The weekend series in Miami was kind of glossed over coming in. The Indians arrived in Little Havana with an eight-game winning streak and all kinds of momentum. They knew they had the first place Detroit Tigers coming to Cleveland on Monday, and a let down against the Marlins, one of baseball’s worst teams, could have easily occurred. With the DH not in play this weekend (more on that in a little), the Tribe’s depth would be tested.
So how would they respond? Friday night’s domination by Miami’s Jose Fernandez not withstanding, the Indians took the series and showed some real grit in doing so. The bullpen stepped up big time, backing two solid starts Saturday and Sunday. Wins and losses are all that matters right now, and the Wahoos won two of three. If your team can take two out of every three, that is a .667 clip which you would LOVE and sign up for all day.
More things are becoming clear with this club and manager Terry Francona has figured out the right mix with the position players. Now if they could get that bullpen back to its old form….So before we head into this huge series with the Tigers, let us look back at the weekend that was in Wahooland.
Kazmir and McAllister keep the line moving
That is a pet phrase of Francona’s when talking about his offense. He loves big innings that “keep the line moving.” However, it probably works best when discussing the Indians current top strength – the starting rotation. It still stuns me how this group continues to perform at such a high level. Throw out Ubaldo Jimenez’s Friday regression and again the starters did their job, bridging themselves to the back end of the pen and helping push the Tribe to two wins.
McAllister was still attempting to round himself into form in making his third start since spending six weeks on the DL. For the second time in a row, The Zach Attack looked good. Obviously, being able to face the White Sox and the Marlins in back to back starts is a great way to get yourself healthy, but you can only play who is on your schedule. McAllister carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning, but departed after giving up three hits, which caused a 2-0 lead to evaporate. It was clear Z-Mac was tiring. He struck out seven with just one walk, throwing 99 pitches. But it was another start to build off of from the right-hander.
“I felt good,” he said. “My delivery was where I wanted it, and the ball was coming out good, and I was under control the whole time.”
The following afternoon, Kazmir took his turn. His last time out, the Tribe’s left-hander was touched up for four runs in five innings against Chicago. It stopped his string of six straight starts where he looked like the Scott Kazmir of old. With the series on the line, the leader for American League Comeback Player of the Year came out and pitched an absolute gem.
It was more of the same from Kazmir as the Marlins could not handle his fastball/change up mix. For six innings, Scott shutout Miami out on two hits. He struck out seven and walked two while never getting into any real trouble. He K’d the side in the sixth (with a single in between) and left the game after 102 pitches. He may have come back out for the seventh, but his spot in the lineup came around with two on and one out. Francona called for Jason Giambi to pinch hit with the Tribe nursing a 1-0 lead.
“I was just thinking about attacking hitters. Right now, I think I’m better than I was four or five years ago. I think I’m wiser and have a couple of more pitches,” said Kazmir.
Hat tip to the great Jordan Bastian of Indians.com who tweeted that over his last nine starts, Kaz has an ERA of 1.93, a WHIP of 0.86, and opponents are hitting .193 against him. That is heady stuff.
I feel like I have this same conversation after each of their starts, but if you were setting your playoff rotation today, Kazmir and Corey Kluber would have to be 2-3 in some order behind Justin Masterson. I’m just not sure which way things would go. One thing I do know – the Indians would be SUNK without the efforts of both Kazmir and Kluber this season. They have been saviors.
Speaking of the rotation…..
Someone is coming back up on Wednesday to face the Tigers. Someone who we have seen in Cleveland just once and made a lasting impression. Someone who is completely dominating AAA right now. That someone is the Tribe’s top pitching prospect, Danny Salazar.
Remember when Trevor Bauer was all the rage? Well Salazar has sped past him like his name was Tony Stewart. The last time we saw Salazar, he was making his Major League debut against the Toronto Blue Jays, taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning and touching 99 on the gun. He left as a winner, giving up one run on two hits with seven K’s in six innings. Since then, he has kicked his game into high gear.
In his last three starts for Columbus, Salazar has thrown 14 scoreless innings (The Indians are monitoring his workload) with 25 strikeouts and one walk. There has been lots of talk that he could be a factor for the Tribe out of the pen down the stretch, in the same vain that the Tampa Bay Rays used David Price in 2008. But in a forward-thinking move, GM Chris Antonetti and Francona have decided to call up Salazar to make a spot start Wednesday against the Tigers, replacing Jimenez who has been pushed back to Friday.
The Tigers have owned Ubaldo in his career. He sports an ERA of 5.32 against them in 16 starts, and even worse, this season in three starts Detroit has battered him for 10 runs in 13 innings.
“When Ubaldo has faced Detroit this year, he hasn’t pitched in well enough,” said Francona. “If you, and you let them get their arms extended, they’re going to beat you around a little bit one through nine.
More importantly, the Tigers have not seen Salazar and his lights out stuff. This is a perfect time to unleash him and a perfect time to give Jimenez extra rest. I love the move. Antonetti and Francona know Detroit has Ubaldo’s number and they have an unknown commodity in Salazar that could really help them in a monster series.
What will be interesting to see is what corresponding roster move is made Wednesday when Salazar is recalled. With Salazar on a strict pitch and innings count you will want a full and rested bullpen behind him. With that said, I can’t see a position player being shipped out for Salazar, unless of course a phantom injury to either Jason Giambi or Mark Reynolds would suddenly pop up. That would leave a bullpen pitcher vulnerable.
