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Clippers Notebook: Clippers players find value with versatility

Clippers Notebook: Clippers players find value with versatility
August 11, 2014
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Versatility creates opportunity

Being able to contribute to a team at multiple positions is more and more important as managers change lineup cards to play the matchup game.

In Cleveland, they have Mike Aviles, who from time to time plays seven positions.  The Columbus Clippers (65-57) have multiple players that fill this role.  On the current 25-man roster, Elliot JohnsonAudy Ciriaco and Justin Sellers have found themselves all over the field this season.

Elliot Johnson has made a career of being Mr. Everything.  This is how he explained what it’s like being a utility player.

“(Playing different positions) helps my value to a team, it doesn’t necessarily help (my) defense,” Johnson said.  “I think because you move around to so many different positions, you don’t specialize as much.  For example, if I get thrown in centerfield, I’m not going to be Michael Bourn out there.  I’m just going to be a guy that’s trying to make the routine play and throw the ball to the cutoff man.  The expectation isn’t that you’re going to be a Gold Glove player at every position that you play at.  You’re going to be acceptable or efficient at those positons.  You’re not going to be outstanding.  [At] second base I’m really good, at shortstop I’m average, and the outfield positions I’m probably average to a little bit below average.”

Earlier this season, Johnson added relief pitcher to his resume when he pitched the final two outs of the 18-9 loss to Charlotte on May 29.  He was the sixth pitcher used that night after starting the game as the first baseman.  The only positions that he hasn’t played for the Clippers this season are third base and catcher.

Justin Sellers was the team’s primary shortstop until Francisco Lindor was called up, but even before that, he was moved around the field as well to give opportunities at short to Jose Ramirez.  This season, Sellers has played 14 games in left field for Columbus.  Prior to that he had played six games in right and two in left for Albuquerque (LA Dodgers) of the Pacific Coast League in 2011 and one game in left for Class A-Advanced Stockton (LA Dodgers) in 2007.

“I feel like I could play out there,” Sellers said earlier this year.  “It’s not like playing shortstop, but I feel like the more I’m out there, the more I’m comfortable I’m getting.  I told (Chris) Tremie, too. I said, ‘you could put me anywhere.’  It’s been a lot of fun.  I didn’t play a lot of outfield, but I’ve been playing a decent amount here and I like it.”

The Clippers primarily use Audy Ciriaco to split time at first base with Jesus Aguilar.  Aguilar usually plays half the games at first and the other half as the team’s designated hitter.  Ciriaco, who had never played the position before this season, fills in for Aguilar when he is the DH. 

“This is kind of new because the first time I played first it was during winter ball and thank God I did because I have to play more first here and I got a little experience from winter ball,” Ciriaco said in June.  “I didn’t know that I was going to play first, I just want to be in there to do my best and help the team win.  I’m just trying to be more comfortable there because I’ll be playing there a lot more.”

Ciriaco is a shortstop by trade, but with Sellers and Ramirez getting the bulk of the playing time there early in the season, he played mostly second and third.  When David Cooper went on the disabled list, a need was created for someone to split time with Aguilar at first.

Ramirez is now plying his trade with the major league club at shortstop.  But when he was with Columbus, he primarily played second.  He also spent time at shortstop and even played four games in the outfield.

Zach Walters was added to the team at the July 31 trade deadline.  Listed as a shortstop, Walters has played second, third and left field for the Clippers over the past couple of weeks.  This versatility earned him a promotion to Cleveland and a start in left field for Sunday’s game at New York.

The week that was

Columbus split the final two of a four game series at Pawtucket to open the week.  Any illusions that Tyler Cloydwould become the next Johnny Vander Meer were quickly put to rest when Justin Henry led off the first with a single ending his no-hit streak at nine innings.  Cloyd was able to keep the Paw Sox off the scoreboard until fourth.  Pawtucket starter Henry Owens made his debut at the Triple-A level a good one, shutting out the Clippers through 6.2 innings and the Clippers fell 5-0 on Monday.

