April 23, 2014

Tribe 1, Jays 0: Masterson, Relievers Dominate to Begin Second Half with a W

It was a familiar setting. A type of opening day. Save situation. Against the Toronto Blue Jays. Chris Perez had been there before in 2012, and fortunately for Indians fans, this save opportunity ended in a Cleveland victory.

On Opening Day, Perez blew the save in allowing three ninth-inning runs to Toronto, eventually leading to a 7-4 loss in 16 innings. On Friday night, however, with the Indians returning from the All-Star Break three games back of the White Sox, he preserved a 1-0 lead for his 25th save out of 27 chances on the year.

Justin Masterson delivered seven spotless innings and Vinnie Pestano got out of the eighth to set the table for the All-Star Perez. All the star pitchers needed in terms of offense was a solo home run by Travis Hafner, who continues to hit the ball well since returning from injury.

ESPN Stats reported after the game that this was Toronto’s first 1-0 home loss via a home run since 2002 against the Angels. And that’s not a huge surprise considering the powerful bats in the heart of the Blue Jays lineup.

The combination of Colby Rasmus-Jose Bautista-Edwin Encarnacion has 67 home runs on the season, and each of the No. 2-4 hitters has a slugging percentage of at least .488. The best on the Indians is Shin-Soo Choo at .486, and our best trio of sluggers only has 32 singers on the season (Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Kipnis).

But in the end, the Indians pitchers were able to work through damage time after time. Masterson faced the minimum through four innings, as he was assisted by a pair of early clutch ground-ball double plays. He became a little more wild in his final three frames, but avoided damage with his solid sinker that has been extremely effective over the last month-plus.

Dating back to June 9, the former Red Sox reliever is now 4-3 with a 2.66 ERA. He has 45 strikeouts against only 11 walks in 47.1 IP during these seven starts. And that includes his last outing where he allowed eight runs on nine hits in only 4.1 innings of work. Out of these seven games, he has worked at least seven innings and allowed one earned run or less five different times.

The Indians also needed every ounce of Masterson’s best stuff, as Toronto lefty Ricky Romero was able to shut down the Cleveland offense the rest of the way. After Hafner’s shot, the Indians wasted away precious few scoring chances.

A strike out and groundout ruined a second-and-third with one out opportunity in the fourth. If Kipnis hadn’t been caught stealing in the sixth, he likely would have scored on eventual back-to-back two-out singles. And again, the Tribe stranded a runner on second in the seventh and grounded into a double play in the eighth.

This wasn’t a pretty game, but the pitching was tremendous and it invoked memories of the first half of Cleveland victories. Perez improved to 8-for-8 in one-run save opportunities this year, and the Indians improved to 13-5 in one-run games.

Unfortunately for the Tribe, the Kansas City Royals were unable to preserve a late lead in a back-and-forth game against the White Sox. Chicago eventually prevailed 9-8 in 14 innings.

On the mound Saturday afternoon at 1:07 p.m., the Indians will have red-hot Ubaldo Jimenez (8-7, 4.50 ERA) face off against familiar Toronto lefty Aaron Laffey (0-1, 2.67 ERA).

To finish off today’s recap, here are some additional notes on Cleveland pitchers up and down the system:

His acquisition was literally shrugged away as yet another meaningless pick-up, but Esmil Rogers has been one of the team’s most valuable relievers since joining the team in early June. In 11 appearances spanning 13.1 innings, he has a 2.03 ERA, striking out 18 of the 50 batters he has faced (!!). Meanwhile, he has allowed only one walk and has an opponent batting average against of .149. This comes after he struggled to begin the year in Colorado, posting a 8.06 ERA in 23 games. The 26-year-old could now have a bright future ahead of him in the Tribe bullpen, as he’s been the first guy to emerge as a dependable arm for more than a week or two all season, outside of Joe Smith, Pestano and Perez.

– In Indianapolis Friday night, righty Jeanmar Gomez delivered a two-hit complete game shutout in a dominant performance for the Columbus Clippers. He struck out seven against two walks on the night, and managed to only throw 102 pitches overall (65 of them for strikes). Gomez improved to 2-1 with a 1.64 ERA in three starts back in AAA, but it’s extremely important that he develops some confidence there before returning eventually to Cleveland. His first outing was similarly brilliant — he only allowed one run, albeit on 10 hits, in seven shutout innings — but struggled in his previous on July 5, permitting four runs in six innings. I wouldn’t expect Gomez to be back until September, barring a trade or injury, but it’s good to see him deliver a great game for the Clips.

– In other notable minor league pitching performances, Steven Wright brought a no-hitter into the seventh inning Friday for the Akron Aeros. He struck out four and allowed just five walks before Adalberto Santos began the seventh with a single. That was the last batter Wright faced, as he finished the game with 102 pitches in 6-plus innings. The Akron relievers preserved the shutout, giving the Aeros a much needed win to keep the pace in the Eastern League West division. After he had three mediocre starts in a row, this was yet another stellar start for Wright, who is now 7-6 with a 2.46 ERA in 17 games. He’s not much of a prospect, but the 27-year-old new-knuckleballer might work his way back to Columbus by the end of the season.

– Finally, lefty reliever Rafael Perez will have a one-inning rehab appearance tonight for the Aeros. He is scheduled to start the game at Canal Park tonight at 7:05 p.m. against the Altoona Curve. Perez has been on the disabled list since late April with a strained side muscle, and later was transferred to the 60-day disabled list. Assuming all goes well, I might expect him to be able to return to Cleveland in 10-15 days. That would necessitate another reliever transaction for the big-league club, which could just be sending lefty Scott Barnes back to Columbus, or could be preceded by some type of trade. We’ll see soon, and I’ll keep you updated on Perez’s outings by the next Wahoos on Wednesday.

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young)