Sometimes when you go into something with low expectations, things work out in your favor. For the second consecutive season, arguably the most important pitcher on the Indians is right-handed starter Ubaldo Jimenez. His success or lack there of is a gigantic key in the success of this team in 2013. If we get the 9-17, above five-ERA guy we saw in 2012, the odds that the Tribe will be contending for a playoff spot are just about slim to none. So it was with a huge grain of salt that I took the reports of how “well he threw” this Spring in Goodyear. Last night in Toronto, Jimenez got his first chance to translate this into real game action that counted.
For six innings, Manager Terry Francona got the kind of start he would love to see on a regular basis from Ubaldo. Sure, he got himself in a couple of jams, but for the most part, Jimenez was in control. His six innings of one run, three hit, ball was a far cry from his last start in Toronto last July where he couldn’t get out of the third inning.
“I remember the last time I was here,” he said. “I want to forget about it, but tonight was a really good game.”
His only mistake was a solo homer in the third by the light hitting Maicer Izturis. I know it was just one start, but the results were very encouraging.
“I thought he was outstanding,” Francona said. “His secondary stuff, his direction to the plate, down, everything. He left the ball over the plate to Izturis. Other than that, his offspeed — his changeup and breaking ball, especially his changeup — was really good.”
Unfortunately for Ubaldo, he wasn’t going to get a chance to win this one as power-throwing Brandon Morrow was making the Tribe look silly at times with his 97-MPH heat. The offense certainly had their chances to get to Morrow, but they never could seem to get that big hit, other than Michael Brantley’s two-out RBI single in the third, which scored Michael Bourn (leadoff double).
Brantley and Carlos Santana opened the second with back to back singles, but Morrow reared back and K’d Mark Reynolds, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Drew Stubbs in succession. With one out in the sixth, Brantley and Santana again both singled, but Morrow got Reynolds to ground into an inning-ending double play. Reynolds really struggled at the plate in this one, but he would get his later.
In the seventh against reliever Steve Delabar, the Tribe again put two on with one out, but Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis failed to come through.
At 1-1, this became a battle of the bullpens. Bryan Shaw, making his Tribe debut, pitched around an Edwin Encarnacion leadoff single to take care of the Blue Jays in the seventh. Then in the top of the eighth against lefty Darren Oliver, a notorious Tribe killer, the offense broke through with a little help from the Toronto defense.
Nick Swisher got things started with a leadoff walk. Brantley followed with his fourth single on the night. Santana then hit a sharp grounder to Izturis at third. He stepped on the bag and threw across the diamond for what should have been an easy double play, but his throw was in the dirt and skipped past Encarnacion at first. Brantley, running hard the whole way, was waved in and beat the throw home to give the Indians a 2-1 lead.
With Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez ready to control the final two innings, it looked like a win was in hand. However, with one out in the ninth, Jose Bautista, one of the best home run hitters in the game, took an inside Perez fastball deep to left to tie the game and gave us all extra baseball.
“It was bad pitch selection,” Perez said. “I tried to run a fastball in on him, and it got too much of the plate. I threw him a slider the pitch before, and he didn’t look real good, so I was going to go back to it after the fastball. Maybe I should have thrown two sliders in a row.”
Sometimes you are going to get beaten by one of the best in the game. It just happens. The Indians offense however, didn’t get discouraged. They knew what they had to do.
“We were talking about that on the bench: ‘We’ve got to pick (Perez) up,'” said Reynolds. The Tribe’s DH was just the man to do it.
Still searching for his first hit of the young season, Reynolds entered his 11th inning at-bat 0-4 with two strikeouts and a double play. Facing Sergio Santos, the former Diamondback and Oriole got a high fastball almost at eye level and absolutely clubbed it to the Rogers Centre second deck in left center. The 457-foot shot was a bomb in the true sense of the word.
“That’s what he has,” Francona said of Reynolds. “He’ll miss sometimes, but when he hits them, they’re game-changers. You know he’s going to run into one.”
Waiting for Reynolds in the dugout were his teammates who were standing as a man-made tunnel for him to run through. Two games in, you can see how much this group likes each other and how different the vibe with Tito at the helm.
With Shaw, Pestano, Perez, lefty Rich Hill, and righty Matt Albers already used, Francona turned to usual seventh inning man Joe Smith to close out the Jays. “Reynolds hit the homer, and they said it was me,” Smith said. “I was as surprised as anybody.”
Smith pitched a 1-2-3 eleventh for his the first save of his career. He had previously made 370 appearances without one. Albers got his first win as an Indian.
The series has already been won against a team many have chosen to win the AL East, and on the road no-less. The Wahoos go for the sweep tonight as Brett Myers makes his Indians debut. He will face a familiar foe, lefty Mark Buerhle who is making his 47th career start against the Tribe. He is 15-17 with a 4.77 ERA against them.
“We came into camp with a lot of optimism,” Reynolds said. “Obviously, every team has optimism in Spring Training. Everybody is 0-0 and everybody has a chance. It’s only two games, but it feels good to be 2-0, rather than 0-2. At the same time, we’ve got to keep it in perspective. We’ve got 160 games to go and a lot can happen.”