Friday night.

In the first inning, Red Sox fans got to see him not only make a barehanded grab-and-throw for an out, but also pluck a would-be bloop single out of thin air for a long running catch. They saw Lindor draw two walks and collect two singles. They watched as he stole second base and skipped to third on the play due to a throwing error by the catcher.

And, they saw this…

LindorSlider

Yes, Lindor pulled off the ol’ swim-move slide once again. But, rather than stick to doing that move at second base, the shortstop tried it out at the plate. He slid, rolled, maneuvered and then jumped and yelled in celebration.

We first saw this particular play from Lindor on Sept. 1 in Toronto last season:

LindorTORslide

Lindor has done it a handful of times since. He actually tried the same move in the third inning on Wednesday in Cincinnati. On a single to center, the shortstop tried for a double, did the swim-move slide at second base and looked safe on the replays. He was called out on that one, though, and Lindor said he thinks he did pop off the bag for a split second during the tag.

On Friday night, the play came about in the third inning, when Lindor was on third and Jose Ramirez was at the plate. Ramirez skied a pitch to center, where Boston’s Jackie Bradley Jr. made the catch. He came up firing and Lindor tagged and sprinted for home.

Catcher Christian Vazquez received the ball on a one-hopper from Bradley, who uncorked an incredibly strong and accurate throw. Vazquez was set up in foul ground, though, so Lindor moved to the inside of the plate and decided to go in head first. Sliding that way into home isn’t typically advised, but Lindor didn’t feel like he’d be in harm’s way.

“I didn’t think he was going to get to me,” Lindor said. “I didn’t think it was going to be that close. I knew the tag was going to be there, but I didn’t know his body was going to get there. … I saw the video and I’m glad I took my hand out of there.”

Indians manager Terry Francona was fine with Lindor’s approach, too.

“If he was diving into the catcher, that’s one thing,” said the manager. “But, he sees where the catcher is. It’s really like going into second. It’s not like there’s going to be contact.”

And, there wasn’t. Lindor rolled onto his side, pulled his right arm away from the tag and touched the plate with his left hand as he slid through.

“I was very, very pumped, as you saw,” Lindor said. “As soon as I hit the ground, all I thought was try to get that right hand up. I screamed, ‘Safe!’ And, as soon as I saw [the umpire] moving his hands and saying safe, I just went crazy.”

Lindor has been on a tear of late for the Tribe, too.

Since going 0-for-7 against Houston on May 11, Lindor has turned in a .486/.538/.657 slash line in eight games for Cleveland. In that time period, he has 17 hits, including one homer and three doubles. He has six RBIs, eight runs, four walks and three steals. Lindor has a multi-hit game in seven of those eight games, including the past five in a row.

“I’m just loading early and letting my eyes do the work,” Lindor said. “I let my eyes tell me what I want to do, and then let the hands release and whatever happens after that, it happens. Just load early, see the ball, let it travel and just release the barrel.”

Added Francona: “Since last June, he’s been pretty good. Sometimes, players kind of get through a period where maybe they’re getting a little tired and then get their second wind. I think the timing is really good. He looks like he’s got another step back where he’s got some life in his legs, which is good.”

SECOND: Corey Kluber was solid in this one for the Tribe, but the encouraging element to the outing was the fact that he locked in once he got a lead.

Kluber allowed one run in the first and then gave up a leadoff homer to Bradley in the second, spotting Boston a quick 2-0 lead. Cleveland’s offense then responded with a four-run showing in the third and the Indians starter made the lead stick. After Bradley’s blast, Boston went just 2-for-20 with 10 outs via grounders and six strikeouts.

“When we scored,” Francona said, “he went out there and really started getting after it. He used his changeup. He pitched in. That was good to see. That’s what your ace is supposed to do, but it’s easier said than done. That’s a heck of a lineup and he really did a good job.”

One at-bat in particular stood out to me in this one.

In the fifth inning, the Red Sox had two outs, a runner on second and David Ortiz at the plate. Kluber walked Big Papi in their first meeting and struck him out in the next confrontation.

For this third matchup, Kluber said: “The game plan for that at-bat was really to kind of make him go out of the zone, if we were going to get him to swing. Otherwise, be just patient and, if he took his base, we’ll take our chances with the next guy.”

Kluber’s first pitch was a 92-mph cutter low and in the dirt for a ball.

Papi1

For the 1-0 offering, Kluber went to his sinker. Papi fouled off the 94-mph away pitch.

Papi2

Now 1-1, Kluber returned to the cutter (90 mph this time) middle-in. Ortiz pulled it foul.

Papi3

Said Kluber: “Once you get to two strikes, we got him with a pitch in the pitch before that [fourth pitch], and we were just trying to expand in again.”

Catcher Yan Gomes moved into a higher crouch and positioned his glove well above the strike zone and inside. Kluber sent a 94-mph fastball high and tight with precision. Ortiz swung through the pitch for an inning-ending strikeout.

Papi4

“On the 1-1 pitch, he threw a good fastball in that David pulled foul,” Francona said. “And I just think making him aware that you will come in there gives you a better chance. I’m not saying that you’re going to get him out, but it gives you a better chance.

“And then he elevated by design. I just thought he made some really good pitches to some really good hitters.”

THIRD: It’s been well-documented that Jason Kipnis plays well in his hometown of Chicago, but the second baseman has also done exceptionally well in his career at Fenway Park.

In Friday’s win, Kipnis belted a three-run homer in the third inning to put the Indians ahead for good, and ended the day 2-for-5. His .329 average at Fenway is his second-best mark among American League stadiums. His .603 slugging percentage here is his best showing in AL parks. With Friday’s effort, his Fenway OPS is up to .983, too.

More important is the fact that Kipnis has — to this point — been more consistent than streaky for the Tribe. He hit .274 (.760 OPS) in April and is now batting .297 (.827 OPS) in May. He also has six homers after having nine in all of last season.

“I might beat nine,” Kipnis quipped. “I put in the work in the offseason and got stronger. I’ve got my swing going right now. I’m more consistent. I don’t think you’re seeing those cold spells and hot streaks that I had in the past, where April would be .180 and May would be .420. Hopefully, lets hover around .300 the whole year.

“I’ve got a good approach. Good things are happening right now. I’m going to try not to change too much.”

HOME: An odd situation came up in the fourth inning on Friday night. Boston righty Clay Buchholz sent a 1-2 changeup inside to Rajai Davis, whose right fingers were hit by the pitch as he tried to check his swing. Davis went to take his base, but was ruled out via strikeout by the umpires.

The reasoning? The umpires deemed that Davis swung, so it’s a strike, even though he was hit by the pitch.

“I committed to swing. Therefore, it was a strikeout,” Davis said. “I thought I checked it up. I think it’s a call that can go either way. It was a tough break. Fortunately for me, my finger is fine.”

Before the strikeout call, Francona met with all four umpires for a lengthy on-field discussion. The manager said he was talking to crew-chief Jim Joyce about what, if anything, could be challenged in such a scenario.

“Jimmy Joyce was explaining to me the whole thing,” Francona said, “and I didn’t have a problem with his explanation at all, actually. I was just trying to ask him, and ask them, what my options were if the ball had hit the bat. That’s where we just had a little bit of confusion.

“I don’t think the ball did anyway, but there was just some confusion in either the way I was understanding it, or the way they were explaining it. But I had no issue with Jimmy Joyce, the way he explained it.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 38

SantanaSome notes and quotes from Thursday’s 7-2 win over the Reds.

FIRST: Well, that was something.

I’d wager that five days ago you, loyal Indians fan, were worried about Cleveland’s offense. After four games against the Reds, your concerns should be lessened by at least a modest margin. Yes, Cincinnati’s pitching staff is in shambles, and its bullpen is historically bad at the moment, but the Tribe, as good teams should do, took full advantage.

“The guys are feeding off each other,” Indians outfielder Rajai Davis said. “One guy gets a hit and it’s, ‘Oh, let me do that.'”

