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Tribe Happenings: McAllister has become an asset

Tribe Happenings: McAllister has become an asset
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Some news, notes and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

McAllister sent down to Columbus

Boy, what a tough job. You go 1-1 with a 3.96 ERA in four starts, limit hitters to a .255 batting average, and put up a very nice 6-22 walk to strikeout ratio in 25.0 innings, yet you are sent to the minors.

That is exactly what happened to right-hander Zach McAllister on Friday as he was optioned to Triple-A Columbus. The Indians sent him out so they could add infielder Juan Diaz as an extra infielder for the weekend set with the White Sox. Right-hander Josh Tomlin is expected to come off the disabled list and make the start on Monday against the Royals, which is why McAllister was sent down.

McAllister, 24, has been impressive in his four starts for the Indians this season, and looks like a more confident and relaxed pitcher than the one that pitched for them last season and went 0-1 with a 6.11 ERA in four starts. In his four starts this season he consistently pounded the zone, threw a lot of strikes, and really limited mistakes and gave his team a chance to win every time out. That is all you can ask for out of a middle to back of the rotation starter, and that is more than what some pitchers on the staff have done of late.

McAllister learned a lot from his tough transition last season. In Triple-A there are no advance reports on the opposing pitcher like there are in the Major Leagues, so hitters are much more prepared where they know the strengths and weaknesses of a pitcher and how that pitcher is going to attack them.  Pitchers also have to adjust to things quicker in the big leagues, and the game is much faster. Those few things along with some inconsistency with his stuff and delivery led to his rough showing last season.

In the offseason and spring training McAllister worked hard to fix some of those delivery issues to get more tilt with his lead arm and leg during his delivery. The subtle change has resulted in some additional life to his fastball where he is staying behind the ball and working more downhill as he throws.

A lot has been said about the struggles of right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez, but unless he gets hurt he is going nowhere as he cannot be sent to the minors. But one thing to watch is how Tomlin does in his return as if the wrist continues to bother him or he struggles over the next month the Indians could send him down to Triple-A as he has all three options remaining. Even before the injury Tomlin had been inconsistent this season going 1-2 with a 4.67 ERA in six appearances, though given his performance and experience in the rotation over the last three seasons he is going to get a very long leash before a demotion is considered.

Having a capable sixth starter stuck in Triple-A is a good problem to have, and is exactly the situation that right-hander Jeanmar Gomez was in last season. Gomez came up at various times last season to fill starting pitching needs and bounced back and forth between Cleveland and Columbus. His performance last season and the experience he gained at the same time made him a top candidate for the fifth starter job coming into this season.  He blew away the competition in spring training and has not looked back since (3-3, 3.94 ERA, 9 G).

McAllister looks to be filling that Gomez role from last season and has really solidified himself as a starting pitching option for the Indians for the foreseeable future.

Injury bug is starting to bite

The Indians have been pretty fortunate so far with avoiding any major injuries; however, of late they have had some nagging injuries that have limited a few players.

Tomlin recently went on the 15-day disabled list with a right wrist injury though is expected to be back on Monday. Third baseman Jack Hannahan was not on the disabled list, but he was out for the ten straight games with a lower back issue before he returned to the lineup yesterday.

Three additional injuries have popped up which could be crippling to the team over the next week.

On Wednesday designated hitter Travis Hafner was battling with some soreness in his right knee and was noticeably laboring while running the bases that night. An MRI was performed on his knee on Thursday morning and it revealed irritation of the meniscus. He was given an anti-inflammatory injection and did not make the trip with the team to Chicago in order to rest the knee. The Indians are hopeful that he can return early next week and it is not a disabled list situation.

Then on Friday night shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera left the game with tightness in his hamstring. The Indians say that the injury does not appear to be serious, but anytime a player has a hamstring issue, whether minor or serious, there has to be some concern because it is an injury which can linger and easily get worse at any moment. It will be interesting to see how much time he ultimately misses, but he is not expected to play the rest of the White Sox series and may miss a game or two of the upcoming series with the Royals.

The biggest injury may be to catcher Carlos Santana was got a foul ball off the mask in the eighth inning on Friday night and had to leave the game. Apparently he has a minor concussion, so the team placed him on the 7-day concussion disabled list yesterday and called up Triple-A catcher Luke Carlin to take his spot on the roster. With Santana out of the lineip a minimum of a week, maybe more, and then Cabrera and Hafner limping, that is a big chunk of the lineup missing from an offense that already has issues scoring runs.