There are three pitchers with options left – righties Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen, and newly acquired lefty Marc Rzepcynski. Allen isn’t going anywhere. Shaw who I thought could be the guy sent out last week when Vinnie Pestano was shipped to Columbus, was just used in the seventh inning of a one run game yesterday and looks to have regained Francona’s trust. Rzepcynski would seem to be the odd man out for the 10 days required to stay down after a demotion. Rich Hill has pitched better of late making Rzepcynski some what of a luxury.
Francona claims that this is a spot start only for Salazar, but what if he completely shuts down the Tigers? I’d love to see him stay here and establish himself in the pen for the stretch drive. Only time will tell.
Give that pen credit
The Tribe’s pen has been rocky to say the least in 2013. But as much as we have been dogging them, they deserve praise when they come through. On Saturday and Sunday, the ball was turned over to them in tight games and on both occasions, the crew delivered.
Allen entered a tie game Saturday in the sixth and wiggled his way out of a bases loaded jam – which he caused. He came back out for the seventh and retired the Marlins in order after the Tribe had taken a 4-2 lead. With Pestano now in Columbus trying to regain his velocity and his confidence, Allen MUST be on top of his game. The same goes for Joe Smith, the eighth inning bridge to closer Chris Perez, who had a horrific month of July. The good news is that it is August and Smitty looks to be back on track.
Smith pitched a perfect eighth in front of Perez, who allowed his first earned run since July 11th, but still recorded the save. It was a big night for the pen. Yesterday they kept things going. This time it was Shaw who got the call in the seventh, taking over for Kazmir. He gave up two singles, but struck out three Marlins in his scoreless inning. He also pitched two scoreless innings with four K’s in Friday night’s 10-0 loss. Smith was next again in the eighth and danced around a walk to keep Miami scoreless. Perez closed out the Indians AL-leading 15th shutout with a 1-2-3 ninth.
The 15 shutouts is the most by a Tribe team since 1976 when they had 17. There is still two months left in the season. That is just an incredible stat.
The offense had a slow weekend, but….
As I said before, it is all about wins and losses, and thanks to solid pitching Saturday and Sunday, the Tribe took the series. They did so in spite of their offense, which put up just six runs in three games. It was the first time since September of 1989 (Detroit) that they won a series with six runs total or less (h/t to JakeyStats).
Jose Fernandez put on as impressive a performance as we have seen all year Friday night, blanking the Indians on three hits, striking out a whopping 14 in eight innings. Jacob Turner, a former Tigers phenom, held down the Tribe offense for six innings on just two runs. If not for the Tribe speed on Saturday night, they may not have pulled that victory out. They stole a season high six bases – five coming from Michael Bourn and Drew Stubbs. None were bigger than the seventh inning double steal these two pulled off. They both scored on Jason Kipnis’s single which turned out to be the game-winner.
“Those guys have been the National League’s one and two in stolen bags for the last few years,” said Kipnis of Bourn and Stubbs. “I thought they got pretty good jumps, and Drew was definitely safe at third. He got his foot in there.”
It was the one big hit the Indians had all night. Save for Kipnis, the rest of the Wahoos were 0-8 with runners in scoring position.
Sunday’s hitters were no better. Francona opted to rest regulars Nick Swisher, Carlos Santana, and Asdrubal Cabrera against Nate Eovaldi. Again, a Marlins starter gave the offense trouble. Eovaldi scattered seven hits, giving up just one run on a second inning RBI single by Lonnie Chisenhall. They left a ton of runners on again in the 2-0 win. They got a key insurance run off the bat off Dr. Smooth himself, Michael Brantley. Despite being mired in a mini-slump, Brantley ended his 0-14 skid with another two-out RBI hit.
Also worth mentioning – Yan Gomes three more hits on Sunday, moving his batting average up to a season high .310. The more Gomes looks like this, the more 2014 seems to be clearing up. The Yanimal should become the everyday catcher with Santana moving into a Victor Martinez type – 1B/DH/backup catcher role.
Mark Reynolds, now relegated to spot starting, went 2-4 with his first extra base hit since June 28th. Francona seems to be figuring out what spots to pick with certain guys of late. We have seen more of Ryan Raburn and Gomes and less of Reynolds. It was what is clearly best for the team, however Francona still believes Reynolds has another hot streak in him. Last September with Baltimore, Reynolds caught fire hitting nine homers while driving in 24 runs. But until we see more of what we saw Sunday, expect Mega Mark to be coming off of the bench.
Our Wahoos are sizzling, winning nine of 10 heading into the monster series with the Detroit Tigers. Meanwhile, during this streak they have gained no ground on the first place Motor City Kitties because they too have won nine of 10. This is the final time Detroit comes to Progressive Field and big crowds are expected for this four-game series. The Tigers have dominated the Indians this season, winning nine of the 12 games. If the Indians want to prove they can hang with the big boys, this would be a great place to make their statement.
Detroit has their pitching lined up exactly the way they want it, with their top four starters all slated to go in this series. Anibal Sanchez (9-7, 2.59 ERA) will go tonight with the Tribe sending out the reliable Kluber (7-5, 3.77 ERA). Tuesday night will be a dandy with Justin Masterson (13-7, 3.33 ERA) taking on Cy Young winner Justin Verlander (11-8, 3.88 ERA). Wednesday will see Salazar (1-0, 1.50 ERA) and Detroit’s Doug Fister (10-5, 3.52 ERA) before the series closer Thursday matchup between McAllister (4-6, 3.47 ERA) and Max Schrezer (16-1, 2.85 ERA).
(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)