Cleveland did that a lot over the past four days. On Monday, the Indians scored 15 runs. On Tuesday, it was 13. Wednesday saw eight more cross the plate. Thursday? Seven. That’s 43 runs for the Indians to 16 runs for the Reds. The Tribe collected 56 hits, including 20 extra-base hits, and turned in a .346/.423/.556 slash line.

So, go celebrate, Cleveland. The Indians have won the 2016 Ohio Cup!

“We’ve been playing really, really exceptional,” Davis said. “Our offense has been dynamic. A lot of guys are hitting. A lot of guys hitting extra-base hits. We’re just very, very competitive right now.”

Cincinnati’s troubles, combined with Cleveland’s hot streak, had quite the impact on the Indians’ overall offensive showing this season.

Heading into this four-game, home-and-home series, Cleveland was sporting a .247/.307/.388 slash line. Now? It looks like .259/.322/.408. That team batting average and on-base percentage each ranked fourth in the American League, as of this writing. The Indians’ 186 runs scored were tied for the second-most runs in the AL.

“We seem to get contributions all over the place,” Indians manager Terry Francona said, “which I think is kind of how we have to be. We’ve got to keep the line moving and play like that. We did OK, but now we’ll move quickly to the next team, because we’ve got a good team to play tomorrow. So, we’ll be ready to do that.”

SECOND: The Ohio Cup would not be complete with the MOP. That would be the series’ Most Outstanding Player, which is voted upon by media members from the Reds and Indians each year.

[Handed envelope]

And Most Outstanding Player for the 2016 Ohio Cup goes to…

[Opens envelope]

… Rajai Davis!

Over the past four games, all Davis did was reach base 15 times in 22 plate appearances. He reached four times on Monday, five times on Tuesday, belted a pair of homers Wednesday and then doubled twice Thursday. The outfielder had two steals, five extra-base hits, six walks, nine RBIs and 10 runs scored.

After his day off Sunday, Davis said he honed in on a certain mind-set.

“I think it’s more of a one-on-one battle,” he said. “Just me against the pitcher. May the best man win.”

In four games, Davis raised his season OPS to .763 from .578. His on-base percentage climbed to .323 from .248 in that span. Francisco Lindor (11-for-21) also had a great series, but Davis deserved to be named the MOP.

Davis joins an esteemed list of past MOPs that includes Jason Kipnis (2015), Kristopher Negron (2014), Asdrubal Cabrera (2011), Shin-Soo Choo (2010), Ramon Hernandez (2009) and Adam Dunn (2008). No, I don’t know why the voting stopped from ’12-13. I do know that the MOP used to come with a little trophy. If I remember correctly, it used to plug in and light up, too.

“That’s exactly what I wanted,” quipped Davis.

THIRD: With no designated hitter in the National League setting, Francona is forced to choose between Mike Napoli or Carlos Santana for first base. Napoli got the nod on Wednesday and Santana was picked for Thursday.

Tito certainly made the right call.

“Santana, he went ahead and hit two bombs today,” Davis said. “That’s stepping it up.”

Back in the cleanup spot, Santana launched a two-run home run in each of the fourth and fifth innings. The first one spotted Cleveland a 2-0 lead and the next one punctuated a four-run outburst to give the team a 6-2 advantage.

“I feel comfortable right now and I’m working hard,” Santana said. “I was trying to come back and help my team. Right now, I feel comfortable. I understand it’s a long season, so I have to keep it up.”

On April 19, Santana’s season line was at its low point: .154 average and .594 OPS. In the next 25 games, the switch-hitter posted a .261 average and an .818 OPS, while bouncing between leading off and hitting in the middle. That showing came before his multi-homer outburst on Thursday, when he also drew a walk.

“We just want him to hit wherever he is [in the lineup],” Francona said. “Tonight, he stayed nice and short. Hopefully, he can continue that, because if he starts doing that, man, it’s just such a connector in our lineup wherever he’s at.”

HOME: Am I burying the lede tonight, or what?

You’ve read 800 words and I haven’t even mentioned the best part of tonight’s win for the Indians. Josh Tomlin — statistically one of the best hitters in Indians history (more on that in a second) — delivered two (!) hits for Cleveland in the victory. He singled. He doubled. He scored a run.

“It’s fun to be a part of the whole game,” Tomlin said with a smirk.

Tomlin became the first Cleveland pitcher to have two hits, including a double, in a game since Steve Dunning did so against Milwaukee on Sept. 6, 1972. Do you know who the last Indians pitcher was to get two hits in a game? No? Well, don’t feel bad, Tomlin didn’t know, either.

“I would guess either Kluber or Sabathia,” Tomlin said.

Nope. It was JOSH TOMLIN, back on June 28, 2011, against Arizona.

“Oh, really?” Tomlin said with a laugh. “Cool.”

Here are the greatest hitters in Indians’ history (min. 10 at-bats):

  1. Matt Carson, .636 average (11 at-bats)
  2. Josh Tomlin, .600 average (10 at-bats)
  3. Sam Horn, .455 average (33 at-bats)

I mean, Shoeless Joe Jackson is 10th on that list. Tris Speaker is 15th. Nap Lajoie? Try 24th. They’ve got nothing on Joltin’ Josh Tomlin.

The only problem now is that Cleveland is traveling to Boston for a weekend series. That means the DH is back in play for the Tribe. Francona was asked if Tomlin will be considered for that job on Friday.

“He will probably want to, but no,” the manager said with a laugh.

Tomlin agreed that a day off was a god idea.

“My legs are shot,” he said.

Oh, and Tomlin also logged 7.2 innings, in which he struck out seven, scattered five hits, issued one walk and held the Reds to two runs. He’s 6-0 on the season for the Indians. That makes him the first Tribe starter to begin a season with a 6-0 ledger since Cliff Lee did it in 2008.

“He’s easy to pull for,” Francona said. “He’s one of the better teammates I’ve ever seen. He’ll do anything to try to help you win. That’s all he cares about is trying to win. … We’re pretty fortunate because early on, he’s giving us a big lift coming out of the gate.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 37

ClevingerSome notes and quotes from Wednesday’s 8-7, 12-inning win.

FIRST: Before Wednesday’s game began, Indians rookie Mike Clevinger began heading out to the bullpen to get warmed up for his Major League debut. The pitcher started to walk to the ‘pen behind the center-field wall.

There was only one problem: That’s Cincinnati’s bullpen.

“He was going to the wrong bullpen,” Indians manager Terry Francona said with a smile. “Nap kind of grabbed him. He was pretty good. He goes, ‘I was just checking it out.'”

During his debut, if Clevinger was feeling any rookie jitters, the right-hander didn’t display it on the mound. In fact, following a leadoff single by Zack Cozart in the first inning, Clevinger held the Reds to a 2-for-17 showing through five innings.

“He looked like it was almost business as usual,” Francona said. “I’m sure on the inside it probably wasn’t.”

Clevinger confirmed as much.

“I felt the 30 minutes of puking of nerves got me really composed for when I went back out there,” quipped the pitcher. “That calmed me down.”

Clevinger had a large (and loud) cheering section behind the visitors’ dugout at Great American Ball Park for his big league debut. His parents, and a pair of step-parents, were on hand, along with Clevinger’s girlfriend and their newborn daughter. Both of his brothers were also there, alongside even more relatives.

“It was fun,” Clevinger said. “It was definitely something that’s indescribable. I won’t forget it.”

Over 5.1 innings, Clevinger was charged with four runs on five hits, and he ended with five strikeouts and one walk. He threw mostly four-seamers (45), but mixed in a changeup, slider, curve and cutter. The righty generated a dozen swings and misses, averaged 93.7 mph with his four-seamer and topped out at 96 mph on the day.

Clevinger’s first career strikeout came in the first, when Joey Votto swung through a slider. In the fourth inning, Votto was called out on strikes on a good changeup that started inside, but tailed back over the edge. The veteran eventually got the best of the rook, though, delivering a two-run double to deep center in the sixth.

