When I sit down every Sunday to write about the weekend that was with our friends of the feather, the topics seem to be the same: Bad defense, a lack of coming through with the timely big hits, starters not going deep enough into the games, the middle of the order guys not names Michael Brantley not doing their jobs, et cetera. Truth be told, this weekend in Seattle did not provide many great conversation pieces.
Josh Tomlin’s Saturday night gem is the obvious pace to start, but outside of that, it was just more of the same from our Cleveland Indians. The 44-38 Mariners are not a bad team at all, but you are not going to win games when you score seven runs in three games. Seattle took the book ends of this series and left the Indians feeling limp as they hop on a plane for sunny Southern California.
The only true Tribe excitement of the weekend was the performance of The Little Cowboy. It was the finest game an Indians starter has thrown since Len Barker’s perfect game in 1981. Of all people, Tomlin was the one you would least expect.
Coming into Saturday night, Josh had been struggling a bit. He had given up 13 earned runs on 28 hits in his last two starts, spanning 15 innings. He was in dire need of a big performance, and oh boy did he deliver. From the first pitch to his last, Tomlin was borderline unhittable. He retired the first 12 he faced before giving up a single to Kyle Seagar to start the fifth. From that point on, The Tribe’s right-hander wasn’t touch. The next 15 Mariners were set down in order as Tomlin closed out a complete-game, one-hit shutout.
To make things even more impressive, JT struck out a career high 11 and didn’t issue a single free pass. That’s about as good as it can get.
“I felt good and I knew I was commanding the ball well to both sides of the plate,” Tomlin said. “I had to have a good changeup today to get them off everything else.”
The 29-year old has always been known for his ability to throw strikes, but in this one he was just flat out dialed in.
“He commanded so well,” manager Terry Francona said. “He was expanding the zone. He showed in to keep them honest and then he’d go away. A little farther. A little farther, just leading guys to pitches.”
The last complete game, one-hit shutout by and Indian came in 2002 when hitchy left-hander Billy Traber tamed the mighty New York Yankees. The hope is that this could be the start of something really big for Tomlin, who looks like an even better pitcher since coming back from Tommy John surgery two years ago.
Now if the Indians could only get this kind of starting pitching on the regular, especially from Justin Masterson and whomever between T.J. House and Zach McAllister is going to remain in the rotation.
With Masterson’s sore knee holding him out a few extra days, the Tribe brass went with House in a spot start Sunday and will be bringing McAllister back later in the week. House has provided some decent moment in his seven starts with the Tribe and he was given another opportunity to impress, but unfortunately he had to face off with Felix Hernandez, arguably the hottest starter in the American League right now.
For the first five innings, House matched King Felix pitch for pitch. The two were putting up zeroes with Hernandez holding the Indians to one Lonnie Chisenhall single. Then came the sixth when the Bad News Bears defense reappeared. Michael Saunders dropped a knubber that House charged and fielded. He rushed his throw to first and the ball got past Nick Swisher at first so wildly that Saunders ended up at third.
“I also didn’t realize how close I was too the bag,” House said. “It probably would have been better to do a little flip there instead of making a throw.”
The error seemed to rattle House as he buzzed the tower of the next hitter, Robinson Cano. Catcher George Kottaras set up looking for the next pitch to be down and left one right over the heart of the plate that Cano deposited into the right field seats.
“I thought I did a good job up until the sixth inning,” said House, who allowed two runs on seven hits with five strikeouts and one walk in six innings. “I hurt myself there. If that doesn’t happen, it’s a zero-zero ballgame. We could still be out there playing.”
Here is the thing about House: He has shown that he can pitch at the big league level. Maybe the break will help McAllister once he returns later in the week, but House has served notice that he belongs.
Said the Tribe skipper on his left-hander: “He’s given us a chance to win everytime he’s pitched. All you can do is put up zeroes and he’s done a good job. The moment or the game isn’t too big for what he’s trying to do.”
McAllister started the season strong, posting a 2.28 ERA in his first four starts, but once May arrived, something seemed off with the big right-hander. In his last three May starts, Zach was attacked for 17 earned runs in just seven and two-thirds. Magically, McAllister’s back was balky and a DL stint was needed. House made a name for himself but by the time McAllister was ready, rain outs and two scheduled days off in the same week before and after the two-game set in Arizona pushed his return back even further.
Z-Mac made two starts for Columbus this week and looks to be back in form. He pitched seven and a third scoreless Thursday night in a win at Buffalo. Crazy as it seems, the Indians least consistent starter right now is Masterson. The Indians just don’t know what they are going to get out of him on a start to start basis. Justin has said that the knee has been bothering him since the second start of the season, but could that really be the cause of his diminished velocity and command issues?
No matter who started for the Indians Sunday, nobody was going to be able to top King Felix. A day after Tomlin pitched a one-hit shutout for the Indians, Hernandez followed suit, though he left after eight innings, giving up just the one hit and three walks. Fernando Rodney closed the game out for the Mariners.
“Felix was so good,” Francona said. “He had everything working. He pitched. It’s hard to get a bead on him. He commands his fastball. He spins a breaking ball. He throws a changeup off both of those. And, he locates all of them. That’s tough.”
Yes, Hernandez is one of the best, but the Tribe at-bats against him were not great. It was like that most of the weekend, other than Saturday night when the Tribe scored five of their seven runs. The first four hitters in the lineup — Michael Bourn, Asdrubal Cabrera, Michael Brantley, and Jason Kipnis — all drove in a run. Yan Gomes’s solo blast in the sixth finished off Roenis Elias for the night. Other than that, the bats were all but silent.
Friday night’s 3-2 loss was marred by the Tribe’s 1-9 with runners in scoring position statistic.
I want this team to be so much better than they are. It is all there for them. The talent is there. But this team reminds me of a hack golfer, they can do everything well, just usually not on the same hole, or in this instance, the same game. They can hit, they have better team speed than they have in the past few years, the starting pitching and bullpen work is quality, but one facet of the game derails them almost on a nightly basis.
One night, the bats will be there, and the pitching will fail them. Or the starting pitching will be good enough, but the offense will only produce a couple of runs. Then my favorite, which seems to happen several times a week, the defense will give the opponent extra outs and it will kill a quality performance.
The Indians are in the midst of their second west coast trip of the year. Their road woes are well documented and easily winnable games are given away. Friday night’s loss was a win for the taking, but they just couldn’t drive in the key run when they needed it. Its been the story of the season. Before the home sweep by the hated Detroit Tigers, the Tribe had the best home record in baseball, but unless they start to get some momentum on the road, I just don’t know if they will be able to get back in the race.
The 16-27 road record is the worst in the American League. Now comes a three-game set with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The good news? They miss stud lefty Clayton Kershaw. Corey Kluber, Masterson, and Bauer are lined up to pitch the series for the Indians. It is of the utmost importance to get some sort of momentum going before they come home for July 4th weekend to meet the Kansas City Royals, who the Indians are currently looking up at.
The only thing consistent about this team is their inconsistency. That has to change in a hurry.
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)