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Second Thoughts Game #14: Indians 3, Tigers 2

Second Thoughts Game #14: Indians 3, Tigers 2
Third base coach Mike Sarbaugh congratulates Yan Gomes after his second inning triple. (Photo: AP)
April 17, 2014
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Another great start from Zach McAllister

Did anyone guess that Zach McAllister was going to be the best pitcher out of the gate this season? I’ve never been too high on McAllister. He’s a pitcher who needs to have excellent control to succeed and he hasn’t consistently shown that type of command. I thought he regressed more than the numbers indicated last year, but his last two starts have opened my eyes.

After struggling with command of his fastball, and inexplicably throwing it 85% of the time in his first start, McAllister has flashed improved control and an excellent slider and changeup in his last two starts. McAllister’s four-seamer seems to have more life on it than last year and he’s been aggressive in using it to get ahead in counts. In this game McAllister worked at 92-93 MPH for most of the night, and was clocked as high as 95. He’s using the fastball effectively to not just set up his secondary pitches, but to put hitters away by spotting it high in the zone or on the outside corner to get hitters to chase.

At this point in the season McAllister has allowed only two hits on his slider and zero on his changeup. He’s spotting the pitches well and mixing them together to keep hitters off balance. If he can continue to do that, stay aggressive with his fastball, and control all three pitches like he has lately he might be able to turn in a better-than-expected season. Either way, it’s a promising start for an important pitcher. The Indians needed McAllister to step into a middle of the rotation spot this year and respond with quality innings. Right now he’s showing more than that.

Key players continue to struggle offensively

Nick SwisherCarlos Santana, and Asdrubal Cabrera were 1-for-10 in this game, including 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position. The team as a whole is one of the worst in baseball in the early going with runners in scoring position.

Of particular concern to me are Carlos Santana’s struggles. Santana has the toughest job on the team. He’s still working as a catcher and keeping up with his responsibilities with the pitching staff, he’s playing most days at third base and continues to work on improving there, and offensively he’s being counted on as the team’s cleanup hitter. You can’t say enough about Santana’s work in the field, but you have to wonder if it’s affecting him at the plate.

As a microcosm of his season thus far, in the first inning the bases were loaded after three straight Anibal Sanchezwalks. The Indians had a great opportunity to break the game open immediately. Instead, Santana grounded weakly into a double play that killed the inning. Santana is hitting just .170 with only 1 RB thus far. On a positive note, he’s walked 14 times versus 8 strikeouts, so the plate discipline he’s known for is still there. The team needs more from him offensively, but it’s tough to be too hard on him. He has more responsibilities than any player in the league right now.

Swisher, Kipnis, and Cabrera have all contributed some big hits here and there, but their collective performance has left something to be desired. The team is middle of the pack in most offensive categories, and that’s without those key cogs playing well. You’d have to think that Swisher and Santana, at the least, will get it going. The good news is that if the team can continue to get the production they’re getting from Michael BrantleyYan GomesDavid Murphy, and the bench, this offense should be dangerous.

Defense nearly costs them again

Last week in this article I mentioned how disappointed I was in the team’s defense thus far. This was a game that the Indians should have won by more. They loaded the bases in the first inning with no outs, but managed only one run. In the second Yan Gomes had the biggest hit of the night with a two-RBI triple, but with Gomes standing on third with no outs Lonnie Chisenhall and Michael Bourn struck out, followed by a Nick Swisher fly out to end the inning.

The failure to convert on some of those opportunities aside, the team took a 3-1 lead into the eighth inning on the strong performance from Zach McAllister and a drama-free seventh inning from Bryan Shaw. That’s when the defense made it more interesting that it should have been. In the eighth inning Jason Kipnis dropped a Rajai Davispop up and Davis would come around to score on a Miguel Cabrera single later in the inning.

In the ninth inning the situation was even more precarious. With one out, Alex Avila lined a ball into the gap between center and right. Michael Bourn ran over to cut the ball off and as he turned to throw dropped it. After gathering the ball and throwing it in, Bourn badly missed his cutoff man, allowing Avila (the catcher!) to reach third base. Other than Avila’s hit, John Axford pitched well and was thankfully able to work around the double and error to secure his fifth save.

The failures by the team’s defense in the late innings nearly turned this into an extra inning affair. This is a real worry for me. As time goes on, I expect the team’s starting rotation and offense to settle in, but I’m not as confident about the defense. This is an issue that I see lingering all season and costing the team some games.

Other Notes

-The batting average might not be ideal (.257 BABIP) but Jason Kipnis is showing improved plate discipline in the early going. He has 11 strikeouts to 10 walks thus far. I imagine his walk rate will regress, but just how far will be interesting to monitor. Kipnis’ OBP was .366 last year, but that was on the strength of an inflated BABIP. Most projections expected that number to come down. Right now Kipnis is holding steady.

-It was nice to see Lonnie Chisenhall get two more hits. He was down in the count in every at-bat, and did trade two hits with two strikeouts, but on a night when the Indians had only five hits he stood out offensively once again. He’s making the team’s decision on who to send down for Jason Giambi very interesting.