Clevinger exited with a 4-3 lead in the sixth, but a three-run homer by Eugenio Suarez (off Zach McAllister) later in the inning saddled the rookie with a no-decision. Clevinger also allowed a homer to Jay Bruce in the fourth.

“I thought he was good,” Francona said. “I thought he followed the glove pretty well. I thought he kept his composure real well. I thought his pitches were good. He made a couple mistakes late, but I don’t care if you’re coming up from Triple-A or you’re a [veteran], that’s Major League stuff. And he’s only going to get better with experience.”


SECOND:
After the Indians scored 28 runs on 36 hits in the previous two games against the Reds, Wednesday’s game was mostly the Rajai Davis and Francisco Lindor show.

Davis reached base three times, including launching a pair of home runs. The outfielder belted a solo shot in the third to give Cleveland a 2-0 lead and then came through with a two-run blast in the ninth to tie the game, 7-7. Lindor, who had three hits for the third game in a row, delivered a go-ahead, solo home run in the 12th inning.

RedsIndiansSince getting a day off “to take a deep breath” on Sunday, Davis has gone 7-for-12 with three extra-base hits, five walks, seven RBIs and nine runs scored for Cleveland. That’s the kind of work he used to do against the Indians.

“It’s nice when he’s in our uniform,” Francona said.

In a 72-hour span, Davis has increased his season slash line to .250/.311/.420 from .211/.248/.330. I’d say that deep breath worked out just fine.

“Absolutely,” Davis said. “It’s always nice to step away and just not get in your mind so much and take a break and think about what has made you successful and get back to that focus that helped you to be successful at the start.”

As for Lindor, he’s gone 9-for-17 over the past three games. Through 37 games now, the shortstop is sporting a .325/.376/.437 slash line with 11 extra-base hits, 18 RBIs and 25 runs scored for Cleveland.

Francona was stunned by Lindor’s 12th-inning shot to center.

“That ball, I’ll tell you what,” Francona said, “he hit that ball and that had a little different sound. That was just a rocket. We needed something like that, because there was a lot of frustation.”

THIRD: Davis’ game-tying shot in the ninth inning doesn’t happen without the work one plate appearance earlier by Lonnie Chisenhall.

Facing the left-hander Cingrani, Cleveland’s outfielder worked 10 pitches. He saw eight fastballs and two sliders (Pitch 1 and Pitch 6). He fouled off five pitches, including two with the count full before finally taking the final fastball for ball in and off the plate.

LonnieWalk

“That was impressive,” Davis said. “I was really impressed with him and I had to let him know: ‘Hey, that’s an at-bat right there.’ He’s a tough lefty on lefties. The good thing is he got to see him a day before. It’s not like he hadn’t seen that arm angle. A big, tall guy. Lanky. He has a good fastball.

“He put some good swings and some tough swings on it, just to fight. He just kept battling. That’s all we can ask far, to have guys go up there and battle. That’s what he did.”

HOME: Another play that could go easily overlooked from Wednesday was the highlight-reel running grab made by second baseman Jason Kipnis in the bottom of the 12th inning.

Zack Cozart sent a pitch arcing high beyond first base and down the line in shallow right field. Kipnis sprinted to his left and tracked the fly ball, lunging and falling to the grass after snaring it from the sky.

“It’s one of the best plays I think I’ve ever seen him make,” Francona said. ” Considering the time of the game and where he started and where he ended. That was a great play. That play there, that’s a double. He closed a lot of ground. It’s like he willed himself to catch that ball.”

According to Statcast, Kipnis had a first step time of 0.12 seconds and he hit a top speed of 18.9 mph while on the run. In the process, he covered 81.2 feet with a route efficiency of 97.8 percent. That’s all technical mumbo jumbo for: It was really freakin’ good.

Lindor loved it.

“As soon as it was hit, I’m like, ‘Get it! Get it!'” Lindor said. “I just was watching him have his eyes on it the whole entire time, and the next thing you know he extends his glove and just boom, catches it. It was pretty cool and a game changer, a game changer at that point.”

EXTRAS: While there were a few hiccups (Kyle Crockett, Jeff Manship and McAllister didn’t have banner nights), the Indians’ bullpen played a big role in this win. Joba Chamberlain, Bryan Shaw, Cody Allen and Dan Otero combined for five shutout innings to help pave the way for the comeback and eventual win. After Shaw worked a clean ninth, and Allen retired all six batter he faced between the 10th and 11th, Otero held Cincy in check in the 12th. That meant he notched his first save since 2014.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 36

Cincinnati Reds v Cleveland Indians

Some notes and quotes from Tuesday’s 13-1 rout over the Reds.

FIRST: After Monday’s 15-6 romp over the Reds, I’m sure a lot of you at home were thinking, “Gee, Tribe. Save some runs for tomorrow.” Well, it turns out that Cleveland saved up plenty more for Tuesday, too.

Thirteen more runs. Seventeen more hits. Another rout.

“We did it one through nine. Everyone chipped in,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “Everybody got some hits and took some walks. It allows us to be aggressive on the bases. Good things happen. It’s kind of rare. So you take it and you enjoy it. We will move on quickly, because we got to play them again tomorrow.”

Sticking with what we did here Monday, here’s a look at Tuesday’s production…

Carlos Santana: 2-for-4, 2 R, 2 RBI, 2 BB
Jason Kipnis: 1-for-4, 1 R, 2 RBI, 1 BB
Francisco Lindor: 3-for-6, 2 2B
Mike Napoli: 2-for-4, 1 R, 2 RBI, 1 BB
Jose Ramirez: 1-for-5, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB
Yan Gomes: 1-for-3, 1 R, 1 RBI
Lonnie Chisenhall: 3-for-4, 2 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 2 2B
Marlon Byrd: 1-for-4, 1 R
Rajai Davis: 3-for-3, 4 R, 3 RBI, 2 BB, 1 2B

The Indians have scored 13 or more runs in consecutive games for the first time since May 17-19, 1999, when they did so against the White Sox. This is only the second time since 1937 that Cleveland has had 13-plus runs with 17-plus hits in back-to-back games. The only other occurrence was May 4-5, 1991, against Oakland.

DISCLAIMER: This is where it’s only fair to point out that Cleveland’s production came against the worst pitching staff in baseball. Cincinnati’s 5.56 ERA ranks last in the Majors, and that is ballooned by the highest bullpen ERA (6.46) in the game, too.

That said, Cleveland’s hitters definitely needed a confidence boost and the group is going to enjoy this two-game flourish. Consider this: Cleveland had a .247/.307/.388 through Sunday’s action. Now? Try .260/.323/.403. That’s an OPS jump of .031 points in a span of two games. Not bad at all.

“It’s not just how many hits we got, it’s the way we got them,” Kipnis said. “A lot of walks, getting to the next guy. That’s what we’ve been preaching. A lot of two-strike hits, going the other way. Guys are having good at-bats. You don’t want to see what was going on before, where we got a lot of hits with two outs and no runs to show for it. It’s getting the first guy on and [going] to the next guy.”

SECOND: That brings us to the bottom of the fifth inning…

With one out and runners on the corners, and the Indians already holding a commanding eight-run advantage, Cincinnati handed the ball to reliever Steve Delabar. The righty faced six batters, and walked five of them. Four of those came consecutively with the bases loaded.

Think about that for a second. That’s a grand slam via walks. That’s…

“Unexpected,” Gomes said with a laugh.

Napoli (8.6 BB%, entering Tuesday), Ramirez (6.9 BB%), Gomes (4.4 BB%)and Chisenhall (5.6 BB%) each drew a walk to drive in a run. Kipnis earned the first free pass from Delabar, so the Tribe’s second baseman got to make the entire 360-foot trek around the bases via jog.

“That might have been the easiest run scored that I’ve had,” Kipnis said with a chuckle. “I worked on my leads. I was very professional. I got some stuff done there. Some good crow hops and secondary leads. That doesn’t happen often.”

No, it doesn’t.

