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Second Thoughts Game #23: Indians 9, Royals 0

Second Thoughts Game #23: Indians 9, Royals 0
April 30, 2013
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Who was that on the mound?

Monday marked the first guest appearance of the good version ofUbaldo Jimenez in 2013. I'm not falling for the aberration, but it was an excellent start that he deserves credit for. Early on, it occurred to me that something looked different in his delivery. I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on pitching mechanics, but whatever the difference was led to one very noticeable result - he wasn't overthrowing (and his fastball velocity was even up).

He threw 67% of his pitches for strikes, and got ahead of 15 of the 25 batters he faced. He continued trying to mix his pitches as he has more this season (38 four-seams, 19 two-seams, 25 changeups, 10 sliders, eight curves and three splitters), but this time, it worked. His changeup was especially effective, as he got seven of his 10 swings and misses with it. 

He was never in trouble, and never looked like the flustered pitcher that we have gotten all too used to seeing. Perhaps he and Mickey Callaway shook something loose in his delivery during those extra bullpen sessions. Time will tell. For better or worse, this start surely earned him slack on his rope that was getting tighter and tighter.

Santana the world-beater

 Is Carlos Santana overachieving early on, or are we seeing him begin to peak in his prime years? I say a little bit of both.

He added yet another extra-base hit to his collection, now up to 13 in 19 games (.686 slugging percentage - fourth-highest in the game). He added walk number nine (.456 on-base percentage - second-highest). He is not going to sustain his .434 average on balls in play, but what we do know about Santana is that he makes his hits count and he gets on base. At his current pace, he projects out to 28 home runs and 77 runs batted in. Very plausible. Maybe even slightly disappointing. Oh, and 63 (!) doubles. Due to his excellent swing, power and understanding of the strike zone, I have always expected more from him than he has given. Is this the season that it all comes together?

The rebound of the Indians' pivot?

Asdrubal Cabrera's fortunes seem to be turning around. He followed up his five-hit Sunday with two more, while driving in two and taking a rare free pass. He has now hit in eight straight games, going 12-for-29 with four extra-base hits and five driven in. What has been most concerning to me about his early struggles is his very inflated strikeout rate - almost nine percent higher than his career mark. But that has begun to normalize itself during this run, so perhaps we are seeing the return of the Cabrera we have come to expect.

Though Jason Kipnis has not quite showed the signs of life that Cabrera has, he did hit his first home run and draw another walk. Still, the strikeouts and general lack of production remain to be something of a concern. It is worth noting that his batting average on balls in ball is still over 40 points lower than the average and his career rates, suggesting an eventual leveling out and better results. He also has the second-lowest first-pitch swing percentage in baseball (just over four), so perhaps some aggression early in counts would benefit him by taking away the two-strike pressure he has regularly faced.

A backup steps up again

Like Mike Aviles in Sunday's nightcap, Ryan Raburn was given a start and made his presence felt. He went 4-for-4, clubbing his first and second home runs of the season. While Raburn, Aviles, Jason Giambi and Yan Gomes make a very formidable bench, a number of early injuries have, unfortunately, propelled them into more prominent roles. Both they and the Indians will probably be better off if that isn't often the case.

Roster business

Trevor Bauer was scratched from his start with the Clippers on Monday, beginning speculation that he would be named Wednesday's starter. Those suspicions were later confirmed, meaning we will get our second look at him, and for the first time in Cleveland. 

After a five-inning, seven-walk Indians debut the first week of the season in Tampa, it will be worth watching if he can get ahead in counts, pitch to contact more and not continually try to make perfect offerings. In 18.0 Triple-A innings (5.0, 6.0 and 7.0), he has walked six and struck out 24. Throwing too many pitches plagued him in Arizona, so that desire to want to outsmart every hitter might just be a concern.

Up next: The Indians return home for a nine-game stand, starting with the Phillies on Tuesday night. Zach McAllister will take the ball, opposite Roy Halladay.

User Comments

April 30, 2013 - 11:51 AM EDT
I know everyone wants to see Bauer in Cleveland as soon as possible, but honestly, he needs more time in AAA. Reports on his mechanics and velocity have been pretty mixed even though his numbers say he's been dominant. He has made a significant change to his lower body mechanics and honestly it looks like it's robbing him of some of the explosiveness he had as he came up last year.
April 30, 2013 - 9:47 AM EDT
It's best to just think that yesterday's game was a collective hallucination and didn't happen. Ubaldo's fastball sitting at 95 for the first 4 innings? Couldn't have happened. Or, as with his first game of the season, it could be followed by a game where he's throwing 90 mph. Yesterday, if it happened, was easily the best he's ever been since he came to the Indians. He had some games where he pitched well the first couple years but it was usually smoke and mirrors where he was successful with his breaking stuff. Don't recall a game where he had such consistent, good velocity, and even got it up to 97 mph a couple times. He did have a decent game last year in KC as well that got my hopes up, but not it wasn't to yesterday's level. That was 2010 Ubaldo on the mound yesterday. Hope they really found a time machine, and it wasn't a one-time thing.

He was definitely unlucky in the early going, but the 28% k-rate is Kipnis' main problem. Other than the home run yesterday, his other at bats where he needed to put the ball in play were pretty bad, so I wouldn't pronounce him cured yet. His contact rates have plummeted. Still think his struggles are more physical. If it is just a huge slump, would again think moving him lower in the lineup to take some pressure off would make sense.
April 30, 2013 - 9:23 AM EDT
Great to see Cabrera snapping out of that funk. While I agree we should expect Kipnis to see some uptick in production, .040 points of BABIP discrepancy isn't enough to think he's going to return to the guy we thought we had in the first half last year. The lineup construction is still dead wrong. When Bourn returns, Francona needs to take the opportunity to shake up the lineup. Mine would look like this:


If they really feel having Brantley further back is critical to his production, then you could drop him to 6th and have everyone move up a spot. Santana bat 6 and Kipnis at 2 is just terrible. There's no excuse for it.

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