Dusty Brown made his debut with the Clippers memorable by homering twice, including one that gave them the lead for good in a 3-1 win in the finale against his former team.  Jesus Aguilar also homered and Zach McAllisterreturned to shut down the Paw Sox, holding them to one unearned run over seven innings.  C.C. Lee pitched the ninth for his third save. 

After a day off on Wednesday, the Clippers opened a four game series with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Thursday. Gabriel Arias dazzled in his start, tossing seven shutout innings on just 73 pitches.  James Ramsey and Dusty Brown hit back-to-back doubles in the third to plate the Clippers first run.  That was all they needed, but they got much more.  Ramsey and Audy Ciriaco both hit two-run homers to extend the lead in a 7-0 win.

The Clippers got another excellent pitching performance out of their starter.  This time it was Kyle Davies, who shut out Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for his seven innings.  On What If Night at PNC Field, the Trolley Frogs failed to score until a solo homer to right with two outs in the ninth.  Giovanny Urshela drove in both runs, including what turned out to be the game winning home run in the seventh in a 2-1 Clippers victory.

Toru Murata was added back to the roster to start on Saturday and he struggled through the first three, giving up a run in each inning.  But he settled in to pitch his way to a quality start.  The Clippers kept it close through the early going, but back-to-back homers by Carlos Moncrief and Audy Ciriaco produced three seventh inning runs to give the Clippers a 5-3 win.

The Clippers week concluded with a 5-1 loss to the RailRiders.  Tyler Cloyd gave up three over six innings and the offense sputtered.  Jesus Aguilar led off the sixth with a single and Luke Carlin doubled in a run in the ninth to avoid the shutout, finishing off a 6-2 road trip.

Odds and Ends

No soup for you:  Columbus pitching was lights out during the road trip, pitching 21 scoreless innings from the sixth inning of the series finale at Pawtucket to the ninth inning of the second game of the SWB series.  They also went 27 consecutive innings without giving up an earned run.  Starting the latter streak was relief pitcher Vinnie Pestano.  Zach McAllister, Austin Adams, C.C. Lee, Gabriel Arias, Shaun MarcumBryan Price, Kyle Davies andTyler Sturdevant combined to not allow an earned run.  The streak was broken in the ninth inning with two outs on a Kyle Roller homer off of Josh Outman.

We’re going streaking!: The Clippers didn’t get drunk a-la Will Ferrell in Old School, but they did take 14 consecutive over Scranton/Wilkes-Barre over the last two seasons.  They lost the first game of the season series against the RailRiders last season and the finale of this year’s set to snap the streak.  The series has been about as competitive as could be when one team wins 14 in-a-row.  Half of the games played were decided by one run with the Clippers taking seven.  The streak didn’t go without its share of blowouts, however.  The Clippers won four games by six runs or more.

Oh, No!: Since Tyler Cloyd’s no-hitter on July 30, opposing starters have threatened to return the favor on three occasions.  On August 2 at Pawtucket, Matt Barnes no-hit the Clippers for seven innings.  Miguel Celestinoreplaced him in the eighth and with one out, Carlos Moncrief broke up the no-hit bid.  Two days later, Henry Owens held the Clippers hitless until Francisco Lindor singled in the sixth.  It was Owens first game at the Triple-A level.  He gave up no runs in 6.2 innings.  On Sunday, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre starter Nik Turley held the Clippers hitless through five.  Jesus Aguilar singled to lead off the sixth to put the Clippers into the hit column.  He was lifted later in the inning with no damage done.  Turley had never faced Columbus in eight Triple-A appearances (seven starts) prior to Sunday’s game. 

