Tribe Happenings: Do better days lie ahead for the Indians?
Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians notebook…
Better days lie ahead?
The Indians just finished off a brutal 25-game stretch against some of the best teams in baseball. They played the Tigers five times (0-5), Red Sox four times (1-3), Reds four times (2-2), Yankees three times (0-3), Rays three times (1-2), Rangers three times (2-1), and Nationals three times (2-1). It all added up to an 8-17 record that included a brutal eight-game losing streak and 12-game road losing streak mixed in there.
Don’t forget that they opened the season with teams like the Rays, Blue Jays, Yankees, and Red Sox and got off to a slow start at 8-13. But seeing the forest and not just the trees, the Indians stand at 34-34 through what has been the toughest part of their schedule the first two and a half months of their season.
Now, things are going to lighten up with the schedule from this point through the end of the season.
Here are their remaining 94 opponents:
Minnesota (30-36): 16 times
Kansas City (33-34): 15 times
Chicago White Sox (28-38): 14 times
Detroit Tigers (38-29): 11 times
Baltimore (40-30): 7 times
Los Angeles Angels (30-39): 6 times
Houston Astros (26-44): 4 times
Toronto Blue Jays (32-36): 3 times
Seattle Mariners (31-39): 3 times
Texas Rangers (38-31): 3 times
Miami Marlins (21-47): 3 times
Oakland Athletics (42-29): 3 times
Atlanta Braves (41-28): 3 times
New York Mets (25-39): 3 times
They play just 27 of their remaining 94 games against teams with a winning record (28.7%), and the schedule really works to their favor as their last 23 games of the season starting on September 6th are against the Mets, Royals, White Sox, Astros and Twins.
Baseball is a funny game as sometimes the records on paper mean little and it just depends on whether you catch a team at the right time, so for as appetizing as the remaining schedule is for the Indians there is still a chance they could slip up and disappoint. This is where they need to find some consistency to all phases of their team and avoid any more serious injuries.
The Indians have already haggled with various injuries the first half of the season with the likes of Zach McAllister,Vinnie Pestano, Chris Perez, Brett Myers, Michael Bourn and Asdrubal Cabrera all hitting the disabled list at one time or another. They are starting to get healthy again and could really use some luck the rest of the way to stay healthy.
The starting pitching is looking like it is turning a corner is has become an overall steady unit. It is not a dominating staff that can carry a team, but Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister and even Ubaldo Jimenez have all been good to solid this season. If they can get even more consistency from Jimenez and figure out the fifth spot in the rotation between Scott Kazmir, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer or a soon-to-be-acquired pitcher, they could really take off.
The lineup is steady enough where if the Indians can just find one more consistent bat to add to the mix it might make all the difference. Whether that bat comes from within with a promotion of Lonnie Chisenhall back to Cleveland or they go the trade route to acquire a professional hitter remains to be seen.
Bottom line, this is a slightly above .500 ball club that if the pitching holds up and the lineup is more consistent has a chance to contend for a playoff spot deep into September. If they get the right spark from within with a player or two performing well beyond expectations (Kluber) and can add a piece or two in a trade, then the schedule sets up well for this team to finish with 88-92 wins and be right in the mix for a playoff berth at the end of the season.
Carrasco and Hagadone could be difference makers
Before the Indians go the trade route to find another starting pitcher or a left-handed reliever for the bullpen, they would be wise to wait it out on right-hander Carlos Carrasco and left-hander Nick Hagadone to see if they are the solution to their need in both roles.
Hagadone has been in Cleveland for most of the season and the numbers on the surface have not been pretty as he is 0-1 with a 6.16 ERA in 22 appearances out of the bullpen. He’s given up a few too many crucial hits late in games that have resulted in Indians’ losses, but his peripheral numbers are not that bad and his stuff is still very good.