Kipnis became the first Indians player to walk around the bases since Lou Klimchock way back on June 25, 1969. That was the last time Cleveland drew four straight walks with the bases loaded. And, following a 47-year wait for that rare feat to occur, Napoli did the same thing a few minutes later!

THIRD: Let’s not forget about Danny Salazar tonight. It’d be easy to do that after another night of overwhelming offense. Here was Salazar’s line vs. Cincy: 7.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R/ER, 1 BB, 8 K, 95 pitches (67 strikes).

“He was good,” Francona said. “He was real good.”

With the exception of some occasional command issues, Salazar has been great to this point this season for the Tribe. He was asked after the win if — after watching Corey Kluber win the Cy Young in ’14 and then seeing Carlos Carrasco’s breakout showing in ’15 — he has felt a drive to take a huge step forward this year.

“Yeah,” Salazar said. “I think this one. And the next one. And the next one after that. I think I’ve been working really hard to be what I am right now. I’m going to keep working.”

Salazar now has a .156 opponents’ average, which is the best mark in the American League and ranks second to only Cubs ace Jake Arrieta in baseball. Salazar’s 31-percent strikeout rate also leads the AL, trailing only Jose Fernandez, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Noah Syndergaard. Only Jose Quintana and Chris Sale have a better ERA than Salazar (1.80) in the AL at the moment. Only David Price has more strikeouts than him in the AL.

Look at that company Salazar is keeping right now.

“He’s a stud. He’s definitely taken the next step forward,” Kipnis said. “He’s pitching like a top-of-the-rotation guy, which he is. He’s not just a thrower anymore. He’s not just a guy coming out, throwing 97. You’re seeing him work really well off of his changeup and his slider and he’s really figuring out what he is as a pitcher. It’s fun to watch.”

That changeup — technically a split-change — has been a huge key to success for Salazar. And, the pitch has gotten better and better in terms of results each season for the hard-throwing right-hander:

SalazarSplit

On Tuesday night, Salazar held the Reds to a 1-for-11 showing with six strikeouts against his split-change. That one was Tucket Barnhart, who doubled off the pitch in the eighth inning. That made Barnhart the first left-handed batter to get a hit off Salazar’s changeup this season.

Francona said the split-change is a critical part of why hitters are having such a tough time against Salazar this season.

“When he’s throwing that for strikes,” said the manager. “He’s having a tough time working ahead at times. That’s probably the one thing he’s still continuing to work on. But, when he does, that changeup is filthy. It’s almost like a forkball. It’s so hard, but it’s got so much deception.”

HOME: A lot of Indians batters have enjoyed strong showings the past two games, but let’s hone in on a pair to finish things off for tonight.

First, Davis. Over the past two games, the outfielder has gone 5-for-7 with four walks, four RBI and six runs scored. In the process, he has seen his season on-base percentage rise from .248 to .302 in a span of 48 hours. On Tuesday, Davis was on base five times.

Davis joined Manny Ramirez (Aug. 7, 1999) and Charlie Jamieson (Sept. 15, 1921) as the only Indians players in team history to have at least two walks, three hits, three RBI and four runs in a single game.

“He will be a guy too that gets hot in spurts,” Francona said on Monday night. “You saw in Spring Training, he will get hits in bunches. And the way he runs the bases, he causes havoc. That will be really welcome.”

Next up: Welcome back, Lonnie Chisenhall.

Chisenhall was away from the team for four days to be with his family, following the death of a close family member. To have that happen in the middle of a season has to be emotionally draining. And, what did Chisenhall do? In his first game back, he notched three hits, including two doubles, and he drew one of the bases-loaded walks.

“We’re so heart-felt about what he’s going through,” Gomes said. “That’s something that we can’t even imagine. We’re just standing behind him any way we can. He’s such a big part of this clubhouse. We’re all here for him and it was really exciting to see him have a good game.”

Chisenhall, who dealt with forearm and wrist issues in the spring, leading to a season-opening stint on the disabled list, began the year in a 2-for-18 skid. In the 12 games since then, though, the outfielder has hit .378/.439/.486 in 41 plate appearances. His season slash jumped to .291/.339/.400 from .255/.296/.333 with Tuesday’s outburst.

“When he starts getting base hits like he did to left field in that one at bat [in the fifth],” Francona said, “hopefully that shows that maybe he’s going to get hot. He has a knack for doing that. Then, he also turned on a ball into right field. I thought that was a real good sign.”

EXTRAS: In the second inning, Gomes sent a pitch rocketing high off the 19-foot wall in left field for a long single. When he reached base, Reds first baseman Joey Votto quipped: “Stipe’s got more pop than you.” That was because UFC champ Stipe Miocic hit a batting-practice home run over the same area before Tuesday’s game. Click on the tweet below to read about his visit, his friendship with Gomes and to see video from his BP session.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 35

Yan Gomes

Some notes and quotes from Monday’s 15-6 win over the Reds.

FIRST: Five days ago, Yan Gomes was mired in one of the worst slumps of his career. The catcher was swinging at pitches he normally doesn’t chase, the power had disappeared and he could not buy a hit to save his life.

“I know I can hit,” Gomes said. “It’s just been one of those things that my confidence has definitely got ahold of me. When you get to look up there and you’re not seeing the numbers you’re really wanting to put up, it definitely gets frustrating.”

One step at a time. Or, one home run at a time, apparently.

Gomes ended an 0-for-20 skid with a home run on Friday night. The catcher then belted another homer on Saturday. Following a day off on Sunday, Gomes did it again. In the sixth inning against the Reds, he launched a three-run shot. Three homers in three games for the first time in his career.

And Gomes’ confidence is surely up a few ticks.

“We need him offensively,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “Like we’ve been saying: He will get hot. Just as cold as he was, he will get just that hot. The good news for us is, even though he’s hitting whatever, he’s got a lot of RBI. So whatever hits he’s
getting, they seem to come up with people on base.”

Gomes had four RBI on Monday night. Three on the long ball and one more on a sacrifice fly in the seventh. Over his past three games, Gomes has gone 4-for-11 at the plate with seven RBI. In his previous 11 games, he was in a 2-for-42 drought with no home runs and just two RBI.

“It’s just a matter of putting in the work before and letting it work out in the game,” Gomes said. “I’ve been a slow starter for the last few years. It comes to a point where you’re trying to be productive in any way you can, and I’ve definitely tried to do something.

“And you’ve just got to know your confidence can’t go away.”

SECOND: This night wasn’t just about Gomes, though.

After falling behind by four runs by the third inning, Cleveland finally hit the gas. The Indians scored four in the third, three in the fourth, five in the sixth and then three between the eighth and ninth. Ten players had at least one hit. Seven had multi-hit games. Five scored at least twice.

This was an overwhelming evening for the lineup.

“I think we needed that,” Gomes said.

No kidding. One game ago, Cleveland went 7-for-16 with two outs, but didn’t score a single run.

Here’s what the Tribe 9 did tonight:

Rajai Davis: 2-for-4, 2 R, 2 BB
Jason Kipnis: 2-for-4, 2 R, 2 RBI, 1 SH
Francisco Lindor: 3-for-5, 2 R, 2 RBI, 1 2B
Mike Napoli: 2-for-3, 1 R, 2 RBI, 2 BB
Carlos Santana: 1-for-3, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 SF
Yan Gomes: 2-for-4, 1 R, 4 RBI, 1 HR, 1 SF
Jose Ramirez: 2-for-4, 2 R, 1 BB, 1 2B
Marlon Byrd: 3-for-5, 3 R, 2 RBI, 1 HR
Juan Uribe: 1-for-5, 1 R

“That was good for a number of reasons,” Francona said. “A lot of guys relaxed a bit. It
was real good. We could always used those kind of games.”

THIRD: The big night for the lineup pushed Cody Anderson’s abbreviated outing to the background. That said, Cleveland has to be weighing what it can do to try to get the big right-hander going again.

