Second Thoughts Game #75: Indians 5, Orioles 2
After a strong homestand that righted the Indians' ship, they hit the road for 11 games, starting with four in Baltimore. Ubaldo Jimenez lasted just 5.1 innings and got hit out of the park twice, and the offense didn't score until the sixth inning. They came on in a big way in that sixth, though, taking a lead that the bullpen would never relinquish.
Are we finally seeing the real Jimenez?
For the ninth time in his last 11 starts, Jimenez allowed two or fewer runs in 5.0 or more innings. Wonderful, right? It is... to a degree. The problem is that he still labors, and averaged just over 6.0 innings per start during that stretch. This game was more of that.
He didn't have a single clean inning. He allowed home runs to straightaway center field in the first and fourth innings, and dealt with major traffic in the second and third innings. What saved him was separating the two situations. Both big flies came with the bases empty, and he managed to tighten up and escape unscathed when they were occupied.
How? By being a pitcher. Moving the ball around and executing with his secondary offerings kept him afloat. He mostly struggled with his fastball command, throwing only 57% of his varieties of them for strikes. The breaking balls, however, went for 71%. This has been the most discerning element of his turnaround. Variance. More offspeed, less fastballs. Pitching to all four quadrants of the zone. Gone, are the days of him throwing in the upper 90s, and of him throwing a huge majority of heaters because he could. Hell, the Indians never even saw it.
What he probably is is a pitcher that will strike out a good number of hitters (he has the best strikeout rate of his career this season) and not give up a ton of hits because he has great stuff, but also walk a good number of hitters and occasionally serve up the longball because he can miss the catcher's glove. Really, it's not much different from how he's always been, whether as an ace or a near-sendoff (and perhaps that is worth investigating further). While he is clearly better for the repertoire change now that the velocity is depleted, it spells out having to work hard and throw a lot of pitches to get through his five or six solid innings.
This is certainly not the Cy Young-quality pitcher the Indians expected to have when they parted with two blue-chip pitching prospects. But, knowing what we know about how awful he was for the first season and a half, this refined version is rather acceptable.
Brantley 4, the Orioles 2
Through the first five innings, the Indians managed two singles, a walk and a hit batter against starter Zach Britton, to the tune of zero runs.
They began the sixth by having five straight reach base, highlighted by a two-run single from Michael Brantley. He would add two more runs with a blast in the eighth, tying his career-high for runs batted in in a game.
Not too long ago, Brantley had just 11 extra-base hits on the season. He has now added four in a five-game stretch, including three that left the field of play. Is this the beginning of a power surge for someone who is often criticized as a rarely-walking singles hitter? Who knows. We have seen stretches like this before and wondered the same. And for the record, I'm not one of those criticizers. While the claims have validity, I think you have to look deeper to find the value that Brantley provides, offensively.
He may not walk much (52nd highest walk rate out of 160 qualified hitters), but he still makes pitchers work and has a keen understanding of the strike zone. He has swung at just 23.7% of the pitches he's seen outside of the zone this season, good for 20th. And he also doesn't strike out much (22nd). His contact rate is elite, at 6th. While the results aren't always there, you have to love his ability to swing at strikes and put the ball in play, no matter the count or situation.
An increase in power at the backend of his 20s (when it tends to come if it's going to) would certainly change a lot of minds about him. Even as is, when paired with his defense in left field, his baserunning and his overall headiness, his offense plays just fine for me. The total package is a very solid baseball player in all facets.
The bullpen continues to answer the call
Up to this point, the best word to describe the 2013 Cleveland Indians is streaky. It is true of the offense, defense, starting pitching and bullpen. It seems as though one area plays as well or as poorly as the other three at any given time, in fact. Right now, they are trending upward as a team, and that may not be more important to anyone than the relievers.
Through the ups and downs, the club's bullpen has been the most worrisome. It is no secret that the usually strong group has been tested and beaten more than what is expected of them. But during this run of nine wins in 12 games, they have looked more like the unit of old.
In this game, Rich Hill, Bryan Shaw, Joe Smith and Vinnie Pestano combined to go 3.2 scoreless innings with either a one or three-run lead, allowing just two baserunners. Both came in the ninth inning, courtesy of Pestano, whose struggles are by far the most troublesome of the group. His strikeouts and velocity are down, and his walks and home runs are up, leading you to believe that he may still be injured.
But alas, the cast has an earned run average of 2.80 in this 9-3 stretch, and it will soon get its closer back. That is a positive, right...? At the least, Chris Perez's return will both lengthen and reorganize the bullpen. Hopefully, his expanded struggles were merely the result of being hurt.
The Indians added a new member to their bullpen before the game, calling on left-hander T.J. House for the first time in his career. Carlos Carrasco was optioned, but only strategically. He should start one of two games against the White Sox on Friday.
With Carrasco immediately coming back and Chris Perez's return on the horizon (he could be making his final rehab appearance today), House's stay will likely just be for this series. Who knows if he will even get a look, and he certainly won't be able to make enough of an impression to replace Rich Hill or Nick Hagadone right now.
Up next: The second game of four in Baltimore. The Indians will send Justin Masterson to the mound, and be opposed by Chris Tillman.
How far away is McAllister, from returning to the rotation.
The starting pitching for the beginning of July, looks better and better.
I know it is early, but, without looking at Carrasco and Bauer, who are the next three best starting pitchers in the minors that might make a start this year for the Cleveland Indians?
Pardon my spelling, but, I have read about Salazz (sp) sorry about that. Does he make it to Cleveland prior to September?
Nice article today, thanks for the good work.