Overall, batters are only hitting .214 off of Hagadone, but righties have touched him up hitting .242 with a .880 OPS against him. Perhaps it would be better if manager Terry Francona limit him to spot duty against lefties as he has actually really excelled against them this season as lefties are only hitting .188 with a .570 OPS off of him. He has also only walked three lefties compared to the nine righties he has walked in almost the same number of plate appearances.
Hagadone is very competitive. He is harder on himself than anyone as he strives to be the best and doesn’t settle for average results, but because of that he sometimes loses the feel for the right adjustment he has to make and puts too much pressure on himself. He is constantly seeking the right feel, right delivery and right mix of pitches, and when he figures it out he is as good as anyone in the game from the left side. Once he finds that consistency in his delivery that creates the most leverage and the best ability to get swing and miss, then he is really going to begin to consistently dominate hitters.
Hagadone certainly has the stuff to attack both lefties and righties, but righties are clearly giving him trouble as evidenced by the high walk rate and good contact they are making when they swing. Maybe a good way to build his confidence in the short term may be to just use him in a lefty specialist role to come in and get left-handers out and then stretch him back out after that once he settles in and the confidence has been restored.
Carrasco has an impressive repertoire with a 93-97 MPH fastball with an above average slider and above average changeup. The Indians are still high on his potential to be an impact starting pitcher for them, but the problem with him has been his inconsistent mental approach. If he ever gets his mental approach figured out then his performance should be much more consistent and he could emerge into one of the best pitchers in the league.
Sometimes it takes some pitchers more time than others to figure it out and come into believing that they can handle pitching in the big leagues and have success. When Carrasco does that, he could take off and he is being given that opportunity right now while Zach McAllister is on the disabled list.
It is a feeling out process the Indians are going through with Hagadone and Carrasco, but if both can become what they were always felt to become, then the Indians have two very big aces up their sleeve ready to impact the pitching staff not only this year, but for many years to come.
Time to call on Chisenhall
The reports out of Triple-A Columbus are that third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall is destroying all the pitching he is seeing with his bat but has been inconsistent with his defense. As a result, the Indians still appear to be in no rush to get him back to Cleveland.
But I disagree on the Indians’ slow response to getting Chisenhall called up.
Chisenhall needs a bigger challenge right now and belongs in the big leagues. The Indians keep saying that they want his next callup to be his last where he is up in the big leagues for good, but I still contend that keeping a player like him down longer than he should be can sometimes be counterproductive to their long term success.
The Indians could use a spark offensively, and that is something Chisenhall might be able to do right now. Time will tell if he is a solid complementary player on the roster for several years or ends up a journeyman third baseman bouncing between Triple-A and the big leagues a la Matt LaPorta or Andy Marte. But the time to call him up is now while he is hot and hitting a blistering .390 with 6 HR, 26 RBI and 1.132 OPS in 27 games at Columbus.
In years past I believe the Indians made some mistakes with the likes of LaPorta, Marte and others by not promoting them while they were going through extended hot streaks and seemingly waited to call them up when they were in the midst of a cold spell. The timing of a callup during a hot and cold streak generally has no bearing on future major league success, but in the case of Chisenhall who has pretty much done all he can at the minor league level, there is not a more perfect time to call him back up than right now.
The Indians could use Chisenhall at third base to replace the struggling Mark Reynolds and then use Reynolds more at first base and designated hitter where he can offer Nick Swisher an opportunity to rest his ailing shoulder more and limit Drew Stubbs’ exposure to right-handed pitching. This would allow Yan Gomes to still get in on a regular basis and not really affect Carlos Santana’s playing time.
As for the defensive concerns with Chisenhall at third base, that is something he can work through at the major league level and with the major league coaching staff. Besides, even on his worst day, Chisenhall is a superior defender to Reynolds anyway, so I am unsure why the Indians are so concerned with his defense considering what they are currently getting defensively at third base.
