I’m not going to sit here and tell you that Casey Kotchman is an All-Star caliber player. I’m also not going to tell you that First Base is a position where offense doesn’t matter. But I will tell you that I have an appreciation for the guy that most others don’t.
Yesterday afternoon’s series finally with the Minnesota Twins was won by a Kotchman bases loaded RBI single in the bottom of the 10th inning. He had three hits and drove in two runs to help the Indians avoid a series sweep at the hands of the team they are fighting with to stay out of the AL Central basement.
Kotchman’s numbers this season have been a disappointment, no doubt. He is hitting just .231/.285/.627 (all below his career averages) with 12 homers and 53 RBIs. These are coming off a .306/.378/.800 campaign in Tampa Bay. While the Indians tried desperately this offseason to find themselves a first baseman, their search dragged into February as they continued to swing and miss on choice after choice. In the end, they ended up with Kotchman, a high on-base percentage, gold glove type of player. It wasn’t exactly a signing that would register with fans or even move the needle in the MLB circles, but this is who they ended up with.
Looking back, while his offense has been worse than what we had hoped it would be, his glove has been better than advertised. In the clubhouse he is a well respected and liked veteran who does his best to lead by example. I still maintain that the Kotchman signing would have worked out better if the rest of the lineup that GM Chris Antonetti constructed did their jobs up to their ability. If Kotchman is batting eighth or ninth and playing this kind of defense, nobody would care about his offensive numbers.
However, the struggles of Carlos Santana, the inability of Shin-Soo Choo to hit lefties, the second half slowdowns from Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis, the absolute zero they have gotten from the third base position, and the injuries to Lonnie Chisenhall, Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore (yeah, I said it) have you wondering how the Indians could have a first baseman with such little pop.
As for next year, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see Kotchman back in Wahoo Red, White, and Blue.
“I’d like to come back,” said Kotchman. “Unfortunately, I didn’t keep up my end of the bargain.”
Guys who did keep up their ends of the bargain yesterday were the back end of the bullpen crew. Corey Kluber went six innings giving up three runs on five hits. Manager Manny Acta then turned to the future of the Tribe pen, Cody Allen and Vinnie Pestano to hold the Twins at bay in a tie game. Both set up men did their jobs to get the ball to closer Chris Perez, who hasn’t been seen much lately considering the Indians aren’t playing many close games late. It looked as if Pure Rage would be on the hook for a loss in the ninth as Chris Herrmann took a pitch deep to right field with a man on. Vinny Rottino fought the sun the entire way and then made a leaping grab at the fence that saved at least a double. Perez would get out of the inning unscathed.
Esmil Rogers, one of the few bright spots in this season of cloudy skies, pitched a 1-2-3 10th, setting the stage for Kotchman’s heroics in the bottom of the frame.
“It was nice to see those four power arms,” Acta said, “back-to-back-to-back-to-back to shut them down at the end and give us an opportunity to win the game.”
Choo, pinch hitting for Rottino, doubled to start the inning. Kipnis moved him over to third base. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire then intentionally walked both Santana and Michael Brantley to get to Kotchman, who delivered the game winner.
“We felt good with Casey up there,” said Acta. “He was smoking the ball all day.”
So now the Indians hit the road for their last trip of the season. It is a six-gamer that starts tonight in Kansas City.