Anderson lasted only 4.1 innings and was charged with six runs on nine hits, including a pair of home runs. The starter gave up nine homers in 91.1 innings as a rookie last year. So far this season, 10 homers in 32.2 innings. Anderson’s 2.76 HR/9 rate is currently the second-highest in the Majors, among pitchers with at least 30 innings. Chris Young of the Royals is first (or last, really) in that category with a 3.62 HR/9 (13 HR allowed in 32.1 IP).

Francona pointed out that the park was “playing small,” but it has seemingly played small all season for Anderson. The one thing I will say about tonight’s homers is that the pitches were not terrible. This did seem more like a time when good hitting was more of the cause, rather than extremely bad location.

For example, let’s start with the one-out solo homer that Adam Duvall hit in the second inning. It was an 0-2 fastball that zipped in at 93 mph. This was a case of elevation by design and Duvall sent the high heater out to left field.

DuvallHR

Said Anderson: “A fastball up around the neck. That’s pretty tough to hit out.”

In the third inning, Anderson started Eugenio Suarez off with a 91-mph cutter. It was low and inside, but the Reds third baseman sent it out to center field for a two-run shot.

SuarezHR

“The ballpark was playing awfully small tonight,” Francona said. “The home run to center, I did not think was a home run.”

But, it was. Just as the nine others before it were home runs.

“We have all been asking ourselves the same thing,” Francona said in reference to Anderson’s struggles. “The velocity is very good. I think at times his command is probably the biggest difference from what’s been allowing him to succeed or not.”

HOME: In a back-and-forth game like Monday’s you never know how critical an early play will be when the smoke clears. In the fourth inning, runners were on the corners (Davis on first) with two outs for Kipnis, who singled to right-center field.

Davis was off to the races and reached the plate at the same moment as the relay throw. Reds catcher Ramon Cabrera gloved the ball and spun to make the tag, while Davis ran awkwardly by him and dropped down over the plate.

With his momentum carrying him forward, Davis actually dragged his right foot across the plate as Cabrera swung and missed with tag attempt. Home-plate umpire Paul Emmel ruled Davis out, but that call was overturned after another successful challenge by Francona and replay coordinator Mike Barnett.

051616_CLE_RajaiDavisWeirdSlide_MED

“Rajai wanted to slide, but he got his feet mixed up,” Francona said. “He actually did a really good job touching the plate. Such a heads-up job. … He’s quick and his willingness to get somewhere — he allowed that to happen. That was a big play in the game.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 34

DuffeySome notes and quotes from Sunday’s 5-1 loss to the Twins.

FIRST: What’s more frustrating: Getting a lot of hits without being able to cash in, or being totally overpowered and coming up with little to no hits?

Following Cleveland’s loss to the Twins — a game in which the Tribe went 7-for-16 with two outs without scoring a run — that question was posed to Indians catcher Chris Gimenez. He said, in his view, it’s the former scenario is the one that frustrates a team more.

“I think that’s more frustrating, personally,” Gimenez said, “just because we’ve got guys on base, and we’re just not able to take advantage of it. That’s the name of the game — being able to take advantage of it. Hitting with runners in scoring position. Unfortunately today, it just didn’t really go our way.”

That’s putting it mildly.

First: Lindor draws a two-out walk. Napoli strikes out.
Third: Santana and Kipnis get two straight singles with two outs. Lindor strikes out.
Fourth: Naquin singles with two outs to put two runners on. Gimenez grounds out.
Sixth: Ramirez singles with two outs. Uribe grounds out.
Seventh: Martinez singles with two outs. Santana strikes out.
Ninth: Gimenez and Martinez connect for consecutive two-out singles. Santana flies out.

Cleveland’s lone run came via a leadoff homer by Kipnis in the eighth.

“Early, I thought we squared up a couple real good,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “Carlos and Nap, I thought both [flyouts in the first inning] were probably home runs on normal days, but they [hit them] kind of right into that wind, knocked them both down.

“I thought after that, it seemed like we got frustrated and got a little big. On a day like today, you’re going to have to string some hits together, unless you hit the ball like Kip did down into right field, and we weren’t able to do that.”

Gimenez echoed that take.

“We couldn’t just get that one,” Gimenez said. “I felt like we just needed that one hit. I came up a couple times with runners on. I give [Twins starter Tyler Duffey] a lot of credit. He did a good job. He could’ve told you his curveball was coming.”

SECOND: About that curveball…

Duffey has a fastball mix that includes both a four-seamer and two-seamer. His main offspeed pitch is a knuckle-curve, which he uses more than 40-percent of the time. On Sunday, Duffey fired that pitch a season-high 49 times (45 percent). Of those, 29 (60 percent) were strikes.

Duffey struck out six overall, including four with the knuckle-curve, in seven shutout innings. The Indians went 2-for-10 against the pitch overall.

“Everybody knew in the ballpark it was coming, but he did a good job,” Gimenez said of the curve. “He’s very deceptive, because he’s got kind of a long arm and he’s a slinger. It’s kind of tough to pick up a little bit. My second at-bat, I went up there looking for a curveball. First pitch, he threw it right down the middle and it was still [tough to hit]. I just didn’t see it very good.”

THIRD: Due to Cleveland’s woes in the batter’s box, Indians starter Trevor Bauer was hung with his first loss of the season.

“On a lot of nights,” Francona said, “we’re saying, ‘Hey, man, he did a good job. He got us deep enough into the game where we could turn it over to the bullpen.’ But, runs the last couple of nights have been hard to come by.”

Against the Twins, Bauer struck out eight, walked two and allowed three runs on five hits over 6.2 innings. Since moving back to the rotation, the right-hander has a 3.47 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, .188 opponents’ average and 23 strikeouts against nine walks in 23.1 innings.

“He looks strong,” Francona said.

“Everything was pretty good, actually,” Bauer said of his latest outing. “I need to throw more first-pitch strikes, but I got through it OK. … I thought I had a really good spring as a starter and I’ve continued that this season.”

Two pitches, in particular, worked especially well against Minnesota.

Bauer had a very effective curve, which has been a weapon all season. Heading into Sunday’s start, opposing hitters were 1-for-19 with 10 strikeouts in at-bats ending with the pitch. Bauer spun 15 of them and recorded five of his eight strikeouts  with the breaking ball. Four of those were called third strikes.

“He was able to throw his curveball for strikes,” Gimenez said, “and he had a lot of strikeouts on that pitch. All in all, I know it wasn’t obviously the result that we all wanted, but he still threw the ball pretty good today.”

Bauer also threw 21 of 28 cutters for strikes, induced 16 swings on the pitch and generated six missed swings.

“That’s the best I’ve seen his cutter,” said Gimenez, who has caught Bauer’s past three starts. “He had a little bit of depth to it.”

HOME: In the ninth inning, the Indians were trailing, 3-1. The Twins added two key insurance runs when Eddie Rosario sent a pitch from Jeff Manship to deep center field for one-out double.

On the play, rookie center fielder Tyler Naquin sprinted back and to his left, closing in on the fly ball as he fell just short of the wall. Naquin tried to make a jumping catch, while bracing himself for contact with the fence, and the baseball hit off the heel of his glove before dropping to the warning track.

“It hit his glove. He’s still learning,” Francona said. “We’ve talked about it. Sometimes, you see a veteran outfielder, they’ll see the ball and they’ll kind of run to the spot. He’s not able yet to do that. He has to watch the ball the whole way, or he gets a little bit messed up on his route. So, it’s hard to run at full-tilt doing that. It’s not like he’s loafing, but it just takes a little bit away.”

Heading into Sunday’s action, Naquin’s minus-six Defensive Runs Saved ranked last among the 86 Major League players who have logged time at the position this season. His minus-30.6 UZR/150 also ranked last among the 34 center fielders who have logged at least 100 innings at that spot.

Naquin’s ongoing learning curve in center played a role in Cleveland’s sending him back to Triple-A Columbus for a spell recently. Naquin has an above-average arm, but he has plenty of room for improvement with his first step and route efficiency. Bench coach Brad Mills continues to work with Naquin before games on those aspects.