Chisenhall knows he has to have the right offensive approach in order to allow his nice swing to be more consistent and for everything else to come easily to him. He is still a young player who has missed some development time in the minors because of injuries that prevented him from playing fall ball in the Arizona Fall League or winter ball in Latin American, so the Indians are just trying to finish him off right now in Columbus.
But I still think they can expedite Chisenhall’s development and finish him off at the major league level. Very few prospects truly can be “finished off” at the major league level, but he is one of them. They just have to be patient with him, something that they were not earlier in the year when they pulled the trigger quickly by optioning him to Columbus in early May.
Here is a rundown of how all of the wounded Indians are healing up:
Right-handed closer Chris Perez looks to be very close to a return from his right shoulder strain he suffered on May 26th in Boston and landed him on the disabled list on May 27th. He threw two bullpens last week and made a rehab appearance for Low-A Lake County on Sunday (1 IP, 0 R). If he feels good today, he may not need another rehab outing and could be activated today or Tuesday, though the Indians probably want him to get at least one more rehab outing before he is activated.
Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera is not close to a return. He was just given the okay last week to begin playing catch in the outfield and is doing some light walking. The Indians hope to have him back soon and he could be back the week before the All Star break, but I still think a more realistic timetable for his return is when the team begins play after the All Star break.
Right-handed pitcher Zach McAllister had his sprained right middle finger examined on Thursday and was cleared to begin playing catch – which he began doing over the weekend. He really struggled in his last few outings as he was barely able to throw his curveball and went on the disabled list on June 3rd. There is some thought that his new splitter he is using this year may have been what caused the finger injury. Also, while the Indians have dealt with middle finger injuries before with the likes of Adam Miller and Alex White, from what I have heard McAllister’s injury is completely different and is unrelated to the injury Miller and White suffered.
Catcher Lou Marson had a meeting on Wednesday with Dr. James Andrews on his painful right shoulder and it was determined that no surgery would be required. His rehab at Triple-A Columbus has been stopped and he is shut down for the time being. It is uncertain when he will return to game action this season, but it is clear that he probably won’t be back in Cleveland for at least a month if not longer.
Right-handed pitcher Brett Myers was transferred from the 15-day disabled list to the 60-day disabled list last week, a move that was more just for paper reasons so the Indians could get the newly acquired John McDonald on the roster. His 60-day time is retroactive to when he first went on the 15-day disabled list on April 21st, which means he only has three more days before he is eligible to come off the 60-day disabled list on June 20th. He is still working through his right elbow tendonitis, though it is not known when he will restart his throwing program.
Right-handed pitcher Josh Tomlin is still rehabbing from Tommy John surgery he underwent late last season and is throwing a few times per week out in extended spring training in Arizona. He is not expected to pitch in Cleveland this year, though has a chance of pitching with a minor league affiliate on a rehab assignment near the end of August or in early September.
Right-handed reliever Blake Wood is continuing to work through his rehab assignment in the minors and is pitching at Low-A Lake County. Unless I am mistaken, he just restarted his 30-day rehab assignment on Friday, and the Indians will continue to patient with him.
The Indians signed left-handed pitcher Clay Rapada to a minor league late last week and assigned him to Triple-A Columbus. He might only get a few outings with Columbus before the Indians decide to make a move and go in a different direction with the lefties in their pen. A week earlier they signed lefty JC Romero, so the wheels are definitely turning. … On Monday the Indians acquired infielder John McDonald from the Pirates in exchange for a player to be named later and/or cash considerations. The pickup of McDonald gives the Indians the veteran utility option they wanted when Mike Aviles was pushed into the starting lineup after Asdrubal Cabrera went down with a quad injury.
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Chisenhall's sample in the majors is still tiny. He had a .322 wOBA last year (not too bad), and .265 this year. Reynolds in May was .309 and so far in June .181. Anyone can suck for 26 games. Doesn't mean they're going to continue to do so. Chisenhall's certainly a better option than John McDonald, and was no worse than Reynolds has been since Chisenhall was sent down