Around this time last year the Indians started losing pieces to their lineup due to injuries, so hopefully we are not seeing a recurrence of that because the Indians have very few reinforcements available for the lineup.  At the moment the Indians have two right-handed bats in outfielder/first baseman Matt LaPorta and outfielder/third baseman Jared Goedert that could help if Hafner hits the disabled list, but would obviously not be able to fill his presence in the lineup. The Indians really have no everyday shortstop option if Cabrera were to hit the disabled list as Juan Diaz and Jason Donald are role players at best.

Injuries to complementary pieces like Tomlin and Hannahan are one thing, but injuries to core pieces like Hafner, Santana and Cabrera are a completely different thing. The Indians can ill afford to lose Hafner, Santana and Cabrera for a long period of time since they are such critical pieces to their lineup.

Is Damon’s time about up?

The Indians signed outfielder Johnny Damon back in April for a small $1.25 million sum. They needed a bat for left field and he was a low risk pickup that did not cost much to see how he would fare.  But after an 0-for-4 day at the plate against the White Sox on Saturday he continues to struggle as he is hitting just .153 with no homers, two RBI and a .441 OPS in 20 games.

Few teams were interested in Damon’s services in the offseason, which is why he was available for the Indians to sign. So far he is proving all of those teams right as he looks like a shell of his former self and a player at 38-years of age that is at the end of his career. His bat speed is noticeably slower and he has driven few balls where he continues to reach under almost everything he hits for a pop out.

It would be one thing if he were hitting into some loud outs, but he is not.  Almost everything he hits is soft contact for a lazy fly ball or weak groundout.  It has only been 20 games but his groundball to flyball ratio is at 0.75 which is down considerably from his 1.25 career ratio, and his fly ball percentage of 48.3% is way above his 35.6% flyball percentage for his career.

I know that Damon has been a very good player over his career and has earned the respect of the organization. But if this performance continues over the next few weeks the Indians need to be proactive and consider another option in left field. They can’t just continue to sit back and hope he does well while he goes out there and gets maybe two hits in every series they play.

The early excuse was that Damon was simply just going through his spring training, which was fine. But in spring training hitters only need a week to ten days to get their timing and be ready for the season, and we passed that mark with Damon about two weeks ago. It is time for him to start performing as there are no excuses any longer.

Perez ruffles some feathers

Last Saturday Indians’ right-hander closer Chris Perez made some blunt and straight forward comments about the attendance and his being booed at home by the fans.  Some have been openly critical of the comments he made, while others have applauded him for speaking the truth and being so honest.

I agree with what Perez said in that it is embarrassing that the Indians have a first place team yet they are last in the entire league in attendance. He did not use those exact words, but that is what he was implying as he in a sense called out the fans for not coming out and supporting the team. He more or less said free agents like Carlos Beltran do not want to come to Cleveland and play in stadiums with 5000 people in it, and he is right about that.

I also agree with what Perez said about the booing. In his extra innings appearance back on May 17th against the Mariners he allowed two runners to get on base and he was promptly booed. He had not even given up a run yet and eventually got out of the inning without giving up a run, but the fans still got on him.

I think what Perez was venting more about was the booing and the attendance stuff just kind of crept in there, but the fans need to cut the guy some slack. Since his opening day nightmare of a performance he has been near perfect as he is 16-for-16 in saves with a 1.45 ERA, yet it appears that is what people expect him to be is near perfect.

Look, closers are not going to be 1-2-3 every time out. Not even the greats like Mariano Rivera are. Most often than not a closer is going to allow a baserunner or two when he pitches, but what separates that closer from others is his ability to bear down and get the job done and so far this season that is what Perez has done. So the booing needs to stop every time he allows a baserunner or two. Now, if he goes out and blows a few saves or has an outing like he did on opening day that is fine, and he even agrees with that.

Having said that, I still believe this is a case where things are just best left unsaid. It may all work out in the long run, but the comments he made in the end do more harm than good and can fuel a bigger reaction from fans when things start to not go right for Perez in the future (he will go through a rough patch at some point).  Plus as an employee of a business, you simply do not call out your customers. As tough as it may be, you just have to keep it to yourself and then behind closed doors you vent your anger.

Stop waiting for the other shoe to drop

I keep hearing a lot of people saying that it is only a matter of time before the Indians go into a funk and fall out of first place like they did last year. Or that in the end they will find a way to blow it and the season will not matter.