“Every time we have [bad] weather,” Francona said, “[Millsy] loves getting the time with [Naquin], because he’ll put the work in. He’s doing better and he’ll continue to.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 32

GomesSome notes and quotes from Friday’s 7-6 win over the Twins.

FIRST: Yan Gomes didn’t waste any time.

When the catcher received an 84-mph slider to begin his at-bat against Twins righty Ricky Nolasco in the second inning, Gomes jumped on it. He pulled it deep over left field and then over the 19-foot wall. Then, Gomes did something he doesn’t normally do.

“If you see the replay,” Gomes said, “as soon as I hit it, I’ve never done it before, but I kind of did a little [exhale], like, ‘Shoot, man. About time,’ going around those bases.”

It’s hard to blame Gomes for that reaction.

Heading into Friday’s game against the Twins, Gomes was mired in an 0-for-20 funk in the batter’s box. Since April 25, the catcher was only 2-for-42 with 11 strikeouts. His slump, which included an 0-for-7 showing in Wednesday’s 16-inning marathon, reached a point where manager Terry Francona actually met with Gomes on Friday before the game.

“We were actually talking today a little bit,” Francona said. “It’s kind of the normal, [what] you see when a guy’s struggling. Trying to do too much. Trying to maybe go 3-for-1 and you can’t do that. When he lined out the other day in Houston, you could tell by his body language that it wasn’t just the lineout, but it was the at-bats leading up to it the last couple days. That’s never helpful. It’s human nature, and I get it.

“I just tried to remind him a little bit that we know he’s really good and he’ll get every bit as hot as he got cold. And, just try to remember the things he does really well, because for a relatively inexperienced Major League catcher, he’s done a fabulous job of running the staff, caring about the staff, hustling to first, blocking balls. I just wanted to remind him of that.”

So, when Gomes launched his two-run home run in the second inning, it’s safe to say that the blast included a sense of relief. The catcher ended the evening 1-for-3 with a walk in what was a much-needed performance for him mentally.

“The last couple of series,” Gomes said, “it’s been tough on the offensive side, just trying to help anything with the team. When that kind of thing happens, you definitely want to, in a way, try harder. I’m trying to take every at-bat for what it is, especially when you do something good. Getting some runs on the board definitely boosts your confidence a little bit.”

Asked about Gomes’ home run, Francona flashed a smile.

“Good for him. He’s been working so hard,” Francona said. “It’s just nice to see him have something to show for it. It obviously helps us, but good for him. He’s going to hit. He knows it, we know it. It’s still good for him.”

SECOND: Bryan Shaw was booed by the Progressive Field crowd as he walked off the field in the eighth inning on Friday night. It was in response to a rough day at the office, but it should be noted that it’s been a while since the setup man had one of those.

Heading into Friday’s appearance, Shaw had a 0.77 ERA and .135 opponents’ average over his past dozen outings (11.2 IP). The right-hander had not given up a run yet in May. So, when Shaw allowed two hits (one home run) and walked a pair (one intentionally) in the eighth inning, it was his first setback in some time.

It also set up a huge situation for Zach McAllister. Bases loaded. One out. Cleveland losing, 5-4.

“Anyone who is a competitor wants to be in those situations,” McAllister said. “It’s fun to be able to get the ball. Tito had the confidence in me to get guys out in those situations. It’s definitely a good thing.”

Against Oswaldo Arcia, the sequence went…

97 mph fastball: Foul ball
97 mph fastball: Called strike
97 mph fastball: Ball
84 mph curve: Swinging strike

Against Kurt Suzuki, the sequence went…

97 mph fastball: Foul
96 mph fastball: Ball
97 mph fastball: Foul
83 mph curve: Ball
97 mph fastball: Swinging strike

“McAllister,” Francona said, “a really good job there.”

No kidding.

THIRD: McAllister’s stop in the top of the eighth paid off in the form of a three-run outburst by the Indians in the home half of the inning.

“It was awesome,” McAllister said, “sitting down there and seeing that. Shaw has done that for me a couple times already, where he’s picked me up and gotten me out of a few jams. For us to be able to come out and score, it’s an awesome feeling.”

Francisco Lindor opened the inning with a single and later stole second. Jose Ramirez then drew a one-out walk. That set things up for Marlon Byrd, who drilled a pitch from Trevor May deep to center, where it fell just over the glove of Danny Santana. Lindor and Ramirez scored with a few steps of one another, and the Indians took a 6-5 lead.

“In that situation, I’m looking for him to hopefully make a mistake,” Byrd said. “You’re talking about a 96-mph fastball. You’re talking about the changeup he threw me threw me the second pitch, which I thought he was going to wait until about two strikes. His breaking ball, he usually buries. He throws it, it looks like a strike and ends up being a ball. I think maybe that’s the only one he wanted back — the breaking ball that he left up.”

Juan Uribe followed with with an RBI single, which proved to be critical. In the ninth, Cody Allen allowed one run, but held on for the save.

“The add-on run ended up being huge,” Francona said. “We talk about it all the time: Just keep playing, because you don’t know what’s enough. And we did just enough.”

HOME: So much happened in this one offensively that it’d be easy to overlook the outing by Josh Tomlin. No, it wasn’t great, but the fact that he lasted 6.1 innings was impressive, considering how his start began.

In the first, Miguel Sano turned a Tomlin pitch into a 464-foot home run, which was baseball’s fourth-longest shot of the season, per Statcast.

“I’ll pick it up on the way home,” Francona quipped.

In the second, Byung Ho Park crushed a pitch from Tomlin 112 mph off the bat and sent it 458 feet. One inning later, Park came through again — this time sending Tomlin offering 411 feet for his second shot of the game.

“That team took some pretty big swings off of me today,” Tomlin said. “So, I knew my margin of error was pretty slim. I feel like whenever I do try to make my stuff a little bit better than what it is, then that’s when I do make mistakes. I get around the ball. My command is not as good. That’s just a mental side of me that I lost a bit in those first three innings.”

After that second Park bomb, though, Tomlin held Minnesota to an 0-for-12 showing, buying time for Cleveland to come back. Gomes came through with his two-run homer in the second. Jason Kipnis added a solo shot in the third. Byrd tied it up with a sac fly in the sixth. That set things up for the late rally.

“It was a good game to win, because it was a hard game to win,” Francona said. “Josh, kinda uncharacteristically early, they were hitting him pretty hard. But then, to his credit, he stayed in there for a while, got us through 6 1/3, kept the game right where it needed to be.”

EXTRAS: Oh, yeah, and Lindor did this in the fourth…

051316_Frankie_med

Said Tomlin: “I thought it was a hit. It was a slow roller and that guy is pretty fast. Seeing him come in, I knew he was going to make the play. I just didn’t know if it was going to be in time, because of the runner. It was smooth. It was pretty impressive to watch. I had a front-row seat and it was pretty awesome.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

A Mother’s Day tribute

CubsRentsIn lieu of Covering the Bases, I’ve decided to post something for Mother’s Day. Without my mom, Patti, I wouldn’t be doing what I do today. Her passion for baseball is what fueled my own love for the game, and put me on a path to my job as a reporter.

Each year, Major League Baseball celebrates Mother’s Day by splashing the games in pink. It’s not only to honor all the good moms out there, but to raise awareness for breast cancer. Cancer affects almost everyone in some way. For me, it took away my mom on Christmas Day when I was only 14 years old. Cancer sucks.

Every day that I get to walk into a baseball stadium for work, I know it’s partly due to the foundation she built for me when I was a kid. Here’s something I wrote a while back about my mom making sure that, during her final summer, she was there to see me play one last game.

………………………………………………….

Mom was my biggest fan. Most kids with good moms would probably say the same, but it always felt like she took it to another level. For my baseball games, mom would sit in the bleachers, spinning a noisemaker and cheering me on loudly.

“Woo! Woo! Woo!”

Ugh, mom. Cut it out.

“Go Jordan! Woo! Woo! Woo!”

