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Second Thoughts Game #143: Royals 3, Indians 4

Second Thoughts Game #143: Royals 3, Indians 4
September 10, 2013
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After a disappointing conclusion to the Mets series, the Indians looked to rebound quickly against a Royals team that is close behind in the wild card race. Despite the bullpen's best efforts to hand over the game, they were led to victory by their best pitcher in recent months.

Jimenez remains a revelation

 With Justin Masterson currently down, and for who knows how long, continued success from Ubaldo Jimenez is of paramount importance for the Indians. On Monday night, it was more of the same revitalized version that we have come to expect since the All-Star break (and really, most of the season).

It was a free and easy seven innings for the much-maligned Jimenez. He averaged just over 14 pitches per inning, and scattered seven hits, only allowing more than one baserunner in an inning once. Most importantly, the hits were not compounded by walks. For the second time in his last three starts, he went without allowing a single free pass. Before August 29 against the Braves, he had zero walkless games this season, and the last one came on June 10 of last year.

As it turns out, there are positive trends aplenty going for him right now. This was also the third 10-strikeout game in his last four, of which he had none this season before August 23. It was his ninth straight start allowing three or fewer earned runs (and the 22nd of his last 24), and the seventh of his last eight without surrendering a home run.

The reason for his success has stayed the same: deception in many forms. He has generally been able to throw his entire repertoire effectively, in any count, and move his fastball, in particular, all over the plate in a cerebral fashion. When a batter is unsure about the what, the when and the where, pitching is made to look simple. As difficult as it was to ever imagine prior to this campaign, he has been able to do just that.

Recently, though, he has also been assisted by an uptick in fastball velocity. Whether it was planned or not, it seems that the heavier reliance on his secondary pitches throughout the middle of the season has freed up his fastball, in a sense. Over his last four starts, he has gained more than two miles per hour on his sinker and over one on his four-seam, compared to the first 22 starts.

Right now, everything is trending upward for Jimenez. In the heat of a playoff race (perhaps even two, still), and without starting pitcher number one, him peaking could not have come at a better time.

Get used to the Indians' new catcher

 As a main lobbyist for the "Yan Gomes, starting catcher" campaign throughout the summer, Monday night's game left me especially proud.

The Indians knew that they had a potential impact hitter in Gomes. He was able to contribute through inconsistent playing time early on, and get absurdly hot for a time (a .529/.600/.824 line with eight runs batted in over 40 plate appearances) when the starts first started piling up. After hitting a wall for three weeks or so, he is bordering on absurdly hot again. With an opposite field home run in this contest, he has now hit in eight straight starts, going 11-for-27 with six extra-base hits and six runs batted in.

Conversely, there were concerns throughout the organization about Gomes being able to catch regularly on the highest level. How improbable does that seem now? He worked feverishly on his defense over the winter and spring, and is quickly looking like one of the best in the sport. All he did in this particular game was throw out a pair of would-be base stealers on baseball's leading team (and he would have had a third if Asdrubal Cabrera caught the ball), and he turned away a run by cutting off the plate and applying a quick tag. He has now picked off 50% of those who have tested him this season, putting him behind only the Reds' Ryan Hanigan among catchers who have caught 500 or more innings.

It has been made abundantly clear that he is the team's best option at catcher, right now and for the foreseeable future. Carlos Santana certainly still has a comfortable place, too, but it is at the position which requires no glove. For the amount of criticism that Chris Antonetti and company tend to get, they deserve all the credit in the world for landing a potential elite catcher as a throw-in.

The whirlwind debut of Jose Ramirez

For the first time in his short (no pun intended) Major League career, the 20-year-old Ramirez came to the ballpark and saw his name in the starting lineup. He wasted no time making his presence, both positive and negative, felt.

Yes, Jose: In his first at-bat of the game, he collected hit number one, lacing a single to the opposite field. Off with the 3-2 pitch to Drew Stubbs behind him, he never stopped running on the chopper hit to the left side. The return throw to third base was a wild one, and he scored. He also collected hit number two on a well-placed infield squibber that wasn't fielded cleanly.

No, Jose: While on first base after that second hit, he was picked off. He also committed an error trying to make an off-balance throw, which led to the Royals' first run.

Ramirez offered his entire scouting report right out of the gate. He swung at pitches in the zone, put them in play, and utilized his speed. On the contrary, he still has to learn how to become a better baserunner outside of the speed element, and he is a little rough around the edges as a defender. In defense of his defense, though, he was playing third base, a position entirely new to him before 2013, and one in which he only played eight games at prior to this one.

Up next: The middle game of this pivotal series. The Indians will call on Zach McAllister, while the Royals will send out former friend of the feather, Jeremy Guthrie.

User Comments

September 10, 2013 - 5:46 PM EDT
Love this team
September 10, 2013 - 2:43 PM EDT
@ Shy,

I agree somewhat - you don't leave Salazar in for 100 pitches against Detroit with plans of having him on a short leash. They've already seemingly back tracked saying they'd keep an eye on shutting him down but as far as I know there is no set pitches or innings limit on him right now.
September 10, 2013 - 1:41 PM EDT
They need Salazar esp w Masterson out. I don't believe in babying pitchers, I believe in building them up. After Francona left him out there in the 8th at around 100 pitches to try to strike out Miguel Cabrera for a 4th time, I'm not buying that anyone is worried about him getting injured. I would pitch him as far into Sept/Oct as the Indians can go- on an 80-100 pitch count depending on the situation. Perez, it's hard for me to separate my emotion from this- it just rips my stomach out to watch come in as a closer on an Indians team that is contending in September and walk guys, give up bombs, and loud outs. I don't have the stats, but his WHIP has to be significantly higher than the closer on any other contending team. I cringe when I see Francona run him out night after night expecting a different result- what's up w that Tito? Is that not Einstein's definition of insanity? The standard manager speak retort "he's our closer, we're going to dance w who brung us" doesn't wash for me. Where Clown the Ripper has "brung" us is the brink of elimination. Honestly I would rather see Francona go Bochy freestyle and start matching up w CC Lee, Carlos Carrasco, Preston Guilmet, and whichever lefty is available. You got 20 games left and you can't blow any of 'em on stupidity/ unwillingness to make changes. You know I love Tito, but he lost his job in Boston because the team choked up a 9 game lead in September while the manager was dancing w who brung him. He obviously is ready to mix it up, to wit starting Jose Ramirez at third last night. Personally, I can't take anymore Perez gut punches. I walked away from "Gameday Live" last night, I couldn't watch it.
Ron Vollmar
September 10, 2013 - 11:37 AM EDT
This question might not exactly relate to this article, but, I believe it is a good question to get some informative feedback.

Salazar is almost to his limit of Innings pitched, if you combined the minor league games as well as the major league games.

If the Indians went to a six starter rotation or even remained at a 5 pitcher rotation, could Salazar continue to start If his pitch count was say 75 pitches?

He could be the difference maker down the home stretch.

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