Here is the thing. The Indians are in first place and at the moment they are the only winning team in this town. Will they ultimately fail in their quest to make the playoffs? Possibly. But how about we just enjoy the ride and see how things shake out?

I know Cleveland sports fans have really become jaded and openly critical of their teams over the years because year after year a championship avoids this town. On top of that the sports situation has not exactly been all that great the past few years with the Browns a perennial doormat, the Cavaliers losing LeBron James and a doormat once again, and the Indians struggling through rebuild after rebuild.

But sports are supposed to be fun and a release from the day to day grind of life.  Bottom line, the always drops for 29 teams in Major League Baseball as there can only be one World Series winner. Enjoy the Indians this season and just wait and see what happens.

Sure, the Indians are a flawed team. But so are the other teams in their division and just about all of baseball. They are a good team with youth that is hungry to win, so go out and support them and see what happens and stop waiting and expecting that other shoe to drop.  Anticipation is half the fun, so while they may ultimately not make the playoffs or win a World Series, enjoy it while you can.

Parting shots

The Indians have reportedly been scouting Boston first baseman/third baseman Kevin Youkilis. He returned to the lineup on May 22nd after being on the disabled list with a back injury, and the Red Sox may be interested in moving him. In 21 games this season he is hitting .243 with three homers, 11 RBI and .705 OPS. … With their loss on Friday night the Indians are now just 4-9 this season against left-handed starters. On the flipside there are 22-10 against right-handed starters. … Double-A Akron shortstop Juan Diaz was called up on Friday afternoon for the first time in his career. He made his Major League debut on Friday night and went 0-for-1 at the plate with a strikeout. ... To add Luke Carlin to the 40-man roster and ultimately he 25-man roster, the Indians placed left-handed reliever Rafael Perez on the 60-day disabled list retroactive to April 26th. He is eligible to come off the disabled list on June 25th.

Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

User Comments

May 28, 2012 - 8:09 AM EDT
A couple of years back Carmona was totally messed up so they sent him to the Arizona Rookie League in the middle of the season to try and fix his mechanics. They can't do that with Ubaldo, but they can put him in the long relief role (dump Ascencio) until he fixes his mechanics. If he can't fix them, then it's better that he's pitching garbage innings than starting.

I'm with Seth on this.
May 27, 2012 - 5:13 PM EDT
Seth, you are being realistic. There's nothing we can do with Ubaldo except have him replace Ascencio. You simply cannot pretend you are trying to win by trotting him out there every fifth day. On his best days, he still kills our bullpen. On his worst, he kills our bullpen and gets pounded. Either way we lose. There's no reason to not take action; we have an alternative who we KNOW is better: McAlister. Say all you want about how LF and 1B are black holes, we don't really know if we have alternatives that will produce much better. I suspect we all know that McAlister is better than Ubaldo right now, and Ubaldo is no worse than Ascencio, so for goodness sake, let's make the bold move.

Some people thought the fans were rough on Chris Perez? Can you only imagine the reception waiting for Ubaldo back in Cleveland? This outing today has been the last straw. For an organization striving mightily to earn credibility, it would behoove them to admit a mistake by sending Ubaldo to the bullpen. It's better than stubbornly sending him back out as a starter every fifth day hoping for some miracle to occur.
League Park
May 27, 2012 - 4:20 PM EDT
I'd trade Ubaldo for anything I could get. Staying with him is pure insanity. He stinks!
May 27, 2012 - 2:45 PM EDT
The only options for Ubaldo are DL or a move to the bullpen. He could replace Ascencio, see if they can figure something out with him. They aren't going to trade him for a bench player, when they just traded their 2 best prospects for him. That is simply not going to happen. Not only from a PR standpoint, but they can't afford it. A team like the Indians can't miss that badly on a trade. They need to hope, pray, do some voodoo, anything to get Ubaldo back to being at minimum a useful pitcher.

Ha, Damon hits a 3-run HR. Truly going against type. Playing the younger version of himself.

If Lou Marson would stop taking straight 85mph pitches right down the middle of the plate, and then swinging at sliders off the plate, he might have more success.
League Park
May 27, 2012 - 2:17 PM EDT
I'm interested in winning and McAllister gives you a better chjance of winning than Ubaldo. Maybe some of you are more interested in saving face. His value will not go up much from here. Let's cut our losses and get the best we can for him. That may only be a bech player or two but that will help because our current bench is one of the worst in baseball.
May 27, 2012 - 2:14 PM EDT
Today's lineup is scary bad. No Hannahan? Hopefully that means they go against type and score 10 runs. But in any case, it's like they conceded this series to the White Sox. They have basically 4 guys on the DL, and called up Juan Diaz and Luke Carlin to replace them. They've been short handed since Hannahan went down for 2 weeks and didn't get DL'd, for reasons unknown.

They can't trade Ubaldo, and they need him to perform. Don't see it happening, but they need it. The last 2 days show why they obviously can't depend on a rotation fronted by Lowe and Jeanmar Gomez
Rich S.
May 27, 2012 - 1:34 PM EDT
Losing Hafner, Cabrera and Santana would be like the Browns losing Weeden, Richardson and Little. It will be hard to compete without them. Hopefully just a week and they will all be back. Maybe a good time to DFA Damon & bring up Laporta. He has to be upgrade to anemic Damon/Duncan duo.
May 27, 2012 - 1:19 PM EDT
Adam, I agree that trading Ubaldo is not an would be pretty bad selling low so quickly after buying high. But to just dismiss his problems as "mechanical/control' issues is to ignore the obvious: he has had those issues his entire career! He's NEVER been a control pitcher. But what he WAS and isn't anymore, was a power pitcher, a guy with a consistently devastating mid to high 90's fastball pitcher with a hard split that hitters couldn't wait on. That deception is gone and is not coming back. He's now a guy with a dazzling array of junk and a low to mid 90's fastball he cannot locate. At the major league level, that spells trouble with a capital "T." I say this hoping I'm wrong, wrong, wrong, and that the turnaround begins today, when, frankly, the Tribe is facing the type of game you need a top-of-the-rotation guy to show up in the worst way.
Adam M
May 27, 2012 - 12:55 PM EDT
Trading Jimenez now is not a good idea, as his trade value is as low as it's ever been. Giving up on him now is unwise because he has the stuff to get big league hitters out, it's control/ mechanical issues with Baldy right now. Cutting him loose now opens up the possibility that Jimenez figures it out with another team. The only thing worse than getting fleeced in one trade is getting fleeced in two. With that said, I completely understand the frustration surrounding Baldy, but we need at least 30-40 starts from him before getting a true idea of what we've got.
I'll be interested to see how the starting 5 fares now that they know McAllister is fully capable of stepping in. Competition is always a good thing.
What about the possibility of trading Gomez for a right handed bat? I like Gomey and all but he seems like the most intriguing trade chip. Thoughts?
May 27, 2012 - 12:37 PM EDT
Tomlin was actually pitching pretty well before the injury, despite the ERA. A lot of his peripheral numbers were the best they've ever been. He was seeing increased velocity, more swinging strikes/strikeouts and more ground balls--like the anti-Ubaldo. Hopefully if he's healthy he keeps it up, and sees improved results.

I think the fans had every right to boo Perez. They were reacting to his perceived/real struggles when he comes into non-save situations. He'd just given up the winning run in an extra-inning game a couple outings earlier, and was threatening to do it again. It has certainly seemed like Perez has trouble getting mentally prepared when he's not going for a save.

The one guy they cannot afford to miss at all is Asdrubal. While I would certainly take Donald over Diaz and don't get why they have Diaz on the roster, much less on the major league team, Donald is very poor defensively at short and and was strangely terrible with the bat when he was up. Hafner I can live with more, if they were to make a move. Getting rid of Damon, calling up Laporta, and having Duncan or Lopez DH would be probably be a wash, as replacing Damon with anything with an arm would be a significant upgrade to left field. Damon's at bats against Quintana the other day were embarassing. Couldn't even catch up with 89 mph fastballs right down the middle of the plate, all he could do was foul them off weakly.
League Park
May 27, 2012 - 9:45 AM EDT
I would trade Ubaldo and put McAllister in as one of the starting 5. He is better than UJ. What do I want in return? Ideally, a starting LF. If we can't get that, I would settle for a power hitting reserve OF or a good hitting backup catcher. Overall, this would make the team better.
May 27, 2012 - 9:23 AM EDT
With Santana, Hafner, and Cabrera out for a while and a week of games against beatable teams like the Royals and Twins coming up, the pitching needs to step up and also the players who replace the injured guys. And the remaining run producers like Choo, Brantley, Kipnis, Hannahan and Lopez need to pick up the slack.

This could be a critical week because it was at this point last season with the Tribe in first place where the season started to go south. If the Indians lose 8 out of the next 10 we could be looking at deja vu all over again. They need to find a way to go .500 over the next week until the big guns get back. And please, no surgery for Hafner.

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