-Always nice to see a win against Detroit. No matter if it’s April or September, these wins are important. Besides, the win brings them to 3 wins in their last 17 games against Detroit. Last year it seemed to get in the team’s head that they couldn’t beat Detroit. It’s nice to see them strike first in 2014.

-The Indians will play Detroit again at 1:08 PM on ThursdayDanny Salazar is slated to face off against Justin Verlander. It’s a good time to see Salazar bounce back and repeat some of the starts he had last fall against the Tigers.

User Comments

Rich
April 18, 2014 - 8:28 AM EDT
Chisenhall is hitting .367 in his last 60 AB's going back to Sept. 1. He's finally arrived. He's being patient at the plate, using the entire field, not trying to pull everything and hit HR's, and he's getting hits with two strikes. He even got a hit off a lefty after falling behind 0-2, which would never have happened last year.

This shouldn't even be an issue. Giambi should retire. He can't hit AA pitching at this point. The reflexes and bat speed just aren't what they used to be once you get past 40.
Walter
April 17, 2014 - 11:37 PM EDT
This my suggestion for adding Giambi to the roster reluctantly.

1. Santana on 15 DL Add Giambi

2 DFA Johnson add C Kottaras to the roster.

3, Send Lee & Wood to Columbus

4 Call up Austin Adams and Jose Ramirez.

yourtribe
April 17, 2014 - 6:59 PM EDT
Another bad outing for Salazar. Middle of the lineup stinks right now. Need to turn things around this weekend.

Carrasco and Salazar better turn things around asap. Bauer should get another shot now.
Hermie13
April 17, 2014 - 4:25 PM EDT
Can't stop him....4 for 4 for Chiz today.

(and for the 3rd time in a row Bourn grounds into a FC, forcing him out at 2nd base)

Chisenahall is now hitting .522...
Walter
April 17, 2014 - 3:44 PM EDT
I would give Adams a shot before I give Pestano another.
Hermie13
April 17, 2014 - 3:36 PM EDT
Swisher has been a huge disappointment in the early going. If this continues another two weeks you may need to consider dropping him in the lineup for a game or two. Or at least give him a days rest...really pressing right now.
Hermie13
April 17, 2014 - 3:34 PM EDT
One option....

Send down Wood or Lee for Giambi. If Carrasco struggles and you need to overuse the pen over the weekend, call up another reliver that's fresh (possibly a Barnes) and option down the other one of Wood/Lee. In a few days you would then be able to bring back the first guy you optioned down, or go with someone like Pestano. Could essentially rotate that 7th pen spot every few days between 4-5 guys. Gives you the sense of having 8 (or even 9) pen arms but allows the team to keep Chiz and Johnson.

Probably not the route they take....but nothing would shock me at this point really.
Walter
April 17, 2014 - 3:31 PM EDT
Maybe we should send Swisher down bring up Aguillar. lol. Lately he has had men in scoring position can not drive them in.

Maybe we need to put so heat on Swisher instead of only Bourn.
Tony
April 17, 2014 - 3:28 PM EDT
At this point can't send Chisenhall down. Have to see him through. But Salazar's performance is putting the Indians in a quandary with two pitchers they can't rely on in the rotation to go deep into games, so it will be interesting if Francona stays with the 8-man pen or if they do in fact part ways with Johnson. No matter how much they love Johnson, he's a guy they might not be able to keep around right now.
Hermie13
April 17, 2014 - 3:22 PM EDT
Make that 3 for 3 for Chiz....3rd hit coming off a LHP (sure it was Coke but still a lefty)...
Hermie13
April 17, 2014 - 3:01 PM EDT
Chisenhall now 2 for 2 in the early going today...against Verlander...


I don't usually buy these player grievances....but man you gotta wonder how the Indians rationalize to him that he needs to go to AAA. Only thing that they could possibly say (IMO) is that they want him to play the OF....short of that though...
Tony
April 17, 2014 - 11:21 AM EDT
Going to be interesting to see what roster move the Indians make for Giambi. He is going to be activated on Friday and someone is going to go which is unfortunate because I don't think Giambi helps this team right now. But it's going to happen regardless. Chisenhall is really making it hard on them to send him out, and I think with Santana nursing that minor injury that you might see him play a little less third base for the next few games which bodes well for Chisenhall's chances to stay. I think at this point that they have to send out one of Wood/Lee (I send out Wood) or punt on Johnson (I'm still skeptical they let him go so soon). That said, Chisenhall is not out of the woods and could still be in danger....anything can happen after Morgan was optioned.
Hermie13
April 17, 2014 - 11:15 AM EDT
Part of me wonders if you don't try and throw Santana up in the 2-spot for a couple games...have Kip batting behind him. As said, the plate discipline is there with Santana and the OBP is still very solid. Perhaps with a better (or more feared) hitter behind him he'd get some better pitches to swing at, get his bat going. Not a move I'd make full-time but for a week to try and jump start Santana, may be worth a try.

Course he has to be healthy...

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