The Indians were a reeling bunch heading to Houston this weekend. They had just been swept by the Boston Red Sox and were essentially dominated for three games on their home field. Thursday night’s loss was a microcosm of the series; it was one missed offensive opportunity after another. Hitting the road sometimes is a good thing, especially for a team like the Indians who are still attempting to find themselves early in the season. Their next opponent, it seemed, was just what the doctor ordered – the sad-sack Houston Astros.
However, despite the optimism, the Tribe started the series without the DL’d Michael Bourn and with their three back-end starters slated to go. Brett Myers, Scott Kazmir, and Ubaldo Jimenez are not exactly Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Roy Halladay. But this is what the Indians rotation is in its current state. Naturally by the end of the weekend, the rotation picture has gotten even more cloudy. The Tribe did end up taking two of three in Houston, which you will take all day. But make no mistake, it was a struggle against an Astros team that resembles a AAA ball club. But hey, a series win is a series win.
So let us dig right in as we do every Monday morning with the weekend that was in Wahooland.
The Rotation – Take three. Just before Opening Day, the Indians starting rotation was set: Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez were 1-2. Brett Myers, Zach McAllister and Scott Kazmir would take up the final 60%. Then Kazmir went down and had to be put on the Disabled List. Carlos Carrasco, who would have been the man to take Kazmir’s spot in the rotation, was on the 25-man roster, but he was serving a league-shortened five-game suspension. So without the ability to use Carrasco in the fifth spot to start the season, the Tribe called on phenom Trevor Bauer to make a spot start. He walked the first four men he faced, seven total in five innings of work in a loss to Tampa Bay. The Indians sent him back for more seasoning while Carrasco assumed the fifth spot.
With Myers’ first start being such an abject disaster, the Tribe decided to push him back a day to give time to find himself, considering he spent all spring building back up into a starter. Carrasco was moved up and was destroyed by the Yankees before being ejected for throwing at the head of Kevin Youkilis. He faces an eight-game suspension and has since been demoted to AAA. With two rainouts in a row in the Yankees series, manager Terry Francona re-arranged his rotation: Masterson would be followed by McAllister. Myers, Jimenez, and the soon to be activated Kazmir would be next.
Jimenez started the Boston series and completely bombed, taxing the bullpen. Corey Kluber had to be brought up in case of emergency as a long man. Fast forward to this weekend. Myers got the Friday start and pitched five innings, allowing three runs on five hits. Included were two more home runs, moving Myers’s total to 10 allowed 21.1 innings pitched. The veteran right-hander also didn’t seem right on the mound and was checked out by trainer Lonnie Soloff before continuing his night. He didn’t return after the fifth and was diagnosed with a sore arm. Two days later, he was placed on the DL with a right forearm injury and will be replaced in the rotation by Kluber.
Kluber will need the rest because on Saturday, he was forced to pitch four innings of scoreless relief work, saving the bullpen in the 19-6 beat down of Houston. Kazmir was making his first start of the season in his hometown. He was the talk of spring training with the way he came out of nowhere to make the team. But that certainly didn’t translate on Saturday as even staked with a 14-0 lead. Kazmir couldn’t make it out of the fourth, giving up six runs on seven hits and three walks.
“I was a little jittery,” Kazmir said. “Overall, there’s stuff I can take out of this start, what not to do. I never really got into the flow of the game. I was half offspeed, half fastballs. I was just not able to get in sync. You want to attack the hitters. I was not able to pitch my game. I’m a guy who pitches off his fastball. I like to attack the strike zone with my fastball.”
Meanwhile, Myers was DL’d and his roster spot was taken by Fernando Nieve who was essentially promoted in case Ubaldo blew up yet again on Sunday. It is not like that was out of the realm of possibility. It seemed as though Ubaldo was on his last leg, especially when we saw him walk leadoff man Jose Altuve and then give up a two-run homer to Fernando Martinez in the first. Jason Castro then singled. Brandon Laird followed that with a deep drive to right center that Drew Stubbs made a terrific play on, catching the ball and doubling up Castro at first.
“In my opinion Drew Stubbs saved the game,” Francona said. “They’ve got a runner on first and a ball that’s going to hit the wall and be a triple, and Drew catches it and doubles the guy off. That gave us a chance to win the ball game.”
Ubaldo looked completely wobbled and Ubaldo-like. But then something just clicked…..and he retired 12 straight Astros. It was quite peculiar. Francona sent him back out for the sixth, which was a dicey proposition and he got burned. Marwin Gonzalez led off with a single, ending Ubaldo’s streak. With Nick Hagadone ready in the bullpen, Altuve sent a deep fly ball to right, which Ryan Raburn completely misplayed into an RBI triple. That was all for Ubaldo. Altuve would end up scoring on a sac fly to tie the game at four, closing the book on Jimenez. He went five allowing four runs on four hits with just one walk. Ubaldo most likely bought himself at least another start.
“He was pretty good,” Francona said. “More good than not good. He started out a little rocky.”
