If I were ever to bet a baseball game, yesterday would have been the day. You had the Indians sending their worst starter, David Huff, against the Rays young stud David Price. It was a getaway day game and the final on an eight game road trip for the Tribe. They were without Asdrubal Cabrera who broke his forearm the night before. They were without Grady Sizemore who is struggling with an injured knee. And they notoriously do not hit left-handers well to begin with. If there was ever a lock, this was it.
Huff did his best Jeremy Sowers 2009 impression, pitching five strong innings before imploding in the sixth during the Indians 6-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. He worked in and out of trouble over the first five innings, allowing just one run, but he walked three and gave up six hits during that time.
Manny Acta, with a tired bullpen from the night before, sent out Huff for the sixth in a 1-1 game and paid for it. BJ Upton greeted him with a double, and he followed that up by hitting Gabe Kapler. Acta had seen enough and turned to rule 5 draftee Hector Ambriz, who entered a game in a pressure spot for the first time.
Dioner Navarro sacrifice Upton and Kapler over into scoring position. With the infield in, pinch hitter Reid Brignac hit an RBI groundout to give the Rays a 2-1 lead. Now with two out, Ambriz had the chance to minimize the damage. Instead, he opened the flood gates.
Jason Bartlett hit a bloop single just past the reach of new shortstop Jason Donald, scoring Kapler. Ben Zobrist followed with a single of his own in front of Evan Longoria’s game-breaking two run triple. In the blink of an eye, a 1-1 game turned into a 5-1 deficit.
“You can’t use the same guys every day,” said Acta. “He (Ambriz) can’t be tight or have butterflies anymore. He’s pitched enough times. We have to find out what he can do.”
I don’t blame him for trying the kid there. He really had no other options. Acta certainly has no faith (nor should he) in Rafael Perez, and every other reliever had gone the night before. This was a good spot to give Ambriz a shot.
As for Huff, he battled through five, but if he cant be counted on for more than that, what do you really have? “Early in the game, he was more aggressive with his fastball,” Acta said. “He pitched inside a bit better, but there were still too many baserunners, and that ended up catching up with him.”
The bottom line, Huff is now 0-5 with a 7.33 ERA in his last five starts.
So while the game was lost, there was a positive Tribe story yesterday. Rookie shortstop Jason Donald made his major league debut to rave reviews. With AC going down with the broken forearm, Donald will get his first shot at playing everyday in the majors. With his parents in the crowd, JD singled in his first two at-bats, and walked in his third.
“Pretty good, huh?” said Acta. “If he can do that every day, we’re in heaven. This is how opportunities are born. I’ve seen a lot of guys come up here in situations like this and never look back. We’re going to find out whether he’s ready to take advantage of this.”
Donald’s journey to the bigs came rather quickly. He was pulled from his game in Columbus in the fourth inning a night before and was scheduled to arrive in Tampa at 10:30 am yesterday for a 1:05 game. With all of the adrenaline and nerves, Donald played well.
So the banged up Indians now head home for an eight game homestand, starting with two games against the Kansas City Royals. Justin Masterson (0-4, 5.92) attempts to get off the schneid yet again tonight against Gil Meche (0-4, 7.17). They are expected to be without Sizemore again, who is scheduled for an MRI on his aching knee.
Said Grady: “My knee still hurts. I came to the park today, and it feels pretty bad. I can’t put any weight on it. I’m not worried, I just wish I was in a better spot.” If he needs a DL stint, expect Michael Brantley to come back to the bigs and play CF everyday. Until then, Trevor Crowe will man the position.
AP Photo/Chris O’Meara