Mommm! You’re embarrassing me!

After a while, I just accepted that she wasn’t going to stop. That little, annoying, surprisingly-loud noisemaker wasn’t going to be left at home. She was going to be there in the front row, and she was going to make sure every parent at the field knew precisely which son was hers.

Mom made sure she was there to the end.

In the summer of ’96, I was playing for Gibson Chevy. We didn’t have traditional team names. The teams in South Holland’s 13-year-old Babe Ruth League were referred to by their sponsors. I played second base like my hero, Ryne Sandberg, and hit second in the lineup.

I was having the best season of my life, but mom was missing it.

As the cancer worsened, she just couldn’t make it to my games. I relied on rides from my friends and was keenly aware of the lack of noise when it was time for me to step into the batter’s box. There was the usual round of parental clapping, but nothing out of the ordinary.

I missed her.

Woo! Woo! Woo!

Gibson Chevy made it to the village championship game that summer, and mom did not want her condition to keep her at home.

The dad of one of my teammates owned a limousine business, and drove around town to pick each of us up one by one for the final game. I heard the honk coming from outside my house, gave mom a hug as she remained in bed and headed off to the game. I didn’t expect her to make it to the field.

Shortly before the championship began, I spotted our blue van turning onto the gravel road next to the field. After my dad parked, he walked to the back, pulled out mom’s wheelchair and rolled it around to the passenger door. She came. She came to see the game, and she had her noisemaker.

The game went back-and-forth and, based on the rules of the league, I had to sit on the bench for two innings near the end. The rules stated that every player had to make an appearance, and I was benched for the time being so Tony could play second. I was going stir crazy in the dugout, watching helplessly as the game moved into a tie in the seventh inning.

“Bastian,” said coach Gibson. “You’ll bat fourth this inning.”

Thank the good Lord up in heaven. I was going to re-enter the game.

Andre led off and ripped a single to right field. B.J. flew out and I moved into the on-deck circle. Jeff then struck out on three pitches, walking back to the dugout with his eyes fixed on the ground. I headed to the plate.

On the mound was a kid named Matt, who had one of the best fastballs in our league. I watched the first one go by for strike one.

“Woo! Woo! Woo!”

The next pitch was perfect and I didn’t miss. I took a cut and sent it to center field, where the outfielder got turned around and stumbled. Andre was off and running and I sprinted up the line, around first base and toward second. By the time the relay throw came in, Andre was across the plate and our teammates were swarming him in celebration.

I kept running beyond third, where my friend Josh was waiting with a bottle of red Gatorade. He splashed the contents on me, while someone else threw an arm around my shoulders, pulled me down and began giving me some joyous jabs to the side as the pile grew in size. My white pants were now stained bright pink, and I loved it.

After the on-field party calmed down, and I worked my way out of the dogpile, I looked beyond the backstop to where my mom was sitting. She was crying, and a group of my friends’ mothers were standing all around her wheelchair, giving her hugs as the tears flowed.

That was the last game she saw me play.

Mom wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 27

AndersonSome notes and quotes from Saturday’s 7-0 loss to the Royals.

FIRST: Three pitches into the fourth batter of the first inning, Cody Anderson encountered more of the same.

Anderson fired a cut fastball inside to Royals designated hitter Kendrys Morales, but the righty didn’t get it inside enough. With an 0-2 count, Anderson wanted to run it off the plate to help set up the next pitch. Instead, it stayed over the inside corner and Morales made a meal out of the errant offering.

The ball rocketed off Morales’ bat at 107.6 mph and soared a projected 442 feet, according to Statcast. It marked the longest home run of the year for a Kansas City hitter. This one soared over the right-field stands entirely and took a tour of the new Right Field District.

“I was just trying to go in, in off the plate, with a cutter,” Anderson said. “And he got to it before it cut.”

Home runs have been a consistent issue for Anderson this season. After his five-inning showing on Saturday, the righty has allowed long balls at a rate of 2.5 per nine innings, representing the third-highest mark in the Majors among pitchers with at least 20 innings. Last year, Anderson had a 0.9 HR/9 with Cleveland. In his Minor League career, he allowed 0.8 HR/9.

So, what’s been going on this year?

“Height. It’s all thigh-high,” Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said. “We’re really working on getting that depth back and angling the ball down and keeping the ball down for the most part. Really, the height of his pitches is what’s gotten him so far. The main thing is, you leave the ball out over the plate, thigh-high, people will do damage.”

Let’s take a quick run through the seven blasts Anderson has given up.

April 9: Jose Abreu

CAHR1

This was a first-pitch shot on a 91-mph four-seamer. You can see in the graphic that, as Callaway mentioned, this one was elevated and about belt-high.

April 15: Michael Conforto

CAHR2

This is the first of five allowed this year to a left-handed hitter. This time, it was also a 91-mph pitch, but it was Anderson’s cutter. The righty hit the outer edge, but left it up a hair on an 0-1 count. This looks like a good piece of hitting more than an outright bad pitch.

April 15: Alejandro De Aza

CAHR3

De Aza smacked a 2-1 fastball (also 91 mph) for this homer. Once again, Anderson left it up and did so in a hitter-advantage count.

April 15: Yoenis Cespedes

CAHR4

This is the only curveball that Anderson has surrendered a home run on. It’s his fourth-best pitch, so he doesn’t use it a ton. This one was a 1-1 offering (80 mph) that was hung. After the game, Anderson said his regret was going with the curve, rather than one of his better pitches in this particular situation.

April 21: Steve Clevenger

CAHR5

Anderson fell behind, 2-1, against Clevenger and then left an 86-mph changeup up and over the middle. This was another mistake pitch and Clevenger made him pay.

April 26: Eddie Rosario

CAHR6

Anderson’s best pitch is his changeup, but it hurt him in this matchup. He left it up on the first pitch and Rosario beat him. During this outing, the Indians noticed that Anderson’s stride was off mechanically, leading to his stint at Triple-A to work out some kinks.

May 7: Kendrys Morales

CAHR7

Here is the mistake pitch from Saturday’s game. Now, that’s not a terrible location — down and in — but it’s not an ideal spot against this particular batter, and especially not on an 0-2 count. Rather than getting a waste pitch, Morales received a 91-mph fastball right into his hot zone.

MoralesChart

That strike zone map shows Morales’ career slugging percentage against right-handed pitchers. As you can see, low or middle in is where Morales licks his chops. After going away, away with offspeed. Morales was probably looking inside, but he got one right where he can do the most damage.

SECOND: When the day was done, Anderson was charged with four runs on six hits in five innings. He exited after 69 pitches due to cramping in his legs. Both Anderson and manager Terry Francona noted how much the pitcher sweats during games (he goes through at least two jerseys), so better hydration is needed as spring turns to summer.

Really, when you look a little closer at this outing, there are reasons to be encouraged.

Prior to Morales’ homer, Kansas City’s two hits were of the weak-contact variety. And, following that shot, the Royals didn’t do much harm against Anderson (aside from that RBI double by Jarrod Dyson in the fifth). OK, so was it a good outing? No. It wasn’t. But, this was a case of one really bad pitch overshadowing some good strides.

For example, Anderson recorded nine outs via grounders, including two double plays. That’s a rate of 16.2 outs via grounders per nine innings. In his first 20 innings (four starts), Anderson that rate was 10.2 per nine innings. He also averaged 95 mph with his fastball, topping at 97 mph.

It wasn’t great, but it was a step in the right direction.

“I was starting to get some of that weaker contact,” Anderson said, “and some of those different swings, which is huge. I was getting some ground balls. Predominantly, they were hitting the ball on the ground, so that’s something to build off and keep moving forward.”

“Yeah, I thought it was better,” Callaway agreed. “Obviously, 0-2 cutter, trying to go in deep on the lefty early in the game and we didn’t execute. So, [we’re] down 3-0 really quick. I thought he battled the rest of the game and did a pretty good job. Overall, we’re encouraged by what we saw. And [it’s a] good learning lesson for him.

