Second Thoughts Game #50: Reds 4, Indians 2
Jimenez pitches well, but bullpen, offense come up short in loss
The first meeting of the two Ohio teams in 2013 produced a great game and the foundation for an interesting final three. When all was said and done, the Indians found themselves on the short end of the stick (a recent trend), thanks to their reeling bullpen (another recent trend).
Jimenez bears down
Ubaldo Jimenez gave up a home run to old friend Shin-Soo Choo on his fourth pitch of the afternoon, and you may have seen it as a sign of things to come. Well, he didn't go about it in a textbook way, but the enigma managed to turn in an excellent start.
He only threw first-pitch strikes to 13 of the 27 batters he faced, just 60% strikes overall, and walked four in his seven innings of work. But he only allowed four hits, and really seemed to execute his pitches following those walks. Three of the free passes came with no outs and the bases empty, and in each inning, he retired the next three batters in order, including notching three strikeouts and inducing a pair of double plays. He surrendered a single following the other walk, but was able to work around the two runners without incident.
The only other run he allowed came on a sacrifice fly, which was set up by a controversial leadoff double. On a day where he didn't have his best command (and at this point, it is pretty clear that he doesn't possess the capability for much better), his good movement and above-average-but-not-quite-2011-level velocity got him through, as evidenced by the rather easy damage control against an excellent lineup, and 14 swings and misses. Making it a habit of falling behind hitters isn't a way in which Jimenez or any other pitcher can succeed regularly (especially Jimenez), but it was nice to see him compensate for a day, especially knowing just how disastrously starts like that can turn out for him.
Bullpen woes continue
For a third consecutive game, the Indians' bullpen provided no relief whatsoever and put the team behind. This time, it was newly-promoted Nick Hagadone.
The left-handed Hagadone was brought on in the eighth inning, score tied, to face Shin-Soo Choo and Joey Votto, due up first and third, respectively. He managed to record one out, and that was on a sacrifice bunt in between them. Choo singled and Votto deposited a fastball into the seats 400 feet away. Whether or not Votto should have been pitched to with first base open is probably a debate worth having, but it happened and he won.
From the eighth on over these past three games (spanning 2.2 innings), Indians relievers have allowed 10 runs. Hagadone has had his own special brand of struggle in recent appearances, giving up nine runs (eight earned) over his last four (spanning 1.2 innings and over two weeks). Injuries and left-handed pitching in general are deterring the bullpen's great track record right now, and the uncertainty couldn't come at a worse time, as the toughest part of the schedule is in progress.
Santana is doing the team no favors behind the plate
It is no secret that Carlos Santana's value is exclusively tied to his bat. For as incredible of a hitter as he can be, he is about equally as bad of a defender.
In this contest, his oft-lazy receiving skills resulted in two passed balls (one that could have cost the Indians' dearly if Votto didn't leave any doubt with his home run), and he couldn't field a throw cleanly on the sacrifice fly that led to the Reds' second run. In his defense (or lack thereof), the throw from Drew Stubbs came in on the right side of the plate, was a tough in-between hop, and there was no guarantee that it would have beat the runner, anyway, but he rushed and hardly got leather on the ball.
Santana is responsible for four passed balls, and has thrown out three of 24 runners (12.5%). Of the 25 catchers in baseball who have caught at least 250 innings this season, Santana ranks 17th in catcher earned run average, at 4.44. In comparison (and of course, in much less playing time), Yan Gomes has one passed ball, has thrown out eight of 13 runners (61.5%) and has a catcher earned run average of 4.02. With those glaring differences in mind, perhaps it is time that Terry Francona deploys Gomes more often.
Chapman sparks the Swisher
When I mentioned a "foundation for an interesting final three games" in this matchup, I was referring to what happened in the ninth inning.
Reds closer Aroldis Chapman came on for the save, as he does. He threw fastballs hard and wildly, as he does. One, however, was a little too wild for Nick Swisher's liking. The first pitch that he saw sailed about three feet over the catcher's glove and straight to the backstop. Swisher stared out in disbelief or confusion, and was responded to by Chapman with the next pitch coming much closer to his head. At that point, disbelief or confusion had turned to about as much anger as Swisher can muster, as he glared and spoke his piece. He went on to just miss hitting a home run, and the exchange continued after the play.
Just for the record, the two had faced each other once before. Swisher fouled out. There were no reports of any incident. While the first pitch in this at-bat was clearly just a misfire, I do expect that the second one was more intentional because Chapman misinterpreted Swisher's reaction to the first. I also expect that a Red will wear a retaliation fastball at some point over these next three games.
One day after being removed from a save situation in Boston, Chris Perez was placed on the 15-day disabled list with right shoulder soreness. Hagadone, of course, was recalled in his place.
It was announced that Vinnie Pestano, dealing with mechanical and velocity issues in the wake of his own arm injury (elbow, instead of shoulder), would close in Perez's absence. Pestano has cited release point inconsistencies because of the time off as being responsible for his problems, but one has to wonder if the tendinitis is lingering.
Up next: The final game of this quick two-game set with the Reds. The two teams will then travel to Cleveland for two more.
But I'm sure this won't be the end of the story. I hope it's not Zach that does the retaliation. We don't need him to get suspended.