So here we are today and the rotation has been reset again: Masterson, McAllister, Kluber, Kazmir, Jimenez. And as always, that is subject to change.
The home run ball is the Tribe’s biggest weapon. Now there is a statement that I never thought I would say. This group is far from the ’95 Tribe, but the 2013 version is boom or bust. Over the weekend, the offensive attack pretty much consisted of the long ball and that is it.
Friday night’s 3-2 loss featured the Tribe grounding into three horrifically timed double plays which killed any shot they had at pulling this one out. Both of their runs came from a Lonnie Chisenhall two-run jack. The 19-run completely out of nowhere offensive awakening Saturday featured three more homers, directly responsible for seven runs. Yesterday, the Indians won 5-4 due in large part to four solo blasts. Imagine what Manny Acta must be thinking.
Mark Reynolds, who has been the biggest surprise of this young season, is now tied for the American League lead with seven big flys. His shot in the seventh off of ex-Indian Hector Ambriz broke a 4-4 tie.
The good news is that the Indians have hit 25 homers in 17 games, tied for fourth in the majors. The bad news is when they don’t hit them, they have real trouble scoring. They Indians have two wins where they scored a combined 32 runs. In the other 15 games, they have scored 48 runs, which is an average of 3.2 runs per game.
More on the offense. Francona definitely misses Bourn at the top of the order. Michael Brantley has moved back there temporarily, but he hasn’t been swinging the bat well of late and has just two extra base hits and no steals thus far. He tried Stubbs at the top for a couple of games, but he strikes out too much and is better suited for the bottom of the order. What the injury to Bourn has done is give veteran DH Jason Giambi his shot at being a psuedo-regular. The 42-year old power hitter has become the DH against righties with Reynolds moving to first base and Nick Swisher being sent out to right field. Giambi hit a home run in his Wednesday start against Boston and on Saturday he drove in five runs with a three-run shot and a double. He has had just 16 at-bats (three hits) but looks to be getting into a bit more of a groove.
The guy who the Indians really need to get going is Asdrubal Cabrera. The two-time All-Star shortstop is really scuffling at the plate and the lack of production is visibly frustrating him. He has just nine hits in 60 at-bats(.150/.227/.283) with 18 strikeouts. Asdrubal spent last week coming up in big spots and failing to come through. The capper came Friday night. In the fifth, trailing 3-2, Asdrubal came up with two on and nobody out and grounded into a double play. In the seventh, with two out and the tying run on second, Cabrera worked a great at-bat against lefty Wesley Wright, before swinging at ball four on a strikeout to end the inning. He tossed his bat in disgust. It was similar to his helmet-slam earlier in the week against Boston when he smoked a ball with the bases loaded and two out that was caught by Sox right-fielder Shane Victorino.
Asdrubal was lifted early in Saturday’s game and missed yesterday after falling in the dugout and bruising his left wrist. X-rays were negative. It was probably a good thing to give him a mental day of rest, especially with Mike Aviles a legit option replacing him. He should be ready for tonight’s series opener in Chicago.
Walkin’ The Tightrope. Say this for Chris Perez, he hasn’t had many save opportunities this year. His first save of the season came on Opening Day in Toronto, where he danced around a single. The next night, he was touched up by Jose Bautista for a game-tying solo blast in a game the Indians eventually won 3-2. That was April 3rd. Perez’s next save chance came yesterday, April 21st.
The Tribe closer gave up a double to Rick Ankiel to open the ninth and followed it by hitting Matt Dominguez on a 3-2 pitch. Marwin Gonzalez’s sac bunt pushed the runners into scoring position for Altuve, essentially the only Astro anyone is scared of. He would be intentionally walked to load the bases. CP then buckled down and struck out Chris Carter on a perfect slider down for the big second out, bringing up the left-handed hitting Jason Castro.
With the count 2-2, Castro lined a shot to third, where Reynolds was playing his first game. Defensively Reynolds is known as below average at the hot corner, but on this one, he picked it like a gold-glover, fired across the diamond to first and preserved a 3-2 victory and a series win.
“Luckily, by the time I looked [Reynolds] had already scooped it up,” Perez said. “It was a bullet. I was happy I didn’t turn around and see it in the outfield. He made a great play.”
Just another day at the office for the man they call “Pure Rage.”
“My ball was going all over the place today. First and second, nobody out, I don’t feel comfortable throwing strikes yet. You can’t simulate the intensity, the at-bats the hitters are taking on the other side, laying off close pitches. You can’t replicate that,” said Perez.
Hopefully they can get things going a little bit more so that Perez can get more regular work to stay sharp.
Up Next for the Tribe: The Chicago White Sox (7-11). The Central time zone trip continues tonight with a trip to U.S. Cellular Field on the South Side of Chicago. The three-game set gets started with Justin Masterson (3-1, 1.67 ERA) looking to get back on track after the worst start of his young season. The Sox will counter with Dylan Axelrod (0-1, 4.70 ERA). The Indians took two of three from Chicago in Cleveland two weekends ago.
(AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)