Capping it off: Matt Capps, who has been on the Clippers disabled list since the start of the season, pitched in two games this week for the Arizona League Indians.  He pitched a total of three innings, starting both games, and gave up three runs on four hits and struck out three.  He’s allowed one home run.  Five Clippers, including Capps, started the year on the disabled list.  With Shaun Marcum’s return last week, Capps was the only remaining player still on the disabled.  Matt Treanor was among that group, but he is no longer with the organization after choosing to retire a month into the season. Relievers Bryan Price and J.C. Ramirez round out that list, both returning to action in May.

The Bourn identity: Michael Bourn returns to the Clippers for his second rehab stint on Monday when the Clippers return home to play Lehigh Valley.  Bourn was with the Clippers when the Clippers opened the 2014 campaign, playing in two games.  He had one hit in seven at-bats.  Bourn’s appearance with the Clippers this time around will be a continuation of his minor league rehab assignment.  He played three games last week with the Akron RubberDucks going 0-for-10 with five strikeouts (not that minor league rehab statistics matter). 

Vinnie and the Jet

 RHP Vinnie Pestano was traded on August 7 to the Angels and reported to their Triple-A affiliate, the Salt Lake City Bees of the Pacific Coast League.  As a Clipper, Pestano was 2-4 with a 1.78 ERA in 30.1 innings pitched with six saves.  He made his debut with the Bees on Friday night, pitching 1.1 innings without allowing a run and struck out one. On Sunday, he was promoted to the Angels.  Wearing number 63, he struck out the side and walked a batter in one inning of work.

Pestano started the season with the Indians, but gave up runs in all three appearances and was optioned to Columbus on April 9.  He gave up five runs (three earned) on April 29 in the second game of a doubleheader at Norfolk.  His season made a complete 180-degree turn after that appearance, pitching 18 games (18.2 innings) and allowing just one run (0.48 ERA) to earn a promotion back to Cleveland.

He was used only against right-handed batters during his time with Cleveland.  After spending three weeks there and used sparingly, he was sent back to Columbus.  He pitched in seven games (five innings) with the Clippers prior to the trade and allowed only one run (1.80 ERA) before being traded.

Mike Clevinger, who came to the Indians organization as a part of that trade, will be assigned to Class A-Advanced Carolina.  He made his debut with the Mudcats on Sunday, tossing three innings in relief.  He allowed three runs on four hits and walk.  Clevinger allowed a home run and struck out one. 

Herrmann gone too

Though the move didn't become official until Monday, but the Indians have released RHP Frank Herrmann.  He was coming back from Tommy John surgery in 2013.  He was brought along slowly and pitched well over the first month of the year compiling a 1.08 ERA in 8.1 innings (eight appearances). 

He struggled after that point, however, and in his last 20 appearances allowed 20 runs over 21.1 innings.  That included a game in which he gave up six in one inning (July 10 at Indianapolis).  He last appeared on July 24, tossing 0.2 innings and giving up one run at Louisville.  He was placed on the disabled list on July 30 with a left calf strain.

The Harvard graduate began his career in the Indians organization as a starter.  By the time he reached Columbus for the first time in 2009 he had already been converted to a reliever.  He pitched parts of five season with the Clippers (2009-2012 and 2014) pitching in 142 games.  In 197.2 innings with the Clippers he had a 3.73 ERA with his best year being his first.  In 2009, he pitched in 44 games (76 innings) and had a 2.96 ERA.

Are we there yet?

No, but the Clippers extended their lead over the division over the course of the week.  Indianapolis is still in second, 4.5 games back, Toledo is 5.5 games back, and Louisville is bringing up the rear at six games back. 

This week, Toledo and Indianapolis hook up after a day off on Monday for three at Fifth Third Field.  Both of them are now done with out-of-division play. 

Toledo and Columbus hook up for six consecutive starting in Toledo this weekend before moving to Huntington Park next week.

After Indianapolis leaves Toledo on Thursday, they play Louisville for six straight starting at Louisville Slugger Field over the weekend before moving to Indianapolis.

Louisville, like Columbus, begins the week out of division.  They play host to Scranton Wilkes-Barre for four before they see Indy.