“Trying to throw a cutter in — his third-best pitch — to a pretty good hitter that hits it everywhere. Utilize your 96-97 and you’re going to go off the plate-in and go from there. But, he did a pretty good job with the adjustments in-between and looks pretty decent.”

THIRD: Anderson’s mistakes were also magnified due to the big fat zero that the offense posted against Royals righty Ian Kennedy, who now has a 2.13 ERA on the year. Kennedy went seven shutout innings and had one stretch between the first and fifth innings in which he held the Tribe to an 0-for-14 showing.

“He really pitched. I mean, he threw a lot of strikes,” Francona said. “He didn’t throw the ball in the middle of the plate very much and he changed speeds. … We didn’t have a ton of chances. He just really pitched well.”

Cleveland’s best chance came in the sixth inning, when Jason Kipnis drew a two-out walk with the Tribe trailing, 4-0. Francisco Lindor followed with a single and then Mike Napoli worked a free pass to load the bases. That set the stage for Carlos Santana, who is known for his patience, keen eye and ability to grind out long at-bats to wear out an opposing pitcher.

So, naturally, Santana chopped the first pitch from Kennedy into the ground and to first baseman Eric Hosmer. That made for a routine groundout to end the inning.

Was Francona fine with Santana attacking the first pitch?

“I’m OK with that,” Francona said. “I mean, shoot, that’s the tying run. That was a good pitch to hit. He just kind of rolled over a little bit. Extending innings is always good, but we’re looking for him to maybe hit one in the seats there.”

HOME: It was just one of those days for the Indians. You know, the kind of game where even The Greatest Reliever Who Ever Was or Ever Will Be has a bad day. So, pour one out for Jeff Manship’s ERA, because he finally flinched.

Manship faced four batters in the eighth inning and did not record an out. The righty was charged with three runs on four hits and saw his ERA rise from 0.000 to 3.68 in the blink of an eye.

This marked the…

  • First time Manship allowed a run since Aug. 22, 2015, snapping a shutout streak of 23.2 innings for the reliever
  • First time Manship allowed more than one run in an appearance since July 22, 2014, when he was with the Phillies
  • First time Manship did not record an out in an outing since April 10, 2014

Even the greats have an off night, folks. This, too, shall pass.

“Tough inning,” Francona said, “where the first couple guys got hits — they didn’t hit them real hard. And then, coming through the middle of the order is probably not the best matchup for him. But, you’re down, so you don’t want to start matching up your bullpen. Just a tough day.”

EXTRAS: Let’s leave on a positive note. Think happy thoughts as you watch your daily installment of Francisco Lindor Theater:

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Feel any better?

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Covering the Bases: Game 26

Jose Ramirez

Some notes and quotes from Friday’s 7-1 win over the Royals.

FIRST: Earlier this season, we were jokingly trying to come up with a nickname for Indians utility man Jose Ramirez. Paul Hoynes of Cleveland.com didn’t hesitate.

“Boom Boom,” Hoynes said.

Since then, that’s what we have called Ramirez up in the press box. After every hit he gets, someone will say, “Boom Boom.” After a nice play in the field: “Boom Boom.” On Friday night, Boom Boom was out in force against the Royals. That said, Ramirez has been on a strong run since this season begam.

“He’s done a pretty good job,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “It’s worked out kind of how we mapped it out. You want to find places for him to play, so he can help you win. He’s done a really good job of staying ready.”

Against Kansas City, Boom Boom had three hits, including a pair of doubles, and a career-high five RBIs. We never saw his helmet fly off, though, and Zack Meisel of Cleveland.com says Ramirez’s helmet hasn’t flown from his head on the bases since April 23. That is very unlike the utility man.

After the game, we asked him why his helmet has been staying put lately.

Starter Danny Salazar laughed as he relayed the question to Ramirez in Spanish. Ramirez cracked a smile and gave his reply.

“He says it fell one time today,” Salazar said.

With his showing on Friday, Ramirez is now sporting a .324/.361/.456 slash line with a 133 wRC+ (which means he’s played 33-percent above league average) through 20 games. At this point last year, Ramirez also had appeared in 20 games, but was batting .194/.234/.264 slash line for the Tribe.

Francona could have easily given up on Ramirez, but the manager has been one of his biggest fans over the past few years. He calls Ramirez a weapon and has stressed since the spring that the Indians wanted to find ways to keep him involved in the lineup on a regular basis. Even with Juan Uribe at third and a surplus of outfielders, Francona has kept his word and Ramirez has thrived.

“I’m really thankful to Tito for believing in me, and giving me the opportunity,” Ramirez said through Salazar. “I’m taking advantage of that. Every time I get the opportunity to go out there, I’m just trying to do my job.”

SECOND: Going into this season, there was a growing sense that Salazar might be on the cusp of a breakout season. Granted, he won 14 games and fanned 195 last year, so it’s not really going out on a limb to say Salazar would be good again. But, we’ve been waiting to see him go from good to great.

Through six outings this year, Salazar has been great.

Now, more than ever, Cleveland needs that to continue. With Carlos Carrasco likely out until June, the Indians need Salazar to elevate his game and pitch like a No. 2. The hard-throwing right-hander is more than capable of doing so, as he’s shown to this point this season.

“We miss him in the rotation right now,” Salazar said. “But, we’re working really hard — all of us. I think we’re doing pretty good. We’re just going to wait for him to come back.”

Salazar’s line vs. Kansas City: 7.2 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 9 K

“That was his best start,” Francona said. “He had good stuff from start to finish and he had all of his pitches. He was really letting it go, reached back for more when he needed it. That was an impressive start.”

Entering Friday, Salazar was using his four-seam fastball 48.8 percent of the time. Against the Royals, that percentage spiked to 59.4 percent (63 of 106 pitches). Kansas City is an aggressive lineup, so Salazar attacked that with his four-seamer more than usual.

“You have to be smart when you go out there,” Salazar said. “You have to be real aggressive. You have to mix all your pitches when you face them. [Catcher Yan Gomes] and I were on the same page today. We talked about it during the bullpen and when we were walking to the dugout. I told him I want to follow him and I think it worked. He called a great game. That was awesome. That was huge today.”

THIRD: You never know how important an early-inning out will be as a game progressed. Now that we know Cleveland scored seven runs, and that Salazar was on top of his game into the eighth, well, that pick-off play in the first inning doesn’t seem like that big of a deal.

At the time, though, it was a big play.

“That was great,” Salazar said.

Lorenzo Cain reached with an infield single in the first inning and, as we all know from watching the Royals in recent years, he has a way of igniting things on the bases. He can toy with a pitcher from the basepaths, maybe forcing a rushed pitch that winds up elevated for the next batter. This time, the Indians saw to it that Kansas City didn’t get anything going in the opening frame.

Catcher Yan Gomes called for a pick-off play and Salazar obliged. With Kendrys Morales in the box, Salar fired the ball to first baseman Mike Napoli. Cain slipped and was caught in a rundown, which led to Napoli applying the tag for an inning-ending out.

“You never know [how a game will go],” Francona said. “Scoring first is always important. We’ve played them enough. We saw the way, even in the ninth inning, they’re not going to stop playing.”

HOME: And that brings us to tonight’s episode of Francisco Lindor Theater.

With two outs in the second inning, Salvador Perez sent a sharp grounder up the middle, just to the left of second base. I mean, this one had single to center field written all over it. I guess we should learn to remove that as the initial mental reaction from our thought process, considering that Lindor is out there playing shortstop.

Lindor swiftly ranged to his left, covering an estimated 25 feet, according to Statcast. He hit a top speed of 15.7 mph and had a route efficiency of 96.7 percent. Shoot, let’s just give him a score of 100. Lindor dove, snared the baseball, gathered himself in the outfield grass and made a pinpoint throw to first baseman Mike Napoli for the out.

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“He has the ability to do that all the time,” Francona said. “He’s going to make plays like that, because he’s really athletic, he has good hands, he has a good arm and he’s into the game.”

Yeah, no kidding.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB