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Second Thoughts Game #99: Indians 3, Twins 4

Second Thoughts Game #99: Indians 3, Twins 4
Josh Willingham is congratulated after his solo homer in the eighth put the Twins in the lead. (Photo: AP)
July 22, 2014
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This was a winnable game that ended with an unfavorable result. With each win of increasing importance, it’s a disappointing start to a three game series against the Minnesota Twins team that was just swept by the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Indians battled the whole night to try and come from behind, managing to do so in the 8th inning on an RBI single from Roberto Perez. It wouldn’t matter, as Bryan Shaw would give up a home run to Josh Willingham in the bottom half of the inning that would prove to be the difference.

House’s Return to the Rotation

There are a lot of moving parts in the Indians’ rotation right now.

T.J. House was recalled to make this start after getting work during the break at Mahoning Valley. Danny Salazarwill be recalled for Tuesday’s start. I imagine that Zach McAllister will be called up on Friday after serving as the 26th man during the double header with Detroit last weekend. Justin Masterson will get another rehab start in Columbus and be in line to rejoin the rotation next week.

In the midst of all the upheaval, it’s been House that’s spent the most time in Cleveland over the last month.  He’s had a couple of impressive starts this year, and even when he hasn’t pitched great he’s still been able to hold his own.  This start was another of that sort.

House wasn’t particularly sharp, but managed to get through five innings only giving up three runs. It looked like it was going to be much worse in the second inning, when after back-to-back singles House served up a pitch right down the middle that Kurt Suzuki hit for a two-RBI double. The very next batter, Chris Collabello, nearly had a two-run homer that ended up being overturned as a long foul ball.  Still, even after escaping that inning without further damage, House gave up two more doubles and another run in the third inning. In the fourth he had to work around two walks and a single.

House really struggled with his two-seam fastball in this start. It wasn’t located well (43% balls) and Twins hitters earned five of their six hits against it. House’s whiff rate when throwing the fastball was just 2.7%, compared to 8% for his changeup and 13% for his slider. This is my main concern if House is going to stick in the rotation. To me, it looks like he only has one Major League quality pitch (slider). He doesn’t have the control or movement that he needs to have a great two-seam fastball, and his changeup hasn’t been effective. Right now he’s getting by on guile, composure, and a great slider.

A Different Look

The team sported a different look in this game with Francona juggling the lineup and defense. The most noticeable change to the lineup was Yan Gomes batting third. It might just have been a product of Michael Brantley not playing, but Gomes moving up in the order against lefties is long overdue. His slash line against left-handers is .359/.390/.554. On defense, Mike Aviles earned his first career start in center field and Nick Swisherplayed right for the first time this season.

It appeared as though Francona was pulling out all stops to maximize his lineup with the team facing its second lefty in as many nights. Roberto Perez was inserted into the lineup behind the plate with Gomes moving to DH. Therefore, to keep Swisher in the lineup he was inserted into right field. Needing a center fielder, and consideringChris Dickerson’s struggles against south paws, Francona choose to put Aviles in center. That put Ryan Raburnin left and kept the infield as normal.  

On paper it looked like great utilization of the team’s defensive flexibility to cobble together a Michael Brantley-less offense that could score some runs, but it didn’t happen. After starting the second half 3-0, the Indians offense has dropped two straight against left-handed starters. As detailed here, there are a lot more lefties to come. I think Francona did a good job in trying to be creative with his roster in this game, and hope to see some of these changes against left-handed pitching (Swisher in right field, Gomes moved up in the lineup) stick.

Other Notes

-Asdrubal Cabrera left the game with back spasms in the second inning. If he’s forced to miss some time, Jose Ramirez might earn a call-up. He’s surging right now in Columbus, hitting .333/.386/.486 over his last ten games. I think he’d provide a spark for the team down the stretch, regardless of the severity of Cabrera’s injury.

-I’m enjoying watching Chris Dickerson while I can. I don’t know what the future holds for him when Michael Bourn returns, but the trade to acquire him has proved to be a great short-term addition. He’s a competent center fielder and is showing he can hold his own against right-handed pitching. This was a great find by the Indians scouting department.

-Up next, Danny Salazar returns from Columbus to take the hill. He’ll face off against former Indians minor leaguer Yohan Pino. Getting his first taste of the majors at 30 years old, Pino has a 4.32 ERA in 26.2 innings this season.

User Comments

C L Who
July 22, 2014 - 3:07 PM EDT
Chris Dickerson's career stats are reasonably good. It's not clear at all why he has been such a journeyman player rather than finding a home. He's doing a nice job for the Tribe.

The rotation just isn't strong or consistent enough to sustain a .630+ winning percentage that will likely be needed to make the playoffs. From here on, the last five games will a few, lose a few.
Time to start making some deals that will help the team next year and beyond.
July 22, 2014 - 2:41 PM EDT
I have no idea why Brantley was getting a day off yesterday. They just had four days off for the All Star game! I know he was part of the festivities....but he had one at bat in four days. Absolutely no reason to sit him, especially when facing a lefty and they need all the help they can get. Inexcusable.
July 22, 2014 - 1:59 PM EDT
Dammit, don't lose to the twins after dominating the tigers. Get some mental toughness.

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