The Battle of Ohio packed up and headed from Cleveland to Cincinnati last night. The Reds carried over their “big homers from non-homer hitters” act, and the Indians were silent with the bats until the eighth inning when it was far too late. When it looked like the Indians might just dip their toes into serious wild card contention, they’ve fallen back to .500 after two straight losses, and this team seems to only validating what many have been saying for months now—this is a .500 baseball club.
Starting something: Danny Salazar took the hill last night, and I was cautiously optimistic1. He had pitched well in his last three outings since returning from Columbus, and Danny’s stuff has never been the issue. What has been the issue, however, is that Danny Salazar is still a thrower rather than a pitcher.
There’s no better example for this than the second inning. With runners on second and first with two out, Salazar is facing number eight hitter Zach Cozart. In the National League, we know that means that the pitcher is on deck. That also means that hitting eighth in a NL park for the first 5-6 innings of a game is an incredibly difficult situation. You aren’t likely to get anything good to hit, but if you sit there and take your free pass (especially with two outs), the threat likely ends. Salazar has Cozart 2-2 when he hangs a 87 mph slider. Cozart, a guy with 31 career homers and just two this season while playing everyday, belts it to left field and doinks it off the foul pole. Danny Boy promptly retires starter Mat Latos on a fly to center to end the inning, but the damage is done.
Salazar then allows a two-run blast in the fourth inning to Kris Negron, his third of the season. On this one, Salazar throws a 93 mph heater right down the middle of the plate. First of all, 93 isn’t 96-98, where Danny lives with his fastball most of the time. Secondly, it doesn’t matter how hard you throw it if you a) put it on a platter down the middle of the plate and b) can’t keep people off your heat by effectively using your off-speed stuff.
Tito chooses to lift Salazar in the top of the fifth inning with his spot coming up in the order. The Tribe has one runner on first with two down, and Chris Dickerson pinch-hits. Danny had tossed just 69 pitches, which made it a strange decision to me in a 5-0 game. Then again, Tito is no stranger to the quick hook lately. He pulled Zach McAllister after about the same amount of pitches last week against Seattle, and both of them had a date with Columbus following the game2 When you employ a 8-9 bullpen with consistent shuffling, you have the “luxury” of going to that bullpen earlier than most skippers do. It makes sense, because the Indians actually have a lot to like in that bullpen. They probably have a dozen arms that could be in the bigs somewhere right now.
Bully Bits: Francona went to Nick Hagadone in the fifth. When you look at Hagadone’s numbers, they look pretty solid in limited work this season with the parent club. He backed that up with two solid, efficient innings last night, allowing just one hit while striking out three Reds. In 15 1/3 innings over 18 appearances, Hagadone has a 2.03 ERA and a 6.3 K/BB ratio. Hagadone’s 28 years old now, but that low numbers of walks so far this season is huge progress over what hurt him in previous campaigns (where he walked over 5 per nine). Still, what gives me caution to Hagadone is what I like to call the “Albers Effect”. Matt Albers, as you may recall, pitched for the Tribe in 56 games last year which spanned 63 innings. He was also the last or second-to-last guy in the bullpen for most of the season. Albers was 3-1 with a 3.14 ERA, and at the surface, looked like a guy you could trust. However, when you look closer, you see that Albers faced 200 of his 261 batters last season in LOW leverage situations. In fact, he appeared in just 11 high-leverage situations that encompassed a meager 21 plate appearances. In short, Albers was the Indians’ mop-up man in a blowout either way, and he did a really nice job in that role. But, when Francona tried him in a close game, he got burnt a couple of times. It’s probably nothing and just a random comparison, but I can’t escape when I watch Hagadone turn in a performance like last night that it was in low leverage and it’s not nearly as meaningful.
– Nick Swisher played in left field for the first time since 2009 last night, and Mike Aviles finished up in center field (his second appearance there this season). Holy cow, do the Indians need some legitimate outfield defenders!
– Scott Atchison appeared for the 49th time this season last night in the team’s 114th game. It was in the seventh inning of a 5-0 game, and I could not help but ask myself “WHY?!” The Indians have five guys that rank near the top of bullpen appearances this season (Rzepczynski with 54, Shaw and Allen with 53, Atchison with 49, and Axford with 48). When the Tribe wins, they usually win close games, which means those four or five guys usually appear in those games. Five-run deficits are for the Hagadone, Crockett, and Tomlin/Carrasco section of the bullpen to absorb. It was a strange situation where Hagadone had given you two already, Carrasco and Tomlin had each thrown extensively last night, and there was no ninth pitcher in the pen. Still, Tito has got to avoid burning these guys out down the stretch. It seems like it’s already showing its effects on both Shaw and Atchison a bit.
– Jason Kipnis had three hits in this game. Yan Gomes slugged his 16th homer in the eighth inning. Ryan Raburn had a pinch-hit two run double in the same inning. That’s about all for the Tribe offense. Lonnie Chisenhall’s average dipped below .300, and that’s largely thanks to a July where he hit .209 and OPS’d at just a .569 clip. This feast or famine offense is just not cutting it anymore. I should probably mention in here somewhere that Mat Latos threw 7 2/3 and allowed just three eighth inning runs after things were decided. He also spells his name wrong. I know a lot of Matts. Someone’s parents spaced their T’s too close together when filling out the birth certificate form. ((This is the best joke I could muster. I’m not Jon.))
– Jose Ramirez had a costly double clutch on a ball hit up the middle in that third inning before the Cozart homer that could have ended the inning. I stress could because it was not an easy play. However, Ramirez did make a great play running out into medium-deep left-center to catch a ball just one batter before that. On both of those plays, I doubt Asdrubal Cabrera even sniffs making a play. I’ll always hold some level of affinity for the young spark that was 2007 Asdrubal Cabrera, but the 2014 version had become a bloated shortstop with terrible range and an anger management problem. I don’t miss him at all, and I’m willing to let Ramirez ride it out there until Lindor is ready.
– After the game, it was announced C.C. Lee had been recalled and Salazar was headed to Columbus. This is a savvy move by the Tribe. With two off days next week, Salazar goes down to pitch in Columbus without effectively missing a start up here. He can return in ten days to pitch on August 16, and the Indians rotation will be House-Bauer-Kluber-Carrasco(?) until then as they navigate New York and Arizona after tonight’s series finale in Cincy.
– Corey Kluber is awesome, but the Indians will only climb a significant number of games above .500 if Bauer and Salazar carry them there. The uncertainty in this rotation from 2-5 is overwhelming at times. It goes back to the two most colossal disappointments of this season, Justin Masterson and Zach McAllister. When the Indians miss the playoffs, look no further than these two guys when you start pointing fingers.
(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)