This is how the division teams line up over the last three weeks:

Clippers vs Toledo: ten games, five at Toledo, five at Columbus

Clippers vs Indy: six games, three at Indy, three at Columbus

Clippers vs Louisville: two games at Louisville

Toledo vs Indy: five games, three at Toledo, two at Indianapolis

Toledo vs Louisville: six games, three at Louisville, three at Toledo

Louisville vs Indy: ten games, four at Louisville, six at Indianapolis

Catching Wind

OF Carlos Moncrief
Since July 17: 23 G, 30-90, 13 R, 7 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, 18 RBI, 7 BB, 19 K, .333 BA, .381 OBP, .522 SLG,

He may have the biggest gun in IL West, but his bat is a pretty nice weapon too.  He’s been playing well since the All-Star break and had a pretty nice road trip to go continue that trend.  His game-winning two-run on Saturday night might have been the biggest hit of the road trip.  He also put himself in the record books with his 21st outfield assist at Pawtucket to start the road trip.

RHP Kyle Davies
Since August 2: 2 G, 2 GS, 1-0, 13 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 11 K, 0.00 ERA

In his start on July 28, Davies pitched four innings and 75 pitches against Norfolk.  Since then, he hasn’t given up much.  In fact, he’s only been charged with one run and it was unearned.  His most recent start against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Friday night, he held them to two hits over seven innings, retiring the final eight batters he saw.

RHP Gabriel Arias
Since July 11: 5 G, 5 GS, 4-0, 34 IP, 30 H, 10 R, 10 ER, 6 BB, 13 K, 3 HR, 2.65 ERA

He’s been like a new pitcher since his return to Columbus for the July 11 start at Indianapolis.  In the five starts since his return, four of them have been quality ones and he’s pitched at least six innings each time.  He had one hiccup in the August 1 start against Louisville where he gave up a pair of two-run homers in one inning, but he responded in his last start by shutting out the RailRiders for seven innings.  He was also pitch efficient in that start, tossing just 74 pitches before being lifted.

Lost at Sea

INF/OF Elliot Johnson
Since July 25: 13 G, 8-48, 4 R, 3 2B, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 7 BB, 17 K, .167 BA, .273 OBP, .292 SLG.

Since his return to the lineup, Johnson has struggled to contribute offensively.  He hit less than .250 on the road trip with one RBI.  The positive is that he is capable of playing seven positions.  He could pitch too, but the sample size is limited. 

Looking Forward

Lehigh Valley

The Clippers took three of four in Allentown from June 20-23.  This series was best remembered for the performance of INF Audy Ciriaco.  Ciriaco entered the series batting .255 with five homers and 25 RBI.  But in three games against the IronPigs, Ciriaco went 8-for-12 and homered in each game.  He also doubled twice, drove in nine and scored seven runs.  By the end of the series, his average rose to .285.

Lehigh Valley took the opener against Danny Salazar, who gave up four over five innings.  The Clippers kept pace with the IronPigs, matching them run-for-run through the first four.  Cam Perkins drove in the game winner in the fifth with a single to center.  The Clippers were able to get a runner on in three of the final four innings, but couldn’t rally and lost 5-4.

Rallying wasn’t the problem in the second game.  The Clippers used a seven run third inning to cruise to a 14-2 game.  They scored runs in each of their final four at-bats.  A throwing error started the scoring in the third, opening the flood gates.  Roberto Perez blew the game open with a three-run triple later in the inning.  Zach McAllister pitched seven innings and allowed two runs for his second win of the season.

Tyler Cloyd overcame a four run second against his former team in the third game of the series and shut down the IronPigs through seven.  Elliot Johnson tripled in the seventh inning to give the Clippers the lead for good in a 6-4 win.

Columbus came from behind again in the finale, scoring five runs in the eighth to overcome a 4-2 deficit.  Carlos Moncrief singled to tie the game and Audy Ciriaco hit a two-run double to put the Clippers ahead for good.  C.C. Lee pitched the final two innings for his first save of the year.

Toledo

Columbus and Toledo met for four games, two in Toledo and two in Columbus in early July.  Both teams held serve at home.  The end result was that the Clippers briefly tied Indianapolis for first place.  It was the first time that the Clippers topped the division since May 10.

The Mud Hens got to Kyle Davies in the opener for four runs through four innings, cruising to a 7-2 win.  Mike Hessman singled in the first to give Toledo the lead and they never looked back.  Carlos Moncrief led an anemic offense with a pair of doubles and a RBI.

Tyler Cloyd matched Derek Hankins pitch-for-pitch through five innings, but ran out magic in the sixth.  Wade Gaynor grounded to shortstop Justin Sellers, who threw home.  Jordan Lennerton beat the throw to give the Mud Hens the lead.  Former Clipper Ezequiel Carrera singled in the deciding run later in the inning.  Hankins was on his way to a complete game until Tyler Holt doubled with two outs in the ninth.  Jesus Aguilar just missed a home run to tie the game, bouncing on off the wall to left to score Holt for the Clippers only run in a 2-1 loss.

The venue changed back to Columbus and the Clippers came out swinging.  The Clippers put up four runs in the opening frame on a double by Roberto Perez sandwiched between a pair of singles by Jesus Aguilar and Carlos Moncrief.  They withstood a three-run rally by the Mud Hens in the following inning to hold on for a 5-3 win.

It was the Mud Hens that came out swinging in the finale, putting up three runs in the first off of Danny Salazar, but the Clippers came storming back.  Matt Carson hit a two-run double in the sixth that put Columbus on top for good.  Jesus Aguilar and Giovanny Urshela also drove in a pair of runs for the Clippers in a 6-5 win.

Game Times and Starting Pitchers

*The Clippers haven’t released an official rotation for this week other than Monday and Tuesday starters.  After that, the rotation is based on the order of last week’s starters.

8/11 – vs Lehigh Valley (7:05 PM) – RHP Jeff Manship (0-0, 7.11) vs. RHP Zach McAllister (6-0, 1.87)
8/12 – vs Lehigh Valley (7:05 PM) – LHP Jo-Jo Reyes (1-2, 9.72) vs. RHP Danny Salazar (3-6, 4.02)
8/13 – vs Lehigh Valley (7:05 PM) – TBA vs. RHP Gabriel Arias (6-2, 3.62)
8/14 – vs Lehigh Valley (7:05 PM) – RHP Brad Lincoln (6-8, 4.69) vs. RHP Kyle Davies (7-7, 3.73)
8/15 – at Toledo (7:00 PM) – RHP Tyler Cloyd (9-7, 4.05) vs. TBA
8/16 – at Toledo (7:00 PM) – TBA vs. TBA
8/17 – at Toledo (6:00 PM) – TBA vs. TBA

Transactions

8/4 – RHP Toru Murata transferred from Columbus to Akron…RHP Zach McAllister optioned from Cleveland to Columbus

8/5 – RHP Josh Tomlin recalled by Cleveland from Columbus…C Dusty Brown assigned to Columbus…C Chris Wallace (left ankle sprain) placed on 7-Day Disabled List

8/7 – C.C. Lee recalled by Cleveland from Columbus…OF Tyler Holt optioned to Columbus from Cleveland…RHP Shaun Marcum (right shoulder) activated from 7-Day Disabled List…RHP Vinny Pestano traded from Cleveland to Los Angeles (AL)

8/8 – RHP Toru Murata transferred to Columbus from Akron

8/10 – INF/OF Zach Walters recalled by Cleveland from Columbus…OF Tyler Holt recalled by Cleveland from Columbus…RHP Danny Salazar optioned from Cleveland to Columbus

Michael Rich is a senior majoring in Communications at The Ohio State University.

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